PONCHO – A Postmortem 54


It’s finally over…

Hello everyone! It’s finally time, to get down to the PONCHO postmortem, where we talk about everything that went right, and everything that went wrong with the development of the game.

It’s a been a long, almost 5 year journey that has changed us forever. Now, a year after the initial release, it’s time to spill the beans on everything we’ve been through.

Before we do that, first we must say with a heavy heart that we’ve been forced to give up on the Vita port of the game. Things out of our control are stopping us from actually sending it to Playstation, and we have no choice but to cease development of it. Unfortunately, we can’t give any hard reasons for the cancellation without incurring some kind of legal penalty.

We hope we haven’t disappointed anyone too much with this news, but it is what it is. We’re truly unable to pursue it any further, and believe me, we’ve tried. With that out of the way, here we go…

Winter 2011: It begins with a sprite

It’s 2011. Danny Hayes (me) and Jack Odell both have day jobs, but wanted to make a video game of our own. We decided to go full indie, and make something we knew would take years, and put everything we had into it, with the ambition of making something on the scale of BRAID or CAVE STORY. But we had no idea what to do. We were young, optimistic, and filled with big dreams of creating the next indie hit.

Then, one day, Jack created an interesting character design:

I instantly fell in love with this character. I was excited. We still didn’t know what kind of game we’d make, but we knew it was going to be about this guy. A platformer seemed like a good fit, so we spent some time talking about how to make it innovative and interesting compared to other Platformers.

Both Jack and I talked about retro inspirations, namely parallax sidescrollers on the Sega consoles, and how you’d see mountains and hills in the backgrounds, but you could never actually go there.

Jack suggested we could separate the game into layers and shift between them at will to achieve that idea. We then we named the robot after his red namesake and thus, PONCHO was born.

2012: A year of idealistic struggling

Before PONCHO, I had coded mainly for iOS and in C++. I had no idea how to use Unity, but decided it would be the best option since it had easy porting and was more accessible at the time than the Unreal engine.

Throughout 2011 and most of 2012 we went through a bunch of prototypes, re-designs and re-codings as I learned how to use the Unity engine more effectively. At this point, I did the code and level design, and Jack did the music and art. It went something like this:

  • Build the game in actual 3D, using a world of 3D cubes with 2D characters to create a 2.5d effect. Realise that it doesn’t look good and start again using a 2D planed environment layered over itself hundreds of times to create the 2.5D effect we wanted.
  • Redesign of PONCHO to make him more cute and iconic looking: 
  • Design level art to look like this:
  • Start adding some cool ass characters:

 

It went on like that. By the end of the first year of development, we had most of a story, basic shifting gameplay and several levels with a bunch of characters and menus. But while mine and Jack’s art was passable, we wanted a real pixel pro to join the team and take over the art side of things.

2013: Matt joins the fray!

I posted on a bunch of pixel art sites, saying that we were looking for an artist to join our team. I had saved some money from my day job so we could afford some real talent. We got something like 50 applications, including one guy who strangely only had a portfolio of Hentai to show us, and one who’s portfolio included nothing but a single pixel art tree. Luckily there was also Matthew Weekes and he was just the best. After several months, the game looked like this:

 

Awesome. We finally had a quality game on our hands, and everything was starting to feel real. Also, in case you were wondering just how many layers and images are on the screen at any given time, have a gander at this early progress level:

 

 

The design issues

Designing Poncho was tough. As well as designing each level plane and making sure things like jump distances and obstacle placement was perfect like any other 2D platformer, it had to be designed so that it would work in sync with basically 2 other levels that you can move freely in between. We had to make sure that puzzles and obstacles on one layer couldn’t simply be bypassed by shifting to another layer without some thinking.

Additionally to make things more complicated for us, we wanted to make the game pseudo open world, so the player could choose to go left or right and still complete each area, with multiple paths and choices in which puzzles to tackle. So levels also had to work in a way where each plane would have to match up to the levels either side of the current one. Each “world” is made of a ring of levels, so by moving in one direction, eventually the player would be moving in circles effectively. This removed a lot of the stress of backtracking, instead of being at the end of a level and having to move all the way back from where they came, the player could take a shortcut by continuing to move in the same direction.

So, instead of working with pen and paper (which we did at first), I designed most of the levels in engine, moving things around and playing until each level felt like a cohesive whole where each layer was in sync with each other. It took a long time to get each level right.

Originally, we were gonna setup levels with varying numbers of planes, possibly going as high as 9 planes or so, but we felt that having only 3 planes would allow for a more concise and simplified design, plus it would far less development time.

After getting a feel for how to create levels we started to get creative in different ways we could use the shifting mechanic and added some cool effects:

  • Obstacles and blocks that shift on a timer
  • Obstacles and blocks that shift when you do
  • Levels that move between 2D and 3D, merging layers on a timer (That’s the infamous Disco level)
  • Levels where the view is set in 2D but the player has to think in 3D space (The great lake)
  • Anti Shift fields that stop players from shifting in certain areas
  • Level planes that slide horizontally and move over each other
  • Machines that would merge large numbers of layers and place the player on the front on back layers (seen in the later levels)
  • And more…

There were also a bunch of things we wanted to do and were in the original design, but ran out of funding before we could add them into the actual game:

  • Fields that were connected to doors, if the player shifted within the field, the door would shut and the player would have to attempt the puzzle again
  • Oil slick areas where the player would slide along quickly and have to time jumps and shifts
  • Super layered levels, where there were several layers in a single level
  • Shift fields that would throw you back if you shifted into them
  • Shift fields that would throw you forward an extra layer if you shifted into them
  • Small underwater areas in other levels, not just the lake
  • There’s probably more, but it’s difficult to remember…

If I had to say PONCHO was inspired by any game in particular, I’d say Braid, with the emphasis being on puzzles. But, we also felt that the mechanics also worked in a twitch platforming situation, so the levels ended up being a mix of the two. We’d give the player some twitch platforming and timed jump sections, then let them relax with some more puzzle based areas.

The biggest sign of Braid’s influence on my designs is probably in the doors. We wanted to create a situation where players would have to “earn” and unlock new pathways and areas for each level by collecting keys, usually by completing puzzles and platforming sections. We went with colour coded doors in order to have some say on when they could unlock certain areas, for example in the very first forest area there are 4 doors in the back layer, and the player must collect all the keys in that level and also buy one from the merchant in order to take the secret back way into the other levels in order to unlock the SMASH ability as a reward, which in turn unlocked more areas to explore.

But in other cases, players will have to go exploring and beat certain puzzles in order to get keys and progress. Additionally, keys could be collected and doors opened in order to bypass some harder puzzles, as a reward for completing earlier puzzles. We designed it that way to make the game feel non-linear and give the player choices in each level.

