NOV #2: XEXANOTH

The nights are dark and cold and full of hate for anyone not snugged up in a warm, overfull flat of game developers, merch boxes, unwrapped Christmas presents, and, if you live with Alexis Kennedy, 9,000000 different types of chair. Sonja, Alexis’s kid, is currently having her first playdate with a BOY who shall remain nameless. The world spins ever onwards in its catawampus way, and, when it gets dark, I light cream-coloured candles in the gloom.

This sprint we’ve been joined by not one but TWO people. Chris returned to fight his good fight against localisation issues and UI bugs, and an entirely new face, Claire, joins for the next three months-ish to help us market Cultist better. 

The key dev work that’s gone on this sprint has been Alexis’s work on Long hunting, or as appears more representative at this stage, being mercilessly stalked by a Long. Would you like to meet them? They’ll be horrible to you.

The Diarist
J.C.
Lady Tryphon
Cpt. Welland

These are, of course, your adversaries for Apostle victories, which we’re introducing to the game as part of Christopher’s Build in January. You’re playing as your previous character’s pupil – your previous character has gone on to higher things and is trying to go on to even higher things, you’re helping them with that, and as we all know, Long are not immediately well disposed to would-be Names. They’d rather you went away.

It’s very WIP at the moment, but here’s a screenie of what Alexis’s screen has looked like these past two weeks. I’m a Heart player – Alexis, of course, very much Winter – and it looks GODDAMN NIGHTMARISH. But you Believers, you’re all just magic masochists, aren’t you. No wonder you all like Ezeem.

In the meantime, though we’re not ready to give a date for it yet, Chris fixed a number of remaining loc issues. This means we should soon just have to worry about the words, not the tech underpinning it, and also that we can take screenshots like this from actually in the game

You should also see a bunch of bug fixes in the next update: smol graphical and alignment tweaks as well as significant UX issues like broken double-click on stacks and disappearing verbs. The list is long enough that it would be v dull to give you full detail here, so TLDR the Game Will Be A Bit Nicer Soon. Yes, this is 100% official QA.

Among other things, I’ve been working on merch round-ups, shop sales and getting our soundtrack ready to go on sale along with Christopher’s free updates. It’s worth flagging that this is the ONE INSTANCE where Perpetual Edition holders won’t get it for free, as it’s not game DLC, it’s separate non-game associated content (catchy, eh?). But it is the mercurial brainchild of our favourite Canadian dryad, Maribeth Solomon. It’s beautiful in all the right ways, like the moon sliding down the jagged throat of a gorge, or the wink of a faraway lantern at sea. 

I leave you with news that we will soon have two new permanent members of Weather Factory. As is always the case with new starters, they must first live only in my office for a week, until they get used to their new and frightening surroundings. Alexis is not allowed to offer them gin during this probation period. Assuming they pass muster, they will then be indoctrinated – sorry, I mean welcomed – into the larger company, and freed to wander the halls of the House as they wish.

Sulo(chan) and Chi will join us on 29th December. AND I CANNOT WAIT.

💖💖 Sulo (L) and Chi (R) 💖💖

I’m off to run this month’s Coven Club, so wish me luck in a room full of nice ladydevs with cake and prosecco. ‘Til next time!

THE MERCH BLOG: PART THE FIRST

We launched our Church of Merch on Monday 17th September, so it’s high time for a retrospective! I’ll break it into three parts, so it’s not a total beast: this one’ll take you through the set-up, the next the merch itself and how it did in Month 1, and the final blog will be some searingly insightful amateur takeaways on, like, the ontology of enamel pins. It’ll be a zinger.

If you can’t be bothered to read ’em all, my conclusion is that if you have anybody in your team who’s interested in doing it, you should totally set up your own merch shop. It’s worthwhile and biz-sensible! Also, you make friends with nice people at the Post Office. 

☽★☾

TLDR: merch is just another game dev project. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve.

