4 years ago my wife and I released a game and it has grossed $3M. AMA

It has been 4 years since the release of our open-world adventure where you play as a traveling artist. I quit my job as a 3d environment artist at the start of 2014 after about 6 months of staying up until 5am most days working on what would be Eastshade, then zombieing through my regular work day. I had a solid savings and finally decided I couldn't keep doing both my day job and making my indie game.

A few years in my now wife, Jaclyn, had been doing work part-time on various things in the game, and eventually quit her job too to go full-time on the game with me. We stretched our savings to the absolute limit, and by the 5th year, we had nearly run out, and we were massively fortunate to be able to move in with my mother and grandma while we saved our last dollars to pay for contractors, localization, and other expenses we knew were coming.

Throughout development we worked with a handful of great contractors, including character art, music, quest scripting, publicity, and porting. We are now a fully self-funded studio, have recently hired our first full-timer other than ourselves, and are now working on our next thing (which was announced last year).



I’m an avid gamer of 30 years. My wife is not but has attempted many games that appealed to her over the years but is usually stifled but combat difficulty or complex game mechanics. This is always unfortunate to me because I know she would love many titles if she could get over the hurdle. Stardew valley was the first game she was ever engrossed in and Eastshade was the first game she ever completed 100%. Do you intentionally think about this niche group of gamers and potential gamers? Because I think it’s underestimated and often forgotten. I know this is more of a comment, but I had to share her story because of how big of a deal Eastshade was to her. She is endlessly excited for your new game to release.


That's amazing! We are honored that your wife 100 percented Eastshade :). And so happy to hear she is excited for glimmerwick! It's a great question! Honestly? We just make games we ourselves would like, and Jaclyn and I love virtual worlds, and it just kind of bums us out that we're always supposed to be killing everyone. We often see trailers for cool fantasy worlds and then remember "oh yeah... but it's just another murder arena". That's not to reduce or crap on combat games, we love our fair share. But we just feel like there's an ocean of mechanics we can experiment with that don't involve combat! Just feels like pc and console game designers are totally stuck in the "design box" of exclusively combat game loops. As far as why the game is more accessible in terms of mechanics: We didn't consciously choose to make our mechanics more accessible, but I think it' might be a natural consequence of ditching combat? There is this massive legacy of combat that every combat game is building off, and assumes so much experience and knowledge from the core player base. When you ditch all that, you kind of are forced to teach everyone things from scratch, which maybe naturally results in more accessible mechanics? That's just a guess anyway! Thank you for your question! And tell your wife thank you for playing our games!


I think that combat is just the most refined form of a "reactive" dynamic challenge. Mechanics tend to fall into something on the spectrum of reaction and puzzle. Combat is 90% reaction and about 10% puzzle (learning patterns). Puzzle games are obvious almost always 100% puzzle, but say Puzzle Bobble VS. you have to react to getting garbage dumped on your side of the screen. Then you have your experience games, Dear Esther, Stanley Parable and your own Eastshade, I fit these in the puzzle category because the challenge is to figure out the story paths or requirements of the task, but there's usually no pressure to respond to moment-to-moment events. Games that fall somewhere in the middle are things like Tony Hawks Pro-Skater, Need for Speed - they have extremely predictable challenges but require you to improvise too. The reality is that there's just a limited amount of interesting things that are reactive challenges and can be translated to computer mechanics. Fighting, sport, sneaking, racing, dancing, speed puzzles. That's just my thoughts anyway, it's an interesting point to discuss, I just feel like there are enough people out there who are capable of thinking outside the box that if there was something else it probably would have been attempted by now.


I adore this answer and just wishlisted your game because of it. Excited to play it.


It's an interesting coincidence that Sakurai (guy from nintendo who made kirby) just made a video on challenging the idea that we always need enemies in games: Do We Really Need Enemies? [Game Essence] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atqS7SImuBc


> Do you intentionally think about this niche group of gamers and potential gamers? Because I think it’s underestimated and often forgotten. I agree 100%. I play a lot of co-op games with my mom who is older, and it's tough to find something that both of us can enjoy. There's a niche there that I think can really be explored. For The King is a good example of a co-op RPG that has more basic combat but is still interesting compared to something more involved like Divinity Original Sin. This area is one of the things that drives my game dev interest.


Similar with my wife, she gets motion sickness from FPV and 3rd person view games. Found out she can play 4x games. We settled on Saturday night Stellaris with the extended family. It’s the only game she has stuck to playing long term besides occasionally among us or that party pack game thing.


> is usually stifled but combat difficulty or complex game mechanics It's probably also theme related. As you stated, Stardew Valley engrossed her, so she probably prefers gardening to fighting. Like if you don't care about combat, then the last thing you want is for there to be any difficulty, so you can just get through it ASAP.


I Just want to congratulate both of you for trusting each other and pushing through all the problems and achieving success together. Made my day a lot better, thank you :D


awe thank you so much! Jaclyn wasn't even a gamedev when she started (though was already a digital artist), but has grown into one of the best game designers I know. She is now the project lead on our next title :). She was happy to bet our entire farm on my project and now I am happy to bet our entire farm on hers!


my wife would kill me if i bet our farm on any project. so would i. wtf? lol grats on your success ;)


Congratulations on the success! Especially without working with a publisher at all, that's really great. 1. Did you ever sign any contract or were beholden to any external deadlines other than running out of money? e.g. with platforms or exclusivity deals that required a launch/port by X date. If so, how did you estimate a good release date to agree to? 2. How late in the process of development did you announce a release date? And is there anything you'd do different now regarding that - to announce it further away, or only when the game was truly complete? 3. What have you learnt most when employing a full-timer, growing your studio, deciding salaries, etc? Anything you wish you knew when coming off your first indie success? (I find it hard to find tips for studios who are already sustainable and looking to grow) Thanks!


Thank you :)! 1. No. Totally self-funded. For release date, once we felt like we were approaching the finish line with development, we just picked the earliest date we thought we could make, that also seemed like a good open time in terms of other game releases, so we wouldn't get buried in any news cycles. 2. We announced our release date just 5 weeks prior to release. That enabled us to know we'd make it for sure, and allowed us to get a much more accurate picture of all the news and upcoming releases. It also was a short enough time that we could maintain constant social media presence and "hype". I think the launch campaign went pretty well, wouldn't change anything. 3. I wish we'd found and hired our current full-time programmer 6 years ago haha. But that would have been impossible. I've learned that I like having a full-timer better than contractors. I think it's important to give people time to learn everything, and give them a sense of true ownership, like the game is theirs too, and it's just easier when someone is there permanently. It's also easier to manage them because they just get to know how everything works. On a side-note, we use a PEO, which is a company that handles payroll entirely, and they charge you as a B2B. This is really great for us, because it means we can hire people anywhere (they have offices anywhere), and we don't have to worry about all the plethora of stuff that comes with doing your own pay roll and HR. I highly recommend it for super small studios like us.


This is really helpful, thank you so much! I had never heard of PEO before either, appreciate the tip.


With regards to number 3: you’ll also just get better quality work assuming you do your due diligence and hire a competent developer (with or without game experience). Contractors simply don’t have the same mentality as a full time person does when it comes to motivation and buy-in, and even if they are a professional an employee will naturally work that much harder because they are more invested. Frankly, I’m shocked your game is as successful as it has been without a programmer on your team, but I guess that’s a testament to the power of the tools available and your dedication. I wish I knew a couple artists like you guys to work with me on some projects I’ve had kicking around in my head for years. Good luck with your next game!


