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Airship: Kingdoms Adrift - A Director's Retrospective

Updated: Feb 23


A cinematic teaser released back in February 2021


Foreword


Hi Folks! It’s a month late but the retrospective for the project is finally here. As soon as I decided to give myself some more time to reflect on things, I’ve also decided to wait and see how Skull and Bones turned out to be as I’ll be mentioning our studio’s future direction in later chapters of this article as well.


Before we begin, I’d like to express my gratitude to my family and friends, especially my wife and my son, who’ve always been there through the founding of Revolution Industry and supported me throughout the production of Airship: Kingdoms Adrift. This game is the first game that I have ever directed in my career. Revolution Industry is the first game studio I’ve had the chance to lead after a long career of managing game teams across multiple companies. It has been a great experience working with the team on it, and even though I wish it could have turned out better, I’m proud of the game, and I’m happy that we finally get to launch it.


In this article, I aim to narrate the journey of creating Airship: Kingdoms Adrift, detailing the experiences and lessons learned over the past three years. My goal is for the team at Revolution Industry to reflect on our collective journey. By making this article public, I hope to share our successes and mistakes with others in the industry, offering insights that may benefit fellow developers. Additionally, I aim to inform our beloved audience about the future direction of both Airship: Kingdoms Adrift and our studio.


A Brief History


How it Began


A pencil and paper sketch made in 2017


It all began with the sketch I made in 2017. A year earlier, I quit my startup that made a very successful mobile game to do some soul-searching. The mobile game market landscape had changed, and I was not so sure where we were going at our company anymore. I was supporting my wife with our newborn baby while helping friends here and there with their projects.


I have been through about four game companies from start to exit at this point. One thing that stood out to me was that we have been hopping on trends, and once those trends are gone, we are back to zero and have to relearn everything about the industry again.

I wanted to find something that we could fall in love with together with the audience and continue to build the community and the business around it and keep making better and better games to cater to this taste while using the trend to determine the suitable business model at that time.


I was fascinated by the success of Guns of Icarus during its opening weeks, and it got me thinking about my life’s and gamers’ exposure to fantasy skies and a flying ship setting. I did some research to see if there were enough people out there waiting for games with cool fantasy airships in a world where airships take center stage. At that time, very little had been done with the theme and the artistic genre concerning this topic.


I grabbed some pencils and paper and got to work to explore this idea right away to create the first version of the airship design we would be working on, and what we are looking at is the first draft. I decided not to include zeppelins because they don’t fit very well in a setting where ships go gun-blazing against one another. So I looked further for inspiration, and it just so happened Ascent: Infinite Realm provided high-budget reference to aid with visual development (Its creator pivoted AIR to a regular MMO as soon as it launched. As of the point, the game has already been taken out of service globally). So I now know that big players are pursuing this aesthetic in the East and the West.


That was the end of 2017, and I had some drawings with no gameplay ideas besides that it would be vehicle-based since we wanted to appeal to players who are fascinated with airships.


The Team


A group "photo" of the team. 3 years before the production started


In late 2017 and early 2020, we were busy with other things. I was running some other money businesses to set up some initial capital for Revolution Industry (Founded in April 2021) to get going. In the middle of 2018, we scraped some earnings we had been making to hire a newly graduated artist with a very high potential and a love for mechanical drawing.


I spent a few hours every week briefing him on the topic of the week. We started with ship design, landscape, fashion, and other world-building necessities. For his final test, I asked him to make the team’s group portrait based on the game’s setting. At that point, everyone in this picture except me and Thep was working on other projects. It was one of the most successful hires I've ever made.


We began prototyping the game mechanic during our spare time, but not much progress was made until mid-2020. This was when the writer, the lead coder, and a technical artist joined the project full-time. At that point, our team resembled more of a task force focused on assembling a prototype for fundraising rather than a dedicated production team. Our headcount at this point was four staff.


Our lead coder had some skills but also had weaknesses in system engineering. Additionally, our technical artist was highly talented but lacked previous professional work experience. However, they were both available at the time, and I decided to move forward with the resources we had, recognizing that the world wouldn't wait for us to assemble the perfect team.


The prototype was a success, and we established a company early in 2021. Although the money arrived late in the year, we were able to cover our cash flow needs. However, unexpected challenges arose that impacted the production and made things less smooth until the end. These challenges will shape the way we reflect on the project's overall theme.