Another aspect of the game, was the abilities. Originally there were going to more of them, and the idea was that they would enhance the experience, but not be a prerequisite for beating the game. They simply exist only to unlock more aspects of the game. We wanted the game to still be kind of pure and rely on the shifting mechanic, so we designed it so that the game could still be comfortably beaten without any abilities, while still making levels interesting for the players that did collect the abilities.

Additionally, instead of using a tile tool or something to create levels, I placed every single sprite by hand. That image above is before any decorative sprites like flowers or bushes are added, and there are hundreds of those in any given level. It took a very long time, but I wanted to do it that way in order to give the game a more “wild” look, as well as have absolute control on the visuals.

Suffice to say, designing a game of this kind was a much bigger undertaking compared to other games than we could have ever realised when we first started. In hindsight, we should have made the game a little more linear and less ambiguous.

The Story and world Development

From the beginning, we knew that we wanted a beautiful post apocalyptic world. The themes of PONCHO are centred around the meaning of existence and purpose, as well as a side theme of nature vs man. But we also wanted the game to have a sentimental aspect, and for that reason I based the story slightly on Pinocchio. A robot who was once human, on a search for their maker, their father. The focus of the game was never really on story, more on gameplay, and for that reason we made the story elements fairly open and abstract, from Poncho’s dream sequences of the world ending at the start of the game to the super sad ending.

Originally, there were going to be about 3 times as many story scenes as there are currently. Unfortunately they had to be cut due to lack of funding. But we still felt we managed to get across all the themes and feelings that we were going for. It’s a shame, but still enough for some players to cry at the ending, which is more than enough for us.

For a post apocalyptic world, PONCHO is teeming with life. This was very important to me, I wanted to make the world feel alive and real. That’s why the game is filled with critters and characters who have no purpose other than to add a passive charm to every area. Would the game have played any different without them? Not really. Is the game better with the time it took to add them? Absolutely. By randomly generating moving characters all of the place, the world felt more alive.

2014 & the year everything got serious

In the Summer, me and Jack quit our jobs. There had been a lot of crunching at the studio I worked at in the spring, and development of PONCHO had been slow. Anyone who works in the industry knows how hard it is to come home and develop your own projects, when your day job is 60 hours a week minimum. Luckily I had saved enough money to sustain myself for awhile, and we finally went full time on the game. It was great. It was around this time that we knew we were gonna need funding in order to bring the game to the level that we wanted it, since we only had a few months of money left. It was time to do a KICKSTARTER.

We planned the campaign meticulously. Up to this point, we had done no marketing. We wanted everyone’s first look at the game to be within a couple of years of release, rather than announce it right away and then make people wait several years so they can lose interest.

We planned to do an announcement with a trailer, then spend a couple of months marketing before launching the campaign. We also wanted to take the game to EGX, the UK’s biggest games expo, around the same time the Kickstarter ended to give the campaign a big boost at the end. But EGX is expensive. So I took out a very large loan to keep us going for awhile and pay for the costs of taking the game to an expo (It was in the thousands).

Then we released this trailer and sent out a press release to about a thousand you-tubers and members of the press:

Between the announcement and launching the kickstarter, we sent out 3 major press releases, as well as updating our social media and blog posts several times a week. None of the major sites ever replied to us or wrote any articles, though we did get several small indie focused sites writing about the game.

Pressure was starting to build, we were all working very hard and stopped seeing friends. We stopped leaving the house. We stopped living. Nothing mattered except making this game as good as it can be. I was thousands in the hole, and I had spent all my money on it without having a job. (Looking back on it, I was an idiot, but in a way I’m glad I did it).

£22.5k was the goal we landed on for the Kickstarter. We figured it was the minimum we needed to finish off the game, I was fine with surviving instead of living for awhile to see it through. £22.5k between 3 people over 6 months is less than minimum wage, but we were prepared to do it. Only PONCHO mattered.

Kickstarter Launch!

We launched the Kickstarter on the 2nd of September, 2014.

After a few hours of constantly refreshing the page, I finally went to bed, exhausted and feeling like we had accomplished something.

The next day, I looked at our campaign to see that we were already 15% towards our goal in one day! A bunch of youtubers had come on board and some more smaller sites posted about the kickstarter launching. So we got drunk and celebrated.

The next day, we were at 17%.

Shit.

To go from 15% in one day to only get 2% on the next was worrying. And it continued. By the time the end of the kickstarter was drawing near, we were only at about 25% of our goal. But we still had a big 4 screen booth at EGX, where thousands of people and press would see the game. We had spent weeks polishing and working on the demo we were showing, doing crazy hours. We hoped EGX would be just what we needed.

EGX

I had been a programmer for years. I thought I knew what it was to be tired after working weeks of crunch at studios. But I had never been so tired as I was at EGX.

First off, our hearts sunk into our stomachs when we saw the booth. It was cool and all, I mean, we were at EGX with PONCHO! But, it was literally the worst placed booth in the entire complex. It was right on the outside of a main booth area, on the second floor, where footfall was at it’s lowest. On the other side of the partition there were hundreds of people. On our side were people who might catch a glimpse of the game as they passed to make their way to the toilet we were next to. Yes, we were next to a goddamn toilet.

I was furious, after spending just as much money as everyone else, we got far less value. To top it off, our booth alone was dark and had no lighting. In order to get press to play the game, we literally had to go out into the expo and grab as much press as we could and lead them to our own booth, because no one knew where it was. Additionally, due to the lighting situation, some press that wanted to conduct interviews couldn’t do it in front of our booth because it was too dark. That’s how bad it was.

Still, there were usually a couple of seats filled most of the time, if someone stumbled across our darkened area of EGX. We did a bunch of interviews, and energetically tried to “sell” the game to as many people as possible. It was tiring, but still an amazing experience to see people finally playing the game.

Until we realised there was a crash bug in our demo, which required us to get out a keyboard to reboot the game. It was awful, it was just like that scene from “Indie game: the movie” where Phil Fish is rebooting FEZ at PAX because the build keeps crashing. It was exactly like that, complete with us apologising and being like: “You can try again from the beginning if you want…”. About 75% of people never got it though, so it wasn’t too bad.

After the first day, our legs felt like blocks of numbed wood, our throats was sore as hell, and it was also the day I took up smoking. There were 3 days left. Oh god.

Each day went on much like the rest, with us watching in wonder and joy as people played the game, at the same time as being saddened that we were somewhat ignored compared to the other booths. One interesting moment is when a journalist from Destructoid sat down to play the game one day. The guy played through the whole thing with a smile on his face and writing down things in his notepad every now and then.

We started to notice something at this point after seeing so many people play the game.

PONCHO is marmite. You either like it, or you hate it. While some players put the controller down after 5 minutes, the guy from Destructoid seemed to like it, and wrote a nice article urging others to kickstart us.  It was the first time a major outlet had given us an article and it was amazing.