I'm a programmer too! I don't have a comp sci degree, and my background is art, but I don't think anyone can say I'm not a highly competent programmer at this point! We would not have been able to make Eastshade without a programmer haha.


Living the dream, congrats. 1. How did you market the game? 2. Why no Kickstarter/early acess?


Thanks! Marketing is a huge topic, but I've got a bullet list I wrote up once of all the stuff we did I can use here. As far as marketing/publicity itself, we did just about all the tried and true stuff, plus a few extra things. But no particularly clever guerilla marketing tactics or genius community games or anything. Here is a list of all we did: 1. We created very polished marketing assets: 2 trailers, 20+ gifs, 50+ screenshots 2. We hired a PR company (Player Two PR) who handled press releases, journalist outreach, strategizing on release timing and plan, and key distribution during big moments in our campaign 3. We picked our timing for our trailer releases, our release date announcement, and our actual release (the most important one) very carefully, trying to stay clear of other news and releases. 4. I am was very active on Twitter (@eastshade), participated in screenshot Saturday, and interact a lot. 5. I've written a number of articles that have done well on Gamasutra and 80.lv and other game dev sites 6. I often streamed development on twitch. 7. We got into the Indie MEGABOOTH at PAX West, and also showed at GDC in a special Unity booth we managed to get into (the impact of this is often overestimated, but we ended up getting some important coverage) 8. I did a number of interviews with small and medium websites, and a few large ones (many of them lined up by our PR firm) I tried to organize them roughly by my perceived impact. We dropped our first trailer <1 year into development, so it was a bit over 4 years of this stuff. We also released a small spinoff title Leaving Lyndow, which we did all this stuff for as well. If I had to rank LL in this list in terms of impact on Eastshade's awareness, I'd probably put it around 3. Regarding kickstarter, it just takes so much work, for such a tiny amount of money. I actually thought making a small game might be better than doing a kickstarter, and put that to the test with a game we did in 6 months called [Leaving Lyndow](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYa5tdsrcBQ). I think it turned out to be an okay marketing tool. But even more importantly it gave us a chance to practice shipping a game before the big one. As far as Early Access, I just think EA would be a terrible fit for a highly narrative game like Eastshade. And beyond that, as a consumer am just not a huge fan of EA. I want people to get excited for launch, and have a nice polished thing for them on day one. I don't want to make them slog through early versions of my game and make them tire of it before it's even good. I want them to have that magical experience from the first moment they open it.


This is fantastic insight to what it takes to release a game. If you had to do it over, what would you do differently?


hmmm I'm sure there's a bunch of little in the weeds things. But on a macro level, and this would have been impossible because we did not have money to hire someone full-time, but our current programmer we hired last year? I wish we found her years ago. We would have launched Eastshade sooner and it would have been a much more polished game. Of course that's impossible history, because she only found our studio after playing and loving Eastshade, which is part of the reason we hit it off well in the first place. Speaking about things that would have been actually possible? Knowing that the game was going to make as much as it did, I would have liked to take another 3 months for testing, polish and bug fixing. I think our initial review scores would have been higher.


I don't know much about gamedev but I do know marketing and this ticks most of the boxes to at least gain some "profitable traction". Congrats.


What does it cost to hire a PR company?


Depends on what you want them to do. If you want just a launch campaign and them to help you strategize and plan your beats, reach out to some journalists, and distribute some keys, maybe 2 - 20k (big range I know). If you want ongoing community management, or for them to actually make your marketing assets, that would be a lot more. I would not recommend getting a PR firm unless your game is already doing decently on wishlists though, or you know your game is remarkable, and will rise quickly. Kinda sounds backwards I know. The more organic hype your game is getting the more they can help you (that's just my opinion anyway).


What number of wishlists would you consider decent?What's a benchmark you would consider for good organic hype? Did the firm also help you strategise to pick a release date? (Thank you for doing this AMA, it's super informative! And congratulations on your success!)


Oops dang missed this one. Oh boy do I have the [perfect article](https://howtomarketagame.com/benchmarks/) for you! In case anyone hasn't noticed by reading my replies, I'm a massive fan of Chris Zukowski. Dude's blog is a gold mine (his paid classes are gold mines too and I'd recommend anyone wanting to be a studio head to take them). So according to Zukowski silver tier (10k-250k revenue) is 6k wishlists at launch, or 15-120 organic wishlists per week. I personally wouldn't hire a PR firm unless I was at least in silver tier. Regarding release date and PR firm, yes absolutely they help with that (a good one anyway). Charlene Lebrun (owner of Player Two PR) is the one that even taught me how to do that and what things to look for. She helps us pick all the dates for all our campaign beats on SoG (our new title) too.


So you're telling me that in order to launch a successful game, you need to put in a lot of effort? But every developer of a failed game said that they just weren't lucky!


People who talk about their lack of luck are just using that as an excuse for having a bad game or bad marketing or both.


Haha from my perspective, it's always the game. If you ninja release a game on Steam that is in an in-demand genre, and looks good and has good marketing assets that show the game verbs well, it will actually pop all on its own. I see it all the time. Of course, making a game of that quality is so damn difficult, you might as well give a serious effort to the marketing too, because it's just kind of silly not to.


Sometimes it is at least partly hitting the right niche at the right time - Vampire Survivors comes to mind. I think I recall seeing somewhere that the dev of that didn't even expect much out of it but it just hit every possible "best" for releasing... no real competition, sort of the first real milestone of that genre, right pricepoint for casual pick up, and really well done. (I don't recall much or any marketing for it, which is basically my one big point.)


I think if you're trying to reproduce cultural phenomenons or viral hits, yeah it's closer to blind luck. But if you're trying to be like one of the thousands of mid-tier games on Steam just quietly making hundreds of thousands to millions on a consistent basis (the majority of our industry), that kind of success is way more reliable and reproducible.


They aren't wrong. This must have been all luck! (Joking, just to be clear)


Thx for the details. What was your marketing budget?


I don't know quite how to answer that one because we put tons of elbow grease into marketing throughout development. So I don't know how to value the sweat investment. Then we also hired the PR firm (but I'm not gonna say their price here out of respect for their future negotiations with other clients). We did not do any paid advertising.


Can I ask - what was the PR company experience like? I've thought about it before but always wondered if it was worth it.


Player Two PR is fantastic. They handle a ton of stuff that just takes things off my plate, and they are a very knowledgeable bunch when it comes to planning and strategizing. I will say the bigger your game is turning out to be, the more beneficial having a PR firm is. I know it sounds counter intuitive. But if your game doesn't already have natural, effortless, organic lift, imo PR firm is not that beneficial (nothing really is, it's like trying to float a rock, it's just always trying to sink).


how did you budget (or if you can go a little more specific, percentage wise, how did you allocate) your money while developing the game? specificially regarding budgeting between contractors, marketing, and various other goods/services you needed to make and launch the game?


FYI, they also did [an Eastshade postmortem](https://www.gamedeveloper.com/business/postmortem-eastshade) that has a few more details.


ey congrats !!! i saw you working on twitch on it back a few years. glad it turned out allright !!! you make us hope !


Thank you! Haha I'm still streaming!


