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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:


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!


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.


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.