Dealing with Popularity

In the early days of Sally Face (starting over three years ago), the game had gathered a small cult following. That following grew quite a lot over time and continues to grow. With the release of Episode Four, in November 2018, the fan base significantly expanded. As a solo developer and solo business owner, it’s been a huge change in my life. Even though this has been a dream come true, it’s also been very overwhelming and at times very stressful.

THE FANS

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In the beginning, I was able to connect with every fan, answer every question and every message. And I really enjoyed that connection and seeing their excitement. Now, I get so many messages that I can’t even read them all, let alone answer them all. When more started coming in, I tried to keep up with it at first. I really wanted to continue to talk with everyone and continue to interact with their posts of fan art and cosplays. But it began eating up so much of my time (hours a day). It took me a little while to stop putting so much time into that. I felt an almost sadness at not being able to answer everyone. Especially since I often get messages saying really heartfelt things about how much Sally Face has changed their life, or saved them from depression, or saved them from suicide, or helped them in some way. My fans in general mean a great deal to me and these kinds of letters really mean a lot. I think that strength to get through tough times is already inside of us but if my game can help bring that out in any way, that’s something really amazing.

For my own sanity and for the sake of productivity, I had to learn to cut back on fan interaction. Though, I still like to engage when I can. I very much enjoy seeing the cool things Sally Face fans create and how much they get into the story and characters. I even set aside a few hours one day to answer fan questions on twitter, which was a lot of fun. And in the future, I’d like to do more conventions in order to get out there and meet more fans in person.

TROLLS

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My interactions with fans have been overwhelming positive overall. Though, with more attention and bigger numbers, of course I’ve started to get some negativity and trolling. However, it’s really such a small proportion.

There was a rumor started about Episode Five releasing in the summer, even though I had been saying “end of 2019” in all official channels. And when it didn’t come out in the summer there were some people who were mad at me for “lying” or “delaying the game”, even though neither were true. I’ve also gotten some reviewers saying that by having DLC that makes me “greedy”. This really shows me that they don’t understand game development.

In fact, me charging only $15 for Sally Face is pretty cheap. That’s about 5 years of work for $15. I initially thought that the episodes would all be shorter but I wanted to make it the best I could, so more production value went into it. Despite that, I didn’t want to raise the price (even though I probably should have) because I wanted to keep it fair and accessible to players. Not to mention, I really only take home less than 50% of the game revenue (that’s a topic for another post). So when people call me “greedy” for “charging so much” it seems unbelievable to me.

I’ve found it best to not engage in with trolls and just to ignore them. Especially the ones that are just spewing meaningless anger in my direction. Which does happen sometimes but, again, it’s pretty rare. My thought is that they are most likely kids who are not happy in their lives. And I hope that they will someday find happiness.

MERCHANDISING

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With the rising popularity also comes new opportunities such as merchandising and other exciting things I can’t talk about just yet. I’ve partnered up with Brand Central, who is handling Sally Face merch. Through them I’ve signed deals with Hot Topic, Funko, BandMerch and others. I’ll share more details on those things as they progress. All of these new opportunities are great, though they also take up extra time as well. Including flying out to LA for meetings. So even though it’s all exciting it also adds to the stress of managing a healthy work / life balance.

Along with the merch, also comes other companies (especially Chinese companies) selling counterfeit Sally Face merchandise and stealing my work. It’s a shame that people do this to anyone, let alone a solo artist such as myself. This has caused a lot of frustration, stress and a ton of time wasted fighting these companies. Fans purchase these counterfeit items, without knowing they are fake, and that harms the future plans I am trying to build. The money raised through merch sales goes into making the next game. When other companies steal my work, they are directly affecting my projects. To be clear, I don’t blame fans for this, the issue here is 100% on these counterfeit companies for being a bunch of shady bastards.

YOUTUBE

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I’ll be honest, before releasing Sally Face, I didn’t know much about Let’s Players, Streamers, “Content Creators”, etc. I knew they existed and I knew a little about the controversies between them and game developers. They have definitely played a role in my journey with Sally Face, so I figured I’d share my thoughts on this subject.

I’ve spoken with and have met a lot of these people and it’s always been a pleasure. Everyone has been super nice and it seems like a great community. In the early days, bigger YouTubers like JackSepticEye, Gloom Games, John Wolfe and others really helped to spread awareness of the game. I even put little Easter Eggs in the game, to show my appreciation for them:

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Some developers think that these Let’s Plays and Streams are a big negative force for the game industry. Basically because more and more people are watching games instead of playing them. Which is stated to be a big reason why single player games are “dying”. But I don’t think it’s that simple. I mean, this issue is undeniably a double edge sword: on one hand the exposure can do great things for small indie developers and on the other hand it could hurt more linear, story driven games. It’s very important that players, who are able to, support the games they love by buying them. Otherwise, those developers won’t be able to make more games. Of course playthroughs can be great for those who don’t have the means to play or want to see what a game is like before purchasing it.