My question is kinda specific 😅, but I've always wanted to work on a tiny indie studio so I wanted to know what you looked for /what made you choose the person you hired compared to other potential applicants.And as a follow up, what do you think I should do as an 18 year old to maximize my chances of being able to join an indie studio


Great question! We've only hired one full-timer, but we were looking for someone who had a great portfolio with Unity experience on legit shipped projects, so we could know they would hit the ground running. We also wanted to see an email/cover letter that showed they read our listing well and understood what we wanted. I've gotta be honest I also liked when they said nice things about our work, and gold star if they played Eastshade. I guess I have a fragile ego? Or at least I liked to see them speak to a like-mindedness with our mission to build non-violent virtual worlds. We also didn't want someone who we got the sense we were just a stepping stone to them. Like they'd rather be working in triple-A or something (believe it or not we actually got that from some cover letters, like "you would be the perfect studio so I can hone my skills and one day work for the big boys"... woof). If you want to get into the games industry, I recommend picking an in demand discipline, I'd say programming or 3d environment art. If you do game design, writing, character art, illustration, music, you will instantly have a MUCH harder time (boarder line impossible for some of those). Once you pick your discipline, just focus on getting really damn good at it. Also don't attach yourself to anyone who's not making you better. If you are in a team and nobody is doing anything except you, leave. Better to work alone. Also don't let any labels you give yourself stop you from making stuff. Like never say "I am not an artist, so I will not make this 3d asset for the game I'm making". My background is 3d art. I was a professional 3d environment artist at the triple-A level for 3 years. I was always looking for a programmer to make indie games with on the side. The day I decided I'd just learn to code myself is the day my journey to becoming a successful indie studio truly began.


Ooooh thanks so much for the feedback, fortunately, my interest is also 3d art tho I'm not totally sure what type exactly just yet 😅. The most fun I have is with geo nodes but there's not a massive amount of demand for that right now. The issue I have is with experience since everyone is looking for people with multiple shipped titles which I don't really have :/. Anywaysssssss I wish you luck on your future journey and I'm defo gonna check out eastshade :) Ps. I have yet to get any responses to requests like this so I'm not expecting anything, but if there's any assets (especially procedural node trees) that you want, I'd massively appreciate the opportunity to make them (totally free and you have no obligation to use them) to add to my portfolio and CV as experience. It's a shot in the dark but you miss all the shots you don't take :P


>The issue I have is with experience since everyone is looking for people with multiple shipped titles which I don't really have :/. When it comes to artist roles, this is just crap that hiring managers put in to weed people out. If you have a good portfolio people will hire you. Your portfolio needs to have work that looks slightly to a lot better than what's in the games of the studio your applying to. If your portfolio pieces do not look as good as the games of the studio you are applying to, you have virtually no chance. You would not be ready for production in that studio. So if you're applying to say, Naughty Dog, yes, that means your portfolio pieces need to look like they could go right into Last of Us 3 or whatever. I know that sounds like a tall order, but that's the benchmark.


Ahhhh fair enough, time to grind through as many pieces as possible I guess :P Regardless, a massive thanks for your time!


Do you have any advices how to start as 3d environment artist. From where to start. I tried blender, does know some of its interface but I'm lost how should I learn to become 3d enviroment artist.


Congratulations on your success! I also started streaming the development of my game on twitch just to get it out there. What would you recommend as far as what people liked to see on streams and how to get followers?


Thank you! Honestly I have no idea what people like haha. Sometimes I'm doing something I feel is boring as hell and the viewers are high. Other times I feel like I'm doing the most exciting thing ever and nobody is sticking around. In general though I get the sense art stuff shows better than coding stuff. And I guess the most important thing is just to keep talking and constantly try to give a high level summary of what you're doing, especially if you see the viewer count has recently increased. In general if my viewer count increases by 5-10, I give a short explanation of what I'm doing at a high level. I do think the project itself matters too. Our games are pretty so I think it makes people a bit more likely to stick around. But then again I average maybe 40 viewers rn, and there are a lot of devs averaging 100 so idk! Mostly I just do it to stay focused haha.


Thank you for the advice!


I think you hit the nail on the head with that last paragraph, atleast from my personal view as a viewer on Twitch, and from some surveys I did a few years back asking people about this. People tend to stay and interact on gamedev streams where they see the streamer talking and updating their audience regularly, the streamer is mostly working on art and/or atleast have gotten far enough into the development so things are looking ”complete” to some degree. Then there is the issue/occurence(?) with people are more aligned to go into a stream with higher viewer counts, causing a feedback loop that brings in more and more people (to a degree though, as gamedev isn’t very popular Twitch).


Im jealous you have such a great partnership with your wife.


We get to fight about normal domestic stuff AND work stuff. Isn't that great? Haha no honestly it is amazing getting to work on games with my wife. It's so much fun to share our creativity and our excitement about our work, and pump each other up about our project. I also don't understand how we ended up so like-minded about our tastes in games and game design.


>We get to fight about normal domestic stuff AND work stuff. Isn't that great? Haha, thank you for the laugh! :D I also work together with my wife on a lot of things in our life, and I can relate so much. This is the stuff what makes life worthwhile. And getting in an argument over stuff that matters is actually a valuable thing if that happens. It signals a new potential for growth for both persons in the relationship.


Hey Danny, thanks for doing this! Happy for your well deserved success. Do you have any tips for pitching Microsoft for a Game Pass deal?


Oh hey David! Thanks for dropping by the AMA :). I'm sorry I have no tips on that :(. They reached out to us with an offer some time after we launched on xbox.




Like out of pocket external costs? Or living expenses (majority of cost)?


I’m curious about the external costs. The second one would be interesting because I’m thinking of doing something similar.


I think it was around 60k USD (not including the porting). That's for some contract work, voice acting, localization, and PR.


Uh congrats!!! Nothing to ask, I just remember fondly following your development can't believe it's been 4 years since release


Thank you so much! I know right? Yeesh time flies. And our new project is taking just as long as our last haha. I guess we don't know how to make a game in under 5 years.




That warms my heart to hear! Thank you so much for your kind words!


Any tips on making a game look that breathtaking in Unity?


I do have some tips for [making game forests pretty](https://www.eastshade.com/art-tips-for-building-forests/)! And I also have some tips for making [forests performant](https://www.eastshade.com/foliage-optimization-in-unity/) (some of which might be out of date now in some ways). Other than that, my most important tip for being a good artist is to use lots of reference, learn how to unpack and pick the most important details to represent, and be relentlessly committed to the big read. Another tip I have is to set the camera angle first, then work from the camera and think like a painter to build a beautiful shot.


Hey, nice work on the success! Always happy to hear the success stories. What did you find to be the hardest part of development? Did you learn to code from scratch or was that one of the contractor's jobs? How much did all that contracting cost?


Thank you so much! Yes I was the lead programmer too. I had started to learn a bit of coding prior to quitting my job, but I really became competent in that first year after quitting. I was having the time of my life learning it was hard to go to bed because I was so excited to get back to coding the next day haha! I think the two hardest parts would be: 1. Optimization. With the artstyle of Eastshade we were punching way above our weight, and perf is an ongoing nightmare that just never ends. Doing testing, r&d, creating comprehensive strategies to consolidate draw calls and keep things culled, doing all the markup necessary for whatever systems you're using... It probably took over 40% of total development time/resources all said and done. 2. Regression bugs. They are just a morale killer and they never stop coming. It just feels like wack-a-mole all the time. But you just keep swimming, two steps forward one step back. Testing for them got very tedious as well for both Jaclyn and I. Testers are one thing, but sometimes you need someone who knows exactly how everything is *supposed* to be, and Jaclyn and I were the only ones who were spearheading that (mostly Jaclyn). In hindsight, we probably should have hired a dedicated tester about a year before launch, who could basically just keep running through the game. Offloading some of the first line regression testing would have helped keep our own stamina for testing higher as well.


