Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

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ShojiAmasawa
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Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

#1 Post by ShojiAmasawa » Sun Apr 22, 2018 12:20 am

At this point, I don't know what I'm doing wrong. PaperDoor Studios has two releases, both with a lot of fantastic work put into them, and I feel like they've been completely ignored. Even bad reviews would be welcome if it meant someone knew they existed. I've always wanted to create a big visual novel—something popular and commercial, like Doki Doki Literature Club I suppose. Currently, I'm working on an 18+ game with some incredibly talented and hardworking teammates, but I've found that my motivation as team leader is waning. What's the point in putting time, money, and effort into something that history has shown won't be worth a thing on release day? I already canceled another project because I didn't think it would sell as a visual novel, rendering years of work wasted. While I am more confident in my current project, I feel like success—even minor success—can be a fluke.

This is a big community, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels, or has felt, discouraged. I'm not looking for a miracle or some magic potion to solve my problems, I'd just like to hear what other creators do when they feel unmotivated or pessimistic about their projects. Is there something some of us aren't doing that we really should? Maybe it's best to let go of expectations and do something for the sake of doing it? I'm curious to hear what other people have to say!

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Re: Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

#2 Post by mikolajspy » Sun Apr 22, 2018 3:40 am

The answer is simple: Keep going, take a step back and look where you are.
Rethink what you did good, and what mistakes you made. Educate yourself about management and marketing. Do some market research. Have a good business plan.

DO NOT compare yourself to hit games, that's where you fail. DDLC was really lucky, and on top of that, it's FREE. They had huge amount of luck that it went viral.
Also, ask yourself - do you want to build your strategy about some questionable, controversial subjects? They took a huge risk and made it. Most of us won't be that lucky.
On the side note, base game is free, OST is paid, but how many people bought it? I highly doubt it's really big number.
ShojiAmasawa wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 12:20 am
What's the point in putting time, money, and effort into something that history has shown won't be worth a thing on release day?
I might sound rude now, which is not my intention, but if your games are not worth anything on release day and you're aware of it, you're definitely doing something wrong. Be it art, writing or marketing or something else. Try to find an answer to the following question: What can you do to rise value of your games?

If I were you, I'd rethink my budget. You don't need voice acting for good game. Remember that customers "buy with eyes". I would hire better artist. Better promo video will also help.
Another thing is writing, you don't need ~150k or even more words for game to be good. Trust me.
Drop "Big project of dreams", and focus on smaller ones first. You will work, work and as you noticed, you might fail again. Just my $0.02.

You can take a look at my first game, Jake's Love Story to see what a bit of planning, research and management can do with a really tiny team and budget. And it wasn't hit on release day, I had to do some marketing later. Learning on my own mistakes...

Also, please note that it's not just VNs that are niche. Most of indie developers are forgotten. Just take a look how many games there are on various platforms. How many treads on "Works in Progress" on different forums. The days when you just had to make game to be successfull are long gone. Everyone can pick up game engine and make something, you just need to do something different.
ShojiAmasawa wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 12:20 am
I feel like success—even minor success—can be a fluke.
You, as a manager, owner of the proccess, define success. So, what success mean for you? Alright, most people say "That I'll be rich!" or "1 000 000 sales/downloads!", that's not the way of defining it.
First of all, you MADE AND RELEASED A GAME. If that's not a success, I don't know what is. Look around, there are many projects that are never finished.
For me it was success that I even made it even with production costs! Do some research how real world look like and get some distance to "success".

TL;DR: Define what "success" mean for you. Learn from your mistakes. Consider changing team members, however hard it might be. Focus on smaller projects.

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Re: Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

#3 Post by ShojiAmasawa » Sun Apr 22, 2018 8:02 am

mikolajspy wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 3:40 am
TL;DR: Define what "success" mean for you. Learn from your mistakes. Consider changing team members, however hard it might be. Focus on smaller projects.
Thank you so much for your detailed answer. Before anything else, I want to say how much I appreciate it.
DO NOT compare yourself to hit games, that's where you fail.
Yes, placing DDLC as a sort of standard definitely isn't a good idea. It's hard not when I see it everywhere, and that's always been an issue for me when seeing other successful games. I wish I'd said something before, but—well—it's embarrassing to admit. It makes me seem weak and petty, and maybe I'm both those things.
I might sound rude now, which is not my intention, but if your games are not worth anything on release day and you're aware of it, you're definitely doing something wrong.
You may have touched on something interesting and revelatory, here. Hiring a "better" artist was a top priority for our current project, and that's where most of the budget is going. As for the canceled one, the entire studio knew that our chosen non-moe not-so-animesque art style was something that wouldn't do us any favors, but we didn't want to get a new artist because what we had was different. In other words, we made a conscious decision to sacrifice accessibility for the sake of our own vision. I suppose that was a risk that we shouldn't have taken as a budding studio, but it was something we felt strongly about. Maybe where we failed was trying to market a big project with limited mainstream appeal on a surface-level?

