Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Talking With Customers (or potential ones)

Years ago, I did this blog post, which is why I now run a dedicated server, because mine just MELTED. I was even on the radio, in several countries, yabbering on about piracy. Its still a huge big deal in terms of people recognising my name.

Anyway. I’m sort of going to try and do the same thing, sort of, but on a different tack. it won’t be vaguely as popular, and I bet I get 10 replies, rather than 10,000, but that’s cool. So instead of ‘Why do you pirate my games’, todays question is

“Why didn’t you buy Gratuitous Space Battles?”

Please read this next bit:

I am NOT complaining. I am NOT moaning about sales. I am NOT unhappy with sales, I am not whining or anything like it. I just like making games that people enjoy, and I don’t know why the people who didn’t buy it, didn’t buy it. I’d like to know. The answers may well make it a better game for everyone, if I fix those reasons (if they make sense). It will make the game attractive to current fence-sitters, better for current owners, and more sales for me and my cats.

This cat demands answers NOW.

You can post here, or email me at Subject could be “Why I didn’t buy GSB”. As with the piracy thing, what I 100% absolutely totally want is honesty. Here are some prompts for what you might be thinking, and please email me if any of them are true:

  • “I Thought it would be an arcade game, but it wasn’t and I don’t like strategy games.”
  • “I Don’t like 2D games, or at least won’t pay money for them.”
  • “The demo was too easy”
  • “The demo crashed”
  • “It ran badly on my PC”
  • “I already have lots of space strategy games”
  • “The demo was badly balanced”
  • “I heard bad things about it”
  • “I don’t trust buying it from your website”
  • “It’s too expensive”
  • “I wanted direct control of the ships, and that was frustrating”
  • I wanted a campaign wrapped around the battles. It was too sandboxy”

etc. Obviously, feel free to add to the list, above all, be honest. I’m not offended if you email me and say “The games shit, my dog could make a better game”. I would disagree, but that’s your opinion :D.

If you have friends or interwebs-buddies who you know saw or heard about the game, and don’t own it, I’d love to know their opinions. Obviously if you *did* buy it, you don’t get a vote today. Sorry, and thankyou for buying one of my games. You are clearly happier, more intelligent, discerning and probably more attractive than other people.

My intention here is to hoover up all those comments that invariably get made, that could, in a perfect world, be fed back to the creator of something to make the product better. We, as a species really need to get our shit together on that. If you are like me, you *always* find something about everything you buy which is annoying*, there just isn’t a direct route to the inbox of the designer to send your feedback. My email address is Tell me what improvement would make you a buyer of Gratuitous Space Battles.

*those new nozzles on ketchup bottles give me less control over ketchup distribution, and are affecting my purchase decisions…

379 thoughts on Talking With Customers (or potential ones)

  1. I thought about why I didn’t buy the game and believe it is a combination of two things.

    First, most of the games I buy are impulse, supercheap games for $2 on Steam, or they’re releases I’ve been anticipating for years (like the upcoming Starcraft 2.)

    Second, I confess I became quite bored with the demo after I realized massing my entire fleet on the bottom of the map beat the AI every single time with hardly any losses. I read on your forum that there is an interesting meta-game about that in the challenges, but I wasn’t curious enough to pay just to find out whether that’s true.

  2. I had no idea it existed until a few weeks ago, and it’s on sale on Steam for $10, so I just bought it! Looking forward to my first space battle.

  3. First: I bought the game and I’m almost complety satisfied with it.
    All that did bother me were the weapons systems info, that were kinda unhandy, because you often couldn’t really say what are really the pros ond cons of a weapons, for example a laser to anther typ of laser.
    Next thing is that even though I like the concept of “Not disturbing” the fleets, I had wish to be in full control, just because there are some scenes were I would love to get in to the action and prevent my ships from doing something stupid (eventhough the mostly work out to be clever/act the way you ordered them indircetly)
    3rd and last thing is the way the game playes. All battles are “unconnected” while building up such a good atmosphere on there own. I would love to see a galaxy map system with hardpoints, as battlefields and a very, very easy credit system, so you get a (small) advantage in battles as you can get a few more ships on, but not so much that you can spam ships, or even have to really care about it.

  4. I did buy your game, not long after release however the reason I have not bought any add-on’s is without a campaign or story I found no real push to finish through my original purchase.

    Also a lack of multiplayer was surprising. I was hoping I could setup my dudes and my friend could do likewise and we could watch the ensuing battle over a cold beer. I thought it would be easy to implement, highly enjoyable and yet glaringly it’s missing.