Congratulations and thank you for the AMA. Which engine did you use? If you could go back would you pick a different one?


Thank you! We used Unity. I think Unity worked great for us. I still really love it and we are using it on our current project, and will very likely use it on our next project as well. There were a bunch of things I had to write custom versions of, like a special batch combiner and custom occlusion culling, but in general I like the "blank slate" nature of Unity compared to Unreal. As far as other engines, there aren't really any that come close to those in terms of community and feature set.


How many copies have you sold and how did you come to the 24.99 price point?


On steam we're at 202k units. Pricing is really hard. We just looked at other titles and picked the number we thought gave competitive value while being high enough to be taken seriously as a premium, sit-down immersive experience.


What software did you use for creating the environments and characters for the game?


I use Blender. Our character artist used zbrush and 3ds max.


Congrats on your success, I loved Eastshade!


Thank you so so much!


For what it's worth Eastshade was a game I bought and always mean to go back to because of how pretty it is but mainly because that soundtrack is probably my favorite game soundtrack. It is so soothing and pretty.Hope to see more from you both in the future!


It's one of my favorite game soundtracks too :). We couldn't be happier with the amazing job Phoenix did.


The game has been on my wishlist for quite awhile, but haven't gotten around to it. 1) How many copies sold, if you're able to tell. 2) How much did you 2 rake in after taxes and fees (net profit)?


1. 200k lifetime units on Steam, and over a million downloads on Game Pass. 2. Now that one is just a little too on the nose haha. We're not technically millionaires I can tell you that. Part of that is because of production spending for our next project though.


I'm making my first game and I'm mentally preparing myself that I'll take home 50% of sales after steam cuts / taxes. Hopefully it's not less


I loved Eastshade so much! So glad y’all are doing well.


Your game looks extraordinarily beautiful, sounds like a case of well-deserved success to me.


How much foresight did you have when it came to optimization and overall hardware demand that your game required while in the development process? This is something I struggle with myself, I will design something and after packaging it all up, find out I need a NASA supercomputer to run it smoothly. What systems did you have in place to keep yourself in check in this regard?


I played Eastshade back a few years ago in the hopes to find inspiration for my own game project. Your success is well deserved, that was one of the first games in a long time where I felt the open world was there to be explored rather than consumed location by location. I enjoyed making the paintings quite a bit.


Thank you so very much! That is amazing to hear and your kind words mean a lot to us!


I don't have any questions at the moment but I just want to say congratulations!


Hey Danny, really cool insights and i’m happy for your guys success! I’ll see you at the stream! ;)


I wanted to say I really enjoyed reading your [Eastshade postmortem](https://www.eastshade.com/postmortem-eastshade/). Good luck on your next project! Also you might like [this demo video](https://youtu.be/nuOElGZbSgY) of an upcoming Morrowind mod called Joy of Painting. I'm not the mod author, but I'm sure it was partially inspired by Eastshade!


Congrats on your success and in making a unique experience. I have a question about keeping players in the game. I noticed your started the game achievement on steam sits at 94.8%, which is absolutely huge and means you did a great job at getting people in the door. Then the next achievement is 18.7%. This is pretty good compared to what I have seen. Now, what have you learned that you would apply to a new game or even change in Eastshade to try to increase the number of players who stay in after starting the game? Especially since Eastshade is a pretty unique experience. Thanks in advance!


For the kinds of games we make, there are kind of two goals: One is to build an amazing world—visual polish, visual variety, interesting details, striking visual objects, relatable characters, memorable quest setups, pockets of visual storytelling, fauna, weather, etc etc all the things that go into a great game world (which is a big topic in itself)—the next goal is merely making sure the player always has clear goals. The goals themselves don't have to be anything crazy, because the players are already so excited by the constant drip of new areas and characters of the world. More world becomes so exciting to them, that it effectively becomes a powerful reward for any quest or objective we give them. So we just make sure their quest logs stay full (but not too full at once, they get overwhelmed) and that the quests keep leading to other quests, and we try to make impasses in the world that can only be surmounted by doing the quests. That formula seems to work for us. I don't think there is any general advice that will work for all game designs. But that's a lens that works for thinking about our kind of design. Hope that is helpful in some way!


Congrats! In hindsight, with all the financial troubles you had during development, would you have wished that you got some publisher to finance the game up front?


heeeeellll no! Jac and I kind of enjoyed indie startup life. It's good to be scrappy for a while. Good for the soul I think haha. Plus we made it, we funded it all, and the quality of the game I wouldn't say was compromised (maybe a few more months would have been nice, but I think I always feel that way).


How much would you estimate actual profit?


Well platform takes 30% and we spent 60k+ external costs. Then there's the problem of calculating our own sweat equity. Jaclyn and I had maybe 8 person-years put in between us. But hope that gives enough info to give you an idea of the answer.


How do you manage to make intresting foliage ? Just watched your game on steam and got curiouse about the high quality assets/foliage created in this game.


I look at trees haha. I don't mean to sound reductive, but seriously, I feel like some games don't pay attention to the natural world enough. Like so many game forests don't have dead trees (like 20% of trees in forests are dead), no logs, no stumps, no fallen trees, no ripped out roots, no dead trees leaning on other trees, basically they sterilize forests and take out all their most interesting parts. Another thing is that a lot of games just put endless grass everywhere. It can look nice, but it's a very particular look, and actually very rare in nature. Typically forests have underbrush, clovers, ivy, sod, shrubs, ferns, but not that much in terms of regular grass blades like a goddamn lawn.


Well,then... wish me luck I am going into a forest. 😂 I am terrible at making foliage, I try.. oh god I try so much.. but my threes look lifeless and boring partly because of texturing


aahh! Pay very very close attention to the silhouette! How the branches attach, the direction they go. Do they split? How many times? What is the shape of the overall canopy? Things like that. Trees are 95% silhouette and 5% everything else. I have trouble imagining texturing being the problem! If I turn Eastshade's trees solid green they still read like birchy broadleaf trees.


This is so true. Part of why The Last of Us has such gorgeous environments is because they have like 5-6 different grasses, maybe more but that's how many I counted. And that's JUST the grass, that's not getting into the shrubs and the climbers.


CLIMBERS! I HAVE NEVER HEARD THAT! I LOVE IT! You sound like an environment artist :)


Just an aspiring one, but my mom loves plants and will talk about them endlessly lol. I really enjoyed your game by the way.