In that case, based on everything you've said, a smaller project is the way to go right now. I think I was right to shelve the current "big one," at least for the moment, but that shouldn't stop me from working on my current project and other things that make me happy.
You, as a manager, owner of the proccess, define success.
Really, I'd consider a single review to be a "success" at this point, though I think your analysis and critique of my approach will suffice for now. Thank you, once again, for responding in such detail. You've helped me out of a two-year slump, and I feel like I can get back to work in good faith, rather than with a forced smile. I will definitely check out your game!

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Re: Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

#4 Post by mikolajspy » Sun Apr 22, 2018 1:30 pm

ShojiAmasawa wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 8:02 am
It's hard not when I see it everywhere, and that's always been an issue for me when seeing other successful games. I wish I'd said something before, but—well—it's embarrassing to admit. It makes me seem weak and petty, and maybe I'm both those things.
You see, that's an issue many developers have. We all see our favourite/sucessful games. But how many there are? 3-4 titles, let's say. What most people do not realize is FEW THOUSANDS games being released each month, and we all have the same problem - visibility/marketing.
Of course, it's hard to not feel weak, but keep in mind that those games we adore were made by usually big, established, experienced studios/individuals with big budgets and/or right connections/skills for marketing.
ShojiAmasawa wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 8:02 am
Maybe where we failed was trying to market a big project with limited mainstream appeal on a surface-level?
That's what I meant by "do market research". Before I even started working on my game, I looked at top best selling titles and searched for common factors.
If you're doing it for your own pleasure, then go with the art you like best, but if you want to make some money and/or visiblity... Go with mainstream style I guess.
Remember - you have just few seconds for customer to make a decision if they even want to look further in your game. If art is not appealing, you lose many potential players. The visuals need to scream "I can be worth your time, come and take a look!"... or at least "Maybe I'm not perfect, but not very bad either, right?".
Even if your story is interesting, but art is not... Well, if someone picks it up, he might like it, but there's little to no chance you reach broad audience, unfortunately.
ShojiAmasawa wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 8:02 am
In that case, based on everything you've said, a smaller project is the way to go right now. I think I was right to shelve the current "big one," at least for the moment, but that shouldn't stop me from working on my current project and other things that make me happy.
Of course! No one says to give up entirely, but you need to prioritize more real projects first. I'm also working on a big projects besides my smaller ones.
But it's better to have shorter production time, smaller budget and then fail, not with big project, lots of time and money invested.
Game industry is a bit harsh today. It's pretty much hit or miss, that's why big studios work on several different games simultaneously.
ShojiAmasawa wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 8:02 am
Really, I'd consider a single review to be a "success" at this point, though I think your analysis and critique of my approach will suffice for now. Thank you, once again, for responding in such detail. You've helped me out of a two-year slump, and I feel like I can get back to work in good faith, rather than with a forced smile. I will definitely check out your game!
Glad I could help! I believe that we, developers should help each other :)
Ohh, the reviews, I feel you! I waited for my first review like... 3 months? Show the game to family, friends and whoever you can. If the game is good, there's chance it will get picked up organically and people will show it further. 0 is better than negative ;)

Don't give up! As I wrote, take a step back, analyze situation, think everything over, try to find some solution.
Maybe even start again with entirely new project with different setting, art and writing style? That way you'll have better view what sells and what not.

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Re: Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

#5 Post by Karl_C » Sun Apr 22, 2018 4:02 pm

ShojiAmasawa wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 12:20 am
At this point, I don't know what I'm doing wrong. PaperDoor Studios has two releases, both with a lot of fantastic work put into them,
Let's start from the beginning: I only know one release from Paper Studios: Evolved
The game can't be downloaded any more, because all files have been removed from the server.
So how shall I give any feedback if I can't play the game? 🙄

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Re: Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

#6 Post by ShojiAmasawa » Sun Apr 22, 2018 4:50 pm

Karl_C wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 4:02 pm
ShojiAmasawa wrote:
Sun Apr 22, 2018 12:20 am
At this point, I don't know what I'm doing wrong. PaperDoor Studios has two releases, both with a lot of fantastic work put into them,
Let's start from the beginning: I only know one release from Paper Studios: Evolved
The game can't be downloaded any more, because all files have been removed from the server.
So how shall I give any feedback if I can't play the game? 🙄
What the heck? Well, thank you for bringing this to my attention. It should be fixed, now.

It was not my intention here to promote our work or ask for feedback, but I will send a link to our other project via PM.

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Re: Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

#7 Post by Mammon » Sun Apr 22, 2018 5:07 pm

Mikolajspy already made a lot of arguments that I agree upon and would've been my 2 cents too. One should never expect to make a hit game like the ones you actually hear a lot of people about, and that just releasing a game is already an achievement. I understand that having a budget out of your own pockets does add to the desire to actually make a success or financial gain out of it, but the making of a game itself should already be a hobby worth doing just for the sake of entertaining oneself.

