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Onwards in 2020

Discussion in 'Titan Outpost' started by MF, Jan 4, 2020.

  1. MF The Boar Studio Patron Developer

    MF
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    [​IMG]

    Happy new year everyone.


    It’s 2020.

    Titan Outpost has been available since August.

    In retrospect, the game should have been in Early Access until at least a month ago, and I’d like to sincerely thank everyone here who stuck with the game and helped to improve it. Your feedback has been essential and still is.

    I've had my work cut out for me debugging full-time these last few months. As I write this, I've just uploaded another build. I haven't received any major bug reports recently and one of the testers and I sat together to give everything a final check over the holidays.

    The game now has a ‘mostly positive’ rating on Steam. There are a few lengthy, glowing reviews that validate the years of effort it took to make it. Shout out to Butter here who called it his 2019 GOTY, which is heart warming to me. The game struck a chord with some people, and a few hardcore players have put in over 150 hours and finished it a couple of times. That’s awesome.

    On the other hand, the sales so far have been lower than my absolute lowest prognosis. I budgeted the game by using my own money to work (nearly) full-time on it for two years. After it was obvious more time was needed, I dipped a little further into my savings and stretched it to three years. I’m still doing that.

    Valve offers a few helpful guides for how to market your game on Steam, but I've hardly done any of that so far. I had to fix the game first, after all. Now that the game is stable, it’s time to start cranking that engine. I have very little experience in marketing, but I’m of the opinion that something interesting can coast on merit alone. It might be an uphill battle because of the early backlash from the buggy release, but I’m hopeful that the game can get some traction. If any of you have any good ideas in this department, I'm all ears.

    Now, if you care to join me for a bit of reflection, I'll continue below.






    What went wrong?

    Contrary to what some people thought, I didn’t run out of funds in August. I honestly thought the game was done and vastly underestimated the testing process.

    At one point there were eight dedicated testers. Some were online volunteers and some local friends. A couple of them had been on board since early alpha and were burnt out on the game by the time it hit beta. Some could no longer commit due to IRL circumstances. Two went above and beyond the call of duty and put in a lot of extra effort.

    Personally I’ve clocked over 3,300 hours in the game on Steam alone, so that's not counting the two years before I hooked up the Steam API.

    Despite all that, the game was released in an unacceptably buggy state. Why?

    All the check-marks on the testing schedule were green after a series of bug-free runs through the whole game. Runs by people who had gotten to know the game inside and out, which isn’t indicative of how the average new player will interact with the game. We had gotten used to the quirks and subconsciously learned to navigate around the kinks. For a game this size, with so many permutations, the testing team was simply too small and too insular.

    We tested the game in stages. For each stage, each tester would do one full playthrough, while also being assigned specific quests and features to hone in on. This has turned out to be a flawed approach.

    To compound these problems, the game didn't have loading screens at first, so it seemed even worse than it actually was. Testers knew what to expect, but many D1P players saw black screens for more than a couple of seconds and understandably assumed that the game had crashed.

    Early access would have solved this. It's a public beta system that Valve hands developers on a platter. The irony is that I didn’t want to go Early Access precisely because I wanted people to have a solid experience the first time around.


    What went right?

    Players have praised the unique nature of the game and appreciate that it's a breath of fresh air. The game had a very ambitious design in tying together a lot of gameplay elements that all needed equal attention. Despite that, very few corners were cut and a lot of crazy ideas actually made it in. It's a sprawling, non-linear beast of a game and it's pretty big to boot, but it got done. That in and of itself is pretty amazing.

    Mapping out everything that had to be done early on and creating a framework within Unity to make things easier for myself really helped. Building the character generator and the dialogue system, not to mention creating a solid architecture, saved the game from vapourware status more than once.

    I underestimated the time it would take to make, call it hubris, but managing a one-man project is forgiving in the sense that the only currencies are perseverance, dedication and time. The hours spent alternating between coding, writing, art and music were crazy efficient. Easily the most productive I’ve ever been able to be. I sometimes worked 80-hour weeks in a fugue state only to be interrupted by my daughter. It was a labor of love and I look back on even the most intense weeks with fondness.