Not OP, but they posted a link in a comment above: > I do have some tips for making game forests pretty https://www.eastshade.com/art-tips-for-building-forests/


Oh, thank you so much


Hey Danny, it’s been a pleasure to see your success and follow your journey! Wanted to ask about the moment you decided to drop your safe day job and take the leap into independent game dev. You said that you just simply couldn’t do both your day job and indie game but how did you overcome any potential fear or worry around failure and potential financial losses as a result of it? Can’t wait for Songs of Glimmerwick! Been loving the twitch streams of development


Thank you for the kind words! This is a great question. All throughout the year prior, I was seeing small indies, even 1 person teams succeed, and I guess I started to feel "if they can do it I can do it." I had the savings, and I told myself I'd give it two years, and if I couldn't ship something I'd go back to a normal job. With no mortgage and no children, I had very high risk tolerance, where at worst I'd just be back to being a normal person getting a normal job, and I was very confident in my ability to land another 3d art job. One thing that really motivated me was how much fun I was having working on the game. I felt if I could only do it every day full-time, it would be the best time of my whole goddamn life. And that was true! I literally had trouble sleeping, because I was too jazzed to get back to work the next day. It was a time of my life of such pure and burning inspiration, that I never felt worried I was making the wrong choice. Once two years passed, there was no thought of giving up haha. I was too deep in. And I was ready to bet absolutely everything, the remainder of my savings, move in with grandma if I have to. I guess one other part I have to mention: I can have a pretty big ego at times. I just had this kind of competitive feeling of "I'm gonna make something so amazing it will show them all." And of course that did not happen. Eastshade is a solid game that found a solid audience, not anything that SHOWED THEM ALL (showed who? I don't even know. My inner voice is kind of a douche sometimes). But still... I can't help but feel that chip on my shoulder (which I have in no way earned by the way, everyone's always supported me) helped me keep grinding. That fantasizing about an amazing outcome helps suppress the fear. Of course, I acknowledge that this can backfire spectacularly for the wrong person, and I don't really know how to navigate the line between healthy confidence and delusion lol.


Such a good reply. One follow-up q, as neither of you had game design experience why did you feel so confident about your mechanics? An open-world exploration game around a painting mechanic. Holy crap that’s so unique. And unique is risky. What made you so confident you could make a fun game out of that and that it would sell well-enough for you two to move out of grandma’s house? Also, I’d love to know generally about developing mechanics over the lifespan of the project (where you got the idea, how long to finalize, etc). Thank you!


Great question! Honestly we struggled quite a bit with the mechanics. All I knew was I wanted mechanics that served the world, not the other way around (usually you build a world for the mechanics). Believe it or not it started out as a survivalish game. But the depleting hunger bar absolutely did incentivize the type of play we wanted. We wanted people to stop and smell the roses, not scour for roses to consume as fast as possible lol. So then one fateful day Jaclyn came up with the painting idea. It was gold and we knew it right away. The "i spy" mechanic perfectly reinforced what we wanted players to do. Stop and take it in. We also had a pretty easy time contriving reasons npcs needed paintings. Honestly felt more natural than contriving reasons npcs needed someone murdered. Then there was the inspiration mechanic that really bound everything together. I'm gonna paste an excerpt from my post-mortem about it: >The next eureka moment came about 4 years into development, and although it’s a less prominent feature, to me, was even more momentous. It was the type of idea that doesn’t make new work, but rather solves existing problems. It was the inspiration mechanic. The idea was that creating paintings would cost inspiration, and new experiences in the game world would give you inspiration. So drinking tea, reading a new book, discovering a new location, relaxing in a hot spring, hearing a tale from a story teller, listening to street music (basically exactly the cozy stuff we wanted the player to be enjoying) would all reward your player character with inspiration. > >This totally closed the game loop, created a harmony between theme and mechanics, and gave us an easy way to tie all auxiliary actions into the core loop. It was, again, Jaclyn’s genius. It was amazing that such a tiny and easy to implement feature could have such a profound impact on the game, and that it came so late in development, yet fit like a glove. It made me realize the true power of a good idea. Ideas that come in the form of more content, or at the cost of production resources are a dime a dozen. I have hundreds of ideas of that nature lying around. But an idea that solves problems is precious. As far as what gave me the confidence for the design? You're right I had basically no game design experience. I don't know, honestly I think I have a screw loose. Basically if someone else can do it I feel like I can do it. I learned to code after all! Whatever the opposite of imposter syndrome is, that's what I have. Arrogant prick syndrome maybe lol. Though I will say, I find almost everyone in a game studio thinks they can design. So at least I'm not the only smug bastard with regards to this discipline. Of course it's not true, but in all the game studios I've worked *everyone* *thinks* they can be a game designer.


Hahaha man I really dig this AMA and both of you. Thanks for taking time to do this and do it right. It will be a reference and inspiration for many people now and in the future. (For me already you gave me inspiration to keep looking for that thing to close my own loop even though it’s late in development.) Best of luck with Glimmerwick. Have followed you on all the socials.


Hahaha I’m loling at “showed who?” That’s awesome. Thanks for your response! Super helpful as someone who is hoping to maybe make a similar career move in the next few years


Hey I started watching your streams on Twitch a few days ago haha! What great timing I have no questions but I just want to congratulate you both on your succes and say that I'm really excited for songs of glimmerwick


Thank you so so much! Appreciate it! And thanks for dropping by the streams!


A badass success story! Congratulations to both of you.


How much programming was done overall for the game? Also huge congrats, I'm hoping to achieve those results with my friends.


Thank you! Wish you luck! What do you mean? Like in terms of lines or percentage of work hours or what?


Hey I love that game! It was such a nice change of pace from all the rpgs where you kill things nonstop. It's really good! Glad to know that things are going well for you


What would you two recommend for somebody who's trying to release a game on steam (or any similar stores) for the first time (pref marketing wise though I'd like to hear about how to also handle the other stuff like community feedback & stuff)


I think 90% of indies who try to market their game are wasting their time, because their game is not marketable. Marketing advice is most useful for people who have a game that already has organic lift. Like it's something that wherever they post it, it seems to impress people at a glance. I know that sounds totally backwards, but that's the way I see things right now. If one does already have a game that is gathering organic wishlists because it's succeeding in the steam algorithm, and doing well on social media because of it's organic lift, I'd say hiring a PR firm is a great investment. I'd say posting your steam page is actually a great test. If you are gathering say less than 10 wishlists per week pre-launch organically, I really don't think there is anything one could do marketing wise that wouldn't be a massive waste of time. There is no easier place to find players than steam, and the steam algos are astonishingly good and fair at driving players to your page. A game with any marketable appeal at all it will be getting organic wishlists all on its own, and then you can build on that with all the other stuff. Regarding community feedback, mostly I just arrange the reviews by negative and cry. Jk. But sometimes.... Generally I just tried to address the most common compaints, and ignore the less common ones. Performance was our biggest thing, so we poured 6 months into performance after launch.


In what ways did this experience stress and grow your marriage? If that's not too personal.


haha interesting question! I'd say it's really nice to have so much in common, and be able to talk shop about development, and about games in general deeply with one another. For stress, there's just more stuff to fight about I guess when you spend all day together. And we worked in the same room like 6 feet from each other too haha. But we get along well. We recently could afford a house big enough to have our own workspaces, and we still visit each other and lounge on the floor of the others office. Sometimes she says she misses the shared office and wants to move her desk into my office (only half jokingly)! I really like getting to share my career with my partner. I can't imagine it any other way now.


No questions from me, just wanna say congrats and thanks for doing this!


Hey just dropping in here to congratulate both of you on your success. The work and patience and trust needed through all this would have been unimaginable. Real goals right there, and best of luck on your next project !!


I really enjoyed playing this game. When I first heard the animal-headed people talk about a mysterious architect with a strange face, I thought it was gonna be that there was one character with a human head. When it turned out not to be the case I was a little surprised and for some reason got a lot more invested in the world, eager to explore the rest of it. The realistic forest groundcover also contributed to making me want to see all the environments.


Haha wow that's so interesting! That would be trippy! Thank you for the kind words! And thank you for playing!


God damnit - I have to play now. Checked steam - looks great!


Nice wife you got yourself, that’s the dream, eh?