But my favourite memory is of a young girl, maybe 7 years old, constantly dragging her parents back to the PONCHO booth so she could play it more. It was her favourite. I almost felt like crying, that single thing is probably my favourite memory of all the Poncho years. It made all the stress seem worth it, if only for moment.

 

From left to right, Matt, Jack and me, at the Rezzed expo. We got a better space that time! ^-^

 

Failure & funding

Well, I’m sure you can guess, but the Kickstarter failed. In the end we only got to 38% of our goal. This, was the turning point from optimistic game development, into a terrible, sinking, depressive state for all of us. We had no money. I was literally down to under £100 after EGX, we were banking everything on the publicity of the expo making the kickstarter a success. It did give a bit of a boost, but it wasn’t enough. It was all over, we were gonna have to go back to our day jobs and put PONCHO on hold, after all that sacrifice and effort.

But then something wonderful happened.

Suddenly, we got an email from a publisher asking to fund us. And then another publisher. And then another. It seemed that taking PONCHO to EGX had been a success after all! After negotiating through all our options, we landed on Rising Star Games, mainly because they were in the same country and seemed to know what they were doing with indies. I also thought they seemed like nice people at the time. We got funded for slightly less than what we asked for in our kickstarter, but we were funded. We did have much higher offers, but turned them down since other publishers asked if they could change the game.

 

2015 & the year where everything broke down

Now, this is where writing this gets tough. For legal reasons, there’s a bunch of events here that we can’t talk about. There would be massive repercussions if we do, and we’ve been told as much. I would, however, suggest this to all you other developers out there: Think very, very, very hard about whether or not getting a publisher is right for you.

Due to these events, we had no money, I lost my home, we lost our sony dev kits, I was thousands in debt and we had to cut a great deal of the designed content from PONCHO, including key characters and story elements in order to release something at least. And no one would help us.

In a sense, what we released was not the full game, especially the PS4 version which was taken away and finished by another company. We were never even able to test the PS4 version before it was released either, later finding out changes had been made that we didn’t want and it was full of bugs. We even had to cut the reward for collecting all of the junkyard king’s minions, which was gonna give the player a bonus end credits scene. I took out more loans just to survive and finish the steam version of the game, as we were not able to attempt to try and secure funding elsewhere. I started to smoke cannabis in order to just kinda cope with things. But, after months of pain, stress and general depression, we hit a release date.

 

 

2016 & the worst year of my life

PONCHO was released on PS4 and STEAM on November 3rd 2015. After seeing the sales, we celebrated the release by writing out our CVs to start looking for a day job. It wasn’t nearly as much as we were expecting, even by a pessimistic standard. It was truly awful.

Steam made me furious, upon releasing, we were in the new releases tab on the front page for about 3 hours, and then the game could only be found by searching for it or by it possibly turning up in someone’s recommendations. Slightly older games that had released earlier that day remained in that tab for days, and despite having a 90% review rating at the time, it seemed we weren’t selling enough copies in those few hours for steam to keep it on the front page. The Steam store isn’t much better than the Apple App store these days it seems.

Also, the reviews were confusing. We have a metacritic score of about 65, but only based on 4 reviews. There are, in fact, over 50 reviews on the web, and the average is about 7/10. Not bad for a first game! But they were all over the place. Some reviews gave it a 5/10, citing it was too hard. Others, gave it 5/10 citing that it was too easy. Others gave it an 8 or 9/10 saying it was great. We didn’t really know what to think. But we did learn a lot. Maybe the reviews just went that way because of the game’s marmite feel. It’s worth noting that, despite having a publisher on board, none of the really big sites like Kotaku, PC gamer, IGN, Rock Paper Shotgun, etc, ever covered our game. Destructoid only covered us after we got in contact with them ourselves. So don’t think that having a publisher handling the marketing will make a difference when it comes to press actually replying to emails.

On the date of writing this, over a year after releasing on multiple platforms, Delve Interactive has not yet made a single penny from PONCHO.

It feels horrible to write that down, but there it is. We still have all the debt as well as painful/wonderful memories and experiences though. A year after the initial release, we released the Wii U version which had similar result as the first one. We’ve since developed patches for the Wii U and PS4 versions while working new day jobs, but we have been prevented from actually handing them over to the platforms.

Forgetting the political and celebrity deaths aspects of 2016, it has been one of the saddest years of our lives. All that time. All that money. All that sacrifice. Nothing in return but huge debts. Money was never important to us, but we hoped to at least have enough to spend on another game full time. We pretty much stopped writing updates and social media posts, it was too depressing to think about. I had trouble holding jobs after going through a series of mental breakdowns.

It’s taken a whole year, but I’m finally starting to feel better and leaving the house more at least.

Now the part you’ve been waiting for, what advice can we give to other developers… here are the key things we learned while making PONCHO.

  • DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB.
  • Design something that’s simple, you can still make a big game, but make sure the design is concise.
  • If you ever get this feeling: “Meh, it’s good enough, let’s just release and be done with this hell”. Wait. You will regret it, even if you’re on the brink of homelessness and need money, suffer through it and wait. It will be worth it.
  • You probably won’t make much money. Don’t risk your finances for years by going into debt and putting all your chips in.
  • DO NOT RELEASE IN NOVEMBER.
  • Publishers aren’t always going to magically get people talking about your game. If that’s the reason you have for getting one, don’t.
  • Porting from PC to console is not the same as porting from PC to Mac or mobile in Unity. It’s a lot of work.
  • Game expos and watching other people play your game is key to making your game better, as well as making you a better designer.
  • DO NOT DO GIVEAWAYS. You’ll get emails all the time from people saying they’ll market your game by giving it away. Even if you’ve only sold a few hundred copies, it’s not worth it. It won’t benefit anyone but the person doing the giveaway.
  • If you do a kickstarter video, make sure it has you, the developers, in the video.
  • DO NOT GIVE KEYS TO YOUTUBERS WITH LOADS OF SUBSCRIBERS WHO REQUEST IT. If you get a request from a you tuber who has a million subscribers, that should raise a red flag. Popular youtubers do not request keys. If you give them a key, your game will be all over torrent and pirate sites within a week.
  • Getting on board with consoles is much easier than you might think. It literally takes a few emails usually to get access to dev kits and software to develop for consoles if you have a good game.

In closing…

This is not the end.

We’ve learned so much and we still have so many ideas, so we’ll never stop making games. Was PONCHO worth it? Yes. We released a game on steam and consoles, something we always dreamed of. And we have to cut ourselves some slack, it’s only our first try at this; we have our whole lives ahead of us.

On that note, we would like to announce our next game. Please, enjoy, and from all of us at Delve Interactive, peace out. ^-^


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54 thoughts on “PONCHO – A Postmortem

  • Ilia Glizerin

    I would ask myself if I would be risking making PONCHO, or any other game. Is it something I want to play? How much? Would I spend money on it, in the presence of AAA titles being everywhere?