Weather Factory has a rich, weird, jazzy IP that lends itself nicely to merchandise. I wanted to lean into this and personally design rich, weird, jazzy items (#branding). Cultist is a niche game, so I also wanted to see if I could make merch that appeals to people who haven’t heard of Cultist as well as its core fans.

This meant our stuff had to be high-quality enough to attract buyers without relying on the quality of Being From That Game You Like. This put extra pressure on initial design, but I hope pays long-term dividends by enabling us to reach beyond our game’s user base and generate sales from a wider, non-Cultified audience.

Finally, we want to incorporate physical items into future Weather Factory games, so our merch experiment was also about market research and practicalities. Is it possible to set up and manage a merch store with only one part-time resource? What sort of items do our fans particularly respond to? Are there any types of merch which are a particular pain in the butt to make, so we can avoid them in the future?

In short, and in order of importance, the Church of Merch’s aims were to:

  • Create attractive, boutique, on-brand merch within a sensible indie budget

  • See if selling physical merch was a viable long-term option for us, in terms of pipeline, storefront, profit and time
  • See what sort of items go down well with ‘our type of people’: people who are already playing Cultist Simulator + the people who aren’t but like weird occult stuff

  • Make some money!

TLDR: there’s no single ‘best’ place to sell merch. Pick the best shop for you, based on your project aims.

I looked into a bunch of options. Did we want a dedicated page on our Weather Factory site somewhere? Did we want an entirely separate site? Did we want a ‘buy’ button on our website which would lead to some external seller like Shopify?

Bearing in mind our whole studio ethos is boutique, personable open production, I ended up settling on Etsy. It’s friendly and personable too; it’s full of weird individuals making weird individual stuff; it’s entirely controllable by us, without complicated add-ons; it gives our merch the chance to be seen by a wider consumer audience who are looking for other things; and I personally understand it, because I’ve shopped on Etsy for years.

So far I’m very happy with it. The back-end is slick, there’re a lot of marketing options I haven’t yet made much use of, there’s a nice app, etc. If we scale up, maybe it’ll be less sparkly, and it’s a shame there isn’t (yet!) a Slack integration. But otherwise, it’s pretty perfect for what we’re trying to do.

TLDR: we spent time and resource on this. It was worth it.

The Church of Merch cost ~£7k to set up. This includes all stock costs, store listings, and my time. Our estimated profit from selling all our base stock comes to ~£7.7k, which already tells you merch stores are worth it for cashflow-delicate indies!

I love getting my art on, so I wanted to be the core designer on our merch where possible. I drew up a list of some feasible-sounding but not entirely generic merch ideas then looked around for specialist producers, who’d offer me the biggest range of highest-quality options. This meant I took on a time-cost of looking for specialists and talking to multiple people (rather than a quicker, more expensive one-stop supplier), but I think it also meant the end result was unusually weird and wonderful. YOU DECIDE!

For each item we made, the basic process went something like this:

  • The first step is your GRAND VISION. You take your GRAND VISION and you email a supplier and you say are you able to make my GRAND VISION a reality.

  • They email back politely saying yes if you make it less stupid, how about this mock-up?

  • You have a back and forth about colours, material and costs per volume.

  • It all ends with a big boss battle between yourself and TNT delivery who insist you haven’t been home since March 1943 but eventually you receive your goods and weep delightedly over their beauty.

Leave time in your schedule for these initial designs. If you want to open your merch shop in time for a specific event (e.g. Christmas), leave waaaaay more time than you think you’ll need. All in all I think I spent 2-3 months setting up the shop, though I wasn’t working to a fixed deadline, or working full-time on it.

One final thing to note is: even though I spent considerable time on finding suppliers and commissioning weird stuff, the majority of this pain is now over. Restocking is as simple as pinging someone an email or clicking a big blue REORDER button. If I  branch out and decide to make a new bit of merch that’s totally unlike the others, I’ll probably need to go out and look for a new specialist supplier again. But over time – as I collect a larger and larger group of friendly people to make my stuff – this’ll go away, too.

