Over 10,000 new games were launched on Steam in 2020. Most by indies and small studios; designers and developers breaking out on their own to chase their dreams.
75% of indie games gross less than $16k USD. The common internet wisdom is you have to launch and fail at 2-3 games to learn the business.
I built LaunchReady to accelerate folks past that advice and improve the success of their games, this time around. Business and finance tools specifically for the industry, the best GameDev business advice from the community and experts combined with learnings from the general startup community.
LaunchReady was initially positioned for Indie and Small studios, but also received from interest and introductions to a number of publishers.
The positioning was key: this was a product that balanced between the flexibility of a full-time business person on the team ($$$) and going it alone, the "2-3 failures to succeed" approach.
Business development opportunities ranged from publishers, who would see a lot of value both from clearer business planning and execution of studios coming to them, to members of the community who invest time in educating, to funds.
The game industry is not zero-sum, it's been growing wildly and there is plenty of room for more games to connect more strongly with their niches and communities.
Long-form articles were part of the marketing strategy, diving deeper into topics that would be useful to these studios whether or not they used the product.
Long form articles:marketing material and linked in app from Getting Started help guides
Other activity included active relationship-building with regular conference speakers and podcasts, regular activity in 2 large business-oriented gamedev communities, and initial discussions with others for warm introductions.
The marketing, application, and other material had consistent design: Clean with bright colors, business-like and a bit playful.
The audience for this application is smart folks that are running a business for the first time, but probably do not know where to get started.
They are likely small teams, so a high priority is placed on collaborative editing and an ability to invite external team members into individual projects without giving administrative permissions
Key activities and information were presented as tiles
Key words: Clean, approachable, not enterprisey, trustworthy, snappy, informative, collaborative.
Guidance is a first class feature
The core of the application is a flexible roadmap and planning tools customized for game development business, intended to replace excel or overly generic tools from other industries.
A dashboard with initial tasks, LaunchReady starts light and progressively adds complexity as you complete the first tasks
Ideal customers are game developers already doing their own research on how to launch their games successfully. Guides, youtube videos, live talks, and podcasts tend to be the main channel they get information from, then they have to factor all of those pieces together on their own.
The biggest pain points I heard:
how do I know which things to do first?
how do I know if I missed something in between the good advice I found?
how much of this do I have to do now?
So LaunchReady uses a customizable task system to help provide a path and address those pains.
A task system provided guidance, a roadmap for planning the business
Individual tasks are presented as mission cards, outlining why this activity is valuable now, how to determine how much is needed, what they should expect to get out of it, and links to longer form content, talks, or other resources to help along the way.
Roadmap tasks are presented as popup cards, reminiscent of quest cards in games
Progress is visually rewarded and access is available to look further behind or ahead, to help answer some of those questions in the back of folks heads.
Roadmap stages track stages of the game planning so we don't overload with the future view, and offer positive feedback along the way
Make complex topics more approachable
Planning tools inside the application draw on business and startup concepts.
A Business Model canvas is a better tool than a business plan, it's approachable, can be finished in bite-size pieces, and doesn't aste a lot of effort on converting details into prose.
Business canvas overview: each pane opens into a zoomed in view
The tools zooms into each pane, with specific guidance and questions for each major area to focus on in the business. Each section also links out to external resources, so you can zip through or dig in as you need to on a topic, but also eat this elephant one bite at a time instead of staring at an empty word doc.
Business canvas, Defining ideal players & customers
Financial forecasting is a completely custom tool, based in standard accounting concepts and customized to the game development business needs.
Financial forecasting that is approachable to new business owners and teaches accounting terms
Creating your financial forecast happens in stages, as you develop the game idea and business, connected with the task roadmap, starting with rougher planning and then getting into later details like experimenting with price and sales projections from comparable research.
Financial options include common business options like bank balances and loans, but also extend to complex, game-specific topics like publisher and platform tiered fees that require waterfall calculations based on the order they are applied to gross, net, or profit and sliding scales in order to first recoup marketing outlays before assuming a more standard profit sharing percentage
Each pane explains the accounting purpose, how the numbers are calculated, and offers collaborative editing so a small team can jump in a discord chat together and plan together, but see each others edits and resulting impact on projections in real time.
Sections, like the sales channels, include industry-standard options already available and the ability to customize
Or let's enter a publisher funding agreement that will pay out quarterly and includes terms on tiers to pay back the amount, then split the proceeds after (and the thing other finance apps don't have, clarity on where those proceeds are calculated)
The remaining tools (not shown) include building and executing your marketing strategy, identifying and researching comparables, and using your business plan to identify areas of risk and how to attack them.
This application was built to be collaborative, snappy, quick, and cheap for me to start hosting.
The UI is fully custom, using Svelte, SCSS, and very few external components.
A key (difficult) feature is the realtime collaboration. Using CRDTs (and custom stores and logic), every individual edit is applied and shared in realtime, with conflict and merge logic, and so on. Jump on a call together and make changes simultaneously, they will be merged and applied, with everything updating in realtime.
Most of the critical business logic lived on the front-end, so the finance module for instance has over 4,000 lines of testing code just to keep that very complex financial engine accurate for a wide range of entries, and it's fast to keep up with the collaborative editing.
The backend was built to be boring and stable. ASP.Net Core was my freshest, most comfortable goto during this time period, SignalR as used for the websockets, and MSSQL for the database.
Some complexity on the backend was managing the event logs (CRDT events) and being able to dynamically execute CRDT events against entities the same way the front-end did. The backend did not perform calculations or manipulations of the data, but it did produce snapshots so long-running projects wouldn't need to replay an event stream of every single entry since inception on load, only the latest snapshot and events since then.
Infrastructure and CI/CD
The services ran in Azure using native services as much as possible, such as Azure App Services, Application Insights, and so on. CircleCI was used as the build process, with the build and the site itself both running on Linux (not Windows).
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