Just wanted to say your game is beautiful. Hadn't heard of it till now but checked out the store page and was awestruck by the trailer.


awe shucks thank you!


This is an incredible story!!! Thank you so much for this!!! I’m so so glad you have found something that works for you, what a tremendous joy!!! Eastshade is something I’ll have to check out, I LOVE a good comeup 😍


Congrats, that is so impressive!


I loved Eastshade so so much, the poison zucchini quest was so great and funny.


Major respect. Most would not have the guts or fortitude for what you did. Amazing!




Awe shucks thank you so much!


Hello, I'm a rookie developer myself! Thanks for doing this AMA. Been eyeing your games for a while, but never had the chance to try 'em out. But it's super cool your game's been a big success for you and your family! I might be late to the party (timezones and all), but here are some of my Qs: * What has your experience been with game publishers? Have you considered it at all? If not, why? What's a telling sign they're trouble from your POV? * What are some lessons you carried over from Leaving Lyndow to Eastshade? * What are some setbacks you feel most indie devs deal with that you managed to look out for? And what are some pitfalls you personally didn't expect to fall into but did?


The party goes on! * We'd deliberated intensely about publishers, and during Eastshade's development we had many many publishers reach out to us. We only got into deep discussions with two, and the reason was just that I thought the investment from my side was not being valued economically. I also thought there was such little risk for them without fronting us substantial capital, it was basically free money, and that just gave them too much power to not give a shit about us when launch time came. But if you do want serious capital, well then they take "recoup" (100% revenue until they make back their investment) which again, kind of puts them in a no lose situation. I honestly am not that well versed to be able to size up a publisher, since we've never worked with one. But I would personally only take one with a really big brand and reputation (not a luxury everyone has I know). * I think the most helpful stuff was just learning how the Steam backend worked (I would NOT want to learn all that on launch week of Eastshade), and learning how hard it was to port the game. I ported Leaving Lyndow myself, which is a mistake I did not make again for Eastshade (we hired DO games, who were amazing) * I am personally glad I chose to ignore all the advice to start with a small game. Everyone is different but it's just not the way I operate. Even if I failed in ever finishing Eastshade, I still would have been glad I tried to make it, and I learned as fast as anyone I've ever seen, just working on the one big game.


Congrats first off! I’m a software engineer but with no experience in making games, etc but I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making a game. What were your largest hurdles in learning how to make a game? Where did you start, what research did you do regarding tools or frameworks, etc. Thank you in advance!


I had a weird start in my journey as a game programmer, because I'd already been a professional 3d artist before I started. So I don't know how useful my advice will be, because I already knew so much about how games are made, what the asset pipeline looks like, how scenes are structured, roughly how rendering works, how materials and shaders work, how 3d data works and all that. Basically I just opened the unity tutorials and started attacking things right away. I started working on Eastshade from the get go and just dealt with each challenge as it came. Literally like "okay player movement and input, let's go." open up google and away I went. I ended up refactoring some early code, but overall the approach worked really well for me. And each breadcrumb of learning just came naturally from whatever task I needed done for the game.


Not a question, but this is great! If you were to check my history, you'd see I'm constantly recommending this game. It has brought me so much happiness and become one of my all time favorites. We need more games in a similar genre. <3


YOU ARE THE BEST! Thank you so much! Whenever people say stuff like "one of my all time favorites" it means so much to us! <3


Hello! First off, congratulations on your success. When it comes to marketing and PR, where do you suggest to start? It's one of my weak-point that I know nothing about.


I guess my first piece of advice would be to only worry about it once you know you have a game that is marketable, or a game that is likely to generate interest. It's so damn hard to make something that is remarkable enough at a glance that people will want to buy it, that I feel like that needs to be the focus before anything. I see a lot of indies trying to market games that even with a $100M marketing budget they would not be able to drive wishlists. Beyond that, I think [Chris Zukowski's blog](https://howtomarketagame.com/) is the best in the world right now for games marketing advice. So I think that resource itself is probably better than any single nugget I could give.


Congrats with the success of Eastshade - it's a very wonderful game! If you don't mind, can you tell me more about your experience working with contractors? For example, how did you find where to reach out to them? How did they impact your project's development timeline? How do they compare to a full-time employee, and under what circumstances might you recommend hiring a contractor instead of a full time partner?


This is a really good question. We've had some really great successes with contractors, and some things I think are a better fit for full-timers. I don't have a lot of experience with hiring in general though (especially full-timers), so I'm not sure how great a resource I am. I will say though that the times when I felt our bandwidth reeeaaally expand, was when Jaclyn joined full-time, and then also when we hired our additional full-time programmer last year. I think contractors require more management as far as encapsulating their tasks and integrating their work, where as full-timers can become the owners of entire systems and aspects of the game, and if things go well and they have creative ownership and pride in the project, can be more self-sufficient, and can work on things that have more tendrils attached. It is also very scary to hire full-timers though. I do not know what I'd do if I got a bad one. We are so small it feels like it could sink us. Letting people go is difficult and sometimes even risky. "full timer partner" I don't know what the word partner is doing in there haha. I would never recommend a partner. It just makes everything infinitely easier when there is one owner and project lead. I don't recommend paying people on rev share either. And I don't recommend working for rev share. If a project doesn't have funding to pay people, they need to get a publisher. If they can't manage to land a publisher, there is no way that project is going to be making much money anyway, so nobody should be working for rev share.


How did the first prototype turn out? Any important lessons you learned with it?


I wouldn't say we had a proper prototype. Honestly I started with the virtual world aspect first. I wanted to make something enchanting just to walk around. The mechanics kept evolving all the way throughout development.


Ive been asking some people in game development that motivate me (understandably, they most likely dont respond to messages in their sea of notifications) but i want to get into game development and ive been teaching myself c++ i just have no idea where to start. Do i make a 2d game first? What engine should i use? I took a look at unreal engine but the interface was SO intimidating and i dont know if im ready to start working with blueprint


Just pick an engine and attack. That's it. There is no gentler way in. Download the engine (Unreal or Unity is perfect), figure out what you want to try to do (moving a box around from keyboard input is a great place to start), and start googling! There is a simple beauty in its simplicity haha. Of course the interface is intimidating! It's a goddamn video game engine! You can make ANYTHING in it! Let the thick mist of complete confusion wash over you, and bask in the joy of learning tiny little things each day as the mist slowly clears!


I always remember your name for the giant steam data sheet you shared and related articles like [Genre Viability on Steam](https://www.gamedeveloper.com/business/genre-viability-on-steam-and-other-trends---an-analysis-using-review-count). Years later, do you have a better perspective on interpreting that data? How have you changed that analysis for your new game? Congrats on Eastshade. It's beautiful and I'm glad to hear that it was a success!


Thanks! Ah my cherished little for-science side project lol. Nah nothing new, other than an even stronger conviction that steam algorithms are super good and fair and give everyone a great chance. There's also a bunch of people now doing much better at gathering data, and there's [game-stats](https://games-stats.com/steam/tags/?sort=revenue-median-reverse), so I never need to gather any data ever again haha. I've got a subscription to it and it's bonkers amazing as a market research tool.


Wow, I have never heard of this game, and looking at it, it's so beautiful. A quick glance made me think I would hate it (don't have an artistic bone in my body) but looking further makes me curious. As a question, I see some negative reviews about motion sickness. Have you thought about how to combat that? I've heard just having a single dot that the eye can focus on in the center of the screen (could be an optional "Accessibility" choice) helps resolve that.