    • dan.hayes Post author

      Some people like AAA games, some people like indie games, and that’s fine. It’s not for everyone, It’s also much cheaper than AAA games at $9.99. 🙂

      • Ilia Glizerin

        Steam spy claims you made 20k sales. Thats an enormousness amount of money. Even if some of it is Discounts, bundles, and giveaways. Deduct the publisher. And still thats a decent amount for a first game. Actually would consider this a success. If you did that with your fist game, starting from nothing. This is definitely not the end of your story.

        • dan.hayes Post author

          Oh yes, it’s still great to have lots of people playing it, even if we ourselves made no money from it to fund our next game. We’ll keep on truckin’!

        • B

          20k is not an enormous amount of money.. it would have been maybe decent for a one man team for 1 year of game dev.. but this is not the case.. this has to be split between people on the team & seemed like it was a 3 person team.. so after 5 years of work, loans, & publisher probably giving 20k that needs to be given back & then some. Well?..

          After publisher/steams cut, to split that between 3 people.. well.. there’s nothing left at all! They literally haven’t made a cent from a game that after 5 years of work earned less than 1 years worth Income for just ONE person on the team. If anything.. from the sounds of it sounds like they are in debt from making this.

          I remember seeing poncho a lot on twitter and being interested & then never seeing anything about it on social media ever again last time I noticed anything about it was maybe about 2 or 3 years ago..I thought it had died & never even knew it released!

        • Gonzalo

          I don’t think so. Let’s assume that the game made 20,000 sales with a price of 10 USD, that’d be 200,000 USD. I’m not sure how taxes are collected in their country but, let’s assume it’s 20%. And then substract the 30% cut from Steam. And then the cut from the publisher. Let’s say they kept 50% of the total income as revenue: That’d be 100,000 USD, to be distributed between the three guys. That’d be 33K each. For 3 years of work (maybe more). That’s not enough, and just consider that we are being extremely optimistic.

          Even though reading this got me a little worried (I quit my full time job to release my game), I find it really brave that you aren’t giving up and are developing your next game. Best of luck to you, guys!

          • Passing by

            @Gonzalo your math is wrong. 20,000 sales with a price of 10 is 200,000 USD. Country tax = 20%, Steam cut = 30%, add those two up and it’s already 50%. No cut yet from the publisher. So let’s assume publisher takes 20%, the devs would be only left with 30% to be split among three of them.

  • hepari00

    Thank you for sharing your story. You have my respect for finishing the project and getting it to release despite all the difficulties, I know what it’s like when nothing works as intended and it feels like the whole world has turned against you…

    Now I’ve got 3 days until I start my own Kickstarter campaign, and I’m getting seriously worried after reading this…

  • Hong Lin

    Thanks for sharing the Postmortem. I would highly recommend every new indie developer to reading it.

    If possible, could you please share the estimate developing cost for the entire project (5 years)? You can give just a total number or in details.

    (I am making a retro platformer just like your. I am always wondering if our production cost is reasonable comparing to similar indie games.)

    • dan.hayes Post author

      Unfortunately we can’t go into specifics like that. But before we got a publisher we spent approximately £10k on the game, though that includes the cost of taking the game to EGX. Most of the game’s cost was our time 🙂

  • SxyxS

    You should try to make your poncho game a ps+ title,
    and Sony on the other hand should “convince” you in some kind of exchange
    to port the game to ps vita,as i don’t think the graphics are too demanding.
    ((and just maybe,
    you should port your game as fast as you can as in the beginning
    the competition is small and first day adopters tend to buy much more
    and you can make much more money on much smaller install bases as long ws they are not flooded with games like steam and the PSN-Store))

    btw- can you tell me number of your PSN-store sales ?
    I’m trying to find a way to “extrapolate” sales numbers and the only possible way is a sales:ratings ratio as i guess most of them should be identical.

    • dan.hayes Post author

      Unfortunately, PS+ is an invite only situation, though we have tried to talk to sony about the possibility. And we did develop a Vita version, but we have been prevented from actually releasing it. We can’t talk about sales numbers, but the sales were still quite disappointing on PSN.

      • Kishnabe

        Hope you get PS+ treatment, to help your burden or get funding for your new game.

        The PSVita community will back you up, if you do get a version through. Sony should be there to help you out.

        Sorry to hear about this….I always hope that every project that isn’t an asset flip at least meets break even.

        Try Self Publishing for the next one?

  • George Kobyakov

    Hey guys, thank you for such sincere postmortem, this is so great.

    I have very similar feelings and your story reminds me very much of what’s happening in my life now. It’s been a year since i develop Infinity Inc. – http://www.theshpufa.com and i hope to complete it in 2017, but as your experience shows our plans are usually not very realistic.

    I’d like to help you somehow, but probably the only thing i can do is say that I KNOW THAT FEEL, BROS! And thank you so much for sharing your experience and mistakes you’ve made, i believe it will help a lot of developers, including me. Wish only the best with new game!

  • Kubra

    The “can’t talk about what went wrong with the publisher” subject pisses me off to no end, especially when it comes from a supposedly indie-friendly publisher like rising star games. I always found a little funny how video games publishers tend to be EXTREMELY secretive about what’s going on behind the scenes, as if they’re in the nuclear weapons business. Anyway, if people don’t know, more might end up in the same situation and not be able to do jack shit about it for fear of repercussions, while the publisher gets to keep its reputation intact. F***ing a-holes. I hope your next project will go well and allow you to remain 100% in charge of your future games.

  • Alan Delgado

    Why, if you just tapped into a niche market with potential like “unique platforming”, something that took you YEARS to get pretty good at it, and keep exploding that on at least a second game, for example, like poncho tales (puzzle platfforming for kids, around the “layers” idea, but chunck sized for easier developing), poncho 2, or something in that vein… you just decide to throw that away and come up with a REALLY SHITTY concept like homeless simulator???… WHO THE FUCK WANTS TO PRETEND TO BE HOMELESS???? ARE YOU GUYS FUCKING NUTS??? Me personally, have waited YEARS for a game that approaches platforming in a really unique way (like metal storm did on the NES), and many other people have waited too, and you just throw it to the trash bin??? It makes me happy that you guys just won’t give up, but come on!! A HOMELESS SIMULATOR??? FUCK!!!
    JUST DON’T WASTE A CONCEPT WITH SO MUCH POTENTIAL JUST LIKE THAT!!! DO YOUR EVER GUYS WATCH THE GDC VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE? YOU SHOULD START FUCKING DOIN’ IT ASAP!!!!

    Thank you for reading.