In 2021, the game industry experienced an unprecedented upheaval due to the rise of Gamefi. This phenomenon took the industry by storm and caused a seismic shift in the landscape. Game industry talent saw salary increases of up to 3x and 4x their previous rates, and everything was in extreme demand. Unfortunately, we felt the impact of this frenzy as we lost all of our hiring prospects for the year.


To illustrate the extent of this phenomenon, one engineer I had been expecting to join our team was swooped up by a Gamefi company for a salary that was four times the rate I had offered. As a result, the temporary team we had recruited earlier became more or less permanent. We also recruited game designers to work on quests and populate the world with activities, bringing our headcount at the end of 2021 to 8 staff.


As we transitioned from prototype to full production, we encountered some hurdles with visual development, so we brought a full-time 3D artist on board. We also had a technical artist who was an old friend coming in to replace the rookie. Additionally, we commissioned multiple artists for character portraits, to find the best talents among our contacts. We found a couple of excellent artists, and we continue to work with them to this day.


I also experimented a lot with community and social media management, so we employed some temporary staff to try out new strategies on that front.

Due to the influence of Gamefi and its increasing intensity up through the first half of 2022, we were never able to recruit engineers to help with the project as we had expected. However, help did come later in the year when a couple of engineers became available and joined our team. They came just in time to have our multiplayer demo up and running for the Steam Next event, which helped generate some buzz.


As a result, we were able to land a deal with a publisher, and we agreed to launch the finished game all at once in late 2023 while maintaining a 4-month post-launch vibe with multiple major updates. And as it turned out, the plan to prolong content release 4 months after the launch was a disaster. We never thought that people would hate the approach, as the sandbox nature of the game should have kept everyone engaged while waiting for the next piece of content (We did deliver all the content on time as promised but the damage was already done). At the end of 2022, we had a team of 13 people.


In 2023, we faced many challenges due to technical debt caused by poor architecture. Everything we implemented at this point took 2-4 times longer than it should have, and many investigations late in the project found that several systems were not future-proofed to support extended development without at least half a year of rework. Additionally, some of our staff showed fatigue from not preparing mentally to overcome the last hurdle of the production milestone. Things they thought were finished came back as bug reports and implementation errors, and eventually, our pipeline failed, causing data loss on the final build we needed to launch. As a result, we spent the last quarter of 2023 fixing what we could and had to say goodbye to all the temp staff and some others who didn't feel that this line of work was the life they wanted to live.


We are now a highly committed team of 5 friends.


The Retrospective


Enough of history, now let's move on to the actual retrospective. We'll discuss an overview of each notable aspect of the development and introduction of Airship: Kingdoms Adrift.


The Business


One of the most iconic shot from our first teaser


Our strategy is to capture a niche market of people who enjoy fantasy-themed airship games and excel in it before broadening our appeal and expanding into other markets. Our first trial is proving whether there is enough interest in what we are offering and whether we can deliver it.


We successfully raised funds and won awards before the game's release, and formed partnerships with American and Chinese publishers, creating an environment rich in best practices and information. Despite a rough launch and less-than-ideal reception and reviews, we were heartened by the fact that there were enough people who fell in love with our product.


The number of wishlists and sales figures we generated, along with the goodwill we cultivated, provided us with the confidence to continue catering to this market and expand our range with the right feature set on later games and some changes in our business model. We are determined to deliver the best line of fantasy airship games ever created


Although we could have benefited from better funding and a stronger team roster to make our first product more awesome, we did what we could given the circumstances. While we are not swimming in money, we now know that the market exists and has cleared away many doubts, paving the way toward a brighter future where circumstances will allow us to create even better games.


What went right:


The Mission - Despite the launch not receiving a stellar reception, we targeted the right audience for inaugurating the studio. Feedback indicated the need to recalibrate the studio's direction moving forward, while also demonstrating the existence of a sizable and committed audience eagerly awaiting the product we aim to deliver.


Proof of Concept - Doubts have loomed among both the team and investors regarding the market viability of our concept. However, with the substantial sales and exposure we've garnered, we've shown that the only missing ingredient is a product of sufficient quality. Consequently, we can now redirect our focus toward refining the product rather than continuing with the myriad time-consuming explorations we've undertaken over the past three years.