  5. I love your game man, I just purchased it through Steam and I’m waiting on a download. I saw your message on the screen while I was waiting and felt the need to respond and say your game is fantastic. It reminds me of when I played Star Fleet Battles back in ’83. I also have a Mac and just about every game system. I hope to purchaces your game on my Mac and iPad if they come out. I will be buying all the expansions too. Thanks for a great game!!

  6. I bought it after playing the demo for about 10 minutes:, for several reasons.

    1. Steam sale: $10.00
    2. I like to support indie developers who are producing games you really can’t get elsewhere.
    3. I love the asynchronous multi player model.

    This is a really enjoyable game. Good show.

  7. I’m a friend of Duane’s; he pointed the game out to me, and I echo his post 100% (i.e., I bought it in the same amount of time for the same reasons). I haven’t dived into the game in full yet, but I’m looking forward to it!

    A little more detail… The youtube video you posted was good enough to get me to download the demo, and the demo had enough meat to get me to drop $10 on it (via the sale @ Steam).

    However – $10 was basically my threshold in this case. If it had been more than $12 (i.e., if it hadn’t been on sale), I don’t think I would have pulled the trigger on it

    Part of that is because I perceive the multiplayer aspect – challenging your friends fleets, etc. – to be the real gold here. But if I don’t think a video/demo will encourage enough of my friends to buy something at price $X, then I’m a lot less likely to do so. For whatever reason, the likelihood curve for that elbows down roughly at “the price of a movie ticket” ($10.75 for the last movie I saw). Not sure why, but there’s a data point for your survey.

  8. I brought it, loved it and play it now and then. Its a fun game to relax on, I brought it through steam. However the DLC just wasnt advertised enough for me I dont think, it didnt even show up on steam. Was a real shame because I probably would of brought more of them. Also something other than just new races would of been nice for the DLC, perhaps one just focusing on maps or other new modes. Perhaps one that finially gives a proper tutorial explination of how the guns work and what they effect. Ive done quiet well with the game just by guessing mostly and spamming guns I like.

  9. I hoped for the battles to be a bit more campaign-like with more restrictions and forcing you to aquire ceartain goals go get new items. in other words… To sandboxy… :( good game featuers though. :)

  10. I actually DID buy the game but here’s a couple of things that would make it better:

    -After I beat the game it’s too hard to get honor by going through again, I have to be outnumbered 3 to 1 to get a decent amount.

    -It would be cool if you could change commands or give new ones mid-battle. Also, I wish when a ship leaves because of a ‘cautious’ command it would come back when the enemy has picked a new target and stay near the back instead of flying into some corner of the map and sitting there.

  11. REALLY??? 5 cruisers against 8 cruisers, 6 frigates, and 10 fighter squads. I only lost one ship and I didn’t gain any honor at all!

  12. I bought the game, but not any of the add on content. I feel the add ons don’t provide enough of an added value. This could be rectified with more ships, more ship classes (Battleships, Dreadnoughts, etc), man MANY more missions and scenarios.

    Primarily, though, I’d love to have a sort of Galactic Campaign to play. For example, you take control of planets and accumulate resources, produce shipyards that produce different classes of ships, and launch fleets across the galaxy. When fleets clash into each other it would then jump back in to the regular gameplay. I’d happily plop down a few more bucks to get this going.

  13. I buyed it but it was boring because of a lack of content and that the expansion packs are not adding items/ships to my favourite races. The expansion packs cost the same amount as the game, i also found a free game which is much like this were you can customize your ships much more then just adding items on it.

  14. I would also like more ship classes 3 is not enough as i said before more content would make me buy the expansion packs more often. What i mean is that fighter cruiser and frigate is not good enough id like a massive fleet battle for people with better computers then computers which havent been updated in about 10 years.

    It would be good to be able to customize ships more freely then just adding items to it. I was dissapointed about the lack of levels and that there should be way more items and ship classes and more ships themselves. Homeworld 2 is a great example of good fleet battles were you can actually control the ships more then just giving them basic orders, more orders would be nice and maybe turret control of the turrets.

    Basicly what i mean is that the lack of content made me stop playing the game entirly im not bothered getting anymore expansion packs other then the tribe one.

  15. I have to say… despite the 2D graphics the game looks visually impressive. I think the original take is cool but I want to play against players realtime. I like the thrill of 1on1 2on2 3on3 competition.

    Bottom line: Interaction during the battle and real time multiplayer support would not only get me to buy the game but also pay a much higher price tag.

