This post will be a summary of how I developed The Ouroboros King, a chess roguelike, and my first commercial game. The post will cover development until its release, including planning, marketing, and coding. I will cover what happened post-release in a future post.
I initially wrote a “more narrated” post but it felt too long and boring. I’ve redone it to be shorter by mostly using bullet points.
- The game was developed with Unity, but when I started working on it I only had ~6 months of experience with Unity (during which I made Magplat).
- I did have lots of experience coding, as I’d been a data scientist for 8 years.
- I spent about 12 months working part-time (3-4h/day, 5 days/week) on The Ouroboros King until its release.
The game idea came from 2 different places:
- I think chess is a superb turn-based combat system with simple rules and very deep strategic play.
- After realizing that lots of games are very similar to Slay the Spire with different combat systems (map with different rewards, choose one reward format, 3 acts, …), I decided to borrow that pattern.
I picked this idea among others because it felt relatively easy to code (which in general it was) and it could be done with almost no art skills, making it a feasible project for me.
- I built in the open with a blog about development and a playable version online ASAP. This allowed me to gather some feedback from the start, but not as much as I would’ve liked since few people played the game.
- I uploaded the first playable version to itch.io by mid-June 2022. Here are the update blog posts: June, July, August, December, April.
- Planned around having a payable “short version” of the game (map, combat, recruit and upgrade; just the 1st act) and adding all the systems to it (relics, items, difficulty, dialog). After that, I added polish and more content (more pieces, relics, items, and acts 2 and 3).
- I initially thought I could make it in 6-8 months. When I realized it was getting out of hand (about 8 months in) I timeboxed myself to 12 months. Some ideas like different battle objectives (move your king to a certain location or control a certain square), more complex events (like the ones in StS), and other board modifiers, had to be cut.
- The biggest challenges in terms of code were the game’s AI and the rewind system (very bug-prone).
- At some points near the end of the project, I ignored code quality to be faster and that wasn’t a good idea.
- I had to do very little art (just some pieces and some animations). I took most icons from https://game-icons.net/ and I had an artist do the cover art.
- My brother did the music.
- Some weeks before release the game started catching attention and I got a ton of feedback. I sprinted to add more content in the 2 weeks before launch. This significantly improved the game but added some bugs that got into the launch version…
- I’m very happy with the end result in terms of playability even if it cannot compete with titans of the genre like Slay the Spire in terms of content quantity (TOK it’s cheaper though).
- Had a Steam page up 7 months before release, but it gathered less than 500 wishlists until a month before release.
- What didn’t work for me in terms of getting wishlists at scale: random Reddit posts, Twitter (#ScreenshotSaturday, #TurnBasedThursday, random posting, … although I made some positive connections to other devs), posting on TIGSource forums, posting on Indie DB.
- What worked was emailing streamers, a single post on r/chess, and Steam Next Fest. It makes me wonder if I should bother with social media or not for future games.
- At the end of January, I emailed around 50 streamers and contacted others through Twitch chat (used it for the smaller ones and had a very low response rate). I found them by looking for top streamers of similar games on SullyGnome. The email I sent was very similar to the one from Zero Sievert. I got covered by Aliensrock, Sifd, Retromation, and Olexa among others, resulting in a crazy wishlist growth. Chess streamers mostly ignored me.
- I had one post on r/chess with ~600 upvotes that also helped.
- February’s Next Fest picked up on the game’s growing popularity and gave me lots of wishlists.
- I got on the popular upcoming list before launch which also boosted the game’s wishlists.
- I launched with ~20k wishlists.
- The game had way more bugs than I’d like to admit because I was changing things until the last moment.
- That plus some early negative reviews made it one of the most stressful days of my life.
- Sales went as expected from my wishlist count (~4.500 units in the 1st month, price of 9.99$ with 10% launch discount).
Given the game’s popularity, I decided to work some more on it, including bug fixes, more content, localizations, and ports (android, iOS). In a few months, I’ll write a new post about how all of this has gone.
The game’s moderate success has inspired me to quit my job and go full-time indie. If you want to know if my localization and porting efforts were worth it, and what kind of games I’ll make in the future make sure to subscribe.