Areas that need improvement:


Direct to Launch - We underestimated players' perceptions regarding the methods of video game launches in recent years. While we could have labeled the release as "Early Access," doing so would imply a prolonged period of design and development, which we couldn't honestly commit to. Kingdoms Adrift represents a product that aligns with our intended vision; it has undergone a full publisher's QA cycle before release. Therefore, we decided to market the game as a complete launch, subjecting it to expectations akin to games that have transitioned out of early access after 5-10 years of development. As a small studio, it may be prudent for us to consider launching future titles into Early Access instead.


Business Model - Sailing/ship simulation represents a niche market in its own right. Typically, successful projects in this genre begin with a low profile and then launch after several years of development, closely engaging with their community throughout the process. In recent years, the genre hasn't seen many major releases, except Ubisoft's recent Skull and Bones, which encountered significant hurdles during development. When entering this market, we initially planned to deliver a series of titles. However, in light of current trends, particularly the growing popularity of live service models, our perspective has shifted. Players now expect games to be continuously maintained and expanded upon. The business model of early access indie games bears resemblance to live-service models, making it an appealing option for ambitious niche games. This model has been adopted successfully by indie titles with grand aspirations.


Recruitment - We must secure key positions with experienced and capable staff. While bringing people on board simply because they are available might expedite the initial stages, it can ultimately compromise the delivery of a well-rounded, completed, and bug-free product. Without sufficient talent, unnoticed errors may accumulate to the point of irreversibility. However, time constraints are also a factor, and unforeseen impacts from the Crypto Industry further complicated our hiring efforts. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to fill four crucial positions with experienced staff until late into the project. Kingdoms Adrift will serve as a valuable lesson in staffing for our future titles.


Quality Assurance - Despite conducting extensive playtest sessions and undergoing the QA process with our publisher, we underestimated the stability of the game post-launch. Contrary to our expectations, we encountered over 500 instances of bug reports shortly after release. Some of these issues were deeply embedded within the core logic of the game, prompting certain engineers to express frustration and reluctance to address them. Originally, we had planned to utilize the four-month roadmap leading up to the final update for responding to feedback and enhancing the game. However, instead of focusing on improvements, we found ourselves consumed with bug-fixing and restoring functionality that should have functioned flawlessly from the outset. Additionally, the lack of efficient bug analytics and access to debugging environments necessitated the creation of a debug version of the game, significantly impeding our ability to swiftly resolve issues. Moving forward, we recognize the importance of ensuring that our debugging environment meets industry standards. Depending on the business model of future projects, we will prioritize launching games into early access to engage a paying audience sooner in the development process. This approach is more feasible for our genre space, as investing in a professional QA company upfront may not be financially viable for continuously developed games within the indie game studio landscape.


The Game


We designed the world first then find the right game design for it. Not really the best development approach but it what we did.


While we're confident in catering to fantasy airship enthusiasts and are committed to creating a world that evolves across our product cycles, we recognize the need to prioritize worldbuilding. However, we lack insight into the specific gameplay expectations of our audience.


To address this gap, as soon as we had a working prototype, we began inviting individuals to try it out and provide feedback. Alongside feedback collection, we included questions about participants' past exposure to games and other media related to the theme. This approach allowed us to gather valuable insights into the preferences and expectations of our target audience, helping to shape the direction of our gameplay design.


It became apparent that the prototype resonated strongly with fans of games like Guns of Icarus, Anno, Elite Dangerous, X4, and Port Royale. As a result, we focused our efforts on refining these aspects. Later on, we discovered that we were being compared to Starsector, although it had slipped under our radar as it wasn't available on Steam until 2021 when community members highlighted its similarities, particularly regarding the firing chain control system.


Overall, the audience responded positively to Kingdoms Adrift, particularly appreciating elements such as ship design, world-building, the in-depth build system, and the lore. However, the game faced significant challenges due to surrounding features that we were unable to optimize to their fullest potential or were derived from less-than-ideal references.


What went right:


World and Ship Design - The world and ship designs successfully attracted the audience we had anticipated. The themes that differentiate the three factions are distinctly portrayed and easily discernible, fostering strong player allegiance to each faction. Moving forward, we aim to develop stronger mechanics surrounding these nations, enabling players to delve deeper into role-playing aspects within the game.