    For what it is: Offer your package deal on steam (at around 15$) and I would probably buy it right now. Steam is the primiere game distribution engine and who wants to buy the game incomplete?

    My perspective: This genre is virtually untapped by the big game companies especially with the loss of the Homeworld franchise. You do the right things and you got yourself a cash cow here.

  16. I actually bought Gratuitous Space Battles because I saw it on steam and it sounded like a wonderful sandbox to play in.

    I don’t think I’d buy another of your games, though. Here’s why:

    Although GSB seems like an awesome sandbox with millions of potential options, in truth very few of those options are viable. Balancing just hasn’t been completed and it’s so bad that a lot of the game elements I expected to enjoy just can’t happen. Initially I assumed I just hadn’t put enough time into the game, but after reading the forums, my personal findings were reconfirmed: most items were of little use and strategies all seem to revolve around putting your ships into one big lump. Setting up flanks, making fast ships, and trying to be “strategic” or “creative” just seems to get you killed.

    I’d like to see:

    more balance (happily traded for fewer options)

    more attention to mobility/placement strategies (like better multiship unit options, flanking/tactical bonuses, more ship-speed functionality)

    So yeah… great concept, but in actuality it was a pretty big let-down. Based on GSB, I’d probably not buy another.

  17. I bought GSB when it went on sale for $10 on steam. I had played the demo but and I enjoyed the game but the price you were asking ($20) was too high for a indie game. The core of the game is a little lacking in terms of balance, glitches, crashes and depth but the artwork is solid making it a fun game to kill a hour with but not much more. Dont get me wrong I think this is a fun game but with a bit more spit and polish it would be worth that $20

  18. I did buy GSB, and I did play GSB, but not for very long.

    Did I enjoy the game? Yes I did.

    Did I think it really warranted $20? Well, yes I do if $20 entertains me for more than 2 or 3 hours it was cheaper than a night out. Most people don’t think that way though and would much rather put this game in a $10 or $15 investment bracket unless theyre big fans and play it for longer than a couple of weeks.

    Was it good enough for me to play for more than a few lunchtimes and evenings? No, not really.

    The game was all about picking ships. Strategy and tactics hardly came into it; it was all about building the best ship you can build to counter what the opponent has. That in itself is a fine premise for a game; building is a lot of fun. But the ‘best ship’ in any given situation was so obvious because every race was so one dimensional. The best tactic in any given situation was simply to group your ships together with assist orders. There was depth there, but the depth was outweighed by the overwhelming superiority of certain tactics.

    Oh, and as someone mentioned, the campaign was not so much a campaign as just a pile of skirmishes with random arbitrary restrictions.

    I love your blog, I love your philosophy, but the game was nothing special in execution despite being potentially awesome in theory (more items, more balance, better scenarios, more tactics!)

  19. I just bought it yesterday for $5 from steam. =D
    It’s all about getting it down to impulse buy pricetags.

  20. It was the name. Before today I had never even given GSB a chance. I’d seen the game mentioned before, I’d looked at some screenshots and I even read this blog post back in June. But I never took the time to read about the game itself. I think I just dismissed it out of hand because of the silly name. Talk about judging a book by it’s cover. Today when I saw it on Steam weekend sale, I finally clicked and read the synopsis and bought the Collector’s Edition. I don’t know what to say. I have no excuse.

    “Gratuitous Space Battles combines the visual appeal of an RTS, with the addictive unit-placement and design gameplay from tower defense games.” made me purchase this game — and I would have done so sooner had I seen that one sentence. Perhaps the solution would be to always include a very brief description of the game wherever it is mentioned.

  21. I had not even heard about the game. The reason why I stumbled upon this blog post was because I tried to find more information about your piracy experiment since I am doing a bit of research on the topic.

    I am a fan of indie games and somewhat frequently visit to find something new and fascinating. The last what you might call indie game I bought was World of Goo during Steam summer sales. I had not really heard about that game either but it caught my eye and I decided to buy it since using Steam platform to buy or to use in general is ridiculously easy. (plus it looked really friendly and fun!)

    Probably after writing this I will go and check out the game (download a demo if there is one) but in answer to your question I would say that I had not heard about the game. Reasons that have driven me to buy other indie games have been that 1. I have heard about them 2. It has been easy to buy them (I think I looked at one of your games something like a year ago and considered buying it but doing the purchase seemed difficult. Btw. didn’t pirate – or even attempt to – it either though) 3. They have been reasonably priced (normally maximum of £20 but even then it has to really have something special) 4. There has been some unique feature that has differentiated them from the mass of other games out there that has got me to buy it.

