Stories of success among indie games are out in the spotlight far too often. In a way, false illusions are created for hundreds of developers wanting to follow-up on that success, with the harsh truth being that it’s very hard to break through in today’s indie market. Sadly, it looks like this was the case for Airscape: The Fall of Gravity – a recent game that got very good reception across the board. In fact, Daniel West (one of its developers) has written a rather honest post-mortem over at Gamasutra, mentioning that the game sold a mere 150 copies after its release.
The game itself is a 2D action platformer that is best described as a crossover between Super Mario Galaxy and Super Meat Boy. The result – very challenging platforming set in a variety of intriguing and charming worlds. But with most reviews being very positive and the game receiving numerous awards such as the PAX Australia Indie Showcase selection and the Intel Level Up competition award, what exactly was the problem?
“The answer is complicated”, West wrote. According to him, the game was heavily marketed to the point that the developers reached out to almost every news outlet out there, on top of attending big shows such as PAX and GDC. “I was met with almost universal disinterest. While this was disappointing at first, I realized that without something actionable (a game or Kickstarter launch, for instance) I couldn’t really expect a lot of press attention.”
On top of being active on social media and participating in Reddit conversations, he also apparently hired a PR company to handle any other marketing prior to release. But even then, West mentions that it wasn’t enough. “When the launch embargo lifted, we were again disappointed to see almost total disinterest from all major press outlets, streamers and journalists alike.” This is bizzare, especially since the article mentions how a video of Airscape made by Youtuber “jacksepticeye” resulted in roughly 20 sales, despite the fact that it had around 500,000 views.
With the approach taken to market Airscape: The Fall of Gravity clearly looking to be the brute-force one, as in trying to get everyone to know about the game, West acknowledges that perhaps a more streamlined, “community method” approach would’ve been more beneficial – as in trying to create a tight-knit group of followers that can escalate the hype when the game gets launched. But still, that’s kind of difficult without offering constant updates on the current progress of your game.
In a way, all of this perhaps leads to the conclusion that Steam isn’t a place that automatically brings success to your game anymore. West summarized it well, saying the following: “Like it or not, Steam has become the App Store, sans human curation and with less emphasis on free-to-play.” With an incredibly low barrier to entry it’s very hard to notice individual games, and it does look like you either have to deliver something really unique, or you have to be really lucky.
Perhaps we’re simply looking at a game that does not look that interesting to the regular user. West briefly mentions how “the game’s cute graphics may well have pushed away the masochist audience we needed”, and perhaps that’s one reason for the failure at display. However, the main problem may very well be the fact that Airscape does not stand out in any way. And if you want an example of how to do that, simply go and look at the resent Dropsy launch trailer. Even if it isn’t a game for everyone, it’s more than unique, and it will surely stay in your sub-conscious mind for a while.
All in all, the sad truth is that achieving commercial success for indies is becoming harder and harder with each day. With a recent and similar example being Tale of Tales’ resignation from making games due to the commercial failure of Sunset, the moral of the story is that a solid concept is not enough, however profound or complex it might be. In the end, West says it best: “If you only do everything right, it’s quite unlikely you’ll find success.”
Original Author: Georgi Trenev