    • dan.hayes Post author

      Why? Because we can. After working on something for over 4 years, it’s too draining too keep doing the same thing forever. We want to do things that no one else is doing, that’s all. 🙂

      • Tadeu

        First of all, greetings! You are not alone, lots of indie developers have these bad feelings, stress, depression and urge to make an incredible awesome game. I myself left my job trying to survive while making games, so, like the comment above, I know that feeling !! 😛 (now I have a full time job while making games :). It is good to see your hint: DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB)

        I do not know if I would play a game of this type because I do not like adventure / survival / point-and-click games, but everything you have felt with Poncho seems To be connected with this new game. Depression and negative feelings could lead any of us to a mental illness or an extreme situation, like a homeless.

      • Tadeu Sampaio

        First of all, greetings! You are not alone, lots of indie developers have these bad feelings, stress, depression and urge to make an incredible awesome game. I myself left my job trying to survive while making games, so, like the comment above, I know that feeling !! 😛 (now I have a full time job while making games :). It is good to see your hint: DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB)

        I do not know if I would play a game of this type because I do not like adventure / survival / point-and-click games, but everything you have felt with Poncho seems To be connected with this new game. Depression and negative feelings could lead any of us to a mental illness or an extreme situation, like a homeless.

      • Quinn DP

        After reading this comment I couldn’t sit back anymore. I just have to get my voice out to you Dan, along with all the other developers at Delve to make my voice (and many others I’m sure) heard. It’s very easy for people (like me) who enjoyed your game to sit back and assume that with such a fun game you would be guaranteed success, a clear path onto whatever the future holds for you. It’s clear that assumption is wrong. With all the problems that came from working with RSG, the lack of publicity and these harsh comments (you weren’t joking about the marmite aspect, were you?) I want to make clear that there are many people who have trust in your future titles, and look forward to the success of Change!
        People with complaints find it far easier to voice there problems on the internet, knowing there is no repercussions to there comments. I serenely wish Delve the best of luck in balancing funding with development of Change, and I look forward to seeing where you take the game!

  • Mathias FORTIN

    I feel sorry for you after reading this ! I bought PONCHO! on Steam few secondes ago and I hope that will help you for the next step ! Be brave, never give up your dreams !

  • Fabrice Breton

    Hey, I know the feeling…

    I fully developed and released an adventure game on Steam and later on PS Vita in 2016 (Demetrios). At release on Steam, it only met my most pessimistic expectations. It also never went into the “most popular” releases on Steam, which unfortunately means “death” – and yes, it’s quite infuriating when our game won’t even appear at all in the default newest releases list!

    My situation is a bit different though : I worked on it alone (aside translations), and I delibarately rejected the few publishers interested in my game because I don’t trust them. I think only big, well known publishers are worth it.

    Also, I noticed my game has quite strong legs, so in the long term, it seems to be doing well! The PS Vita version is also performing slightly better than Steam, so I should recoup the full development cost soon. (which was very low, but still!)

    I’m hoping the same will happen for you. I believe most indie games sell well over *long term* and through repeated sales, AND through reputation. I believe a company brand reputation is a huge part for a success, especially for new IPs. Hopefully you’ll be getting money from this in the end.

    Keep making good games and people will notice! 🙂

  • Peter Morrish

    Thanks for writing this guys, I can honestly say this is one of the most interesting and eye opening postmortems i have ever read. PONCHO looks awesome, and its fantastic seeing/hearing about it transform from a single sprite into a multi-plat game. Best of luck working on CHANGE and remember to keep that indie dev dream alive!

  • Chris

    Ouch sorry to hear you had a bad run man.

    As a struggling small business myself I feel your pain. Nothing sucks worse than pouring your heart and soul into something and getting so close to success only to have it slip through your fingers like fine sand.

    I did want to throw out a counter argument though on your youtuber side of things.

    Youtubers definitely request keys. I’m only at 50,000 subscribers but I still write my own emails from time to time. There are ways to verify that the person you are being contacted by is legit. Usually on the youtubers about page theres a business email link and that’ll let you know its legit or not.

    Youtubers are a huge resource for indy devs. Even smaller ones. I do a first impressions video on your game and 300 people watch it, 10 but your game. Even if you gave me a free key thats still 10 additional sales for one giveaway.

    Yes there are a lot of bad apples out there but we’re not all bad.

    PR groups can help (Evolve Terminal and Keymailer) but I’m sure they have large costs associated with them.

    Anyways best of luck to you in the future!

    • dan.hayes Post author

      Oh yeah, I’m not saying all youtubers are bad, I’m only saying it gets fishy when a youtuber’s subscriber count is in the millions. We gave out keys to youtubers with subscribers in the hundreds before, I think we ended up giving out about 200 keys to youtubers in total.

  • Lee

    would like to buy your game now , a bit late but small token of support … hopefully others will read your PM and do the same

    do you recommend one version over the other (I have both PS4 and Wii U) ?

    • dan.hayes Post author

      Steam is preferable, since we’ve been able to patch that version, but either PS4 or Wii U will still be fine to play on. 🙂

      • Quinn DP

        I’d question subscribing to a Patreon for either you or Delve if you had one, but since I already own Poncho, I wouldn’t question buying another copy considering only 20-30% can go to you after taxes, and both Valve and RSG take there shares. Again I wish you good luck in future titles!

  • erbkaiser

    Aren’t you worried about damaging your relationship with your publisher and other devs by posting this?
    The impression I get from this Postmortem is that you went into development pretty unprepared. It’s a shame your project failed commercially, but to shift the blame onto your publisher seems childish.

    • dan.hayes Post author

      We don’t think we’re hurting any relationships we have with other developers by posting it, as you say we made many mistakes and we want other devs to learn from those mistakes and do better than we did.

      As for the relationship with our publisher, in all honesty we haven’t really had one for a long time. The turning point was in 2015, when those “events” occurred that ruined things, up until then we were still stressed and tired, but still happy and optimistic. While we’d like to go more into depth on it, as we said in the postmortem, we’re legally restrained on the subject.

      • Mateo

        After reading through this, I have to side with the publisher. It’s not their fault that the devs made a deal they couldn’t go through with.

        Advice for everyone (not only devs), read what you sign. Think about what you sign.

  • paul

    Sorry to hear about your struggles. I won’t comment on your first game, but your new project based on homelessness… I mean, like, if it were me I would cancel this project immediately. Think about the marketing. Most human beings want absolutely nothing to do with homeless people. I don’t know what happens in the game but just even the thought of homelessness is most people’s big fear or nightmare, people don’t often want anything to do with the homeless, there’s all kinds of negativity around that theme. That’s going to automatically be a huge turnoff for many many people. It’s almost as bad as making a game about sickness. I feel that the main reason the first game flopped is because someone on the team is not making good decisions of judgement about what people will like. I see this carrying over to the new game as well now. Do you not have a sense of the audience and what they would enjoy? Good luck on the game but for me, I would be majorly turned off toward a game about homelessness in any way just right off the bat without even playing it. You seem all excited about it being a survival sim. People will be like “you had me at the word homeless” and not even care about the survival sim part. Surviving as someone homeless sounds like a terrible dirty cold nightmare. Why would you? You can make very big games based on bad decisions that nobody wants. I would make something else.

