How My Least Marketed Game Became My Most Viral Success

Hello. What is your background and what are you working on?

Hi, I'm Charlotte Grunsven, and I'm a game designer.

I went to Utrecht School of Arts in the Netherlands, and I did what's called a bachelor's of interactive performance design, which is a mix between theater and games. Theater becomes interactive and games become more artistic when put together.

I always wanted to make games with a interesting concepts, not like the mainstream games. So I did that then I graduated, I had a few other jobs to support myself, and made games.

Two years ago I released my game Rosa's Garden on iOS and Android. It's a very calm gardening game about roses. And every rose is named after a famous women in history, because I wanted to highlight women's history, which is not often done.

Now I'm working for a company called Oooh, which is really cool. And I make games!

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What motivated you to get started with game design in the first place?

It's not a big story! I was 16 and I was always creative. I liked drawing and I made my own clothes with my pocket money for supplies.

I bought myself an Xbox and from the very first game I was in love. It was so amazing how you could just run through every place in the world and in all the buildings and stuff. The world was huge, with all these animations, and the whole environment and atmosphere of the game was just amazing.

At 16 you're in high school, and you know you have to choose what the next step in life is. And I looked up choices for what I could study after high school. So I scroll down to some options and I saw a listing that said video games.

So I ended up getting a bachelor's degree to teach me how to make video games. And then I thought, okay, if I can make a game, and I can make everything in it. I can make the world, and all the art, and animation, and the sound... I can craft the whole experience. I saw it as an opportunity to create this whole world.

It was a very naive perspective and I've learned a lot since then, but that's the thing that got me into games!

So your game Rosa's Garden, what went into building it?

I made the prototype in a month and I published it online. Quite a few people played, and it also got a small following on Twitter. So I realized people really liked this game. And I liked to work on it, it felt nice and calming. So I continued working on it for about five more months, roughly, polishing the game and doing all the marketing and stuff.

I really believe that it shows and comes through in your work if you're having a bad time. A game will eventually become better if you have fun making it.

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And before Rosa's Garden I made a lot of prototypes. I made a lot of unfinished projects. But I think that's normal. It usually takes a few years to understand what game design is and how it works. There's a lot written about it, but that's not the same as actually making it. Then you've got to develop the feel for game design. So I'd say having unfinished projects before a breakthrough game is pretty typical.

Have you attracted players to it? Did you just put it up on itch.io and share it on Twitter? Or did you do any marketing?

I didn't do a lot of marketing, no. And it's funny, actually! I did more marketing for my other projects, which got way less attention, and this was mostly just putting it on Twitter and calling it a day. And I did a few interviews, of course. I made a trailer and a website and put together a good press kit.

But for my other games, for example, I was way more invested in promoting it to journalists. But for Rosa's garden I think I sent out three emails or something and the rest was just mostly Twitter.

Will you tell me a little more about the marketing that you did for the other games? If you worked harder on them and yet they got less attention, what do you think happened there?

That's something I also don't fully understand, because it's weird, right?

I put out one .gif of Rosa's Garden and thousands of people have seen that. While I sent out 300 emails to game journalists for my other projects and then had maybe two or three people send something back.

concept art for Rosas's Garden

And yet, Rosa's Garden had people mailing me instead of the other way around. It's really hard to define what makes a project successful. I wish I knew what the difference was, because that's would be easier! Not just for my future, but for other people's future in the industry.

What is your tech stack?

Photoshop and Unity. I started working in Unity and it takes awhile to get into another type of software after learning one. It takes a few weeks.

For the scope of Rosa's Garden, it wasn't really necessary to switch a other engine or to use a different illustration software, so I was happy to keep using the tools I already knew.

What does your game creation process look like, from ideation to a finished game?

It usually starts with an idea I want to express or a concept, or it starts with an image. I really get a lot from a visual inspiration.

Some of Charlotte's work

And then I just get started in Unity! I start to play around with the actual idea. Usually good gameplay mechanics appear after I'm inside Unity. While I'm playing with it, so it's all very organic.

Have you overcome any major obstacles or challenges in your process of making games?

Yes. During my college years, and also a little bit afterwards, I wanted to become very skilled. I wanted to make the best games. I wanted this so badly that I forgot the basics, like how to have fun with it. I was just grinding, and I took a very Spartan attitude towards my work.

And that's something that I never want to do again. Having fun while working and making games is most important thing. And I really believe that it comes through in your work if you're having a bad time. A game will eventually become better if you have fun making it.

What kind of games really inspire you?

I really still like the beginning of Antichamber. I think that's a really, really good game design especially for when it was released.

And what I play most are more classic games, like Don't Starve and Oxygen Not Included. I also really love system management games.

Is there another type of media that you find very inspiring, or that influences your games?

A lot of my work is inspired by other media! The concepts I decide to make into games usually doesn't come from other games, but from things around me, like movies or art or conversations with friends. So it differs based on what I'm interested in at the time.

If you're not having fun, then try to figure out why that is and how you can change it.

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That said, I do look to other games for specific UI options, or specific interactions with certain type of objects.

What's your advice for aspiring game devs or indie game makers who are just starting out?

That's a tough question because it's a pretty big one.

It really depends on what you want to do, and where you would like to go, because if you want to work at a AAA company or one of those big studios, it's more important to specialize. But if you want to make your own games, or work at a smaller studio, it's more important to be more of a generalist.

in progress works for Charlotte's game, Dance

I would say, don't make the mistake that I did, focusing too much remember how to have fun. That's the most important thing. If you're not having fun, then try to figure out why that is and how you can change it.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can check out my website, or find me on Twitter.

Charlotte Grunsven , Founder of Charlotte Madelon Games

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  1. 1

    This is an amazing interview. Thanks to Charlotte for sharing her story. Ive really learned so much. Love the emphasis put on having fun.

    Also I think the reason why Rosa's Garden picked up traction so well is because Charlotte's focus was on having fun. I think this approach helps you to take your time and focus on creating a product that people will resonate with.

    Thanks again.