Putting your darling on ITCH - thoughts and advice


We recently decided that ITCH.IO would be our go-to place for publishing our demo (and hopefully in the end) our game. I wanted to just give a little insight into our process of coming to that decision, what we've learned so far, what we could have done better and what we will do in the future. 

Hopefully, this can give some advice to other people who plan to push out their games to this awesome, tight-knit community!

OUR GOAL

Our game is pretty unique in terms of being a game that focuses largely on a previously somewhat unexplored core mechanic. This is combined with level design which challenges the way players approach the mechanic, in every single level. That's why we decided pretty early on, that we would be very PLAYER FOCUSED in terms of our design process. We needed as much feedback as possible in order to make sure we could design a system that was both new, exciting AND intuitive! 

OUR PROCESS

In order to attain our goals, we researched quite a bit. I assume it's a slow but fruitful process that most gamedevs go through, when they approach some kind of release. The process sought to answer some really important questions:

  • Where can i garner the most attention for my little darling?
  • How do i get feedback that i can use productively in my design process?
  • How much time do i have to commit to this endeavor, and does it help my development time?

These are very important questions, and sometimes they work against each other. It's entirely possible that getting the most attention for your game, does not necessarily entail the best feedback on the other side and vice versa. And would it all be worth it? 

Well, we decided to make a priority list, and the highest priority, was nailing the game mechanics and getting as much feedback as possible. And if that meant sacrificing a bit of exposure on the other end, so be it. 

We started to research, and well, for us, that meant tons and tons of GDC talks. 

Dont get me wrong, there were some good talks, but not necessarily about what we were looking for. That's until we randomly stumbled upon this talk by Matthew Viglione from SomaSim.

The talk itself, was quite interesting and we could echo a lot of the sentiments, concerns and issues they faced along the way. But what really stuck out to us, was his utter praise and his own surprise over the amount of feedback and help, they had gotten from small communities. This stood out to us, and inspired us to seek out the same kind of community support, that you wouldn't necessarily get from starting out with a big steam page and going to a big publisher to push it out to as many eyes as possible. 

That's where ITCH.IO came in. 

We were familiar with ITCH through the few gamejams we've been to, but never thought much about it in terms of self-publishing our game. That was until we started to read more from Indie-devs in similar situations and were inspired by platformers such as Celeste, which managed to grow quite a large ITCH following and actually get some good engagement from the hardcore indie community. 

PRO's

  • Quick and easy to use system
  • Good patch support
  • Great community engagement and grass-roots feel
  • Good analytics tools to gauge user feedback on a scale
  • A system based on trust and mutual benefits
  • DEVELOPERS actually use this site and give feedback

ITCH has a lot of PRO's that are very sought after for new indie developers. But by far the most important one (and this can not be stressed enough) is the grassroots user base. It would seem that ITCH has an audience, that does not exist on other platforms right now. The ease of feedback, the fact that anyone, anywhere can create a quick account and give some feedback in seconds and the trust-component which lets you bypass a lot of the bureaucracy of other sites, is insanely beneficial. Apart from that, the fact that other developers use this site, makes the feedback in some cases, way more beneficial! 

ITCH feels more like a community and less like a platform.

CON's

  • Fewer potential users
  • Less known (everyone and their mother knows steam)
  • Less integration for friends who play together (compared to steam client)

While the cons are significant, most come into play much later in the process. Our biggest concern is definitely the support and API options the steam client offers. While ITCH does have it's own client and it does have some support, it's much less known and used, and ties into the previous two points. This could be an issue for displaying achievements, knowing how good your friends are doing (outside the game) etc. 

SUMMARY

ITCH IS A GREAT PLACE TO START and definitely viable to have as part of your final platform. Big games have released partially though ITCH and the advantages of having a community-driven development process highly outweigh the con's. 

TO:DO BEFORE YOU POST

  • Check out the other games on the site
    • What did they do right/wrong?
    • How is the design structured best to fit within our goals?
  • Check out similar games on other platforms
    • Can we bring some of that to ITCH?
    • Keep in mind why we are using ITCH!
  • PLAN AHEAD AND STAY ACTIVE
    • If things go well, dont fall asleep, interact interact interact.

Having a few structured reminders (combined with many more verbal talks and discussion) before posting, really helped us out. 
Apart from that, actually taking the time and looking at just some of the very talented people who posted their games before us, shortened our design process and helped us set things in perspective. Looking at their ITCH pages and taking inspiration from them, was great. 

Two good examples:

Perfection by YagmanX - Amazingly simple, yet catching site. Putting a face on the developer really gives a personal touch, that feels unique to indie games. 

Roguelight by Managore - REALLY amazing aesthetic to the page. As soon as i saw it, i wanted to play it. The colors blend together really well and compliment the visual style of the game. This was a great inspiration. 

WELL HOW DID IT WORK OUT?

So far, it's been one hell of a ride! Within hours of our release, with next to no marketing work, random users on ITCH were already finding our game and giving it a go! We released our relatively unknown demo on Friday, and already by Monday we had hundreds of downloads, and tons of great feedback both personally and publicly. People engaged with our game, and in more ways than we expected! Some people approached it casually, and some people have dedicated themselves to being #1 on the highscore list and already spent hours and hours on getting there! One of the most surprising things, was just the amount of diversity there was between the ITCH users. A healthy mix of entirely casual and really hardcore players found our game and gave it a go. 

We decided to funnel our users into our discord server, which we created a few weeks ago, in order to have a more personal feeling to the feedback and get consistent feedback in realtime. Our feedback channel on Discord has been active and it's mostly people here from ITCH!

WHAT COULD WE DO BETTER?

More preparation. We stressed ourselves with an somewhat arbitrary deadline and decided to forego the quality of some things, in order to reach that deadline. We're correcting some of those mistakes now (mainly our video and some of the page setup), but having those in place way before launch, could have been much better. Looking at some other projects in hindsight, they would setup their page and launch their page way before the game actually launched. This feels like a much better approach, testing things out at least a week in advance and then pushing the game when it goes live (The draft functionality on ITCH is quite good). 

TL;DR

  • ITCH is great for community and feedback!
  • LEARN from others who came before you!
  • PUT in effort and you will be rewarded!

WHAT'S NEXT?

Next up, we will continue to hopefully grow our community here on ITCH. One of the main ways, will be through these developer logs. Designing a game like MineRalph required a lot of tough decisions, planning and research. In future devlogs, we will go into detail with these things, why we chose certain ways to design mechanics, where we took inspiration from and how our approach to design has taken us where we are today. 

All in all, this has been a great experience for us, but the greatest part, is knowing that it's just starting!

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