    In the end, I’m damn proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish and really grateful to everyone who contributed. From the voice cast and the couple of freelance artists, to the testing team and the dedicated and helpful players with their detailed bug reports and suggestions.


    What's next?

    Obviously, spreading the word and introducing the game to new people.

    I was hoping to use the income from sales to create a planned expansion or even another game that I've already lined out. Unfortunately, the sales so far aren’t even enough to fully cover two months of development, not to mention the Unity fees over the years and other costs.

    I didn’t quite spend all my savings and this is by no means a sob story, but I can see the wood at the bottom of my war chest.

    I’m going to have to focus more on music again and even do some programming-related contract work for the foreseeable future. I’ll continue to support and improve Titan Outpost as best as I can, of course.

    Like I said, I’m hopeful that the game will pick up a bit now that the reviews are mostly positive, but I’m not betting my house on it.

    Will I ever make another game? Maybe. Hopefully. There is no way I can dedicate the ungodly amount of hours I spent developing Titan Outpost on another project without compensation involved, but I’ve learned a lot and I think I could be even more efficient -and do a better job overall- the second time around. Perhaps I can drastically reduce the scope and do it part-time like MRY. Perhaps TO will be a sleeper hit, yet. Time will tell.

    So, I have a favor to ask. if you played the game and liked it, please spread the word. If you tried the game back in August but were appalled by the bugs, give it another shot and see if you dig the improved experience. If you haven’t tried it and think it might be for you, check it out. If you have tried it recently and think it's still not up to snuff for some reason, let me know.

    Whatever you do, enjoy the hell out of 2020.



    PS No, I haven't gotten a chance to try Disco Elysium or TOW yet. Any time I had for playing games, I spent on Underrail: Expedition.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2020
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  2. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

    MRY
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    I had no idea this game was even remotely close to completion, let alone released! How time flies!

    A few thoughts (since I've been summoned!):

    (1) This is a cautionary tale for me with regard to Fallen Gods -- probably it confirms that the game has to be released Early Access, since the likelihood of bugs and nonsense seems even higher with our game than with yours.

    (2) What you describe re: testers is very familiar to me from Primordia. WEG had a relatively large group of testers (maybe three or four times yours), though the dedicated core was not much larger, and a much smaller game. In practice, the majority of the testing came down to a very small number of people, probably myself and two others. Even when trying to break a game, there is a tendency to fall into ruts -- despite tons of testing, the game shipped with glitches, and it took several iterations of patches until it was really bug free because of the variety of permutations even in a very simple game, ones that simply will never get caught by a handful of testers no matter how dedicated because there are so many stupid things people can do that even an intrepid tester cannot anticipate.

    (3) I know noting about marketing (let's summon Vault Dweller who does), but looking at the Steam page, a few things jump out to me:

    (i) The logo looks more like a mobile / shovelware game, like say a Galaga clone, than a robust RPG. I have no great suggestions, just flagging this.
    (ii) The last screenshot is markedly worse than the one others in terms of lighting/atmospherics -- the environment is strong, but the guy's face is quite a bit worse than the woman's in the earlier screenshot. I'd remove the screenshot, as I think it probably hurts rather than helps the overall package.
    (iii) The blurb is quite good, though I don't know that you need to specify which moon of Saturn it is, feels a bit pedantic. :)
    (iv) Not sure about the chiptune music that kicks in during the video at 21 seconds. There appears to be a missing frame at 29 seconds. The video never says it's an RPG.
    (v) "About this game" never says it's an RPG. I seem to recall someone posted a thread about how to write an effective Steam page that said that the main thing is to tell people what kind of game it is and what they do in it. I'm not actually sure anything on the page really makes that clear -- it's described as an RPG, but the video looks more like a base management game, are there levels, character creation, party building, combat, etc.? (In the blurb, I don't think you need both "literally" and "indeed" in that sentence, which is otherwise a very clever one.)
     
