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.
- When I started working on it I only had ~6 months of experience working 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. This isn’t fully exploited in any other video game that I know of.
- 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 as 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 I timeboxed myself to 12 months. Some ideas like different battle objectives (eg move your king to a certain location), 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 (in my opinion) 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.
- 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, 1 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. 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 efforts were worth it, and what kind of games I’ll make in the future make sure to subscribe.