Faerie Solitaire Harvest was conceptualized as an ultra casual counterpoint to another game we were planning the ultra hard Faerie Solitaire Dire. The game was mostly made by two people. My brother and I.
FSH is a match 2. Early builds were super easy. The first build had shuffle / undo / hint buttons. These were all removed eventually as the design iterated.
The first build did not have concepts like deck / foundation / spare space, these were added later as design iterated.
Eventually our “ultra casual” design was changed to something less easy as we worked to try and make the best game possible.
We wanted to see if an A-Z story was necessary or if we could make a game with almost no story.
Post Steam release we worked to add more depth (talents), optional difficulty (valor), and story elements (lore).
During Portal rollout we worked to make the game a little more forgiving based on review feedback. Redeal was made free (unless any valor was active), and only a silver star was required (unless any valor was active).
Development originally started October 25th 2016. It continued for 2-3 months and then was put on hiatus while other work gained focus.
Work resumed October 26th 2018 and became a primary development focus. This was thanks to Puppygames who helped us finish this game. They are the publishers on all PC platforms including Steam and the casual portals. Puppygames is also helping with our next game Dire.
The game was released on April 22nd 2019 on Steam. Total development time up to this point was about ~9 months.
Primary development work continued until August 13th 2019. Total development time up to this point ~13 months.
Everything after this date so far has been maintenance, polish, relatively minor changes, bug fixes.
We set FSH as coming soon on Steam for a little more than a month before release in an attempt to gain wishlists. The game got ~250 wishlists in the first few days. We hoped to be able to reach ~5,000 wishlists but it was quickly obvious this wouldn’t happen, still we tried our best to promote it. Many kind people at the Defold forums donated store text translations.
FSH only just reached 2,839 wishlists on the day before release ~45 days after making the Steam store page live. Release day had the single largest spike of wishlist additions of ~900. As of today (1/11/2020) FSH does have 5,000 outstanding wishlists almost constantly — lots of people add games to their wishlist to wait for a low enough discount to buy. Has the game ever sold as many units as it currently has wishlists? No. Has the game sold even as many copies as it had wishlists on the day before release date? No. 😔
Initially, on release day, we were optimistic about sales (release day was single biggest peak in number of sales), but we soon got a reality check as sales very quickly tapered off on release week to almost no sales. For most of the game’s live history, when a Steam sale was not happening, the game averaged between 0 and 2 sales per day. Release date was also the peak of concurrent players ever.
Several of our customers have suggested we send out coupons for FSH to previous owners of FS. We want to do this, but every time we ask Valve they say no. We've asked several times since FSH released. Valve seems to want to save this only for big game publishers -- so be aware of that developers, you can't rely on Valve to help you to market to your own customers, you need to build and maintain your own ways to contact your customers, and promote people to join these systems.
The library update took ~4 months to produce. It added Lore, Talents, and Valor along with more general polish and bug fixes.
We originally planned to do 3 updates like the Library update (Garden and Dungeon after) but because of poor sales early on we were demoralized. This made the Library update take longer than it should have, and made us cut the Garden and Dungeon updates from being a priority sadly. I still want to do them eventually personally, but it makes zero financial sense to do so.
Though we felt the Library update was the biggest priority and needed for the game it had little impact on the average sales of the game. Fundamentally it was made clear that most of the people who reviewed the game negatively did so because they wanted the core gameplay to be wheel up/down and not a match2. And sales wise it was very hard to get the word out about an update, basically every casual focused news site has shut down (Jay Is Games) or became pay only (like Gamezebo, which every time we have sent them press releases has asked us for money to post anything which to me seems like a big conflict of interest). Beyond those old sites, most of the mobile focused sites focus on F2P games only (and have no problem with IAPs/ADs, they just refuse to cover premium games). And most of these sites also are wanting money for any exposure at all, it is the business model. There are of course exceptions from the old guard. Notably Touch Arcade which is still run ethically and in a consumer and developer friendly way.