TLDR: what’re your brand and project aims? How much do you want to be involved?

We worked with a different supplier for each bit of merchandise you see on our shop. This is because I wanted specialists, I wanted to keep costs down, I wanted unique rather than scalable items, and I figured we’d have more creative control with a smaller producer than in the production line of a bigger company.

All of our producers are in the UK, bar one that’s in China, because it didn’t make sense to pay international shipping for stuff I can get made here for roughly the same amount. China makes sense in one instance (our USBs) simply because the cost per item is so much cheaper than in the UK, even with vastly more expensive shipping + hefty customs charges.

If you’re looking for quantity and budget-friendliness instead – less ‘ooh, so boutique’ and more ‘make this not my problem’ –  here’s a list of larger suppliers. This isn’t remotely exhaustive, it’s just a collection the various names I’ve been recommended by kind devs who passed on their own pearls of merch wisdom when I was asking around.

In case it needs to be said, there’s no shame in wanting to fling your merch over the fence to make it someone else’s problem. It may well make more sense for what you’re trying to achieve. Please don’t take my interest in the strange and smol as a critique of a more scalable, economic approach!

TLDR: it’s a total pain in the butt, but you get there in the end.

Let me introduce you to the Babadook that’ll haunt your own Church of Merch. It was hard working out shipping costs ahead of time (see mad scrawlings, above), as there’s a lot of inconsistency across weight, size, service speed, item value, delivery country, etc… You also have a significant time-cost of actually posting stuff when the orders start coming in, the fact that countries are constantly buggering about with customs checks and postal strikes, deciding whether your profit margins can eat the cost of postal fees (which significantly helps shift items), and managing ongoing customer queries about where things are. Budget for all of this!

BUT. Once you’ve shipped a few things you’ll know how it all works, you’ll learn all the boring parcelly things you didn’t know you didn’t know before, and you’ll realise how insane you were to not have a Drop & Go account. The admin side of shipping stuff is a real, significant pain in the butt, but so long as you *expect* it to be a pain in the butt and leave time to get to grips with it all, you’ll be fine.

One final bit of advice here: draw this tedious shipping stuff back up into your #branding. For example, every Weather Factory parcel comes in some fun colour-coded parcel, with ribbon and hand-written cult thank-you cards and some of them are holographic fuschia parcels. You could opt for the most economic options, but then your studio’s brand becomes ‘Most Economic’. Maybe that’s you! But if it isn’t, seek ye some jollier packaging.

☽★☾

Thus endeth Part the First of my merch research! Next time: the stuff we actually made and sold, and the numbers the Church did in its first month (with little to no marketing, I might add).

If you’re an indie and have questions about setting up your own store, ping me in the comments here, or on Twitter. And of course, if you ain’t bought it yet…

NOV #1: WHARTON

Happy not really anything month, everyone! We’ve had a v busy sprint (the most important part being I met Stacey Dooley at the BAFTA Breakthrough Brits party, obvs), so let’s get down to it.

The key thing this sprint was a much better idea of what we’re doing with Christopher’s Build. I’ve updated the roadmap so you can see the sprintly plan (new sprint names woooo!), but the headliners now included in Christopher’s Build are as follows:

Free updates!

  • Apostle victories: three new ‘Tier 2’ victories for each of our current main victories (Grail, Forge and Lantern), which’ll sic a LONG on you and make your life generally more miserable than it was before. #marketing 

  • New Expeditions: fixing some issues with mid-game item grind, and adding a few new ones into the mix. See below! 

  • Some new HQs: not a big change – we may do more later – but making HQs more important in-game, and adding a couple new ones in rather than your glamorous Temporary HQ.
 

Paid DLC!

  • Cultist Simulator OST: including 15 remastered in-game tracks (some very similar, some quite different), dreamy cover art and a world-famous award-winning Erhu master, because of course that’s what we were missing. 