    • Mithrandir

      Well I would much prefer a game that brings something new than another random 2D platformer.

      Playing as an homeless guy pike my interest, it may have something to tell about being homeless, so something to tell about our society.
      But the teaser show nothing, so after seeing gameplay I might not be interested anymore.

      • paul

        This concept though has absolutely no mass appeal. I feel rather that the developers can ‘relate’ to the sense of homelessness and poverty due to what they’ve been through and need to somehow get out of that rut and have a higher vision. This kind of game would only have very very limited appeal to a wider audience. It may well have something to say about society, but is that really its function? It’s meant to be a game, that people play, and enjoy or are entertained by in some way… shallow as that may be, making a social statement is not going to sell games, and they will find in a few years when it’s finished that it gets some short-term attention then flops, and everyone yawns, because it’s just kind of dark and morose and depressing. Good luck with that.

    • Daniel

      I like the concept, we all at some point think about life and the possibility of being homeless. It’s like a horror game, but psychological, it’s a bad experience some want to try and maybe getting motivated to carry on. I also have played two homelessness games on android, but very simple ones, I’m very curious about their approach.

  • Rising Star Games

    “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity” – Albert Einstein

    Having read the recent Delve Interactive post-mortem for Poncho and the follow up comments we felt we should respond rather than, as is common in such business situations, keep silent. The piece from Danny Hayes calls into question our professional abilities and may impact upon our games publishing business – we’d like to set the record straight or, at least, provide some sort of balance.

    We loved Poncho too when we first saw it, our media release issued after negotiating (not imposing) a deal with Delve said as much too – “love at first sight”.

    We struck a totally equitable deal with Delve; Rising Star Games advanced development funds according to an agreed set of milestones (proposed by Delve), we went on to also fund marketing efforts that included exhibiting Poncho at Rezzed in London 2015 and Gamescom August 2015 – by the way that’s RSG’s booth with Poncho featuring across a number of screens with Danny and his team posing in the photo used in the blog.

    All of this was to enable Delve to complete Poncho to its grandest vision across multiple platforms. For the avoidance of doubt; that was a goal we shared.

    Sadly, not one development milestone was achieved to schedule by the dev team. Consequently the game release was postponed. RSG kept spending. Delve kept working but eventually communicated “It’s just too much for one person to handle” – the game would be many more months in development. We solved this “event” by using our console development equipment and assigning (and paying) for the console versions of the game to be completed elsewhere.

    Finally releasing the game months after the proposed release, RSG funded launch marketing efforts across Europe and USA.

    The first notice we have received that the PS Vita version will not be completed by Delve is in the post-mortem posting across the weekend.

    We love lots of games. We’re very passionate about what we do as a business. We try to do the right thing each and every time – to ensure a success.

    We keep what goes wrong or doesn’t run smoothly behind-the-scenes confidential largely because that’s the nature of any business. To address a specific comment, it is not because these are “nuclear secrets or similar” but more so to protect mistakes, errors and failings and the individuals involved and that some business terms are desired to be confidential by both parties.

    We are desperately upset that “Poncho” wasn’t a hit product. We funded and promoted at each turn – determined to give the game its best shot. It’s what we do for many games from many partners. This one didn’t work out. We got things wrong too but to suggest that RSG caused a series of “events” that largely contributed to Danny’s parlous state ignores the repeated failings of the dev team to deliver on the promises and agreed work.

    Suffice to say that should the game ever earn back the development advances paid to Delve then RSG will be delighted to be sending money across to the team to reflect sales success as agreed.

    We wish Danny good luck with future projects and hope our posting here provides a balance that is also of interest to those reading and re-posting Danny’s communication.

    • dan.hayes Post author

      Danny Hayes here, Coder and co-designer of PONCHO. It seems that Rising Star Games have decided to take their dirty laundry out in public.This is the very thing we restrained ourselves from doing while writing the post-mortem, which we wrote for other developers in order to stop them from making the same mistakes we made.

      Now that Rising Star has broken our agreement in not discussing the terms of our contract, we are now able to inform other developers of how not to deal with publishers and contracts. We also need to defend ourselves. I have spoken to some of the other indies who have signed with Rising Star and knowing of their similarly disappointing experiences, I have invited them here to join this conversation.

      At first, Rising Star felt like a great choice. They were within driving distance, made a good first impression, had a portfolio of other indies, and didn’t impose any changes on the game in their original pitch. They provided the following things for PONCHO: Localisation, a trailer, taking the game to a few big game expos and doing interviews there, provided sony dev kits and sending out a few press releases as well as some social media posts. We agreed on funding poncho for £25K, which we calculated as the bare minimum we needed, as long as we got a small amount in advance, as you may remember in the postmortem, I said that I had less than £100 personally at this time.

      This is where things are my fault, despite Rising Star telling us that they’d happily give us everything we needed or even additional funding without any problem, if we ever needed anything, they refused. Our contract stipulated an “on delivery” milestone system. The day after signing it, I asked our new allies if we could receive a small amount of start up funds. As soon as we mentioned perhaps receiving the first milestone in advance so that we could pay our artist and afford to pay rent, they said no. I explained how this could cause delays to the original release date we discussed, but they still said no. Now of course, it’s my fault for not having this amended in the contract, but they could have easily paid a couple thousand in the beginning to ensure smooth development. As a result, we had to work part time immediately and take time off the game to be able to live, plus we couldn’t pay anyone to work on the game.It all came down to a miscommunication where we gave them a list of proposed milestone deadlines that were based on each milestone being paid in advance, after completion of each previous milestone. The contract didn’t reflect this so those deadlines instantly meant nothing, which put us into development hell. I hoped that a simple chat would fix it, but we couldn’t reach an agreement.

      This bump caused a ripple throughout development, as of course, delays caused the milestone payments to be further apart, further delaying development. We communicated to rising star many times that an amount as small as £2000 would set us back on track, we didn’t need any extra, we just wanted a portion of the money that they’d promised in advance. They refused. We tried so many times, to explain that the game will be delayed or even have features cut if they didn’t help. I managed to find the odd couple of months here and there where I didn’t have to work day jobs, and paid Jack and Matt when I could.

      The worst part was the final milestone, which stipulated that we wouldn’t be paid approx 20% of the funding unless all development including ports were completed. I pointed out to Rising Star shortly after making the deal (again, I know, my fault for not being careful, don’t make the same mistake guys!), That this would mean 20% of the total funding would not be spent on the game they had invested in, that withholding that much of our funding from the actual development of the game was a massive mistake. They wouldn’t listen. We had signed, and that was it.