Even though the Library update didn’t have an obvious sales impact many people agreed with us that it was a crucial addition to round out the game without spending too much extra on it. In the long term I believe it being a part of the game will help its long term sales as it gives players much more to do and work toward while playing.
We released first on Android on May 3rd 2019. Though we released first on Android, to date iOS has made more (although not much more overall). iOS release was on September 4th 2019. Today Android has 8 reviews and iOS has just 1.
We made some changes to the game to improve the mobile (phone) experience, but at this time the game still needs significant updates to improve mobile play. I want to make a portrait mode but it would require redoing all of the UI, and remaking all new layouts.
The vast majority of sales on Android are refunded minutes after purchase. This is presumably because so many Android users buy premium games, back them up, then refund. The apk is also readily available and downloaded more times than there have been sales.
A lot of people who download the game from pirate sites are nice enough to opt into analytics. It’s neat to see people playing at least.
We released the Android version on Amazon and Samsung stores. Both stores do not really have any interest in promoting premium games. Amazon specifically wants developers to pay to advertise to get any exposure on the platform. For us, both Amazon and Samsung were not worth the time — to date there have been less than 10 sales from both combined. Of course F2P/P2W games with large budgets or more mass market F2P games full of ads may do better. Amazon reviews were also harsh to the premium version, because Amazon allows reviewing without purchasing, the game on there got several 1 star reviews from people who were unhappy that the game wasn’t free (Amazon eventually removed these to their credit).
Overall trying to force premium on mobile seems like a losing battle. There are exceptions but for example premium iOS sales are so bad in Russia that you can get 2 sales in one day and reach #6 top raking for card games.
If the game was released as a free but infested with ads we maybe would have already made our investment in the game back just from the people who pirated and played enough to beat it.
“Free” demo release
Some people suggested we try releasing a demo version so did. We released a “free” version which allowed collecting Lore and playing 5 locations on repeat.
People played it, but it had no real visible impact on sales. We did see an increase in Android refunds minutes after purchase though.
I would not do a “demo” like this again.
I believe that the proper way to do a free release like this is to make an actual stand alone side game that is free. So you get a secondary story, a real stand alone game with its own content, and a taste of the larger experience. It has to be small and good enough to make the user want more, but not be a demo. This kind of game would be good to release early to promote wishlists of the main game, and to collect e-mail subscribers. I would consider doing this kind of side game in the future for other projects.
Casual portal release
We released FSH on iWin, GameHouse, and BFG. Both iWin and GameHouse syndicate to many smaller portals. None of them made much money.
The BFG release specifically was botched (though unintentionally). They have a large queue of games to publish over time so there is a waiting list before your game is released. The macOS version was released without us being notified of a release date (I sent them an updated version as soon as I could but it didn’t go live until at least 3 weeks due to the holiday timing), and it was released with an older version without the changes we made specifically for the casual portals. Predictably it got a few negative reviews (one which loved everything about it for the most part except that it was a match 2 instead of a wheel up/down solitaire), enough to certainly hurt sales. And it really hurt that it go zero positive reviews from their macOS users. Once the Windows version went live, it kept those negative reviews of the original version and did not get any new reviews until near the second day of release! It finally did get several glowingly positive reviews based on the actual live version, but by then it was apparent the damage had been done. If you are a dev looking to release on BFG, just don’t give them macOS builds until the Windows version is live at least or else you may share this botched release fate. At the moment FSH on BFG is rated 4/5 stars. Ideally over time it will eventually get to 4.5 or so as more people play and review, and hopefully over time it will stay within the top 100 for a few weeks at least and stay within the Card and Board top 10 for a few months. It is basically the only match2 of its kind in existence, but it also has some obvious fatal flaws still which could get fixed but investing to fix them for the true casual audience is out of the question.
The take devs get from these portals is still very unfair, they get the lion’s share. I would much rather support Steam and continue to try and help it grow its casual audience than release more of our games on casual portals. It’s not a situation with hope for change though, the audiences that are on these portals have similar feelings of library lock-in as gamers on Steam feel. They want to continue to buy games where the rest of their purchased games are.