The Narrative Data - Our narrative data structure was exceptionally modularized, facilitating easy editing and modification. Instances of narrative pieces being displaced were minimal, and when issues arose, they were highly traceable and straightforward to rectify. Moving forward, we intend to maintain and improve upon this system in future products, enhancing features such as better referencing of strings among others within strings and a more mod-friendly data access interface.


Mechanical Depth - Our ship customization and variety of build strategies received positive feedback, but there's a shared sentiment that they could delve even deeper. We opted against a free-build approach, recognizing the abundance of excellent free-build games available. Instead, we prioritized introducing our unique world and captivating airship designs. To enhance player engagement, we're considering further expansions such as visual and grid customization options. These additions would not only deepen the gameplay experience but also make it more immersive and enjoyable for players.


Music and Sound - The Kingdoms Adrift soundtrack has received widespread acclaim in reviews and among community members. To ensure the music resonated deeply with the game world, we provided the composer with a comprehensive history of music in Sphaera, offering vital context for their compositions. Originally, we planned to include approximately 40 music pieces in the game, with in-game music players and music records as discoverable items for players to select their preferred background music. Unfortunately, this, along with many other features, was among the aspects that had to be cut due to extended development caused by engineering delays and increased budget requirements. In our future title, I earnestly hope we'll have the opportunity to expand on this aspect, as it plays a crucial role in bringing the game world to life and enhancing the overall player experience.

Areas that need improvement:


The Travel Experience - Negative feedback regarding lengthy travel times has been a prominent issue highlighted in reviews. Several contributing factors have been identified, which I've broken down into multiple bullet points for clarity:


  • The Lack of Player Involvement During Travel - One recurring critique has been the lack of responsiveness and engagement during ship control and travel. Initially, our design prioritized an auto-pilot system, with players choosing to engage with encounters during their journey. However, as development progressed, it became apparent that ship control during travel needed to offer the same level of responsiveness and playfulness found in action games. This realization came late in the development process, prompting us to reevaluate our approach. Moving forward, we recognize the importance of either ensuring that ship control mechanics meet the standards of action games or opting for a miniature, map-based system akin to strategy games. Striking a balance between the two proved challenging and is a mistake we are determined not to repeat in the future.

  • Repetitive Need for Long Trips - Every aspect of gameplay, whether it's ship fitting, story progression, trading, or hauling, requires frequent travel between locations. The design intention is for players to plan activities they can engage in along the way, rather than completing tasks one at a time in a linear fashion. Transportation, trade, and production were all designed as activities that players could partake in while traveling. However, despite the inclusion of surrounding features, the game's insistence on long-distance travel can lead to player frustration and a desire for instant destination arrival. Every trip the game must prompt players to make is rewarding both in terms of the journey itself and the eventual outcome. Simply adding additional features will not distract most players from the repetitive nature of extensive travel requirements.

  • Disruptions by Irrelevant Battles - Building upon the previous point, one issue we encountered was the game's insistence on initiating battles even when players encounter enemies with inferior fleets. This aspect became particularly problematic due to limitations in our engineering capabilities, similar to the challenges we faced with emergent battles between NPCs. Deep-seated issues within entity state machines made it impossible for our engineers to address without significant revisions to the entire game structure. Consequently, players found themselves repeatedly pulled out of their current activities to deal with trivial and unrewarding battles, which no longer posed a challenge given their current progress.

  • Lack of Exploration and Map Events - During the design process, there were debates regarding whether Suthseg, as a well-charted territory, should allow players to explore and mark their maps or if everything should be laid out from the beginning. Compounded by the narrative, which assigns players to an established company with Jean already onboard, we ultimately opted to have the map pre-established. In hindsight, rather than rationalizing our decisions, we could have adhered to the established norm within the genre, as seen in games like Sid Meier’s Pirates!, and allowed players to experience the thrill of discovering places on their own. This approach may have enhanced the game's sense of exploration and discovery.

  • Quests and Location Grouping - Many players have expressed frustration with the questlines in the game, particularly the main quest line, which often sends them to different corners of the world repeatedly. In hindsight, a more effective approach would have been to structure each chapter to focus on a specific region, allowing for better theming and introducing those areas. By consolidating quests to specific regions, players would have been less frustrated and had more time to immerse themselves in the stories behind each area. This approach would have not only improved player satisfaction but also facilitated a deeper exploration of the game world and its narratives.