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  3. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

    MRY
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    Ok, I read the player reviews, and I have a few more thoughts:

    (1) The people who praise the game specifically flag the "hard scifi" aspect. You don't mention that anywhere on the page. I think you should reconsider.

    (2) The blurb opens by calling it an isometric RPG. The only screenshot that even arguably looks like an isometric RPG is the second to last, but that looks more like a sim/basebuilding game to me. The other screenshots look like: (i) first-person game of some sort; (ii) first-person game of some sort; (iii) 4X game; (iv) X-Com or 4X game; (v) adventure game?; (vi) ???; (vii) ???; (viii) as noted, sim/basebuilding; (ix) first-person game of some sort. In the video, only :54 to :58 look remotely like an isometric RPG. (I won't try to define every other second, no time to waste on that.) I think you need to consider whether you want to market it as something other than an isometric RPG, or whether you want to change your visual marketing, but right now there seems to be a big disconnect.

    (3) The reviews indicate that there is extremely diverse gameplay, but nothing in the marketing text conveys that at all. The blurb says it's an isometric RPG; the long description is just about story. The only thing to suggest that there's anything non-RPG about it (I'm talking about the text) are the references to harvesting resources.

    I think you need to figure out who is going to actually like your gameplay and target them. The isometric RPG crowd strikes me as overwhelmingly interested in character-driven stories and tactical combat. It's not clear that your game offers either, so I don't know if that's the right thing to emphasize. There is a strong niche for hard scifi, so that would seem a market to go after. There's also a market for base-building (e.g., Rimworld). I don't know. I'd try to figure out your player base, repackage the description and visuals to target that more directly.

    Here's what AOD's blurb is:

    The Age of Decadence is a turn-based, hardcore role-playing game set in a low magic, post-apocalyptic fantasy world. The game features a detailed skill-based character system, multiple skill-based ways to handle quests, choices & consequences, and extensive dialogue trees.​

    I've bolded all the things that target certain niches of players that I am confident exist and overlap.

    Here's your blurb:

    Titan Outpost is an isometric, single-player role-playing game set on Titan, the sixth moon of the planet Saturn. Humanity is engulfed in an energy crisis and it's up to you to harvest the moon’s precious resources and uncover its mysteries.​

    I've bolded what are serving as your niche items. I don't think there's a strong "Titan" niche to market to. I don't think the "energy crisis" crowd is interested in hard core RPGs. Not knowing much about your game, here's a proposed rewrite:

    Titan Outpost is a hard science fiction role-playing game in which you must build a base, manage its crew, develop your character's skills and attributes, and explore Saturn's seventh moon, uncovering its mysteries and harvesting its resources.​

    This conveys more of the gameplay (assuming I'm right) and drops facets that I think are not likely to attract players. Then I would restructure the long description. AOD provides one model. Another way would be something like:

    It is the year 2077. Earth is slowly dying and starving for energy, and humanity has turned to the solar system to meet its ever-growing needs. The Moon has been plundered; the Chinese have begun to colonise Mars, and now the world has set its eyes on hydrocarbon-rich Titan, Saturn's seventh moon. Your employers, the International Autonomous Space Association, are desperate to claim it before the Chinese can. On frosty Titan, this war will be very cold indeed. [Shortened narrative down to a single paragrah]

    Key Features:

    * A hard science fiction setting inspired by Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, and Stanislaw Lem. [or whatever]
    * An open-ended structure in which your choices define not only the course of the plot, but the fate of the world.
    * A rich character-creation system, in which you define your character's attributes and develop his or her skills and gear over the course of the game.
    * A robust base-building system, in which you must manage your crew, resources, and facilities to survive the harsh environment and your political rivals.
    * Multiple approaches to the game's challenges: dialogue; crafting; exploration; trade; and combat are all viable ways to win.
    * A rich and reactivity story full of mysteries, twists, and memorable characters.​

    I have no idea if that's true, but something like that would, I think, do a much better job of telling people why they should play your game.

