You have had a great idea for a game, and you want to share it with the world… and let’s be honest, you would like to earn some money from it, no harm in that. You put in the work, learning how to develop a Ren’py game, mastered your craft in Daz3D, and poured your heart and soul into writing beautiful dialogue. You’re on your way to success.
… but then you go and make it free-roam.
Grave of the free-roams.
Our industry’s graveyards are sadly filled with titles by developers just like this. Sadly, they either underestimated the workload that would be involved, unable to deliver enough content to retain customers or, because this is their first game, their planning and preparation isn’t up to scratch and they end up having to remaster the game, sometimes multiple times, which turns people off.
When you decide to deliver a free-roam game, it far too often requires so much work to build the world that you have envisioned, that by the time it comes to deliver an update, there is little content of substance, with lackluster story progression, which will time and time again disappoint the public.
With some titles I’ve seen, even if there is progression to have, you either have to do so much grind that it ends up feeling like a job, or it’s left to chance, with many never discovering it. Why on earth would you spend so much time on something, just to make it difficult for your fans to experience‽
I found a developer that was struggling to deliver on a free-roam game and used that difficulty as an excuse to start yet another free-roam game, working on both at the same time, expecting something different to happen. Hint, nothing different happened. Seriously.
Research, research, and erm, research.
The Adult Gaming Industry isn’t new, there is a long history of amateurs coming along and trying their hand at an Adult Game, and it’s a goldmine for learning from their successes and failures.
When starting an Adult Game, and deciding what form you want it to take, play all of the games out there, the big ones, the small ones, the ones that have won and lost. Try to investigate the community response to them, see what their sales history is with Graphtreon, or even reach out to the developer on Twitter or their Discord. Many developers are happy to offer some advice or a helping hand.
But also reach out to the community, join some general Discord communities, talk to its members, find out what people want, the trends. Please note, however, that some Developers do not allow discussion of other games in their Discord, so check first before jumping in.
Tools for the job.
Just because you’re dead set on creating this amazing world that you have in your head. Slow down.
You don’t need to introduce complex free-roam into your game to build a world. Ren’py has perfect features built into it for offering choices and paths. You can still build deep stories, with a wide range of characters and divergent paths in Ren’py without free-roam.
Our industry is full of games like this, and they see amazing success because they didn’t try to over complicate things. As a result of that simplicity, they’re able to concentrate on delivering content for their game. They’re not having to waste their valuable time on building character idles, room design, a world map, other houses, secondary NPCs, an inventory system, or a complex UI system, with no graphic/UI design experience.
Yet another Developer I found, who was making a beautiful Visual Novel, stated that they were switching to free-roam because they wanted to introduce choice. Even though that was already in the game. Things have sadly slowed with that game now, no points for guessing why.
I already have a job, thanks.
One thing many of us enjoy is opening up that new update for a game, playing through all of the new story progression, clicking through each line of dialogue with ease and excitement. It’s a joy.
The grind of free-roam ruins that, it breaks our immersion and destroys our illusion, we are no longer the MC living the story, we’re just people playing a game. We want that next part of the story, but we have to repeat the same scene in a particular way in order to increase points, agonizingly rushing through it just to see a little more.
That grind is not a substitute for content. It’s not delivering anything to my experience and breaks the stories flow.
It honestly starts to feel like a job, I have to go here, do that, travel back, find this object, click on these things in a specific order, go back here and talk to this person, and sometimes they make you get a job in the game.
It’s painful even typing that.
I am not saying that free-roam games are inherently bad because there are some amazing free-roam games out there that are done well. But they’re developed by seasoned Developers who have the resources to be able to pump out massive amounts of content along with the complex system they’ve created.
There is no harm in saying; “I’m a new developer, I should know my limitations”; in fact, I personally would find that admirable. With that realisation, you can now move on, take on a less complex Visual Novel, build up your fan base, your skills, and resources, and maybe take on free-roam in the future.