The people at the casual portals are decent and professional. I have only praise for them personally.
GameHouse was my favorite portal to work with. Fastest to respond and most helpful.
Will we release more games on casual portals? Yes, probably, because it is the only way to reach many of these people. It’s the same as Steam gamers wanting Steam keys only if they are going to buy a game. Not doing it is leaving money on the table even if it hurts.
We made an innovative match-2 solitaire game! Many people who said they did not like match-2 solitaires of the past said they loved ours. 💖
As of today, Steam reviews are Very Positive with 81% rating it positively (and most of the rest displeased that the game is a match2 instead of wheel up/down — a common sentiment from these reviews was “don’t fix what ain’t broken”).
The game is very pretty and feels good to play. The Defold engine is very solid. Thanks to GameAnalytics the game is mostly bug free, any time there is a script error in the logs we usually fix it within a day.
It is our first real Defold release on Steam and mobile. It is good proof of what Defold can do. Defold is better than ever and we’ll continue to use it for our future projects.
We were able to build up our engine (as in all of the various systems on top of Defold’s core). Ideally our future games will take less time to make since now we have so much foundation built.
The game will certainly eventually break even and then be more passive income for everyone involved. There’s always a chance the game can be noticed and be featured so that it can actually make decent money.
Russian audience was one of our best. So we paid for a Russian localization first in part to thank them. Hopefully more people in Russia like our games. 🙂 We have more translations coming (German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Brazilian-Portuguese) which will probably boost sales in each country they are for in the long term.
Most of the changes we did make / features we did add were genuinely needed even if they did not obviously improve sales, and I’m happy we could deliver a better game for those who did enjoy FSH.
Many of the original Faerie Solitaire fans did not like the change from wheel up/down solitaire to match-2 solitaire, and they tanked the review score early on. Many call it not real solitaire even though it is. This is not their fault but our fault with managing expectations and wanting to build FS into a larger brand, over time it should hopefully get better as people accept we are going to make more varied solitaires.
Our efforts to “make a better game” and innovate / iterate led to more complexity. While this is more fun for us, and some people, this diminished the “ultra casual” quality of the original vision, and as a consequence alienated away people who want a super simple super casual experience. Even our efforts to tone down the challenge (by not requiring perfect clears, reducing the cost of free space and redeal) did not help, we still got many reviews from people complaining that the game was too complicated, too unfair. Though we also saw people who initially didn’t like the game turn to loving it, their combined early impressions still likely hurt sales.
Sales were below expectations. The library update did not help sales. Toning down the difficulty of some of the core gameplay for the casual portals did not help sales. The game failed to meet market demands from our original customers, from the core audience, and the casual audience. We were hoping for at least 10 sales a day for a while after release, but instead the game was lucky to get 1-5 sales a week some weeks. Ouch!
Marketing was hard, Valve resisted our efforts to market to our own original customers. Most of them probably still don’t know that FSH exists.
The game was designed for play on desktop computers and not mobile devices, so it does not play as well as it could on mobile if it were designed mobile first.
The game was accidentally set to 50% off on Steam too early. Such a deep discount was not planned for a while. It did make a spike in sales enough to nudge the game 5% closer to being profitable, but it probably hurt long term income as we had planned a more gradual reduction over time as now we feel it is necessary to continue the price reduction from this point with future sales.
The game is only about half way toward breaking even coming up on its first anniversary of release. It will probably not begin to be profitable until another year or even two years from now still.
The game’s release hurt our morale and motivation, and the lack of results from efforts over time did not help. We’re still optimistic about future projects, but for Harvest it’s time to move on.
Originally we way overdid the initial tutorials with too much too quickly. This was fixed later on to be a very simple. A focused tutorial that only mentioned crucial information. We still include the old tutorial information on the game’s help screen.
If we did not have prior success, along with friends and family to support us / fund the game and its post release updates, FSH not selling well would have hurt much more.
Getting any press at all for FSH was a struggle. Press releases were mostly ignored. We’re not buddies with game journos like other devs are, and most sites that have people expect us to pay to get anything out there.
