One year of GrimTalin

Welcome to my retrospective of 2018, the first year of life for my company GrimTalin! It's going to be a bit of a long post, but it's got a lot of insight, advice and juicy bits, marked for your convenience in case you just want to skim through. Here we go!

Back in January 2018 I decided to open my company, with the (un)inspired name GrimTalin. Which you may or may not know that it is also my PlayStation profile name and an alias I used frequently. Since it was going to be just me in the company for a good deal of time, why not use this name? When I wrote in the credits of The Adventures of Elena Temple that it was made by GrimTalin, it meant both my company and myself. Which is either clever or dumb, depending on if you like me or not..

So I decided to open the company because development on The Adventures of Elena Temple was going well and the release was in sight. The game launched on Steam and on March 15th. Juicy #1: it sold 7 units on the first day. 22 units in the first week. Now I don't know if you ever made a game or any product of any kind, but those numbers aren't the most happiness inducing ones. I had low expectations for the game, but really? The thing was I was still under the impression that Steam was a good marketplace for indies with no marketing budgets. If by any chance you haven't figured this out yet, IT IS NOT! Advice #1: If your launch strategy only includes Steam, then be prepared to either go bust or to rub the luckiest rabbit foot in existence!

After I got past the inevitable depressing days that followed, I pulled myself together and started working on the Nintendo Switch™ version, which to my delight went smoothly and with the help of the wonderful people at Nintendo, especially the European team, I saw my game in the Coming Soon section of the eShop on May 1st, with its release set to May 15th. And the craziest thing happened! I started to get a lot of buzz around the game, mails from press and streamers asking for the game to try it out. Considering the almost total lack of interest for the Steam version, I was dumbstruck! The buzz kept going and then exploded on the release week. I was stunned to see that people were pre-purchasing the game! Then they kept buying the game on release day, then the first week, then the first month.

Now don't think that I was buying a Ferrari with the earnings. They were modest for most game companies, but for me, a solo indie developer who kept the development costs at the absolute minimum, they were first and foremost encouraging. My game was actually selling. And the people who played it loved it! Well, most of them, some were appalled by my gull to launch something like Elena Temple in the year of our Lord 2018. Advice #2: Include the Switch on your launch platforms! The visibility it still has for new releases is a God send to small and big companies alike!

For the coming months I worked on and released two updates, then I made a PC physical collector's box with the guys at IndieBox. Which was yet another dream come true for me, to hold my game in my hands! I'm very happy with how it turned out, it has a map, manual / design booklet, stickers, 2 Steam keys and some more stuff in there. I was expecting it to sell an exact amount of zero units. To my delight, it sold considerably more than that! Mandatory marketing line here: although only 100 units were made, there are still some available, so if you think you're interested, you can get yourself a late Christmas present here.

In September I started working on my new game, Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale, a colorful relaxing puzzle game combined with a fairy tale told in verse through a modern perspective. Juicy #2: Here are the first two screenshots ever:

Development was going well, but then I went to Dev.Play, a local event here in Romania and I got to talking with Olga from Square Heads Games about bringing their game, Cake Laboratory to the Nintendo Switch™. So I paused Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale and started working on porting the game, redesigning it here and there to make it the best fit we could make it for the console. We managed to submit the final build in time for a release before Christmas. I was worried about the market being too crowded, Olga was excited about kids wanting the colorful game as a present on Christmas day. Turns out she was right and I was wrong! There weren't that many games released the days before and during Christmas, which meant Cake Laboratory got a nice visible slot in the New Releases section of the eShop during a crucial period.

Which brings us to Juicy #3: the game sold incredibly well, at least compared to my modest Elena Temple sales! At the moment of writing this article, Cake Laboratory has more units sold than The Adventures of Elena Temple, which makes it a big success for us, considering it's only been selling for a little over two weeks, pre-purchases included. Advice #3: If you can time your launch around Christmas, don't be afraid to release then! I know lots of people tend to avoid the Holidays because there are way too many games to compete with, but there is also a lot more willingness from players to buy lots of games and if your game is visible enough, it's going to be one of those games!

If you're into charts and sales numbers, well, I only got a chart for you, but it still counts as a Juicy #4: both games published by GrimTalin are in the chart below and you can get a clue on how the games did so far. The places where sales for Elena Temple go up are during discount events. Unfortunately, after the game goes out of the New Releases section of the eShop, its visibility drops to almost zero, so you have to rely on discounts, which at least put your game on the Best Offers list. That gets browsed by millions of people and there are far fewer games in there to choose from.

One last thing about Cake Laboratory: if you hate greedy publishers and how they suck dry honest developers, fear not! The biggest part of the earnings for the game goes to Square Heads Games. Which means they had a pretty good Christmas this year!

Is that quite enough retrospective? Ok, how about I mention a few things on what's in plan for 2019 before I wrap up? Cool! In fact, I have a loose roadmap for the next two years, if you can imagine! The most obvious thing in there is of course Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale. But, the Juicy #5 is that it's coming out for Nintendo Switch™, Steam, and more! Yep, you heard me, more! As in more consoles. I'll announce it when the time comes and everything is set in place, but yeah, it's going to be a multi console release. Which brings me to Juicy #6: The Adventures of Elena Temple is going to be a multi console game soon! And trust me, I can barely hold it in me to not just burst out the new systems it's coming out for! Snap, did I say systems? Me and my loose mouth! Ok, fine, here is another Juicy #7: I don't intend on letting Elena Temple hang out her hat and retire. Did I ever mention how much I like the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Oh, it's not related? Yeah, it's true, Lord of the Rings has nothing to do with Elena Temple..

I have a lot of things planned for the next years. The only thing that doesn't work in my favor is time. But hopefully I can get to make all these things, I'm very excited for every one of them and can't wait to release new games and branch out to new systems! I'm living my indie dream and it's more glorious than I imagined!

But, there is one last thing I want to mention, which I think is crucial for any indie developer or wannabe out there! While I made some money selling The Adventures of Elena Temple and Cake Laboratory and it has given me a huge boost in confidence, I could not survive without my savings. I could not afford to pay myself a decent salary to support my family. I invest most of the money I earn in the company and in the next games I'm working on. Reaching the kind of sales that would also allow me to pay myself back is my goal, but it is still pretty far from me. I want to make that perfectly clear. So here is my Advice #4: If you want to be an indie developer, please, for the love of God, make sure you have enough money to support yourself. It doesn't matter if it's your own or you have investors, a generous family or a guardian angel. Chances are your first game won't sell. Or your second. Or your hundredth. You need to be able to survive that. Especially if you have a family to support! I worked for ten years in the industry, putting money aside, before I could be comfortable enough to make the switch to being an indie. And I have a lot of stress and I worry about the future when the games I make don't sell well enough to keep me going. I can keep at it for another couple of years, because thankfully I made a decent amount of money from these two games and I also haven't yet burned fast enough through my savings. But I want to be able to go on past these two years. I'm hopeful, but at the same time I'm aware I might not make it. You know what though? It's going to be an amazing ride and I'm going to enjoy the hell out of it while it lasts!

I hope you have the most wonderful year! Happy 2019!

P.S. Sorry, but I have to add another marketing line here: The Adventures of Elena Temple is still on sale for a few more days. It's only 1.99$ on the eShop and 0.99$ on Steam. It's not going to get cheaper than this anytime soon. If you think you'd enjoy it and think you can spare a cup of coffee or two, please consider purchasing it! Thank you!