  • The Time Between Places - While various factors contribute to player dissatisfaction, the time it takes to travel between locations seems to exacerbate the issue rather than being the root cause. Despite our efforts to increase fleet speed and provide more time multiplier options throughout development, the perception that traveling takes too much time persists. Ultimately, we've concluded that the act of traveling itself feels unrewarding due to the combination of factors outlined above. Addressing this issue will require a comprehensive approach that considers not only travel time but also the underlying reasons why players find the journey unsatisfactory.


Software Architecture - The delayed acquisition of experienced software engineers significantly impacted the project, leading to a multitude of issues that the project could ill afford. While criticisms of the game often focus on its design aspects, the underlying capability for good designs in video games ultimately hinges on engineering proficiency. Throughout the project, our team drew inspiration from other games, but our inability to successfully re-engineer certain features forced us to work with subpar solutions. These compromises resulted in AIs that failed to function as intended, despite extensive efforts to rectify them. Additionally, the absence of emergent behaviors, such as roaming fleets engaging in combat, further underscored the limitations imposed by our software architecture. The time spent resolving these issues detracted from efforts to improve other aspects of functionality. Even many unintuitive UI designs could be traced back to designers having to work around engineering issues. Given the magnitude of challenges stemming from our software architecture, discussions regarding topics such as multiplayer, combat ship AI, stability, and performance problems are beyond the scope of this article.


The Narrative Presentation - Our decision to convey the story through two main characters while keeping the commander as a silent protagonist ultimately resulted in a narrative delivery that fell short of our expectations. Although we aimed to involve the commander more effectively, our lack of experience influenced the implementation process. In hindsight, we recognize that we could have improved the involvement of the commander by having characters on screen address them directly more frequently. However, due to our limited experience, the narrative delivery often suffered from characters addressing the commander indirectly, despite having sufficient means to engage with them directly.


Ships Editing - While we successfully introduced the grid and ship parts, along with performance mechanics, to the game, the fundamental design of the shipyard and ship editor proved to be deeply flawed. One significant issue is the inability to save unfinished ships or exit editing mid-progress. Additionally, the editing UI and scene require considerable performance to render grid elements. Furthermore, engineers encountered challenges where duplicate ship models were being loaded and unloaded in the background while editing. Unfortunately, the system did not clear one of the ship models from memory each time a new one was loaded, resulting in a continuous increase in memory usage during editing sessions. These technical flaws significantly hindered the ship editing experience, undermining the potential of an otherwise well-executed feature. Addressing these issues is crucial to improving user experience and optimizing performance in future iterations.


Trading and Manufacturing - We placed a significant emphasis on utilizing trading and manufacturing mechanics to enrich the world with a diverse array of items and production lines. Our intention was for players to specialize in production lines aligned with their interests, thereby contributing to the immersive world-building experience. However, while we consider the impact on world presentation a success, the usability and integration of these features into gameplay fell below acceptable standards. Moving forward, we recognize the need to design clear and distinct production trees that effectively highlight aspects of the game we wish to emphasize. Additionally, we must establish a robust decision-making process regarding the inclusion of items in the game's store versus those exclusively available through manufacturing. In response to player backlash against end-game items being inaccessible via trading alone, we opted to add them to the shops. However, in hindsight, this approach was a mistake. Instead, we should have focused on designing a viable manufacturing experience, rather than simply enabling access as a reactionary measure to player complaints.


The Narrative - While the ending of the story was determined early in production, there was originally intended to be a break in the middle where players would encounter the character Abraham. However, concerns arose regarding Abraham's perceived power level, leading to the decision to have him exit the scene after completing his mission. Unfortunately, this departure proved to be unsatisfying for many players who were anticipating a showdown with the shadow they had been chasing for the majority of the game. In hindsight, as the studio's first game, we should have ensured that the narrative was more contained and compact, with all elements encapsulated within the confined plot. This approach would have provided a more cohesive and fulfilling experience for players, avoiding the sense of unresolved anticipation that emerged due to the mid-story departure of a key character.


