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5 Years After Release, Indie Game Found Delayed Success on TikTok

By Weilin Li
Mar. 23, 2023 updated 02:30

In January of this year, the indie game LoveChoice became immensely popular on Chinese TikTok, amassing an impressive 200 million views on the platform, with countless player discussions, five years after the game’s release.

LoveChoice is a visual novel that centers around choice-making and offers three love stories with multiple endings. Its unique gameplay, where the correct choices are not always apparent, intrigued many players. The game's subtle design evokes memories of players’ own love experiences, and players have frequently shared their personal stories in the game's topic.

In response to the game's sudden success, the developer Yaheng posted on social media on February 26th to express his gratitude to the players, video creators, and streamers.

He revealed that the game's popularity had brought his small team approximately 500,000 USD in revenue, which allowed him to pay off his mortgage.

LoveChoice’ videos have amassed 200 million views on Chinese TikTok.LoveChoice’ videos have amassed 200 million views on Chinese TikTok.

LoveChoice was first released on Steam in 2018. Currently, the game has received an Overwhelmingly Positive review rating with more than 16k reviewers.

The game's roots can be traced back to Yaheng's time as an engineer for a Japanese automobile company, during which he maintained an interest in playing video games.

Despite returning to his hometown of Guangzhou and continuing to work in the car industry, Yaheng was inspired to pursue his true passion after watching the documentary Indie Game: The Movie, which featured successful game developers sharing their stories.

With only one year of experience teaching himself Unity and limited knowledge of the game industry, Yaheng made the bold decision to leave his formal job and become an indie developer.

A photo of LoveChoice’s indie developer YahengA photo of LoveChoice’s indie developer Yaheng

When Yaheng shared his idea with his wife, she surprisingly encouraged him to start right away.

Following that, Yaheng participated in two GameJams and was amazed by the skill level of the other indie developers.

The official theme for the CIGA Game Jam was an abstract painting.The official theme for the CIGA Game Jam was an abstract painting.

While participating in his third CIGA GameJam, the developer encountered an abstract painting that prompted him to contemplate the timeless theme of love and come up with an innovative gameplay concept: incorporating flawed answer options into the visual novel.

By doing this, Yaheng hoped that players could break free from boundaries and find answers based on real-life experiences.

Although LoveChoice did not gain much attention from officials or other indie developers at the GameJam, Yaheng did receive positive feedback from players when showcasing the game at the event.

Encouraged by this feedback, Yaheng continued to develop the game and released it on Steam in October 2018.

A screenshot of Yaheng’s visual novel LoveChoiceA screenshot of Yaheng’s visual novel LoveChoice

However, due to its low price and potential high promotion costs, LoveChoice did not receive much interest from publishers. As a result, Yaheng took on the task of publishing the game himself. He reached out to influencers and sent them keys for feedback, and shared information about the game in group chats.

His efforts paid off, as LoveChoice sold 30,000 copies within the first three weeks on Steam.

Fast forward to 2022, early in the year, Yaheng's wife received a promotion, and the couple made the bold decision to buy a new home. At that time, Yaheng was developing a Three Kingdoms-themed sim game, but there was no way to predict when the game would be released. Unfortunately, the pandemic had a heavy impact throughout 2022, and Yaheng's wife was unexpectedly laid off shortly after receiving an award for being an outstanding employee. Yaheng then struggled to make payments on the family's home loan.

However, for independent developers, surprises and unexpected events can happen at any time.

It was like magic when LoveChoice suddenly went viral after a period of relative silence. Just a few days before the Spring Festival, Yaheng received a screenshot from a developer friend showing that LoveChoice had been trending for quite some time.

Yaheng received a screenshot from a dev showing that LoveChoice had been trending for quite some time.Yaheng received a screenshot from a dev showing that LoveChoice had been trending for quite some time.

Yaheng had to give up his holiday plans to become a hectic client service representative due to the rapid surge in Steam sales.

In a recent interview with games media YYS, Yaheng mentioned that he had recently received the income in his bank account, immediately solving his financial problems by allowing him to pay off his home loan. He also plans to use the money to financially support his fellow developers who are currently working with him.

As Yaheng's experience and the current situation of many indie devs suggest, indie game creators often face the significant challenge of bridging the gap between their imagination and the actual product. Yaheng's journey from a novice developer highlights the importance of having the necessary skills, meticulous attitude, and perhaps a bit of coincidence and luck to succeed in this field.

Despite the challenges, and the difficulty of replicating the success of games like LoveChoice, life is full of surprises, and one can never predict what the future holds.

Source: YYS