July 11, 2017
Lucia Edna P. de Guzman
Cover art Erka Capili Inciong
For a lot of gamers, creating an original video game is “the dream.” Discussions between gamers sometimes revolve around how to make current games better or how to make something completely original. But successfully launching a game requires time, skills, talent, and, of course, money.
A company of millennial game developers (their “oldest” employee is 27 years old), took to Kickstarter to fund their horror video game, The Letter. The company, called Yangyang Mobile, launched their Kickstarter campaign in October 2015, hoping to raise $30,000, and ending up raising more than that. By November 2015, they had $33,946—enough money to complete their game. But that’s not all. They opened a subsequent campaign on IndieGoGo, which helped them raise an additional $5,000, and allowed them to hire voice actors to breathe life to their game. The game will be released on July 24.
Even if the days before game release could be considered the most hectic time in a game developer’s career—with all the fine‑tuning that must be done to ensure that the game is running perfectly and the additional advertising to remind the market that, hey, we still exist—Yangyang Mobile co‑founder Danni Ann Taylan took the time to talk to SparkUp about the ups and downs that their company experienced in completing their first PC game.
Art Erka Capili Inciong
“At first we were making mobile games then we decided to switch to desktop,” said Ms. Taylan, who named the company after her child. “Supposedly our company’s goal was to create small mobile games and then see if one of them clicks. But then the mobile market is very saturated, so many games are released every day. So that’s why we decided to find a niche and decided to make a visual novel game.”
Visual novel is a type of video game that is, indeed, notable for being story‑driven, with players making choices that would affect how the game ends. Playing a visual novel often entails a lot of reading, and much pause, literally, when you have to make a game‑changing choice or are rewarded with more character development and art. (Think of it as the video game version of the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were so popular in the ’80s and ’90s.) This style of video game is often used for romance games, but popular examples of visual novels also include the courtroom drama series of Ace Attorney and the horror game Corpse Party (which is one of the inspirations behind The Letter, along with several Japanese horror movies—the people at Yangyang being huge fans of Japanese horror and pizza).
“We needed to find that certain market that we can hit: it’s not that big, but it’s enough for us to have a following for our future games,” explained Ms. Taylan. “Right now we’re targeting the visual novel market, gamers who enjoy how to read. It’s not a very popular genre but it’s big enough for us to make a market out of it.”
Despite being overshadowed by other game genres such as fighting games, action‑adventures and platformers, visual novels have a huge following on Kickstarter, which is why Yangyang games chose the American‑based crowdfunding platform to raise funds for their game. “There’s a strong support for visual novels on Kickstarter compared to IndieGoGo. I think it’s because even if it’s a niche market, the players are supportive. They really help developers get their games started in order to play something new,” said Ms. Taylan.
“Majority of our Kickstarter backers pledged $10 for the game, but we’ve also had some whales (large supporters) that paid around $1,000‑$2,000 for the game.” In fact, one whale in particular pledged $3,000, an amount that came with the power to design a new playable major character for the game. From its original six, the game now has one more playable character. The Kickstarter supporters who pledged $80 or more to the game were given the chance to test the game, having their input on design and story changes (such as the main monster design and when to throw in jump scares) considered throughout the game development.
Putting the game up on Steam, a popular gaming platform where players can buy games and communicate not just with each other but also with game developers as well, also helped Yangyang Mobile get the word out about The Letter. Steam Greenlight, a service once offered by the platform that allowed game developers to get feedback on their developing game, showed there were enough people on Steam who were willing to buy The Letter upon its release. “Just putting the game up on Steam Greenlight helped in publicity because there are a lot of eyes on Steam. When our game was on Greenlight, a lot of players—our target market is in the US—discovered the game just by browsing through Steam,” Ms. Taylan said. “We even have a Steam store page up now. The organic traffic in Steam is high, so we get 5,000 to 10,000 unique views on the game even if it hasn't been released yet.”
For added publicity, Yangyang mobile also sent copies of the game’s demo to Youtubers who have Let’s Play channels. “We emailed a lot of them—of course, a lot of them ignored us. But we also got the interest of some of them like The Anime Man who has a lot of subscribers who found our Kickstarter campaign because of his video,” said Ms. Taylan.
The story of The Letter follows seven playable characters as they explore the haunted Ermengarde Mansion. (Yes, they named it after the character from Princess Sarah/A Little Princess.) The cast of playable characters includes a Filipina real estate agent, a Scottish history teacher, an American photographer, an American detective, a British couple and an Irish interior designer. Their relationships with each other and the choices of the player determine if they and their friendship can survive the curse of the Ermengarde mansion. (“As much as possible we want the characters to be relatable, everyday people that you can encounter in real life,” said Ms. Taylan.) The game also has quick-time events which can add tension.
As the game nears its release, Ms. Taylan said Yangyang has another game in the works. “We’re trying to make a girl‑on‑girl romance game next,” she said. “That’s also a popular type of visual novel game. We’re also thinking of making a hack‑and‑slash type game.” Art and previews of “Project Yuri” (working title), the girl‑on‑girl romance visual novel can be seen by supporters of Yangyang mobile on Patreon.
The Letter will be released on July 24. Visit www.yangyangmobile.com to stay posted.
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