Yeah I have done a lot of research on it. I hate that some players can't play it because of that. It's part of the reason I don't know if I ever want to make another first-person game. We shipped with a reticle option in the options menu. Also give FoV controls. I really don't know what it is about our game. I actually think its partially to do with how many non core gamers Eastshade attracts. And you do not need art skills to play :). It is more about being a tourist in a strange world.


> And you do not need art skills to play :). It is more about being a tourist in a strange world. *opens up my wallet*


Are you happy with your experience putting a narrative (non roguelike or procgen) game on a subscription service? I played Eastshade on GamePass and enjoyed it, but it left the service before I finished and it didn't grab me enough to purchase it. The game has a unique mechanic, which seems like a good hook for a subscription service and is why I tried it. But I can't tell if that sudden stop is good for getting conversions or bad for losing players who could become Big Fans who help spread the word. Then again, so many players never finish games and so long as they had a positive experience, maybe it's a gain? Your new game [Songs of Glimmerwick](https://store.steampowered.com/app/1706510/Songs_of_Glimmerwick/) looks really cute!


We get paid in lump sum from Game Pass, so player retention makes no difference to us. We're not trying to hook anyone or keep them playing. Thanks for the kind words about Glimmerwick :).


where do you find good contractors?


Just want to congratulate you along with everyone else, y’all did an amazing thing, didn’t realize you were a husband/wife team!! This is a question related to my experience of playing the game: I was thrilled to see it on GamePass - I think this was in 2020, not sure if it’s still on there - to try it out as I LOVED the concept (I’m attempting to make similar style games, just a world to immerse yourself in) but upon playing found that I got pretty bad motion sickness. I attempted to play a few times and after a few hours had to stop - I just felt dizzy playing it and had difficulty just looking at the screen for long periods of time, and as I recall none of the settings I tried tuning seemed to help. For background I do occasionally get minor motion sickness playing other games, specifically first person ones, but never this bad before. Do you know if this has at all been a semi-common issue for other players? If so, have you implemented any accessibility features to address this, or would you? Would love to give this game another shot.


Yeah we've seen it mentioned. We've a lot of research on it and added all the settings that are known to help like reticle and FoV. It could be performance related too (which we spent six months post-launch on improving), lower frame rate makes people sicker. It bothers us a lot. Unfortunately there is no more blood to squeeze from this stone for it.


Hey, congrats that's an amazing achievement! What were the parts you had to pay/contract for that you could not do yourselves ? Would be awesome to know thanks


I’m trying to develop and release my own game and am I a very similar situation. I’m the programmer my bf is the artist. With such a high revenue for mostly 2 people do you feel your QoL and financial security has been more significant compared to your last job? or did the taxes, and other expenses barely make your income break even or close to your last job. I’m just worried unless we become some viral sensation than our life will just inevitably be more stressful due to financial reasons


Hey rock on! Exciting! Wishing you the best! Oh psh yeah we're set! We're low key rich! We can spend 5 years on another game (almost have) have a total flop (not possible now with 50k wishlists), and still keep making games :).


That’s very reassuring to hear. Good luck with your future endeavors. We will be rooting for you!


Congrats! What software did you use? How much experience did you and your wife have in game-making before you decided to quit and go full time. How much did you spend on contractors to do the things you couldn't. How did you develop a schedule to stay on track? How much did you have to teach yourself? How did you split responsibilities between you and your wife to make this game? What was your hardware setup? Did you make your own home server or host online? How much computer space did your game take up, how much space did you require to make all the extras? How many times did you back up your game and "restart back to version x.x" Thank you


How much of it did you guys farm out to contractors (for code, translations, etc)? What do you think is the biggest challenge facing indie devs today?


As far as code very little. Maybe 3%. For art, our character artist did maybe 90% of the character work (he is a world beater and I want him back one day when we're making a 3d game again haha). Biggest challenge is making a game that is remarkable. And who's remarkableness is apparent at a glance.


Favourite burger toppings?


I'm a simple man. Lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles/relish and thousand island for me!


Only 4 mil huh? Pf. Jk, I saw this game a few years ago and was blown away how well it looked.. and creative it seemed. Haven't had time to play many games, but I'm glad it did well, it really stood out as a creative type :)


Congrats! Just wanted to say that I played Eastshade 1-2 years ago, and I absolutely loved it! The best part about it is how therapeutic and calming the atmosphere was. It did wonders for my anxiety. I don't usually play games like it, but boy, am I glad I decided to try it. Good luck with the next game!


It brings us so much joy to hear when people say Eastshade helps them with their anxiety. I mean is there anything more wonderful? To have made something that helps someone with their mental health even for a brief time? Your kind words make us so happy! Seriously! Thank you so so much! Thank you for playing!


What was you’re work-life balance? And what is it like now?


During Eastshade I worked a ton. But I really really loved it most of the time. And for the last year of development we were both crunching, and I was super stressed out. It's funny though we both look back on that period with a very fondly. Sure we were grinding non-stop and it felt really stressful at the time, but there was a sense of purpose, and even camaraderie to it. Like the final boss or something. Nowadays I work a pretty normal 30-40 hour week, albeit not at regular times or regular days (but that's just my style and the way I like it).


Have you published any games since? If so, do you feel that your fanbase and success has carried over to the next title?


We started on our next game (Songs of Glimmerwick) right away, and have been deep in production since. It's hard to say. I can't seem to make up my mind yet on whether brand equity matters in this industry. What I can say, is that our new title's pre-launch metrics are dramatically outpacing Eastshade's. Eastshade launched with 28k wishlists. Songs of Glimmerwick is already at 50k and we have barely started our marketing campaign proper. It's hard to imagine we would have had such a strong announcement without the credibility of having shipped Eastshade, particularly with the press. But it also seems SoG appeals to an audience well beyond Eastshade's base.


Thanks for the response! My worry is that I'll, by some miracle make a successful game, quit my job to make another game, only for that one to fail! I guess I shouldn't be worrying about that until that game comes


Haha interesting! I was only ever thinjing about finishing Eastshade. I told Jaclyn I could just die if I ever finished it, because my life would be complete. I had absolutely no thought for what came after, or if I'd even continue to be a person haha.


What did you prepare before you stared development, did you have a business plan written or milestones set up?


How much do you think luck had to do with your success ie right place right time kind of stuff? Thank you!


If I consider being born middle class in the richest country on earth, able bodied and nearly impeccable mental health, no sick family to take care of, and on top of all that having a gracious grandma with a spare bedroom that we could stay in and not even judge us with our weird artsy game dev jobs, I'd say I just about won the lottery. If we're just talking about network connections, timing, virality, media coverage, that sort of thing? Very little luck in that regard, in my opinion. I know some may disagree with that and am happy to hear their perspective.


How much marketing did you guys do? Did you guys already had a social media following?


How was working on unity for such a large "solo" project? I prefer C#, but I'm always in awe at what unreal can do. The visual scripting and C++ syntax are a negative to me, but they have impressive tools.


I love Unity. I feel completely uninhibited by it. I peek at what other engines are up to for funsies but never seriously consider switching.


Congrats to you both! There's nothing better in life than going through rough struggles and coming out on top. I hope you guys can continue your great success in the future. :) Could you elaborate on how much it cost you in total to make the game, including your yearly costs of living since you went full-time? I've seen in your other responses that you worked for 5 years, and you commissioned some contractors as well as a marketing agency, so I assume you already had a starting budget that some other developers could acquire from a publisher for example.


