It’s been a week since we released our first game Snake Eats Snake on IndieCity for $1. Snake Eats Snake is a simple game we created during the last Global Game Jam, where the theme was a picture of Ouroboros. If you haven’t yet, you can check it out on http://indiecity.com/game/SnakeEatsSnake
We decided to further develop the original game we had in hands after the GGJ. The gameplay was rebalanced and improved, and we wanted to add achievements and online highscores. Fortunately, IndieCity offers a SDK – known as ICELib – with exactly those functions. I made previously a wrapper for that SDK for people that wanted to use it with Game Maker, so I had things working very quickly without much problems.
But then, I realized that there was a new version of the ICELib. Wait, wha…?! When was that released? What changed?! I got worried, because previously there was an update that completely changed how games and developers authenticated with IndieCity, and many problems occurred because of that. So, what would I need to change on my wrapper (and, perhaps, on my game)? Who knows, IndieCity doesn’t have a Changelog and doesn’t notify the registered developers when there’s a change of their API and what changed… Reluctantly, I decided to ignore it. Not sure if that was a good idea but I had my wrapper working and that was good enough for me. As I write this, I have yet to install the new version, and I still don’t know what’s new on that version.
Our team then started to work on the achievements for the game, and we rapidly wrote down a large array of achievements we wanted to implement. But we soon ran into another problem: IndieCity specifies that each achievement must be worth a specific number of points, and every game that uses their achievement system must have at least 10 achievements, with a total of EXACTLY 1000 points. No more, no less. We had a big number of achievements, which were categorized on easy, medium, hard and very hard difficulties. We want to distribute points in a coherent fashion according to the achievement difficulty, while also maintaining a good distribution of points between them. We played around, trying different distributions of points. “Let’s make easy ones worth 50 points…” “Hmm no that’s too much.” “Reduce the points on the hard ones then!” “Argh, now we have less than 1000 points!” …sigh. Long story short, we spent a lot of time trying to comply with that silly requirement. In the end, we had to cut achievements and readjust points until they finally totaled 1000 points.
And why, I ask? Why do we have to do that? Couldn’t they just make that 1000 points a limit, instead of a requirement? The IndieCity staff says it’s to make it consistent between games, so “they don’t have to go and look at the achievements on the game in order to compare it with another game’s achievements”. But why would a player want to compare achievements? I have never heard of players that decide which games to purchase based on achievements points. “Oh, Awesome Game X looks fun, but Silly Game Z has more achievements points. I’ll buy Silly Game Z!”. No! That just doesn’t happen!
Ok, after a lot of trouble – being unable to login to IndieCity, achievements disappearing from my game page on IndieCity – everything is finally ready. We add the last details (where other WTFs surged…), uploaded it and submitted to CAP. The Community Approval Process is the method used by IndieCity to filter games that doesn’t work or that aren’t indie games to enter the Store. As the name implies, it’s a community-driven process, where a game requires two “passes” by “lead users” to be approved. Two days later the game got the two approves and bam, went live on the store. Like that. No “set date for launch” or anything like that, it just goes live. Which didn’t really bother me this time but… anyway.
OMG GAME IS LIVE PEOPLE, GO BUY IT!!! And some did. Most didn’t. And I think Wade McGillis is completely right when he said: “Psst! I don’t want to download a client – just to buy a game“. Downloading things they don’t want is bothersome. Download and installing an additional software just so you can play a game is quite bothersome. And a lot of people complained about that. Now, I have no idea how many potential customers we lost because of that hindrance – maybe two or twenty, I don’t know. IndieCity staff says the client won’t be dismissed because it is necessary to avoid bandwidth costs – the client works as a torrent-like thing where users share the downloaded files – by the way, I’m not a security expert, but I see some problems with that, like users deliberately or accidentally altering the files – maybe with virus infections or keyloggers – and sharing those with the client system. I’d really appreciate if they did dismissed that client, or at least make it an optional download.
Until now, five players purchased Snake Eats Snake – most thanks to Dogbomb’s lovely review -, which is somewhat disappointing. And to be honest, the experience of publishing this game on IndieCity was also somewhat disappointing. IndieCity has been around for a while – the first post on their blog dates back to November 2010. One would think that they’d have a strong system by now, but IndieCity still lacks the most essential stuff, like the changelog and, maybe more importantly, reviews. Users can rate games, and I noticed that the first person that rated our game gave 1/5 stars. I wanted to know why, but being unable to ask the player and the player being unable to provide a review, I stay stumped.
In their attempt to be the “home of all things indie game”, IndieCity is misleaded. It presents more ways to keep players and developers away, with unnecessary achievement requirements and obligatory client downloads, than ways to bring new users to it. I still like what they’re trying to achieve and I really hope they get there someday. But for now, I will consider other marketplaces like Desura and Indievania first.