Match-2 solitaires in general have a bad reputation so this may have hurt the game’s chances.
Don’t break user expectations. We did it intentionally with FSH and with some of our future games with a larger vision in mind, but it still hurt us in the short term. If you are building a brand stick to its core and build out from it, don’t change the core.
Don’t get audience expectations confused. If you are making a casual game, make a casual game! If you want optional difficulty don’t make it visible early on at least. We had many people unlock valor, enable it, and then complain the game was too hard in negative reviews.
Designing mobile first for casual audience is a very good idea. At least with size wise. Everything needs to be readable and tapable on a phone without any issues. And by doing this it will also help desktop user usability.
Updates didn’t have much impact on sales (but discounts always do). This only matters if you have wishlists to convert to sales however. Getting more wishlists is still a good thing to go for post release, it’s almost as good as a buy in the long term. We probably won’t try to update a game that doesn’t sell well on release in hopes of trying to get it to sell better in the future again. It’s a trap! Of course you should still do what you can and know you should do for your game post release, just don’t do that expecting it to improve sales at all.
Your store page needs to be live long enough to get enough wishlists to make a splash on release. In comparison to FSH, Dire has had its store page live for some months and has a wishlist total of ~2,000 and without any of the same effort in promotion we did for FSH. We must do more promotion before Dire’s release, it must have a higher wishlist count before we can even consider releasing it.
Casual on Steam is swimming upstream, it is much harder than selling to the primary audience of Steam. Trying to make your casual game appeal to Steam audience is not a winning formula, you’re just as likely to make a game few actually want. Know your audience and stick to what they want specifically. This is a warning to core focused devs too, people telling you to make your game more casual friendly are leading you to a path of ruin. Don’t alienate your true fans.
Premium on mobile is very hard. It’s difficult to reach people who are willing to pay for a game that has no IAP and no Ads. They exist but it can cost more to reach them than it makes. Way more people will tolerate Ads and IAP if not actively support it with their time and wallets, and they are easier to reach / easier to break even on with ad invested games.
You have to nag your mobile users to review otherwise they simply won’t, unless they are angry. We initially did not have any kind of nag in our mobile versions and only got negative reviews, until we began to ask and then got some positive reviews. Still we only soft ask in a small text on the main menu, not a popup like should probably be done. Because of this iOS only has 1 review as of this writing (luckily a 5 star), and Android has ~8 with an average rating or 3.5. Overall the ownership is still very low and we’ve given away more copies than have sold. Suspiciously on Android one day we had 5 refunds and 5 new reviews of various low amounts, who knows if that’s related.
The market seems clear on what it wants. You must align your efforts to these expectations. Don’t think you are smart or clever and can innovate without financial consequences! Of course there is room for innovation, just make sure it aligns with what people actually want and will pay for! 😇
Games need a core A-Z story to bring people forward on a narrative. Our experiment not having one failed. Our future games will all have an A-Z story of some kind.
If your game has a small enough amount of text you must budget to include translations and they must be high quality. For bigger games, at least translate the menus and store page. Never use machine translation. Never!
I never implemented Steam trading cards when I could have because they were not as much of a priority as other things, but there’s a chance sales after they were released would have been better if I had implemented them sooner. Setting them up is still something I will do sometime this year.
We’ll still make solitaire. Actually it’s becoming more of a focus for us than ever before. We probably won’t do another match2 for a while at least. FSH2 is not happening unless FSH suddenly gets a huge sales spike some day. Some of the stories in the FSH Lore will certainly be built up in other non-match2 games though.
We will focus on making free solitaire in an effort to gain market share, which can then be used to market our newer premium offerings. That’s what Solitaire.io is for. The full version of FSH is even currently one of the free offerings right now on this site ( with the hope that some people decide to buy it on Steam / buy our next game Dire ). Focusing on solitaire is what we want to do even if other things would probably make more money.
We will also continue to work with Puppygames to help them become a variety publisher, and potential work with more other partners in the future.