      Due to the delays, Rising Star, instead of helping us get back on our feet by giving us a portion of the promised funding, decided to take away our dev kits that they had provided and pay a large amount of money, more than it would have been to fund 2 of our milestones to another company to finish the ports. This was after I had sent an email saying that I need some of our funding to keep the other 2 members of the team, Jack and Matt, working on the game as “It’s just too much for one person to handle”, where I was speaking about delivering 3 ports within a month, no small task. I had promised that these milestone dates were possible, as long as we were all working on the game.

      The other company that Rising star paid to do the sony versions was Just Add Water, We had half the PS4 porting done at the time and the Vita version was only just running since I was concentrating on PS4 first. We sent it to them so they could finish them.

      They finished the PS4 version, though we found out later by looking in the code (remember we couldn’t test it ourselves before it’s release since we didn’t have a devkit anymore), they game also had additional bugs and even some changes to the game that Rising Star had told JAW to put in without us knowing. The testament to the difference between the PS4 and steam version that we finished ourselves can be seen if players look at the two being played simultaneously. We’ve since developed a patch for the PS4, which we sent to Rising Star almost a year ago, asking them to have JAW add their PS4 code to the project and send it away, or provide us with a dev kit for 1 month so we could do it ourselves. They refused.

      On the final part of the subject of funding, we have yet to receive that 20% final milestone. This is due to the fact that it requires all ports to be completed, even the vita. Again, I pointed out to them many times that giving us 20% of our funding until AFTER development was silly, but they always refused. We asked if they could provide the vita kit we used to have, just for one month so we could finish it. They gave it to us! Just kidding, they refused. We also asked if we could receive the milestone in advance just so we could buy one ourselves, but no.

      I knew, and they knew, that sales had been disappointing. It just wasn’t worth it to them anymore to give up some thousands for the vita version. So they blocked us. Not officially, but by not allowing us a dev kit and not allowing JAW to work on it anymore, even after I sent additional builds that had a 300% increase in frame rate which was the fix for the initial issue, they wouldn’t allow us to send the build to sony. Rising Star said they had tested it themselves, and it was no different than the very first build. This seemed strange, the game was running at approx 15 fps before, and i remember the profiler saying that most of the memory was being taken up by the behaviour code and cpu, not the graphics. By making the behaviours run over 3 times faster, it should have gotten better than 15fps. We asked rising star to provide a video of it so we could see for ourselves, but they have failed to do so.

      By preventing us from releasing the vita, even after developing it, they have saved themselves from sending us the final piece of the funding.

      Finally, onto their incompetence. First, I would like to say, that the Rising Star Marketing team are great, friendly guys, it’s just their bosses that have caused difficulties.

      When we did the big announcement that poncho was still alive and that we would be releasing in 2015, Rising Star’s contribution appeared to be 1 tweet, 1 facebook post, and a generic press release sent out. We created a trailer ourselves, and did our own press release with a more personal feel as well as getting in contact with youtubers. Only our contacts wrote articles or created videos about it. We were disappointed, we thought to ourselves throughout the development “Well at least even if they’re kinda messing us around with funding, at least the work they’ll put into our exposure will be worth it!”. But then it seemed that we were actually more effective at marketing than they were. We had a much higher traction and quantity of posts on social media as well. It kinda felt like Rising Star were just doing the bare minimum to collect their percentage.

      We then decided it was time after all the complications and what seemed to be a complete turnaround on their first impression by opening a discussion about ending the contract and going our separate ways. I offered many reasonable terms, including still giving them a hefty percentage of the game as a divorce fee. Their return offer was to threaten to sue us for hundreds of thousands of dollars and take control of the game if we attempted to go through with it. We were stuck. We were also told that we couldn’t run a second kickstarter or look for funding elsewhere. It felt like we were being sabotaged by our own publisher.

      Then a bunch of other things happened during development, release dates and trailers were sent out before they were meant to, as well as the wrong release dates, they didn’t inform us of expos, they were taking us to until they day they happened so we couldn’t be there and more. They insulted us many times via email. They expected us to always be magically working on the game, when we kept telling them that the funding we requested was the bare minimum and they couldn’t expect the same results if only 1/3 of the team was able to work on the game for most of development while at the same time working other jobs myself. Even when telling them that I was losing my home in London and about to become homeless, that we desperately needed just 10% more of the promised funding in order to get the game finished within a couple of months, they would not budge. I don’t know why they wouldn’t fund us, yes we signed a contract, but doesn’t it make business sense to support your developer, especially one so cheap on less than minimum wage? £25k is nothing to spend on the development of a multiplatform game. We spoke to some of the other rising star developers who’ve also felt “used”, like we did, this is not a singular issue.

      This has been a long story, one that started with foolishly signing a bad contract during a desperate time, but as the above comment, “I just wanted to set the record straight”.

      • Adam

        After reading all this, it drives home how being a developer of a game is not enough (which I have seen many times elsewhere).

        Contract negotiations.

        I appreciate more and more the legal a-holes that pour over every detail of a contract before it is signed. That contract is your sole legal defense. It defines your relationship with another legal entity. That other legal entity passes that contract to their other departments who are responsible to follow the written signed contract and not deviate from it.

        “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” Marcus Aurelius

        Thank you both, RSG and Delve, for sharing your sides. As a game developer wannabe, this helps educate me on the challenges both sides face to produce a successful effort.

      • Piglet

        Frankly this whole exchange makes both of you look bad. If I learned one thing as a dev from reading this, it’s that if you’re not already in a stable situation a publisher won’t help. And, though I knew this already, read and understand the whole contract and its implications before you sign it.

      • gwaldo

        At first I thought RSG might not know how to handle solo indies.. and then on the second read, it’s clear they know exactly what they are doing!
        Promising the world and all smiles, then a tight contract that only benefits themselves and doesn’t even offer peanuts to the devs!

        Polished game, niche potential, keen developer, small budget… of course you had every opportunistic publishers calling on you!!! hahaha!

        “the Rising Star Marketing team are great, friendly guys, it’s just their bosses that have caused difficulties.”
        Danny, sounds like you might have a bit of Stockholm syndrome?
        If they’re so great why did you only get a few social media post.. and that’s it?
        I’d say they’re accomplices! I’m sure they know very well how the ‘desperate indie trap’ works!

        As evil as they are, you did sign it without due diligence and that’s “business” but it’s history now, don’t let it affect your future!
        @Jason_Rubin did a good speech on dev’s and publishers in 2004 it’s still rings true!
        Gamed Developers are the talent and make the product, not the publishers!
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhmYENdFZc8&t=4s

        The homeless game, makes sense now after that hell 🙁
        But I agree with Alan Delgado & Tadeu.
        You shouldn’t throw away what you’ve worked so hard on, I get you’ve worked on it for ages.. but homelessness is mostlikely business/solo career suicide.
        You’re throwing away your IP, audience, code base, art, etc, etc and going back to zero, and mostlikely disappointing your audience, better not to dev anything at all IMO.

