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

Post-release shadowhand thoughts…

So we did it at last! Positech & Grey Alien Games managed to push the gargantuan project that is shadowhand through the big shiny gates labelled ‘release’ and put shadowhand on sale a few days ago on steam, humble store and GoG. Plus of course direct from us, although the percentage of people willing to buy a game from a developer is depressingly small, even though my own website has been around longer than…hmmm..let me see….steam, gog or the humble store. I guess they are worried I might immediately go bust (nope).


Shadowhand had a pretty strong initial release, it rapidly piled up the positive user reviews, and as I type this, the store page shows 60 reviews and a score of 95% positive. We also got a special ‘recommended’ badge in an extremely positive review in Eurogamer, and we have other big name reviews that will hit the interwebs this week. We spent some money to promote the game on launch, mostly through PCGamesN, and through Facebook, but didn’t go completely bananas. We are still spending a bit of money on ads, but not *that* much, and I think the very high review score, and addictive nature of the game should give us a decent likelihood of getting a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations.

Right as we launched the game, being able to directly contact curators became a thing, and we duly did our bit, but it proved totally pointless, as invariably, every indie developer on steam seems to have spammed every curator they can find with copies of their game, regardless of genre or suitability. TBH pretty much any system that is available at zero cost to every indie developer becomes useless, as there are so many desperate indies, and so many indie games on steam now, that such methods get immediately swamped and rendered useless.

Yup, I’m one of those (many) devs who thinks that the opening of steam submissions to absolutely everyone has…not worked as well as it should.

I have no control over that, so its best to focus on what I do have control of, which is getting eyeballs on shadowhand, and making sure those eyeballs are the right ones, and that they are going to like the game. One theory I have is that our main steam capsule art may be putting some players off. here is the capsule in question:

In purely aesthetic terms I think this works pretty well. The main character is there, a prominent face (good), and a recognizable and legible logo. Colors look nice, its high quality etc. The only concern I have is that because it focuses on one character, the character is female, and we already list the game as being part visual novel, given the impression many people have of visual novels, the image *may* be giving the impression that its more of a dress-up/romance game than a strategy/rpg affair. Because 99% of steam browsing potential customers have not heard of the game, if that is the impression they get from the image, they will not investigate further if they are looking for something a bit more strategic and complex (which the game actually is).

I wonder if something like this would have a higher click through:

And we are debating whether to give this a try. Annoyingly steam does not support A/B testing on such images. The character in this new image looks more angry and threatening, whereas our current image, she looks a little bit like she is posing for a vogue magazine cover, rather than holding up a stagecoach… hmm…

Anyway, thats just one approach. The second is to double down on game-awareness through facebook promotion. Essentially the whole decision is based on two numbers.

X, which is the probability of someone buying the game once they have clicked through to read a glowing article about it and…

Y which is the revenue that we as developers get from the sale of that game at whatever price they end up buying it. For example, lets say that to get someone to read that eurogamer review that is so glowing will cost us $1.10 in ads.  Our profit from doing so is essentially

profit = (X*Y) – $1.10.

I’m guessing that in the super-long term, the average sale price of a game is 50% off, so given $14.99, * 0.6 (for steam cut, refunds, sales tax, chargebacks), the developer earns approx $4.50 per copy sold. At a purchase probability of 10%, we lose money ($11.10 to earn $4.50), At a purchase probability of 50%, we double our money.

Of course we have zero control over the conversion rate form that article, it is what it is, but what we can manipulate is that $1.10 value. At a (I think reasonable) 10% lifetime conversion, we are getting $0.45 per click. if we can pay less than $0.45 we should promote that article more.

This is the kind of calculation I do FOR FUN.

Anyway…shadowhand is awesome, and if you want to know how it plays, here is me fumbling my way through a duel fairly early on in chapter 6:


8 thoughts on Post-release shadowhand thoughts…

  1. As always thanks for sharing your business thoughts. Very helpful to ther aspiring indies (e.g., me with Burden of Command). My two cents is your banner analysis is probably correct. Your current banner narrows your audience. Though of course you have to decide if you are “playing to your base” for higher sales or risking losing the instant attention and recognition of that safer but narrower base by attempting a broader audience. Personally, my view is life is short, take the risk :)

    You could also use different banners in different venues.

    Glad it is doing so well, and glad to see creative risk being taken.


  2. A last thought. As you note the Steam and game market is horribly saturated. IMHO your advantage is the creative risk you took with Shadowhand. Shine a spotlight on its novelty as a cross over solitaire game. As you guys wrote in a earlier blog, I believe, don’t hide that unexpected and possibly offputting aspect for conventional gamers. Shine a spotlight on it in advertising etc as novel for this jaded, saturated, gaming market :)

    One of the most famous marketing lines ever shone a spotlight on its weakness to build trust, the perfume line “sure we’re expensive but you’re worth it.” Similarly “sure we’re a solitaire game but …” [<— ???? :). ]


  3. I’ve been following the release of your game after I became aware of it through a retweet by a game dev I follow on Twitter. Otherwise, I’m not sure if Steam’s recommendation mechanism would have pointed me towards Shadowhand. Especially as none of the items in the Related Products list is in my library.
    So you can thank RocketCat Games for one more customer and reviewer :)

    I like the first banner better, the second is too generic. But I agree: it _does_ look more like a romantic adventure game than an RPG card game.

  4. Saw you play the game and it looked like fun, so I bought. Now I get to the gaoler and I am frustrated. Fought him 8 times in a row and I can’t beat him. I am at 36 health and he starts at 60 with a healing potion that gives him 18 back. The closest I came to beating him is getting him down to 20. It may be my imagination but he always seems to get the card that gives a long run. I assume that it is pretty much random what comes up but it just doesn’t feel that way. I am not on steam so I don’t know where else to leave comments but maybe there could be a mechanism to tilt the game slightly toward the player if they are having problems. Because right now I want to shut it off and never play again.

    Thanks for reading a rant.

  5. You could try split-testing using different creatives with facebook ads, it wouldn’t be a perfect test as they’re different sizes in different situations but it might give you an idea of which people respond to

    1. Indeed, we have tried this to an extent, but facebook ads are getting quite expensive now per-click, and its not 100% clear that it has a decent ROI, so I’m wary of investing heavily in that to find the answer…

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