We will try to produce more games with shorter development times and smaller scopes while maintaining quality.
We will make Solitaire.io into the number one solitaire site online. 🔥 Then maybe we can have a more reliable marketing source for our ad free, full priced, premium solitaire games. 🤠
Extra lessons for you
Make games for market. Know your audience, have a plan to reach them. If your game hits on release double down on making it better, if it doesn’t then cut your losses as best you can. I’m not saying abandon your game, continue to bugfix, polish, and support it, but most likely none of your updates will have the kind of impact on your game that it could have on a successful game.
Localize your games. Make games with small amounts of text so it doesn’t cost too much to do.
Put your game on coming soon on Steam as soon as possible. You need those wishlists totals to be high.
Don’t subvert your game by trying to appeal to a wider audience. Don’t add difficulty just because your casual game is boring even if it’s optional. Don’t add an easy mode to your core game just to try and appeal to casuals. You’ll likely make a game that is less appealing to your core audience while also not really appealing to other audiences. There is a vocal movement right now to try and make games more accessible for everyone. Beware!!! Games like Escape from Tarkov are great because they are so punishingly hard and have a high skill ceiling that allows pros to kill noobs. Some games already destined for success can tempt this fate and still do well, don’t think your game can too.
Adding updates to an already financially unsuccessful games has no guarantee it will suddenly do better in sales. Do what you have to in order to patch and polish, but if the audience isn’t there to begin with it’s not going to suddenly appear with extra content added. This is another pitfall you can see with games which are duds on launch but became successful in time, they could take this path because people constantly talked about those games and they had existing large audiences to enable this.
Don’t spend years making a single game. Even 9 months is pushing it for time spent on a single game. Unless you are getting a ton of wishlists and attention pushing a game beyond that window is not a great idea.
Don’t take doom and gloom from this game’s fate and apply it to your game. Every game is different, your game may have a much better chance at success. As long as it is appealing enough to gather up lots of wishlists. 🙂
You should always have the final word on your games even when you are making games for market. Just be smart about your decisions! Listening to feedback too much can give you mixed signals, especially when multiple audiences are talking to you. Is the game too easy or too hard? Well, who are you making your game for in the first place?
I highly recommend using Defold as a game engine. Very productive, very stable, has all of the features that are needed both for Steam and mobile release.
Don’t base development decisions on what a minority of people say. We heard people say they were tired of every “solitaire” being the up/down wheel variation, so we made something different. Despite being different (and in my view a very good game) it did not translate to sales, did not even match the sales of what yet another up/down wheel variation makes. Do you see patterns in game releases? Don’t think you can do something different and be successful just because. Patterns are there for a reason, they show hints about reality. People who tell you to ignore patterns are not your friends. That’s not to say that serving smaller audiences doesn’t have value, but know the risks.
Casual audience on Steam is still very small. Steam’s casual tag is flooded by games that are not actually casual so this hurts visibility even more. Releasing any kind of casual game on Steam probably won’t make it sell well. A genuinely casual game rarely makes it on the Popular New Releases list on Steam. There are ways to gain attention while making casual games on Steam if you are willing to go for those more adult orientated audiences, but even that is most likely dumb if doing the adult thing with a core gameplay that actually appeals to Steam’s audience would probably do way better.
Selling on Steam is one of the best options game developers have for now (which is made more obvious when working with the alternatives). Don't expect Valve to help you with much directly. You still need a newsletter. You still need to market your games on your own outside of Steam.
The games market is brutal, so be smart! Don’t make a game no one asked for. Don’t ignore the need to market and promote your game well in advance of its release.
Trust your gut! Don’t take my word as ultimate truth, I can only say things from my personal perspective and priorities, you know your vision and have a unique perspective of the markets and potential of things you can make. 🙂
I’m proud of the game we made even if it wasn’t a big seller! 😇
I’m still optimistic about the future of games, especially webgames. ✨
This game had clear flaws, and mistakes which now are obvious. In future games we will try to avoid the same pitfalls (and so should you).