As a game developer, working on a project for years just to have it cancelled can be devastating. I’ve been lucky enough that it has never happened to me, but it’s an occurrence all to common in the games industry. However, having to cancel your own game after years of work is even harder. So it is with a heavy heart that I announce that I’m stopping development on Lasting Legacy.
When we started work on Lasting Legacy, I envisioned it as a quick 9-10 month project (that’s quick for me, but I know it’s long for other devs). As we worked on it, it felt like the game was interesting and rich enough to spend a little longer and flesh it out to its full potential. Maybe spend a total of a year and a half on it.
Now it’s been two full years since we started. We’ve had a playable game almost from the start, but when I have an honest look at it, it’s still far from launch. We still need lots more content, game balancing, polishing, different game modes, porting to different platforms, creating videos, and all the marketing. It’s that pesky last 20% that takes 80% of the time–OK, maybe not 80% but at least another 12 months. All of that is definitely doable, but it would bring the project to a full 3 years (at least!), or a total of 6 man-years.
The problem with that is that, for Lasting Legacy to be financially successful, it would have to sell a lot of copies. A lot more than I can realistic expect it to sell. Let’s reeeeeally stretch the meaning of “successful” and say that the goal is that we should each make $50K per year. That’s a total of $300K after the cut from the stores, or about $430K in sales. At $15 per sale, that’s almost 30K sales, and most Steam games don’t come even close to that number.
So we had a choice: We could focus really hard on the marketing aspect to make sure we hit that many sales, or we could stop development altogether, cut our loses, and move on to something else. The problem with focusing on marketing is that it would add even more time, making it necessary to sell even more copies to break even. It would also mean spending months doing work that I really dislike (making trailers, doing a Kickstarter, promoting the game, chasing reviewers and streamers…).
Would it be worth doing that marketing push? Was I really willing to bet that Lasting Legacy would be a big seller? If I’m honest, I think that Lasting Legacy has the potential to be a very good, original game, but I don’t think it’s a game that lots of people want (or if they do, I wasn’t able to connect with that audience). I’m fine making games that don’t sell very much, but at least I want to enjoy the work that I’m doing. So in the end, I’d rather stop working on Lasting Legacy and move on to other projects that I can enjoy and can be potentially more profitable.
Fortunately the time I spent on Lasting Legacy wasn’t completely wasted: Apart from developing some new tech that I didn’t have when I started (SQLite to organize data, or on-the-fly font rendering for example), I continued to grow as a designer, and I hope a lot of what I learned will carry over to my future projects.
Some people will take away from this that Lasting Legacy failed because we didn’t do market research to see if there was demand for it, or tailor it to the tastes of gamers. I disagree. My goal from the start was not to maximize profits, it was to make a game I found interesting and getting compensated for my time. The failure of Lasting Legacy was that we were just too slow. If we had managed to make the game in a year like we originally planned, just selling 5-6K units would have been enough to cover our time.
So what’s next for me? I’ve taken the lessons learned to heart and decided to make a game by myself in 6 months. That’s a hard deadline. I’m drawing inspiration from Michael Brough and Arnold Rauers, both of them excellent game designers who make small games that start with major artificial constraints and they design around them. The constraint I picked is to make a simulation game in a very small grid (single screen, around 6×6). So far I’ve been doing some prototypes and I’m pretty happy how it’s coming along. If all goes well I’ll announce it soon and release it in a few months.
As part of this shift towards making smaller games, I’m going to create a mailing list for my games in general, not for each game individually. If you’d like to keep up to date, please sign up for my mailing list and I’ll make sure you’re the first ones to know about my upcoming games.
Wish me luck!