    (4) I think the $25 price point is the wrong price. I would drop to $19.99 or even $9.99.
     
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  4. KeighnMcDeath Scholar

    KeighnMcDeath
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    After checking the Titan Outpost steam page i just had to watch a video.




    Love the sound and music, lighting and sense of absolute loneliness. Lordy, it does feel like some desperation for the player. I wonder if a lone person could survive there. Looks nice from what I see though i usually only buy from GOG. Nice.
     
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  5. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    One or both of these videos should be on Steam.
     
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  6. MF The Boar Studio Patron Developer

    MF
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    You're terrific, MRY. Thanks for the in-depth reply.

    By all means, leverage Early Access for Fallen Gods! Steam won't let you revert to it after the fact. From what I've gathered, it's got 'King of Dragon Pass'-level C&C. At this point I'm convinced that any game with significant butterfly effects should either have a massive QA department behind it or a public beta. For what it's worth: I had no idea Primordia had glitches. By the time I got to play it, it was a smooth, fun ride and I was none the wiser.


    I think you're right that the targeting for Titan Outpost is off.

    The game is very much a character-driven RPG at its core, with a strong emphasis on dialogue and story, but without combat, the isometric viewpoint you use to walk around isn't a main selling point. It also has very prevalent base building, 4X and adventure elements but they're all tied to the character system. The design is definitely a challenge to the combat requirement axiom in the age old Codex discussion on what constitutes an RPG. I honestly have no idea what to call it anymore, except for doing something with the word 'hybrid'. I'll add 'survival' to the niche words, because that seems to be a recurring theme in the reviews.

    With your permission, I'll implement some of your suggestions outright. I'm not one to turn down free advice from someone who walked the walk, not to mention a writer of your calibre. Comparing the blurb to AoD is a helpful crutch. Go Vince.


    I'll address a few points and explain where I'm struggling with them or what the thought process behind some of my decisions was.

    • The theme wasn't intended to cash in on current affairs. Story wise, it's 1970's retro sci-fi, in a timeline where the oil crisis actually unfolded the way they predicted back then. The overall arc is mostly in the vein of the mildly libertarian ideas found in Heinlein's books coupled with some computer science epistemology, but there are philosophical and political messages to be distilled from each faction. I didn't want to limit what people take away from it and the player is given complete agency in how to approach it.
    • The logo is based on '70s graphic design like most things in the game. This has the unfortunate side effect is that it may look dated and tacky when taken out of context. You're the first one to mention it, but probably not the first one to think so. Shading it was a bit of a compromise, and probably a bad call. This is the third iteration of the logo and I've lost all objectivity. Anyone else feel it looks cheap? I recently met someone who does branding for Heineken. I'll ask her for help or commission something. I've professionally designed logos before, but even though it grew on me I've never been entirely sure of this one and I may be out of my depth here.
    • The theme song is not chiptune music, it's all been played live on analogue synths. The upbeat, anthemic title track is supposed to be in stark contrast with the ambient, often desolate music in the rest of the game. The hopeful words of an idealistic mission statement replaced by a sense of dread when the reality of the situation dawns on your character. You just gave me an idea of making a video playing the theme live on acoustic piano or something. Might help with the buzz.
    • What would you base that price point on? I looked at games of similar size, scope and production value. There was a discussion between players on Steam about this, and opinions varied with one player even thinking it should be closer to 30. Having said that, to us Europeans the price tag seems more friendly at 20, and I'll probably drop it down to that in dollar value for when the next Steam sale hits.


    Thanks. No, no one could survive there and the game is aware of this to some degree. You're not the only one wanting to buy from GoG, but unfortunately they declined. They expressed interest at first, but finally said that it was 'too niche'.

    Those two videos are from people playing the first version, and make it painfully apparent to me that it was very rough at release. You can no longer make a character looking that ridiculous and you can't clip through the generator door anymore.