The Officers' Story - Initially, it was intended for all officers to have their roles in the main storyline, providing insights into their perspectives on the situation within Suthseg. They were supposed to aid in problem-solving and participate in main story conversations. However, as the writing progressed, it became increasingly challenging for the writers to seamlessly integrate their narratives into the game's progression and provide meaningful dialogue and narratives.


The Writing Quality - Recognizing that none of our staff were native English speakers, we understood the importance of having an English proofreader onboard from the start. However, due to the rapid pace at which the narrative was being completed and the ongoing revisions, we were unable to secure a proofreader before the release.


Multiplayer - Although we addressed the multiplayer aspect of the game from the outset, our inability to recruit engineers dedicated to this task led us to put it on hold. Instead, we emphasized designing the game logic with network compatibility in mind. However, simply keeping this in mind proved insufficient. Throughout development, we accumulated technical debts by cutting corners, which ultimately pushed us further away from introducing a multiplayer experience. By the time we had engineers available to work on the feature, many aspects of the game had been developed in ways that made enabling multiplayer functionality unfeasible. In hindsight, we should have created a communication protocol early on to facilitate the resolution of game data and logic via the network. This protocol could have served as the core of our game logic update implementation, allowing for smoother integration of multiplayer features. Additionally, maintaining consistency in logic implementation across features would have eased the process of enabling multiplayer functionality later on.


Unintuitive UI Design and Lack of Introduction - The UI design suffered from a lack of clear reference points and creative differences within the design team. Initially, we didn't fully grasp how the hierarchy of the UI elements would manifest in the final game. Consequently, we implemented UIs for immediate use cases as needed by the engineers at the time. It became apparent later in development that since players would be managing their assets across the world, actions should have originated from the game map rather than from individual actors. For instance, we should have made the world map a full-screen experience, allowing players to browse shops and warehouses when selecting locations on the map. This would have eliminated the need for a dedicated warehouse screen with a list of places lacking relevant region and distance information.


The Audio Plugin - Although the audio plugin we utilized greatly assisted our audio engineer, it unfortunately had drawbacks that significantly impacted our workflow. Cold starts in Unity were noticeably slowed down, adding 5-10 minutes to nearly every instance of switching build platforms and other build-related activities. Furthermore, a major limitation of the plugin was its inability to allow modders to incorporate new sounds or music into the game. Moving forward, we have decided to opt for simpler audio solutions utilizing Unity's native technology. While this may entail some trade-offs, it will ultimately streamline our development process and ensure greater flexibility for modders.


The Outreach (Marketing and Media)


We received the Best Indie Game Award from G-Star in 2022, the game was far from finished back then. Perhaps we should have launched it into Early Access at that point.


This marks the first instance in which we've taken on the responsibility of marketing our own game. In previous projects, we typically collaborated with publishers who handled the creation and execution of marketing strategies on our behalf. Given that everyone on our team is composed of technical members, this naturally became my inaugural foray into marketing.


However, I recognized early on that there would come a point where we would need to enlist the expertise of publishers to manage our marketing efforts. Transitioning from a purely technical role to taking charge of marketing has been a learning experience, and I anticipate that partnering with publishers will provide invaluable support in effectively promoting our game to a wider audience.


Before partnering with the publisher, our primary focus was on cultivating a playtester community on Discord. Additionally, I experimented with social media platforms, albeit with limited success. We also dedicated efforts to attending trade shows, where our game garnered recognition through several awards. Although these accolades were encouraging for the team, they rarely translated into significant press coverage. Despite this, we remained committed to engaging with our audience and showcasing our game at industry events.


The outreach efforts did manage to capture the attention of Freedom Games and other publishers. "Airship" stands out as the first game I've worked on that sparked such widespread interest and engaged in numerous conversations with various individuals and organizations. This level of engagement has been an exciting and gratifying aspect of the project, underscoring the potential and appeal of our game within the gaming community and industry.


What went right:


Influencer Coverage - We successfully attracted numerous indie game influencers to cover and review the game. This exposure significantly expanded our reach and placed "Kingdoms Adrift" in front of a wide audience of players. Given that "Kingdoms Adrift" caters to a specific market, leveraging influencer coverage should have theoretically allowed us to reach our entire potential player base through this channel alone as the Steam algorithm would help pick up similar audiences that made a buy decision from influencers' review.