We’re still planning to release Christopher in January #2, but we’ll announce the release date nearer the time. Eagle-eyed believers among you may have noticed this means we’ve pushed back our paid Priest Legacy DLC, but don’t worry! It’s just been moved, not removed. We’ve also decided to spend the time we originally budgeted for updated research on these Apostle victories. We may update research in a later sprint, but TBD!

Anyway, as an early amuse-bouche, here’s how the new Expeditions/HQs are shaping up…

Key-Hunter’s GarretThe Kusnetsov EndowmentCongregation of St Felix of Schuren
“…In a snowy street, in a crooked house, in a high and rattling attic, we have learnt that an eccentric hunter of imaginary keys has established a tiny trove of odd books.”“Prince Kusnetsov gave one fourth part of his blood-soaked fortune to the establishment of a Department for Eschatoloy at this provincial university. The staff have grown peculiar, now…”“A Nonconformist enclave of a heterodox sect of a Calvinist offshoot, tucked away in an odd corner of the city. They belt out hymns with unsuitable gusto, in a throat-scraping language that is very much not quite Latin.”
Gwaer InnForman HouseSOME HQs
“On a crumbling cliff above a grey sea, the Gwaer Inn squats, until the day the sea comes for it. It receives few guests – fewer since the owner closed his notorious library to visiting scholars.”“Filip Forman, the helminthologist and antiquarian, did all his best work here at the family home, until the day his subjects escaped. The infestation was destroyed, but Forman, they say, walks the halls to this day…”Coming soon! We have plans.

We’re still planning to release our final bit of Cultist DLC in April 2019, Franklin’s Build, but we haven’t yet confirmed what’ll be in that. More info nearer the time!

Alexis has primarily been, y’know, planning the whole future of Cultist Simulator, as well as working on the new Expeditions via a diversion with Lyrositor from Discord, aka Lyro of the Frangiclave (an active member of the community who’s made some cool tools for Cultist already). Lyro’s been working on some better tools for future!Cultist Simulator, and I can confirm that: he is a Good Egg; occasionally has pancakes for dinner; and Alexis keeps huffing part happily and part infuriatedly that we hadn’t roped him in earlier.

Aside from those icons above, I’ve been updating the Church of Merch with NEW STUFF, including plain-paper versions of the notebook, updated/cheaper shipping, and tracked shipping options should you wish to trace your parcel over yon distant shores. I’m gonna be including minor collectibles in each parcel I now send – one of each secret society – so I guess you’re just all gonna have to buy at least nine things from me to get ’em all.

Gotta cult ’em all

I’ve also (finally!) found a new place for our women in games jolly Coven Club, so we’ll be taking over a snazzy pseudo-flat in Angel for the next few months. I may buy us all hats.

Next sprint we’ll be starting work on these Apostle victories, as well as running our delayed design stream on LESSONS LEARNED on Thursday 22nd November at 4PM GMT / 8AM PDT. Hope to see you there, but as ever, I’ll post the recorded version up on YouTube for those of you who are sensibly not yet out of bed.

I leave you with news that you might want to watch the Church of Merch in the last week of November, and I have a really big bruise on my foot from doing art. Don’t even ask.

Til next time, beloveds!

OCT #2: VERNE

Happy November, all! This sprint was deliberately left light, to accommodate the fallout from our Dancer DLC. I’m pleased to say Alexis, Chris and Fraser are badass so there were only a few bugs to fix! Go team code go.

