I started work on Pirates and Traders almost immediately after having released my first game – “A Brief History of Rome” – on the Android market on January 30, 2010. I wanted to do another historical game, because historical games are what I enjoy, but I didn’t want to do another war/4X game just yet. At the time, I played around with two ideas: either doing a trading/piracy game or doing a role-playing game set in Roman times – think something like Nethergate, but more heavily based in history (I’m a Roman history nut), and set on the Roman-Sassanid border. Sanity won out though. I had leave at the time, and knew that I needed to finish something playable during the few months off from work if I were to publish it.
The development of the first version of the game took about two and a half months. I was taking care of my first kid, but he was pretty easy at the time, so I was able to work long hours during the day while he slept, in addition to evenings. I’ve probably never worked as concentratedly on any of my game project either before or since. The game released the game on April 21, 2010.
That was five years ago, Pirates and Traders didn’t make me any real money at first, since – living in Norway – I could not sell the app on the Android Market. But the game gained enough of a following that the ad income actually became noticeable, and all the feedback I received compelled me to work more on the game. Eventually, the ad income accumulated to the point where I felt that it would be worthwhile to spend money on an art upgrade.
Around the same time (sometime in 2011, IIRC), Google opened up for paid apps in Norway. At this time, I made a mistake: I released the paid app, with a promise that the income from sales would be used to upgrade the game’s art and music. This was a mistake because – by the time the new version (2.0) of Pirates and Traders was ready to release, it was a significant remake. It had a different skill system, new stories, in addition to new art and music – Pirates and Traders version 2.0 was essentially a sequel to the original. However, I don’t run from my promises, and thus the game was released as an upgrade to the existing app.
This was a disaster. Savegame incompatibilities meant that many people experienced trouble upgrading, and it took almost a month before I had all those problems sorted out. In addition, many people found the new version inferior to the old one; they loved the simplicity of the Sld versions of the game for those people). I – of course – also lost money on the decision, although that was less of a concern to me. All in all, it would probably have been a better decision to simply have released the current version of the game as Pirates and Traders II back then. I suspect most of you would have forgiven me.
More than 800,000 downloads, but obviously this has slowed down significantly in the past years. I guess it will never hit that million, which would have been cool – but I can’t complain. The active player population today is around 7-8%. This is to be expected on a free app, though. Lots of people download the game and delete it later – and that trend is of course marked for such an old app.
Revenue on the game has been respectable, but never close to the level where I would have been tempted to go full-time. If I built 5-6 games which brought in the same level of revenue as Pirates and Traders in parallel, perhaps… but as Daniel Cook discusses in his article on sustainable development, game dev is a hit-driven industry, and one should expect several flops for every success. I prefer to live without that stress.
Around 70,000 lines of Java code and 25000 lines of comments.. Considering that I rewrote the game almost completely for version 2.0, I’ve probably written around double that amount of code over the lifetime of the app.
Almost 75,000 words of narrative text, which is about the size of an average novel. Shout out to Stuart Lloyd, with whom I co-wrote the three major quests in the game.
Finally, thanks to all of you, the fans. Without you, this journey wouldn’t have been possible.