As of right now, my view is that these gameplay videos are a net positive for small indie developers but that the process can use some improvements. YouTubers should definitely be sharing the link to any games they play. I think most of them do this already. And if they enjoy the game, they should encourage their viewers to purchase it. Not everyone does this, as they are more concerned with promoting their “like, comment, subscribe” mantra. I get it and that’s important but promoting the game is also important if you want to see more work from that developer. I don’t think that’s asking much at all and I believe most YouTubers/Streamers would understand that point. If we got some help with reminding their viewers of the importance of purchasing games they like, I think that’s a good first step (and I do recognize that some already do this, which is great).

Like talking about piracy (which is another can of worms), this is a delicate subject matter. People tend to take sides and be very passionate about that. But I think it’s important to look at both the pros and the cons of gameplay videos online and to continue to have a conversation about it. Whatever your opinion, for better or worse, this is definitely changing the game industry in big ways.


To close this out, I’d like to say: Even with the added stress, I’m excited to see Sally Face growing and I can’t wait to share Episode Five with everyone on December 13th. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, check it out:

Thank you for your continued love and support!
💙 Steve

Episode Four Development

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While developing Sally Face, each episode has been its own journey. Episode One, I worked on mostly in my free time and towards the end struggled with a lot of personal hardships. With Episode Two, I started working on the game full time, yet more hardships came and I was dealing with severe, long-term depression. Episode Three, I was coming out of my depressive slump and leaned into development pretty hard. Maybe too hard.

While developing the ep 3, I didn’t have a good balance of living my life and working. At first, it felt good and even helped get me out of the hole I was in. However, the amount of hours I was working (10 to 12+ hour days, almost every day) wasn’t sustainable. I wasn’t taking the best care of myself. I eventually started to feel the impact of that lifestyle, both physically and mentally, as it began to wear me out towards the end of production.

Since then, I’ve been putting in more effort not to overwork myself so much. To have a better balance of actually living my life and also getting work done. Eating healthier, being more active, being more social, taking more breaks, etc. I even went on a vacation with some friends, back in March! I think the last time I had a vacation, before that, was around 2014. There’s still a part of me that feels guilty, like, “oh, it’s gonna take you longer to finish your work now!” But I know that this way is better for my health, my sanity and my work in the long-term.

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So if this cycle has taken a little longer than Episode 3 did, that’s partly why. Additionally, I also did a bunch of conventions in the first half of this year. So traveling and preparing for those took up a good bit of time as well. I was promoting my other game, IMMURE, with Wither Studios, as we just launched the demo! Check it out here!

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Another reason that Episode Four is taking longer than Three did, is because this episode is much more involved and ambitious than the other episodes. This is gonna be the biggest episode yet and I really can’t wait to share it with everyone! To give an idea of the scope of this episode, in my original outline for Sally Face, ep 4 was split into 2 parts. I revised it early on to condense it into one episode.

My goal is to have it out by the end of this year. I’ll keep everyone updated on social media, as it gets closer. While I don’t want to give too many details about this episode just yet, I would like to officially announce the title.

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Sally Face, Episode Four: The Trial

Episode Four is the second to last episode of Sally Face and things are going to heat up fast. You can expect some big questions to be answered in this episode, some new questions to be raised, a return of many of the characters you love and even some new faces.

 

Thank you all for the continued love and support!
Steve

The Complicated History of Sally Face

I get asked all the time where the idea for Sally Face came from and what inspired me to make the game. I also went through a lot of personal struggles while creating the first two episodes. So I thought that topic would make a good starting point for this blog.

Around 2006 / 2007, I sketched a creepy character (as per usual) and the name “Sally Face” just popped into my head. Over the next few weeks, I began to imagine this character and what his life would be like. A boy with a girls face sewn on. I imagined him living in an apartment building filled with odd tenants.  His best friend would be a lazy stoner who wore a cape and lived in the basement. This was the genesis of Sal and Larry.  Here are the original sketches from that time:

Sally Face and Larry (aka “Lazy Kid”) version .01

A few months after those initial ideas began to form, I had already created a backstory for Sal (that’s when I ditched the sewn on face in favor of the prosthetic mask), a world that he lives in, a cast of characters and different stories I could tell within that universe. At the heart of everything, I really wanted to create something that had the look and feel reminiscent of a 90’s Nicktoon (like Doug, Ren and Stimpy, Hey Arnold, Rock’s Modern Life) but with darker themes and more mature stories/content.

Sally Face version 2.0  (young Steve had just started learning 3D modeling)

I got together with a few friends that were good artists and animators, as I attempted to assemble a team to make Sally Face into an internet cartoon series. Everyone got into the idea at first and we were all excited to start this project. However, between work and school schedules, no one could commit enough time and things quickly fell apart.

