What happens when your first game only sells seven copies – and four of those sales were to friends? If you’re El Savador’s Sergio Aris Rosa, you try again – and with salacious material.
His first game, a shooter titled SteroidS, made it to a few digital storefronts, but failed to sell a single copy. All sales came through his personal website. Lacking basic experience in areas of design and marketing (he self-taught himself via online sources), Rosa acknowledges his mistakes. “In retrospective, it was not that good. It had the potential to be good, and if we had had more experience, maybe it would have sold better,” he writes.
As for the overall experience, he writes simply it was “really bad.”
Ready to quit, a Ludum Dare game jam event sparked his creative side. “I decided to get into that Ludum Dare because the theme sounded interesting, so I made this really rough atmospheric adventure game that was extremely well received,” Rosa writes.
Bundling those lessons, Rosa turned his focus to his next project, Enola, which came together from a six person team. “Maybe the failure of that first game alone didn’t teach all we needed, but that first failed game, combined with this small game made for the Ludum Dare, helped figure out my strengths, so I decided I could use that to make different kinds of games (atmospheric, story-driven games), and that’s where Enola comes from,” Rosa writes.
Being in El Salvador allows Rosa and his team some advantages. “Living costs (for some things) are lower here than in other places, so it’s cheaper to produce games here. That also means that, when you make a game that sells well, you are able to cover more expenses,” writes
That doesn’t mean the location doesn’t bring challenges. This isn’t Silicon Valley. “Being far away from ‘the industry’ means spending more money in plane tickets for anything, so we are not able to go to as many things as we want, so we end up relying more on online interactions,” writes Rosa.
Enola’s initial concept was similar, Rosa notes, to Silence of the Lambs or Red Dragon, an atmospheric horror game where players escape from a serial killer. Around six months into development, the team of developers at the christened Domaginarium studio set out to make a startling change: Enola was to become a game about assault. “I changed the entire story so everything was centered around that sexual abuse,” notes Rosa.
Rosa claims this was not meant for shock. His marketing approach avoids the topic. “I thought people would simply hate it, so during the entire marketing and promotion of the game I kept saying ‘this game is about someone dealing with a traumatic experience’ but not even once did I use ‘sexual abuse’ as part of the promo speech or material,” writes Rosa.
Enola moved 20,000 copies, but earned criticism for its subject matter. “Some people loved it, but those who didn’t love it, completely hated it. You can say there’s no middle ground here,” writes Rosa.
Publicly displaying something like Enola also brought challenges. “There was an instance where I sent Enola to one of those indie games festivals, and their response was, ‘We won’t accept this game because it uses pedophilia and rape for shock value,’ and that was really discouraging because it was the first time I had shown the game to a group of external people.”
That same build was put on display at PAX and REZZED, a half hour demo. Like the wider reception, Enola earned praise and derision. “You see it’s a very contrasting reception,” writes Rosa.
“So, in the end, yes, due to its subject matter, Enola got a lot of hate, and a lot of people said it was a really bad idea (“Why did you even make a game about that, anyway?”) but it sold a decent amount of copies, and it got a nice cult following,” writes Rosa, certainly a turn around from only selling copies to friends a few years prior, even if some find the subject matter distasteful.