Galcon Games
Phil Hassey - game dev blog
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Paid game betas aren’t for everyone

So, I just sent out my “hey everyone, come get a refund” email to all the people who purchased the Stealth Target beta. There are a number of pretty high-profile indie games that have built an entire business upon being a paid beta. Minecraft, Wolfire’s Overgrowth, Data Realm’s Cortex Command are a few that come to mind.

Here’s some analysis on the subject, and why it didn’t work for Stealth Target .. and at the same time, the factors I think that would be important to having a successful paid-beta project.

  • Commitment to a larger vision. In the case of Stealth Target, I had a larger vision, but I eventually realized it was too grand for me to realize.  I’m more of a small-scale game kind of guy at this point.  Perhaps later in my game development career I’ll be doing larger projects, but right now, a “Galcon-sized” game is about as large as I can manage.  I think paid-beta games need to be larger to justify the whole “user-buy in to help fund an epic game” concept.
  • Commitment to regular updates. I’m only one dev, and when I take a month to work on Galcon updates, and then take another month to take a break, suddenly the beta users haven’t heard a peep from me about the game in 3 months.  Pretty weak “paid beta”.  If I had a team and I had someone always working on the beta so it kept living despite my other obligations / plans, it might have gone better.
  • Building a development team. Yeah, I just touched on that, but it really does make sense.  I could have a team, but my lifestyle doesn’t allow for it at the moment.  My hours are too random and my work schedule too unpredictable.  To have a team you have to have some consistency in your life, otherwise (I’m pretty sure) your team-members will get pretty tired of you.  I think having a team would help deliver the quantity and quality of content and updates to make a paid beta make sense.
  • You can’t change your mind and be crazy. I still plan on finishing Stealth Target, however, I’m no longer planning on doing a desktop release of the game.  The paid beta was for a desktop version of the game.  So changing to a iOS-only plan really isn’t possible.  The only way to cleanly resolve this was to terminate the entire beta and issue refunds.  Really, for a paid-beta to make sense, the users have to have something they can depend on, and changing platforms mid-stream is just asking too much.

Anyway, to wrap it all up, here’s the email I sent out to folks who already bought the game today:

Hi,

Turns out the business model of doing a pre-beta-sale really doesn’t make sense for me.  I’m more of a “do what I feel like” kind of guy, and committing to making some sort of super-great-game in some kind of pre-beta-sale promise just isn’t something I can really do.  I think in the case of “Stealth Target” I bit off way more than I can chew.

I’m hoping to finish Stealth Target this year, but I’m probably only going to release it to mobile platforms, so I don’t even think I’m going to be launching a desktop version.

Either way .. I’m offering refunds to anyone who wants one!  Just reply to this email and say so.

Thanks for coping with a crazy indie-dev 🙂  Your support is greatly appreciated and I hope I can churn out some cool games that you’ll enjoy in 2011!

Cheers!
-Phil

P.S. Also, thanks for all the feedback you have given me so far on Stealth Target.  I’ve been taking notes on just about everything! You’ve been a huge help!

And, who knows what the future will hold for Stealth Target.  If the mobile version comes out feeling really good, I might try and release it for the desktop.  But the important thing for me is to know that I’m not obligated to produce a “desktop-sized” title when I’m really making a “mobile-sized” game.  I’ve got a lot of things I want to do this year, and I want to do them in the order that I want them to.  A paid-beta project would have “cramped my style” so to speak, and I don’t want to subject my users to a shoddy paid-beta experience.

Thanks!
-Phil

4 Responses to “Paid game betas aren’t for everyone”

  1. Ichiro Lambe Says:

    That’s too bad — I was following the ST updates, and was always impressed at how much you were getting in there each week. We’re doing the whole pre-order playable-alpha thing for 1… 2… 3… KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby), and am running into Problem #2. Our attempted solution is (as you know!) to hold a modding contest to kick things into high gear.

  2. philhassey Says:

    Yeah, probably the biggest deal-breaker here was the decision to step back from the desktop. But even without that issue, all of the others were still major factors.

  3. Rustybolts Says:

    That’s such a shame as the game showed so much promise. Still a desktop version would need to have more features than it did during BETA, but an ANDROID<<<<< version could probably be released virtually as is but with obviously more built in levels.

  4. philhassey Says:

    Well, I still want to get it onto mobile platforms. And if it comes out really well, I might still release it on the desktop. But it’s really a matter of wanting to be direct with my supporters and not promise something that I might not be able to deliver on.