  22. To be honest i’d never heard of the game before. I’ve been on Steam for five years now and I have dozens of titles. Admittedly, my gaming wheelhouse is more of a First Person Shooter realm.

    I own Dawn of War II and the follow-up. I just (two days) purchased Command & Conquer 4. I suck hard at RTS games. However the play style still appeals to me.

    I like your f**k the big guys attitude as I am always rooting for the underdog. While I don’t own tons of “Indie” titles I am willing to learn. I wish you well and applaud you for reaching out to the fans for opinions, wading through the garbage post may take a while but there’s more than a few gems in this blog.

    P.S. Payday is on Wednesday, maybe I can sneak another game past the wife (GSB?)


  23. I did buy GSB, but not until the sale now. I had shelved it on my mental “wait for a good deal” list rather than “get it immediately” list for one minor and one major reason.

    The minor worry was a gameplay one. While I love the idea of an indie dev giving a passionate niche market what they’ve been asking for for years, gameplay and demonstration footage gave me a more “strategic” than “tactical” impression (I prefer the latter) despite its strong focus on maneuvering and formation. The insane unit counts are certainly impressive, but I worried that the level of detail in their function might suffer due to their number. In addition, I worried that the apparent lack of terrain in space would reduce strategic variety and thus long-term play value.

    All that contributed to my delayed purchase, but the biggest reason was one beyond your control. An evil power supply that decided to fry my last motherboard, compunded by a period of unemployment, has rendered me a daunting backlog of interesting games. As a result, my drive to purchase new ones is simply reduced at the moment; I’m still working on things like Left4Dead 2, Tropico 3, Dragon Age and even World in Conflict: Soviet Assault. Throw in a couple dozen “shotgun” indie purchases during the Steam holiday sale, many of which have turned out to be well worth it, and I was simply too saturated for GSB to be an immediate purchase; I probably wouldn’t have gotten to it until now anyway.

  24. I played the demo but didn’t buy GSB in the end.

    1. I was burntout by AI Wars, Galactic Civilizations. Having had a quick go on the demo, it felt like more of the same but without the depth.

    2. The demo was easily completed by pure spam. I needed no tactical or strategic thought. Just plonked down a bunch of cruisers, hit fast forward and watched the fireworks. The tutorial didn’t cover manoeuvring so for all I knew it didn’t exist, nor did it need to.

    3. UI was counter-intuitive and quirky. I never really felt in control unlike all the decent RTS titles (C&C, Starcraft), turn based tactical (Steambirds, XCOM, FrozenSynapse even though it hasn’t been released, Heroes of M&M) or larger strategic titles (Civ, Gal Civ). Even fairly basic stuff like have a BACK button in the tutorial so that you could repeat a step if you missed an instruction or clicked OK by accident. Why am I constantly being funnelled back to the main menu? In short, why spend so long re-inventing move/place mechanics while not looking after the basics of usability? This was my biggest disappointment since you sound like you’ve spent a huge amount of time on this.

    4. The core game strategies and mechanics break immersion. “Honour” is clearly unlock points and arbitrarily not having access to tech until you have enough honour and then shopping around with it feels extremely weird. Battles are clearly levels with another barefaced bit of unlocking going on to artificially slow your progression. The two combined completely screw up whatever narrative you might build in your head. “So. I won this battle. Then won the next one. And then with my new found fame, I got some bigger guns. With my bigger guns I could redo my first Glorious Space Battle but win it even more heroically so now I’m honoured enough to get the alien race that I really wanted!” Why not do a proper campaign instead?

  25. Old post I know, hope you still get the comment though.

    I’m a linux user and your game didn’t run in wine. Make it run better in wine or port it (i’ll even help you out with porting it if you want – seriously) and i’ll buy it.

  26. That it’s 2D and has large spaceships relative to the between-spaceship distances (and similar “fuck realism” decisions), means to me it’s not really about space, but rather, science fiction movies. Again, because it’s 2D, I can’t show off the battles to an audience as if they were scenes from science fiction movies, either.

    My impression of the game structure is there’s a tedious plethora of little fiddly bits, rather than any clear strategies. A one-line summary of strategies might be: “rock paper scissors with a twist: paper is stealthier” or “divide the opponent, contain each part with minimal forces, and then move your reserve to crush each part in turn”. I freely admit that my impression might be false – your game mechanics might in fact be simple with deep emergent consequences – but your trailer doesn’t express that.

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