We took a much needed few days off in the first week, where we went to Bristol and bumbled around in bright brisk autumn days looking at bridges at eating too much. On our return, I started work on a Church of Merch postmortem, and with the help of our translator Pavel got stuck back into localisation:

Weird, huh?! In the meantime, Alexis and Chris fixed a bunch of issues, whose headlines are:

  • BY THE POWER OF THE WATCHMAN, NO MORE FADED TEXT NONSENSE
  • No longer will you receive infinite copies of The Viennese Conundra, Kitling Ripe and the Moldywarps’ Grave or Rapt in the King (sorry)
  • No longer will Detectives be blocked by the misfortune of drawing a Pawn rather than a Troublemaker
  • You CAN now gift the Bone Flute to Followers. No sniggering at the back.
  • Corpses, when raised, are no longer ungrateful enough to rebel…
  • …or to forget they were Followers if they died while wounded.
  • No more borked text during one of the Dancer’s Sending Expeditions
  • Minor hint text updates, graphics updates & design tweaks that are too smol and/or boring to detail here 😘

You should see some of these in-game already, and all of them by the next update on the main branch.

I’m also now able to say that I’m one of this year’s BAFTA Breakthrough Brits, which means I get to hobnob with successful devs and insanely have articles on the BBC and stuff?! Nuts! There’s a big party next week and I’ve asked a bunch of devs I have a respectocrush on to mentor me, so we’ll see…

Anyway, back to reality here. We’re waiting for a better window to release Maribeth Solomon‘s wonderful Cultist OST, but we have our final tracks ready and I’m attempting to design an attractive-looking cover as we speak. November/December is sadly a dreadful time for an indie to release anything, so better safe than sorry, I think.

Bit of a light one this sprint, but we shall be back in force next update. We’re having a planning sess at the start of next week to confirm dates for our next major releases, so take a look at the roadmap for a sense of where we’re going next. Alexis is looking doomedly at me as he prepares for his nine year old’s birthday party tomorrow, so that’s the first thing…

OCT #1: UNDINE

Heyyyyyyyy everyone. Quite a busy past two weeks! I am sprawled in my sunny office grimacing at pigeons as they come and try to eat the food I’ve bought for the chickadees (the Birbsy family) and magpies (the Benny family). This the life of a tired Weather Factory dev.

The headline is, of course, that we went and bloody launched our first bit of DLC. The Dancer and her retinue of fuzzy demi-selves is now available on Steam, Humble and GOG, and we like her very much.

The launch went… okay. It wasn’t Weather Factory’s greatest moment, but it wasn’t a bad launch either. Our DLC plans are part Perpetual Edition promise, part long-term strategy anyway. But I’ll wrap it all up into a black taffeta postmortem full of spiders when it’s been out in the wild a little longer, and you can be the judge. We did get back on the front page of Steam, which was rad. 😀

Alexis has worked insanely hard, both pre- and post- launch. His recent blog post can do a better job than I can on the details, but the game’s in good shape now. He also ran another design stream that some of you may have tuned in for yesterday, focusing on Heart and Winter players, Dancer design and future plans for things like ascensions and advanced victories. If you missed it, you can watch it here!

The team rallied this sprint, I think. Everyone’s favourite ratman, Caolain Porter, came to help us with pre-launch QA, and more importantly brought unspeakably delicious tiny brownies with him. Our good friend Systemchalk broadcast the Dancer on launch for ages, and didn’t meet Sulochana until about two hours in. And Chris, of course, kicked his usual ass fixing UI issues and working on a bunch of localisation stuff prior to our Chinese and Russian releases. YAY TEAM FREELANCERS!

In the meantime, I got my art on with new aspects and icons…

….the updated Beginner’s Guide to Cultist Simulator, which you can download here

…and sekret work on our upcoming soundtrack, from the wonderful Maribeth who composed the music for Alexis’s Fallen London and Sunless Sea, too. In the hopes of provoking a Pavlovian response, here’s our track running order:

Right! Well. Alexis and I are both in need of a bit of down-time before we get started on Christopher’s build – if you need an illustration, Alexis is currently watching his own design stream and laughing quietly as his own jokes – so we’re off to sit in a fancy boutique hotel in Bristol next week and watch films and drink cocktails in low-lit bars with heavy drapes.

Thanks for being such a wonderful, wonderful community, believers. I’m so proud of y’all being so smart and nice and interesting and we both love you v much. ‘Til next time. ♥