Steam Next Fest Demo - The Steam Next Fest event generated significant interest in the game, particularly due to the experience offered in the demo. The demo effectively attracted the right kind of audience and showcased the game's potential to a broader audience. However, participating in such events requires meticulous coordination and media production, areas where we fell short in our preparation. Additionally, my involvement was hampered as I was recovering from COVID during the event, which hindered our ability to fully capitalize on the opportunity. Nevertheless, the Steam Next event proved to be strategically significant, highlighting the importance of aligning future titles with such key industry events for maximum impact and exposure.

Areas that need improvement:


Marketing Strategy - Our current approach, which primarily involves launching the game and participating in sales events without a comprehensive marketing strategy, means that we'll heavily rely on Steam's algorithm and the game's rating to drive sales. With the publisher handling marketing efforts for "Kingdoms Adrift," our focus will remain on providing the necessary updates and upgrades to enhance the game's appeal and longevity. Moving forward, we'll continue to monitor the game's performance and assess the effectiveness of this strategy. Depending on the outcomes, we may explore additional marketing initiatives or refine our approach to better reach our target audience and maximize sales potential.


Working with Media - We've found that dedicating excessive time to attracting media attention to the game has detracted from valuable development efforts that could have been better spent on improving the game itself. Media outlets are typically interested in content that will generate audience engagement, and if the game truly excels, it will naturally attract media attention. This realization has been a harsh but valuable lesson for us. Going forward, we plan to prioritize game development and quality enhancements, confident that a compelling product will inherently draw the attention of the media and players alike.


Not Having a Demo Available Afterwards - In hindsight, not offering a demo for Kingdoms Adrift was a missed opportunity. While we intentionally designed the game for a specific audience, we now recognize that providing a demo could have mitigated this limitation. A demo would have enabled potential buyers to experience the game firsthand, facilitating more informed purchasing decisions. Our goal for the product was to showcase the studio's specialty and attract like-minded audiences. In the future, we will prioritize making demos available post-launch to better engage with our target audience and ensure that players can experience the game's unique features before making a purchase decision.


Mailing List - After comprehensively understanding Steam's functionality, we identified inefficiencies in our mailing list efforts. Consequently, we've ceased mailing practices, redirecting our focus to nurturing community engagement via platforms like Discord and Steam. With Steam efficiently delivering relevant updates to players, it serves as an effective channel for keeping messages pertinent and engaging.


In conclusion, our current content strategy lacks the engaging quality needed to effectively capture and maintain audience interest. Additionally, I acknowledge that I have failed to adequately train the team to generate social media content while they work on playtest features. This oversight has resulted in a lack of material to share on social media platforms during key development phases consistently.


Moving forward, we must reassess our content creation processes and implement strategies to ensure a steady stream of engaging material. This may involve providing team members with guidelines and resources for generating social media content, as well as establishing protocols for sharing updates and progress with our audience in real time. By addressing these shortcomings, we can enhance our online presence and better engage with our community throughout the development process.


The Community


The Beta Tester recruitment art we used during the Steam Next Fest - Featuring Rodrigo


Despite being blindsided by various challenges, we initiated the studio with community building at the forefront of our priorities. It's become abundantly clear, especially from observing the success of Steam titles in the 2010s, that building the game in front of the community is essential for making small-team ambitious projects viable.


What went right:


Having an Involved Community - Due to the game's unique concept and appeal, we've cultivated a large community of individuals eager to see it come to fruition. This includes refugees from games like Guns of Icarus and Worlds Adrift, as well as fans of other titles with similar themes that have been discontinued. We're keenly aware that we disappointed many of these individuals after the launch, but we remain committed to delivering a great product that will reengage them in the future.


Areas that need improvement:


Community Activities - With a solid game in place, the community should naturally thrive on its own accord. Our role should be focused on setting examples and facilitating enjoyment rather than actively pushing for community activities, except for promotional purposes. Activities should arise organically from the game's content, and there's no need to force their creation. When the time and conditions are right, the community will naturally request activities that enhance their experience with the game.


Shareable Moments - We didn't prioritize the inclusion of easily shareable content within the game, particularly in terms of the ship editor layout, which doesn't facilitate capturing and sharing builds in a visually appealing and meaningful manner. However, despite these limitations, the community still enjoys sharing content, and it's encouraging to see that many users have discovered the button to disable the GUI for better screen captures. Moving forward, there's an opportunity for us to expand on this aspect and further enhance the game's shareability. This could involve redesigning the ship editor interface to make it more user-friendly for capturing and sharing builds, as well as exploring additional features or tools that facilitate sharing memorable moments from the game.