    I'll make another, silent game play video and add it to the media roll on Steam.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2020
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  7. Viata Arcane

    Viata
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    I don't understand what is the point of GOG anymore. :hmmm:
     
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  8. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

    Vault Dweller
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    The problem is that the game is virtually unknown outside the Codex. You did a great job making a complex game all by yourself but you neglected marketing. Writing a few updates selling the setting and emailing them to friendly sites would have helped a lot, I think.

    As for the store page, it's kinda vague. I agree with MRY, his suggestion (Titan Outpost is a hard science fiction role-playing game in which you must build a base, manage its crew, develop your character's skills and attributes, and explore Saturn's seventh moon, uncovering its mysteries and harvesting its resources) does a much better job selling the game than the original.

    Next the video and screens: the intro is too long; while your cinematics are nice, you can't compete with graphics-driven games so don't focus on it and jump straight to gameplay. The first two screens are kinda meh. Nice visuals for an indie, better than anything we did for AoD, but they don't look as good as AAA splendor and tell the player absolutely nothing. Screen #7 - nobody can tell what's going on there. Screen #5 is the most interesting. Screen #9 is playing your weakness not your strength. Each screen should push the player toward buying the game. How does this screen help?

    [​IMG]
    The screen above is more interesting than the entire store page, it does a good job selling the game at a glance but you hid it from the player. You have to look at every screen you posted, every bit of info and ask yourself why anyone would give a fuck about it. What does it tell the player? Does it help me sell the game or not?

    Anyway, I believe you can still boost sales as you didn't really have a launch, more like sneak-release, but it will take some work. The good news is that you ironed out the bugs and the reviews are mostly positive. Don't give up and don't feel discouraged.
     
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  9. KeighnMcDeath Scholar

    KeighnMcDeath
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    Go figure gog saying "too niche." Well, i might have to pull out the iron and get steamed.
     
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  10. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

    MRY
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    MF Of course. Take anything helpful and ditch the rest!
     
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  11. V_K Arcane

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    You may still want to do a little expansion - just to have the excuse to re-release the game as an extended edition, should help with the marketing a bit.
     
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  12. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    I'm not quibbling with the game's theme; we're just being crass marketeers here. I worry that "energy crisis" is just needlessly inviting a boycott from players who think that the game will be shoving one-sided politics down their throats. Even if that's what you're doing (which I don't think you are), your game isn't the kind that tends to sell well in the Twitter political space (which tend to be light gameplay, walking sims, Twine games, etc.).

    I might be wrong, I was just throwing out my initial reaction.

    Again, you're certainly right, I'm wrong, but it sounded like chiptune music to me, and was a bit of a jarring transition.

    Well, it's not selling. For the game to avoid going into a death spiral, it needs people to buy it, review it, etc. You might drop to $19.99 as the sticker price and then have a 25% off sale or something. My sense is that $25 is a weird price point.
    [​IMG]
    I'm not used to seeing games at that price, though I realize adventure games of Primordia's type made a jump from $10 to $15, so maybe these mid-decile prices are feasible. I'd never take the plunge on an indie game for more than $20. Pretty sure I bought AOD at that price on sale, and that was despite being fascinated by it for years and knowing it was a Codex favorite.

    I'm not sure where I'll price Fallen Gods -- IMO, the only reason to go higher than $10 is to give myself more room to steeply discount it on sales.
     
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  13. Verylittlefishes Erudite Patron

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    Wow, I actually thought this is a well-known game (the title is superb), never thought of it as another one-man wonder.

    Guys have provided incredibly detailed basic feedback above, just use it. While sci-fi is not my thing I must actually try the game and write something too.

    Also the logo is fine.
     
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  14. KeighnMcDeath Scholar

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    Toss in an OST. I actually wish the computer ai you interact with was an app. I kind of like the voice. Some games toss in extras and some (good god) sell them in pieces of extra DLC for $$$. God, which one is it that sells the manual as DLC (or is it a hint book, I can't recall). Some go with wallpapers, avatars (not sure what those are for tbh), and w/e. Its bloat content but generally, I like OSTs. Some people end up putting them on youtube though (either recording from the game and editing or w/e). Yeah, this does remind me of some of the stories in the Sci-fi Analog magazine club I was in for the longest time.
     