Sally Face sat in the back of my mind for seven years, as I moved on to other projects.

In 2010 I started a small indie game team, Wither Studios, with some friends. We developed a game called Crowman & Wolfboy that released in 2013 on mobile platforms. The game got great reviews from media and users and was downloaded over 600,000 times. Despite all of that, we still struggled to make money off of C&W. Because of this, the team voted to abandon development on the planned expansions to the game. This had me pretty bummed for a while because I had some awesome ideas for the direction of that game that I was really excited about at the time. A year later, our team was still struggling with what direction to take our next game. Eventually, at the end of 2014, we lost two of our team members over that conflict. It really sucked because they were not only good artists but good friends as well.

The chaos that Wither had fallen into is what ignited my desire to work on my own project. I wasn’t sure if the team would make it through that rough patch but I also needed a creative outlet. There were a few ideas I was tinkering with but Sally Face came back around into my mind. I thought it would be nice to finally do something with that idea and that it would transition pretty well into an adventure game, rather than a cartoon. So in 2015, building from the original concepts, I rewrote the story arc to fit a five episode narrative and began working on episode one in my free time. It was a slow process, as I was working a full time job and still working with Wither Studios too.

Redesigning Sally Face Characters  (third time’s the charm?)

In February 2016, I was unexpectedly laid off from my job, during a company wide downsizing. Finding a new job afterwards was turning out to be difficult. That’s when I decided to focus on finishing episode one of Sally Face. I had enough money saved plus unemployment coming in, that I could be more casual about looking for other work for a while. My wife at the time fought me tooth and nail over this decision. It turned out that she didn’t support my dreams and refused to even meet me on any middle ground. This torn a giant hole in our relationship.

That summer, I moved out and stayed with my parents while we figured out what we were going to do. During that time, I was able to finish up development on Sally Face, Episode One: Strange Neighbors. I released it in August, on itch.io. Sales were dismal to say the least. I tried my best to promote it but I just couldn’t gain enough attention. My funds were also starting to run low. So I decided to run a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to kill two birds with one stone (funding and attention).

During that fall, I moved back to Pittsburgh, with my wife. We were going to attend couples therapy and try to work through things. In November, I raised over $13,000 for Sally Face via crowdfunding. Luckily the game had started catching on with YouTubers and some of the bigger channels were starting to play episode one. That was a huge help with getting more eyes on the game. In December, I had released Sally Face on Steam to great reception. I was finally able to focus my full time efforts into making a game, and not have to worry about finances.

Things were seeming to look up, when tragedy reared its ugly head again. A very close family member of mine was reported missing (I don’t want to name them out of respect for their privacy). There was a suicide note. I was 7 hours away. The next few weeks were the darkest, saddest and hardest times of my life. Thankfully, the police found the family member still alive. After days in recovery, a second attempt and then more days in recovery, they are doing much better now. Obviously, this slowed production of episode two down quite a bit. Even after I had returned home, I was still dealing with a deep sadness over what had happened.

Working on episode two actually became helpful for me, in what I was struggling with internally. As I was nearing the later half of production, in the spring of 2017, my now ex-wife had decided that our marriage wasn’t working for her. So she left for another man. We had been together for 8 years so this was a pretty huge impact on me, especially with the emotional roller coaster I had just been through. This all but halted production for a while. It was the second biggest hit for my life and for episode two.

After some time, I began getting back to development. Working on the game, again, became very helpful in getting me out of the dark hole I was isolating myself in. Seeing all of the excitement of the fans and how much the fandom was continuing to grow was also a big emotional gain when I needed it the most. I can’t say how much I still appreciate seeing that excitement from fans every day.

Sally Face, Episode Two: The Wretched was released in July 2017 and was even bigger and better than episode one.

Development of episode three has gone MUCH smoother than both episode one and two. I’m in a healthier emotional place. I don’t have negativity around me, dragging me down. I feel great about my future and the future of Sally Face. I’m crazy excited to start on episodes four and five and I can’t wait to see people’s reactions as the mystery unfolds.

My goal with this blog post wasn’t to write a sob story or gain pity points, but to tell the story of Sally Face as it intertwined with my life. I got dragged through the shit but that’s part of life. When I got knocked down, I stood right back up, held my ground and forged ahead. Life is full of ups and downs. After all, we couldn’t have joy without sorrow.

Creating interactive experiences to share with people around the world is an amazing feeling. I would never want to do anything else and will likely be making games until they bury me in the ground.

Sally Face, Episode Three: The Bologna Incident  will be out on Feb 10th!

*As an additional note, Wither Studios is still kicking! I help them on the side with game design and art, among other things. We’re currently working on a demo for a new horror game, called IMMURE.

Thanks for reading my first blog post! I really appreciate the continued love and support!

– Steve