This post is addressed to the developers who have been sitting on the sidelines (or on their hands) because they haven't believed that making an original game is worth it.
I believe that I can boil down the secret to my personal success so far on BYOND to one very simple piece of advice. Heed my advice and put yourself in the same mindset that the Silk Games team did, and you could be responsible for the next big BYOND hit that will make NEStalgia's recent run seem like nothing in comparison.
I've see a lot of games come and go during my time on this site, and ninety-nine percent of them all had one thing in common: they were designed to be BYOND games. In other words, most developers have believed that a game's worth was judged based upon a simple comparison between their game and other BYOND games. So-called technical accomplishments have been trumpeted over everything else: "I have click to teleport commands in my game!", "I have a 500x500 map!", "There are 100 different types of enemies!" "I made sweet animations for all of my attacks!"
No one outside of BYOND cares, and no one (apart from 8-14 year olds) is going to be interested in your game unless it's good by the standards of all other games that are available online. Let's face it: there are only a handful of BYOND games that don't suck. Put 99% of BYOND games side-by-side with any "real" game in the same genre and it becomes glaringly obvious what an embarrassing mess most games here are.
You don't have to make a game that is overly complex, and you don't need cutting edge graphics. What you need is a complete, cohesive package: a great concept backed up with fun gameplay and a professional level of polish. Your litmus test shouldn't be whether or not other BYONDers would review your game as a 9/10 - it should be whether or not a site like Destructoid would.
Before what happened with NEStalgia in February, did anyone think in a million years that a BYOND game could be featured on mainstream gaming sites? No, they didn't: and that is the root of the problem.
NEStalgia's Success: Myths and Facts
NEStalgia's recent success was based upon two very important factors: the concept for the game, and the execution. The concept is unique and has never really been done before in a mainstream game. People have played old RPGs, and they've played MMOs, but by combining the two different genres we have something very original on our hands that is both familiar and new at the same time.
Once we nabbed people's attention with the concept, whether or not they tried the game (and stuck around) was solely dependent upon the execution. In that sense NEStalgia absolutely delivers - the look and feel of the whole thing is spot-on, and the game itself is a lot of fun to play.
The only area in which NEStalgia still has a lot of catching up to do with mainstream games is on the technical side of things. If we could host large-scale servers without lag (200 players+) we'd have retained a lot more people... but I'm not sweating that. While many developers here like to use BYOND's limitations as an excuse for not making a game, the fact is that even without the ability to host large servers we've been incredibly successful. Instead of whining about those limits, the Silk Games team is working pro-actively to find workarounds and solutions for them.
It's all about attitude and determination.
The Marketing Campaign
First a quick aside: Over the course of the past year when I talked about marketing NEStalgia, most of my "haters" on BYOND were proudly proclaiming that it would never work and that I'd fail... yet now that the game is popular, those same people point towards my "crazy marketing campaign" as "the only reason" for the NEStalgia's success, as if that's some sort of insult now. There's a lesson to be learned there, and it's to ignore the haters and don't let anyone else tell you what you can't do.
I've got a secret... and it's actually a pretty juicy one. Are you ready?
There was no marketing campaign.
I'm dead serious. I didn't get the chance to put my plans into action, because the game exploded about half an hour after I sent off what were essentially my "warmup" emails.
My brilliant marketing campaign™ amounted to a website, a trailer for the game, and this email:
NEStalgia didn't make the front page of Kotaku, Game Informer, Destructoid, Joystiq, etc. etc. etc. because I "marketed" the game. It made those sites because it was such a unique concept, and the screenshots and trailer backed it up by demonstrating how well executed the game was.
Everyone over the age of 14 on BYOND knows that fan games here don't get players because the games are good (they aren't), they get players because practically all of their advertising is being done for them. By associating themselves with a popular IP, DBZ/Naruto/Final Fantasy fan games on BYOND are automatically having players funneled their way. There are millions of DBZ fans out there searching the internet for more DBZ stuff every single day; it would be hard to create a DBZ game and not get hundreds of players trickling in automatically.
I know that this phenomena has discouraged many potential original game creators here, and has even turned them a lot of them over to the dark side as they hope to take advantage of leaching onto a popular IP's success. Perhaps it should have occurred to some of you that there was another path to take, one that was not only much more profitable, but much more fulfilling: create your own IP and work to make it popular.
With even this small initial burst of exposure, NEStalgia is now beating the BYOND Fan Games at their own game. Just last week I found out that we'd been featured on 1UP's Top 101 Free Games of 2011 list - which compliments our presence on Gamepro's 37 Best Free PC Games list. We have a lot of very popular "Let's Play" YouTubers releasing weekly videos that get tens of thousands of views. Just a couple weeks ago one of our community members posted about NEStalgia on a website that they frequent, and we ended up with thousands of page views and hundreds of new logins in a single day.
Can you imagine what's going to happen when we expand the game so that it can handle larger servers, and then begin to actually market it? With the long term development plans that we have in place (not to mention the advertising budget that I now have at my disposal), trust me when I say that you've only seen the tip of the iceberg.
Let's get right to the point: NEStalgia sold $10,000 worth of subscriptions during the first three weeks of the explosion.
Three weeks. Ten. Thousand. Dollars.
Those of you with BYOND development skills who are having a hard time getting motivated - if $10,000 in three weeks doesn't get your attention, then I don't know what will. Of course our profits have leveled off a bit since the initial explosion, but they're still very steady. The average sales/donation revenue for the last two weeks is $150 per day - and even at those numbers I could theoretically develop NEStalgia solo as a part time $40,000+/year job after expenses.
Now all of that is pretty crazy for a BYOND game, yes... but it barely scratches the surface of what a truly successful indie game could bring in. The money we've earned so far has simply proven that NEStalgia has the potential to be a gold mine - it's now up to me and the rest of the development team to take it to the next level.
What's stopping other BYOND games from doing this? That's a good question to ask yourself.
A note about BYOND benefactors
BYOND does indeed receive a much deserved cut of the NEStalgia revenue, which brings me to my next aside:
I've always hated the fact that people champion users who donate money to BYOND as the "ideal BYONDers" who are the ones "doing the most good for BYOND". Donations are certainly nice, but I've always said that the best way to benefit BYOND is to create good games. Now not only have I done that, but as a side effect of creating a good original game I've essentially also become BYOND's biggest financial benefactor.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
What You Should Do
Whether you're new to BYOND or a developer with ten years of DM experience, you should drop everything and start developing an original game right this minute. If you put some real thought into coming up with an original concept, and if you take the time to do it right, there is no reason why you can't experience the same level of success that NEStalgia has had thus far - or greater.
Don't worry about timeframe. The world isn't going to change in 6 months, 1 year, or even 2 years. There is no need to rush something out the door - take your time and get it right.
Just remember that your goal isn't to make a BYOND game: your goal is to make a game. The BYOND Hub, the members page, the developer forums - all of those things are irrelevant. Your audience is waiting outside of BYOND, and when you make a good game you'd be surprised by how little it takes to draw them in.
So what are you waiting for? Go do it.