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  15. Abu Antar Tweet, tweet Patron

    Abu Antar
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    Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    I can't give as good advice as the guys above but:

    -Send mails to rpg focused sites like: rpgamer, rpgsite, rpgfan. PC focused sites like: RPS, PC Gamer and so on.
    -Sign up to some sites and promote your game, even if you're not super active on any forum.
    -Make a twitter account, try to connect with indie groups. They give each other shoutouts every now and then. Even I get them and I don't even develop games, I just regularly tweet/retweet about rpgs. (Don't know how effective Instagram and Facebook are.)

    The importance of some sort of marketing or online presence should never be underestimated. It won't give you 50.000 new buyers, but it will at least mean that your are spreading the word.
     
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  16. KeighnMcDeath Scholar

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    I'm curious about steam. If you DL a game from steam can you play it on a NON-steam computer (like how I can with gog titles)? Maybe an option to purchase the game straight from the developer without that steam shit if that's the case.
     
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  17. Verylittlefishes Erudite Patron

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    This is stupid, everybody has a Steam now.
     
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  18. Red Panda Look! It's sleeping. Patron

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    I didn't buy because i don't know how many base building, ressource management and survival elements the game has.
    Don't enjoy that kind of games.
    If it's basically just an adventure/rpg hybrid with a little of that stuff i would buy.
     
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  19. Butter Magister

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    You can mostly ignore the base-building aspects. It depends on what path through the story you choose.
     
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  20. Plane Escapee Your friend Patron

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    Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech Bubbles In Memoria A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    I keep confusing this game with dcfedor's space-based sequel to Neo-Scavenger (Ostranauts) for some reason. Whenever I see it pop up on steam I get excited, mistakenly thinking Ostranauts has been released, and then I realise "Oh, it's that other game from the Codex that sounded kind of interesting but which I still don't really understand the mechanics of. Maybe I should buy it and figure out myself... Oh, what's that? It's 20,99€? I guess I'll wait until the next Summer/Winter Sale and it's 75% off..." and by that time I've forgotten all about it again and if I see it I mistake it for Ostanauts and the cycle repeats.

    Game either needs a heavy price-drop, a clearer presentation or quite possibly both (as previously mentioned) before I'd consider buying it. I might actually stop confusing it for Ostranauts now after reading this thread though. Hopefully!
     
    • Agree Agree x 3
    • Brofist Brofist x 1
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  21. Butter Magister

    Butter
    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2018
    Messages:
    1,718
    Wishlist is a useful tool for tracking when a game goes on sale/releases.
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
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  22. Plane Escapee Your friend Patron

    Plane Escapee
    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2015
    Messages:
    171
    Location:
    chair
    Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech Bubbles In Memoria A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Not once that wishlist has 100+ titles on it and steam only highlights the cheapest or highest profile discounts from the list.
    Titan Outpost also hasn't been on sale yet: https://steamdb.info/app/944180/ :?
     
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  23. hell bovine Arcane

    hell bovine
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2013
    Messages:
    2,512
    Location:
    Secret Level
    I got rid of my steam account a year ago. I don't get to play much nowadays, so for the few games I buy, I'd rather support retailers that offer drm-free game installers.
     
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  24. MF, are you responsible for the "popular user-defined tags for this product" section? I read "Adventure, Indie, RPG, Simulation". It should include "Survival, Isometric, Story Rich, cRPG".
     
    • No No x 1
    • Makes you think... Makes you think... x 1
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  25. Abu Antar Tweet, tweet Patron

    Abu Antar
    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2014
    Messages:
    7,724
    Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    The name tells you that he isn't. Those tags are from users.
     
    • NPC #61873 came up with this opinion all by his / herself NPC #61873 came up with this opinion all by his / herself x 1
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