Overly Complicated Discord Setup - The years spanning from 2021 to 2023 saw a surge in Discord bots and plugins, often associated with the crypto trend. During this time, we set up numerous channels for various purposes and introduced loyalty points for playtesters. While these initiatives succeeded in keeping community members engaged, they also diverted time and resources away from understanding our true audience's needs. Moving forward, it's clear that the structure of our Discord server should be streamlined, with a primary focus on surfacing and addressing issues that our players are experiencing. This approach will enable us to gain better insights into our audience's preferences and requirements, ultimately aiding us in designing more effective games.


Managing Steam Community - In retrospect, we underestimated the potential of Steam's community features, particularly as I came from a background in mobile game development and most mobile store features often fail to engage users. Steam is an incredibly powerful platform with a plethora of features that we could have leveraged more effectively to keep our community engaged. Moving forward, we must prioritize the management of our Steam community and explore the full range of features and tools available to us. By actively engaging with our community on Steam and utilizing its various features to foster discussion, gather feedback, and showcase our game, we can better cultivate a dedicated and enthusiastic player base.


Taking and Implementing Feedback from Power Gamers - While engaging with highly active community members, primarily power gamers, we may have overlooked issues related to basic interactions within the game. Moving forward, we recognize the importance of achieving a better balance in our feedback collection process. It's crucial to allocate sufficient time to understand and address issues with fundamental interactions. Careful attention from the designers to small details that enhance basic interactions is invaluable and can only be gained by observing new players as they navigate the game.


Future Works


What’s ahead for Airship: Kingdoms Adrift?


We've consistently emphasized that Kingdoms Adrift is a complete game with post-sales services, and our commitment to supporting it has always been clear. If you just came here from the retrospective article above, you’d know that there are limitations to what we can improve further, given the state of the design and engineering. So, allow me to discuss those and address them before we delve into the roadmap to elaborate on what we can and will continue to do.


What we can't do? While we hold Kingdoms Adrift dearly as our first game, certain adjustments cannot be made without essentially creating an entirely new game. We believe it's more beneficial to learn from our mistakes and apply those lessons to future projects rather than continuously attempting to fix parts that are irreparably broken. These are:


  • Rewrite and retell the story

  • Enable engagement between NPCs

  • Improve AI behavior

  • Add more PvP features

  • Introducing more quest variety


What we will do in the upcoming months? Despite the limitations, there are still opportunities to enhance the player experience and gain insights into various aspects of design and technology. By leveraging our existing resources, we can make meaningful improvements and lay the groundwork for future projects.


Continuing the Beta Program: We're extending the beta session and opening up the Beta branch to the public. Confidentiality restrictions will be lifted, allowing everyone to switch to the Beta branch if they desire. We'll streamline our Discord server accordingly, and unless urgent, the new progress will remain Beta for at least a month before being promoted to default.


Maintaining Regular Updates: We'll consistently address bugs, adjust balancing, and improve performance to ensure stability. We'll also incorporate the latest hardware/software compliance standards whenever possible.


Implementing Automation to the Industry Feature: We'll focus on improving the well-structured Industry feature over time. Game designers will provide devlogs to discuss these enhancements and gather feedback periodically.


Further Addressing Issues with Travel Time: We understand the complexities involved in travel time between places, as discussed in the retrospective. We'll closely engage with the community to explore additional improvements in this area.


Expanding Modding Capabilities: Gradually, we'll introduce enhancements to facilitate modding. This effort aims to simplify base-level architecture for modders and provide players with options to customize their experience on aspects beyond our control.


Initiating a Community Translation Project: Due to repeated requests, we've made our localization file publicly available. In the previous update, we released the project’s .csv file. Additionally, we'll establish a localization section on Discord and kick-start the translation project there.


What's next for the studio?


With our debut product now launched, we've gained valuable insights into our audience's expectations and preferences. Moving forward, we remain steadfast in our mission to deliver the ultimate Fantasy Airship game to players worldwide.


I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone who has taken the time to read this article until the very end. I hope our experiences have provided valuable insights and learnings to you. Thank you for your attention and support.


- Jay


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