One thing I can add 2 cents on is your representation, I know from experience that the way and especially the length of your pitch has a tremendous effect on the response. I wrote a long and detailed recruitment post for NaNo17 that told people everything they needed to know, and no one replied. I shortened it to a much shorter and simpler post, and applications started to come in. I'm not saying that you need to reduce your post to a 400 signs twitter post, but it does have to be a message that entices people to read it. If it looks like a wall of text, people probably don't even read the first line before leaving the page again. And I saw that you actually used a smaller font on your itch.io page... Always go bigger.

So, to come back on Mikolajspy's words, people make the decision whether to play your game in about two seconds. (or rather, the decision to read the description and then decide to play the game.) I know that going through more than an hour of work to make your thread for publication might seem long, but it's only a fraction of the time you should put into your representation. That should require a lot of work and perhaps even completely new artwork just for your advertisement. Like a clickbait article writer once said: 'Writing the article only takes me about twenty minutes, but I can easily spend an hour or two coming up with the perfect title for it.'

Not that you have to make it as short as possible. Certainly not. You need to write it in an easy to digest and enticing way. And more importantly, you need to make the description just long enough, and add parts that break up the text. Images and such, already a good start. Adding some questions underneath to entice the reader to actually answer then and thus post. Adding images where the characters are shown and described shortly, even though it doesn't quite add to the plot pitch. You're not selling the story, you're selling the desire to actually click 3-4 times to download the game and to spend 10 minutes leaving a review assuming that they have something to say about it. It sounds like a reality a developer doesn't want to live in, but it's unfortunately the reality we have. The golden era of 2003 where being just an English VN available on the internet is all the commercialising you need are over.

(Also, I've seen quite a few posts suggesting that your games run into a lot of technical issues. If someone tries to download but can't, it's quite likely that they and a dozen others who didn't post this won't return once the issue is fixed. Make sure that your game is ready for playing the moment you release it.)

And finally, is the game one that sounds interesting and marketable? Is it something that is taken by a certain market or played by streamers? Five nights at Freddy's wasn't a hit with every sequel being played by every squeemish youtuber because it's good, but because it has dumb jumpscares that allow those streamers to overexagerate their fear and get a laugh out of the audience. DDLC too had a few things that just worked really well to get people to stream it and for people to talk about it. Because it's not the overall story, but the few moments you can say something about that will result in you talking about it. Does your project have something like that? Does it have that one possibly soulless and bland addition that allows for it to be marketed?
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Re: Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

#8 Post by ShojiAmasawa » Sun Apr 22, 2018 10:19 pm

Everyone here has been so kind! I really didn't expect these replies. So many good points are being made that I don't think I can address them all, but I'll do my best!

The general consensus among everyone who's replied seems to boil down to a few points.
  • Scale down
This rings especially true for me because it's what people I know have been telling me for years. Hearing it from people I don't know gives it a lot more weight, frankly. It's easy to say "I can handle it," but it's very obvious that I can't at this moment in time.
  • Market smartly (find a hook, use hashtags, find "that one possibly soulless and bland addition," etc)
Urgh...This is something I've always had trouble with. On one hand, I sometimes feel like I can say: "Lemmasoft, integrity is everything. I don't need recognition, I'll live on love! The love I have for obscure, post-visual novels." Put that mindset into practice, however, and I get angry at the very market I aim at for "not being adventurous enough." Blaming everyone else isn't going to change the fact that no one cares about our projects, and that I'm obviously doing something wrong.

Why is the 1983 Yes album "90125" so beloved? Because it has the right balance of accessibility and uniqueness that make it enjoyable to anyone who listens to it, be they insiders or outsiders. Our projects don't have that. We should have been aiming for a "90125," but we went with "Tales From Topographic Oceans" instead, and no one wants to play that.
  • Stop comparing yourself to other projects
Possibly one of the hardest things I'll ever have to learn. I'll get on that.
  • Get feedback
Which means I'll need to seek feedback. Terrifying, but a worthy endeavor.
  • Fix your site/thread/games!
Agh! How the heck did that happen?! Oh well, I guess I should have expected Photobucket would only get worse, and that renaming a folder on Box would throw the entire link off. When will I learn? For the record, though, that time we linked to the wrong file for months on end on our site was my brother's fault. But speaking of our website, I'm currently in the process of renewing the domain. Hopefully, that'll be sorted out soon.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you—all of you—for your wonderful responses. You've helped me out of a creative slump; maybe this thread will be able to help out someone in a similar position. This site really is filled with amazingly supportive people!

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Re: Staying motivated when projects aren't successful?

#9 Post by karenbubblegum » Sat Jun 23, 2018 7:06 am

You can't imagine how many times a thing like this has happened to indie game developers.
The guys from Samsung has said during one of their conferences that, if you've an indie game dev and your first project fails, try the next one. Then the next one. Then the next one. If you know for sure that this is your thing, this is what you wanna do, the success will come one day, it always does.
Welcome to the Omni world.

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