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Taking Care of Business - Iron Tower Studio 2021 Business Diary

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Taking Care of Business - Iron Tower Studio 2021 Business Diary

Company News - posted by Infinitron on Sun 30 May 2021, 01:15:06

Tags: Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game; Iron Tower Studio; Vince D. Weller

As you might imagine, this year's belated installment of the annual Iron Tower Studio business diary is all about the Colony Ship Early Access launch. The article has some details about how the team reached this point and what they're working on now. I'm happy to learn that the game has sold relatively well, despite being completely ignored by the mainstream gaming media. An excerpt:

After five years of work we finally released Colony Ship’s first chapter on Early Access (Steam) and Games in Development (GOG). It's the second most important milestone (the first was the combat demo), because the hardest part - the long slog of building the foundation, the systems, the assets - is behind us now, and we can finally focus on the content, which is the best, most exciting part of development.

To give you a quick analogy, imagine wanting to build something from LEGO bricks, only before you get to enjoy it, you need to 3D-print all the different pieces. It took awhile but we finally have all the pieces. Now we're ready to play.

What took you so long?

We switched to Unreal 4 in 2016, when we finished working on The Age of Decadence. Making another game with Torque would have been far easier and taken less time, but the engine wasn’t getting any younger and sooner or later we'd be forced to switch. Switching to such a powerful engine brings many benefits but it also means starting from scratch. There’s a huge difference between an engine you’ve just downloaded and a well-oiled RPG engine with all the systems, and this difference is measured in years of work.

It took us 3 years to get to the first playable build, 4 years to shape it into a combat demo. Combat demo sounds deceptively simple - nothing but combat there, right? - but it’s essentially a small slice of the game with most systems in: character & party, combat & combat AI, upgradeable gadgets, dialogue, inventory, grid & pathfinding, ending slides, save/load, etc.

We released the combat demo in Apr 2020. It took us two months to process feedback, improve the design, and fix reported issues. Only then we started working on the first chapter, still missing many critical components (we added the stealth system in September, the code for non-human enemies only in Oct, etc). The final missing piece (the party management screen) was added last month, so now we can fully focus on quests, locations, and balance.

Why Early Access?

No, it's not beta testing or raising funds, although the extra money will certainly help and go toward development, allowing us to do more. The main reason is to run everything by our core audience and get instant feedback, which is the most important development tool there is. Anyone who isn't using it is working blind.

Essentially, players' feedback is guiding the development, pointing out everything that should be improved, changed, or expanded. Now that chapter 1 is 'approved' by the players, we can focus on one location at a time and so will the players, acting as the ultimate quality control.

Rapid updates are key here: we already released six updates, fixing everything we overlooked before the release and implementing many great suggestions and quality-of-life improvements. While it's tempting to delve deeper into the systems, nobody's going to be happy if by the end of the year we still have only 3 locations available. Right now we spend 80% of our time on the next location (the Factory) and 20% on improving the first chapter, systems, and balance.

Slow and Steady…

The game is well-received (86% based on 321 reviews) - thank you very much to everyone who decided to support us. The Age of Decadence did well for a hardcore indie but Roman fantasy with ancient mysteries and Lovecraftian elements is one thing, a colony ship with well-familiar political themes, without any overt space opera or over-the-top futuristic elements a la Mass Effect, is another.

In the first month we sold 14,271 copies. In comparison AoD sold ~3,300 copies during the same period in Early Access, so we can consider it a very promising start. I never hype our games but if the players liked the first, fairly low-key chapter, they're going to love what comes next.

Regional data: I don’t think anyone will be surprised to learn that the United States reigns supreme - 54% of all units are sold in the land of the free. Russia is the second biggest market with 7%, UK 6%, and so on and so forth.

Wishlists: we were sitting on 30k wishlists (courtesy of releasing the combat demo last year), it went up to 50k in the final week (after the first videos), then quickly jumped to 100k a week after release. Promising on this front as well.

Demo downloads jumped up by 2,265% so demos certainly remain an important tool that shouldn’t be underestimated.

AoD's sales went up 3,400% in the last month, which is an unexpected but very welcome bonus. Our development budgets are generated by our sales (which allows us to stay independent), so the stronger the sales, the more we'd be able to do to bring our worlds to life.
The full article concludes with an amusing description of Vault Dweller's interactions with the various publishers who have contacted him about publishing Colony Ship. Beyond their apparent worthlessness, he believes that a publishing deal is unlikely to be worthwhile in terms of revenue.

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