The Unstoppable Hellboar that was Releasing Clan O’Conall

HitGrab, the devs of Clan O’Conall and the Crown of the Stag, tell us how they released their indie game despite not having an audience.

How do you sell a game without an audience? How do you build an audience without a game? No one’s heard of you. What do you do? Ladies and gentlemen: throughout the production of Clan O’Conall, we have been pursued by a horrible, unstoppable hellboar. And we have gone to some truly outstanding lengths to keep it at bay.

What does a Boar have to do with Indie Games?

The fifth level of Clan O’Conall features the first of what we call the “boar chase” levels.

In a Boar Chase, the player has to get from Point A to Point B, while being chased from behind by a horrible hellboar, a creature inspired by the beastly swine of Celtic folklore, famed for their ferocity. Touching him means instant death, and the player only has a loose idea of where their next safe point lies. A series of gates will delay the boar as you cross them, but only for so long until he breaks through.

Clan O'Conall hellboar

Our developers get a laugh out of watching players attempt these levels. Players try all sorts of creative, unintuitive strategies to gain time and beat the boar. They never know what lies ahead, only that somewhere, out in the distance, there’s that safe spot, a reprieve from the boar.

Our gate first opened in March of 2020, which was when we had to restart our game from nothing.

Quarantine Unmasking Reality

Our booth at GDC 2020 was cancelled mere weeks before we were due to attend. This cut us off from our primary communication channel to players and press. Worse, as quarantine fell and our teams retreated into isolation, our ability to keep up with deadlines collapsed. This left us with no buzz, no audience, and not enough game to generate said buzz.

The cash we had on hand would only allow us to push off release to November, with little time to actually finish the game – let alone brand, market, and sell to an audience we were yet to find.

Clan O'Conall screenshot

Our marketing audit boiled our options down to two: we either launch in Early Access or go for a Kickstarter. And when Kickstarter is the better of two options that close to launch, you know things aren’t good.

Best recommendations for a Kickstarter say to plan six months ahead of time. We had six weeks. That boar was coming for us.

When You Need to Launch a Game in Exactly One Minute

The situation was then this: we would launch our Kickstarter on October 1st for a fund date of the 31st. If we failed to fund on that date, we would have to commit to releasing the game on November 1st.

That meant, in the event we didn’t fund: we would be giving our development team exactly ONE minute to put their affairs in order, pack what we had, and ship the game on Steam. At that point, players could look forward to a charitable third of the game.

We didn’t have the money or the time to change that. All we had to do was run our campaign and hope to hell it would be enough to get us to the next gate and put off the boar for a little while.

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How do you build an audience? In a Panic

Our Kickstarter campaign was created for exactly the wrong reasons: to build an audience. What support we had from backers was real and genuine but these days, Kickstarter is the platform of established creators and brands. Very little of our traffic was via discovery, and we had to build our audience by hand.

Clan O'Conall screenshot

We were completely innocent as to how Kickstarter worked, and we believed that people would naturally flock to us, appreciate our work, and start sharing it with others. Every backer was instead the result of countless long nights spent streaming and begging for traffic on Twitter.

By hook and by crook (and with a last-minute extension), we successfully funded on November 4th. The gate was shut and the boar was behind us. But he never goes away. Soon, that gate would be dust, and the boar would be back.

Racing Towards the Unreasonable

Today we sit nearly three months into release, and we can say that this hasn’t been for nothing. We’ve released a tremendous game that our players genuinely love and that we’re very proud of. We enjoy perfect player reviews on Steam and smattering of good critical reviews, but it was too little too late.

We released Clan O’Conall to relative silence. There was no day one coverage, no reviews to tell people about us. All we could hear was that boar snorting.

Clan O'Conall screenshot

Sales for our game have not been where they need to be because they never could’ve gotten there. Without buzz, an indie game cannot get press. Without press, it can’t get reviews. Without reviews, it can’t get player attention. And without player attention, the game can’t get buzz.

And so we see the race for what it really is: a marathon.  For us, releasing Clan O’Conall wasn’t the safe spot at the end of the boar chase, but just another gate, opening up fresh challenges ahead whilst keeping the boar at bay behind.

Clan O'Conall screenshot

But the race always continues! In a few short weeks we’ll be celebrating everything Clan O’Conall and the struggles that kept us ahead of the boar by launching the inaugural Hibernian Summer Games.

In partnership with SickKids we’ll be hosting events such as a speedrunning race, boss challenges, and an art auction. We’re looking forward to getting together with our current players, meeting some new ones, and raising some money for a great organisation that supports kids battling hellboars of their own.

Clan O’Conall and the Crown of the Stag is available now for PC and Mac on Steam. You can find the game’s official website here, and developer HitGrab’s Twitter here.

Check out other insightful features on indie games hosted at Into Indie Games!

This Article was written by: Rahul Shirke

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