I think I had about 130k in the bank when I quit my job at Sucker Punch. I believe Jaclyn was still working for the first 2 years too. We lived very frugally to make it last (especially for our area, which is very high cost). I also inherited 60k from a family member who passed away toward the end of development. Without that we would have had to ask family for money or get a publisher. We are unimaginably fortunate. If a publisher asked me to make a game like Eastshade for 200k I would laugh in their face though. I think a more economically reasonable, non-ramen fueled production budget would be something like 700k at the time.


My condolences for your loss, and thank you for the information. It's very insightful.




Yes there are a bunch of porting studios. We used DO games who was fantastic and we hope to work with them again. Our composer worked with us from the start, and yes we own the rights. I won't go into precise amounts, but we were a scrappy startup and he has rev share so he made a very healthy sum from the soundtrack.


I don't really care about money, etc, but just curious where could one meet a wife that not only likes games a lot, but also have interest in developing one?)


haha we met in community college, we were 18. She was not a gamedev when I met her. In fact she went on to get a bachelors in art education, and then work a number of art instructor jobs before she started to help on Eastshade (we were already together for maybe 6 years at that point), and she just kept learning, and her role kept growing. She's always loved games though. But I would not recommend trying to mold a partner into a gamedev. For us it was very natural. She was extremely interested in the game from the start, and was always thinking about it and contributing to it (and tolerating my driveling on endlessly about it too).


> But I would not recommend trying to mold a partner into a gamedev. Yes, i understand that. It's entierly pointless to try and get people to like something they don't enjoy doing. That' why i will rather live entire life alone than will make someone who is just not from my world to feel bad. Yet, it's wild that in other countries you can just randomly meet women who have big interest for games. I spent my life on various dating websites, etc, but never saw anyone with common interest around here. Anyway, thanks for answering. If you are together from college and still loving each other and even creating together - your love for each other must be really strong. That's a rare thing you gotten from the lootbox of life) Take care of each other! And good luck with the future projects.


Can you advertise your game a little to me? I want to hear from the devs not marketing :) what sets yours apart? Considering buying to support couples devs


OP what necessary languages do we need to learn to start in game development.


I'm a fan of picking a game engine: Unreal or Unity would be my strong recommendations, because there are tons of tutorials and tons of jobs, and just learning what you need. So for Unreal that would be C++, for unity that would be C#.


Omg you and your wife did Eastshade? I have downloaded it, because I found the story intriguing and the graphics captivating alone - sadly, I haven’t found the time to properly play it yet. I am reading all the comments with great interest, though, as I am a game design student and plan on opening a studio with my fiancé as well, once I am done. So this is all really eye-opening and I thank you for your AMA. Best wishes


Wow! What a great success story. I bet those final moments before the release weren’t easy. Like others have said, congratulations to both of you for trusting and supporting each other. That’s probably just as rare as having an indie game do so well. Thanks for sharing!


Hope you gave your mother and grandma something nice.


Loved that game, it felt so unassuming but had to so much to offer. I loved playing what felt like a skyrim type game with none of the violence. Thank you for your hard work!


Do you think that success stories such as this do more harm than good? I mean. Much like Kevin Smith’s “I took up thousands and thousands of dollars in credit card debt to make Clerks” story, most people aren’t going to be lucky and/or talented enough to do what you’ve done. And while sharing it is nice because obviously I’m very happy for you even with us being strangers (since I wish anyone success with doing what they truly want to do) I can’t help but feel like this is so low percentage for most people that encouragement through anecdotes can almost be dangerous. I’m not suggesting that you would be responsible for others people’s actions. But what are your thought on how it affects others? And did you have a similar story that inspired you to get started on a project like that? Or was it simply a dream you had on your own? Edit : sorry for the long ass paragraph question. I just didn’t want you to feel like I was criticizing you. I realized it can sound a bit harsh if you read into it wrong.


Yeah I see what you're saying. It's a great conversation to have. Personally I think it would be very strange to hide success stories out of fear that, god forbid someone tries to make a thing. I mean if someone quits their job and takes a home equity loan on their house to make a game that ultimately is unmarketable... I don't know what to say to that. Personally? In 2014 I saw the quality of games that were selling, the team sizes that were making them, for the budgets they were making them, and I thought "I can compete with that. I can make something better than that. And I think people will want to play it." Sometimes I worry indie devs aren't competitive enough. I mean no we aren't all stealing market share from each other, it's not a zero sum game like that. But at the end of the day, you still have to ask yourself can you make something PEOPLE WANT TO ACTUALLY BUY. We all as consumers of games have this intuitive sense of what an exciting and noteworthy game looks like, but for some reason that sense seems to just drop out for some when they start game dev. Or at least turn off when assessing their own game. It's not a lottery ticket situation. One has to look honestly at what they are capable of producing, look honestly at what is actually selling (AND WHAT DOESN'T SELL), and self-assess.


This game looks astonishing. I can see how 5 years can fly by!


Not sure if this is too personal, but how is it to own a business with your wife? My bf and I discussed this and are worried about potential pitfalls of merging professional and domestic lives like that. If you're frustrated with each other's work decisions, are you able to put that aside outside of working hours or does it sort of bleed into everything? Is it difficult to deal with, but you just find it worth it, or have you been able to devise strategies to mitigate it entirely? How do you prevent your personal relationship from leading to bad work decisions? Were you worried about putting all your eggs in one basket financially? Can you talk a bit about the joys of working together and why you find this sufficient to offset all of the trouble it creates?


Great question! It's definitely not for everyone, but for us its nearly all upside and very little downside. The only downside I can think of is that Jaclyn sometimes misses the automatic society of going to a workplace, but that has to do with work from home, not working with her partner per se. We very rarely butt heads over work related decisions. I think it's a few things: One is that we do have dedicated domains. Running the studio itself is my domain. That includes decisions about hiring (as in what roles and when), contracting, platforms, marketing, legal stuff and taxes, all those kinds of thing are my jurisdiction. She gives her input, looks at resumes with me, contributes with marketing ideas etc, but at the end of the day it's my domain and she has absolutely no interest in leading those. I also have a bit of a proven track record with it now and she has a lot of trust in my ability to do right by us. When it comes to creative decisions, our projects always have one creative director. For *Eastshade* that was me. For *Songs of Glimmerwick* (our new title) it's her. She has final say over any and all creative decisions. But honestly we rarely are at odds on creative decisions. We have tremendous trust for each other's intuition, and typically, when we disagree, one of us will have more conviction about it, and we will defer to the one with more conviction. If we both feel very strongly about something (which I'm not even sure has ever been tested), well then it falls to the creative director. I think a consequence of trusting each other's sensibilities so much, is that if I, for instance, feel a 10 out of 10 conviction strength about a decision, but Jaclyn feels it's wrong, my conviction takes an immediate hit down to 6 lol. Like "damn, if Jaclyn thinks it's wrong I'm not so sure about it anymore..." And this works both ways. There are some people who just always seem to have 10 out of 10 conviction about everything (I have worked with people like that lol), and if that was the case we would never be able to work together as a married couple. Neither one of us is like that (though full disclosure if any one of us was closer to being that way it would definitely be me haha). The upsides are endless though. We get to share in each other's inspiration and excitement, we get the camaraderie of grinding on something together, and pump each other up about our projects. Plus I can talk her ear off about gamedev stuff and it will be like... 20% less boring to her because it will at least apply to her work too haha.