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  • Postmortem: Eastshade

    [10.15.20]
    - Danny Weinbaum

  • Design

    Throughout Eastshade's history, there were a few eureka moments of design. I'd always known I wanted to make a game that was a place. A strong sense of place is my favorite thing a video game can give, and it is, and will always be, the main design pillar of any game I have authority in designing. And I knew I wanted it to be a nice place, where you could feel cozy and safe.

    In the beginning the idea was to make the game's core loop through survival mechanics. We had hunger, coldness, energy, and the idea was to build progression with finding things to help these depleting bars. We had come to our first major design dilemma: The constantly depleting bars were entirely at odds with how we wanted the game to feel. They penalized the player for doing the very thing we wanted the game to be about, which is going slow and feeling that sense of place. We needed a new core loop.

    The painting mechanic was born from trying to think of a way to reward the kind of thing we wanted the player to do in Eastshade, which is to go slow and smell the roses. One fateful day, about a year into development, Jaclyn came up with the idea that the player could be a painter, and create quests around the player capturing certain objects, places, colors, times of day, or a combination of those. This would work in perfect harmony with wandering and smelling the roses, because the slower the player went, and the more they let the sense of place wash over them, the better they would do at these quests. It was genius. That was the first eureka moment in our design journey.

    The next eureka moment came about 4 years into development, and although it's a less prominent feature, to me, was even more momentous. It was the type of idea that doesn't make new work, but rather solves existing problems. It was the inspiration mechanic. The idea was that creating paintings would cost inspiration, and new experiences in the game world would give you inspiration. So drinking tea, reading a new book, discovering a new location, relaxing in a hot spring, hearing a tale from a story teller, listening to street music (basically exactly the cozy stuff we wanted the player to be enjoying) would all reward your player character with inspiration.

    This totally closed the game loop, created a harmony between theme and mechanics, and gave us an easy way to tie all auxiliary actions into the core loop. It was, again, Jaclyn's genius. It was amazing that such a tiny and easy to implement feature could have such a profound impact on the game, and that it came so late in development, yet fit like a glove. It made me realize the true power of a good idea. Ideas that come in the form of more content, or at the cost of production resources are a dime a dozen. I have hundreds of ideas of that nature lying around. But an idea that solves problems is precious.

    Marketing

    For as long as we've been working on Eastshade itself, we've also been working on its promotion. I don't think there's any one or two things that are the magic bullets, because every game has different avenues that work for it, and indeed, the marketing effort is the sum of its parts. I'll try to give a rough outline of the things we did for Eastshade:

    1. We hired Player Two PR who handles press releases, journalist outreach, strategizing on release timing and plan, and key distribution during big moments in our campaign.*
    2. We picked our timing for our trailer releases, our release date announcement, and our actual release (the most important one) very carefully, trying to stay clear of other news and releases.
    3. I am very active on Twitter (@eastshade), posted lots of screenshots and gifs, and interact a lot.
    4. I often streamed my work on twitch.
    5. I've written a number of articles that have done well on Gamasutra and 80.lv and other game dev sites.
    6. We got into the Indie MEGABOOTH at PAX West, and also showed at GDC in a special Unity booth we were invited to for the 3D Game Art Challenge. I feel the impact of conventions is often overestimated, but we ended up getting some important coverage, especially at GDC. I guess every time you do a convention you are rolling the dice that you might get some big coverage.

    *Number 1 is big. Charlene (who is the founder) knows the games media landscape well, and in addition to all the regular PR stuff like press releases and key distribution, does a lot of research as far as finding people who might be interested. Perhaps most importantly, she helped us with our grand strategy in terms of what marketing assets we needed, how we should roll things out, and the timing of everything.

    That is the outline of things we did on the promotion side. There are a lot of other things that go into it, but that would be a whole article itself.

    Revenue

    And without further ado, the moment you've all been waiting for! With myself and Jaclyn the only full-timers on the team, and under 100k in contractor investment, I can say that Eastshade was a massive success for us. Across all platforms we have grossed about $2M since launch. That translates to about 1.1M post-platform net. Our deepest discount so far is 50%, and our sales curve is still very healthy. We expect to break 3M gross in the coming years. Most platforms have NDAs regarding revenue stats, but Steam now lets us show ours. So here it is:

    Steam is by far our biggest market share. In fact, I would call our console launch a faceplant. Our sales were about 10% of what we expected them to be. A few months ago, we were fortunate that Microsoft featured us on the family homepage, and Xbox sales have picked up substantially since then. Playstation has remained a trickle, and our PS4 release was hardly worth it for us, especially considering what a difficult platform it is to release on, from both a development and administrative perspective.

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