        You have got good momentum with Poncho, maybe look into mobile ports.. Nintendo switch, Nvidia, Ouya/Razor? multiplayer? a sequel or offshoot?
        You also have a good team, the skills and work ethics and more importantly can live on essentials hahah hmm :/

        Regarding funding, talk to console vendors for a temporary exclusive deal, gov. grants, etc. and not all publisher are pure evil!
        You have +15k gamers that know you for Poncho, and with good reviews, I call that a success.. so crowd funding might be worth a revisit.

        If it was me, I’d take a breather, and be busting my balls again to releasing a better and updated sequel, so SGR get what they paid for, nothing!

        Stay optimistic and talk to others for advice!
        All the best!

  • Mr Paul

    Friends. I would like to remind you that according to steamspy you sold around 20.000 copies. I can understand the money was not worth it. But i hope you can enjoy your success from another point of view. Now a days most games released are either indy or AAA. But during the ps2 era there were A and AA games who sold as much as you did. And whats way more important is to think of while maybe not all of those 20.000 people played your game. You still have thousands people playing and enjoying your vision what you created in your mind. I think that is awsome. With so many players its guaranteed that for example in 15 years a child who is then adult will find out and say: OW yeah i remember playing that game.. nostalgia!

    So yes think of that 🙂 And keep on making games. Follow your dream

  • Mithrandir

    Thank you for this post mortem.

    Reading all this is really depressing. You say it was all worth it and I really hope so, don’t throw your life away for a game.

    Take care.

  • Hong Lin

    Did you sign the contract as company-company? (Not company-individual.)

    If so, I don’t think your publisher will ever sue you for speaking out. You don’t have any money for them to collect (except you games’s IP) and a lawsuit costs a lot.

    However, it is highly possible that you won’t get any money from them even the sell eventually passes the mark. They will never pay you after this incident and claim that you breach the NDA.

    I would suggest you to release your next game under a new brand/company, just in case. Transfer or sell your game’s IP to a new company as well.

  • kornkob

    Very interesting read; I knew game development was hard, whether indie or AAA, but jeez.

    I will also say this: Thank you for making this game, as tough as it has been you guys. I bought this day 1 on a whim on PS4, and I love it. Just everything about it. This sounds hokey, but it gives me such nostalgic feelings, like I’m young again playing my Genesis. Still have it installed and go back and play it now and then.

    So you at least have one fan that’ll follow your future endeavors 🙂

  • dan.hayes Post author

    One last thing, to put some things into context and perhaps try to resolve the situation we’re now in.

    Our initial impression was that the first milestone would be paid in advance, and the milestone deadlines that we provided were based on a plan that depended on this. Despite having already made a couple of amendments to the contract, we obviously made a mistake and missed a few things before signing since we then had to deal with the fact that we wouldn’t be receiving funding for some time.

    We tried to open a dialogue with Rising star about it almost immediately after signing, but we weren’t able to come to an agreement. As we said in the posts, it was our mistake for not being careful, and this should serve as a lesson to other indie developers out there.

    In defence on how finances were handled with PONCHO, it literally only came down to that single miscommunication on the first milestone being an advance or not. We stipulated in the postmortem that £22,500 was the absolute bare minimum we needed in order to successfully develop the game, based on how much we all needed to survive and still work full time. This is why we set that as our kickstarter goal. As well as the miscommunication surrounding the first milestone causing delays, 20% of the funding we agreed on with Rising Star was set to be withheld until all development including ports had been completed, which means that we then had to deal with not being able to use 20% of the agreed funding on the actual game. We tried to explain to Rising Star many times how little sense that made, but again, we couldn’t reach an agreement. I don’t think they realised that we literally had no funding except what they gave us, which turned out to be less than the bare minimum goal we had set for the kickstarter. Since we didn’t have enough to fulfil our plans, development was affected, but we pushed through and still released a game on multiple platforms.

    We hope that both us and Rising Star can move on from this situation, we both made errors and I’m sure Rising Star has learned a great deal from their mistakes, as we have from ours. As far as I know they usually only work on a marketing and publishing basis with other developers, and maybe didn’t have enough experience in funding indies before they got to us. We wish them well in bringing other indies into the light, as long as they improve on everything that happened with PONCHO. We don’t want to have a public fight with them anymore.

    • Dawnclaude

      I think the homeless Survival sim is very original idea. Could be better work out then you think. There are so many survival fans out there and homeless is something new.
      But kickstarter is very tough…

      a question to Dan. are the ps4 owners similar to the steam owners or far behind? do you still want to develop for the consoles after this “lesson”?

      btw. maybe its better to ignore the metacritic press. I ignored it in our indie RPG and dont regret it. the steam reviews were much more important. I think metacritic its still very risky for indie devs. they can always compare it with huge titles and give them a bad review.

      Personally I still don’t understand why you not in the profit zone with over 20.000 sales for pc.

      • Quinn DP

        20,000 sales equates to $200,000 in gross income (assuming all the sales were at full price, $9.99, lets ignore that some will have been on sale, some through 3rd party sites like G2A and some were demo keys given out to YouTubers). Now 20% of that is taken away in taxes, 30% goes to Valve for listing on Steam, and then of the 50% remaining another cut will have been made by RSG (safe to assume ~20%). That leaves 3 developers at 3 years of development at $60,000, or $20k per dev for 3 years of there life. Far below minimum wage. They were forced to take out loans as well during development, and work 40+ hour weeks in day jobs to keep themselves afloat, This lost them money.

  • Bruno Brito

    Thank you for sharing your story Dan. It’s a very important postmortem to be read by others. Sharing your experience will for sure help future devs to better understand the path they will have upfront and make better decisions. In the “key things you learned” you mentioned to not release the game in November, why is that? what would be a good date in you opinion?

    I wish you the best in your next release, we are (me and my girlfriend) a small gamedev team from Brazil. we love indie games (specially pixel art) and appreciate people that share their knowledge and experience along.

    • dan.hayes Post author

      Hi, November/December is generally a bad time to release for indie developers, since it’s usually when the market and press attention is taken up by AAA franchise releases like Call Of Duty, Fallout, etc. Usually Spring/Summer are better for indies.

  • JGR

    Hi Dan, I just wanted to thank you for sharing your experience. As you say now it is easy to see all the mistakes you made, so at least you have gained from this experience, even if it was costly, and I hope that you can move on and keep on doing what you like.

    I am also interested in game development and, like you, I have started working on it during my free time, but as I see it now I think it is better to have it as a second job rather than quitting your day job to do it.

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge with us, and good luck with your future ventures!