After my last interview with the developer of Of Sense and Soul, I wanted to reach out to more visual novel devs to hear about their experiences and how they approach the craft. Today I’ll be talking to Katelyn, the lead developer at GB Patch Games!
GB Patch Games have been developing games for almost a decade now with their current project being the Our Life series, a visual novel series that focuses on letting the player highly customize their experience, from the protagonist to their relationship with the love interest and more. The first Our Life: Beginnings & Always game released in November 2020 with one love interest. Now they’re working on Our Life: Now & Forever, which offers two love interests and even more character customization and options.
Their most recent Kickstarter for Our Life: Now & Forever raised over $295k from 5,677 backers, making it the 7th most successful visual novel Kickstarter of all time. It’s easy to see why Our Life became so big—it’s a nicely crafted relationship simulator with aspects not seen before in Western visual novels like such a high amount of character customization, being able to set (and change) your relationship with the love interest (or even just staying friends with him), a wide variety of choices that change how the characters grow, and more.
So today I’ll be talking to Katelyn about her process for creating the series and running the Kickstarter!
Arimia: Hiya, thanks so much for meeting with me! Can you introduce yourself and tell us how you got into visual novel development?
Katelyn: Hi! My name is Katelyn, but I’m often known as GB or Kab. I’m the founder and lead developer/writer and person who generally runs things at GB Patch Games. I’m lucky enough to create our series of visual novels, Our Life, full-time. I got into making VNs because of a convenient convergence of circumstances. Right around the same time I—
- Had found Ren’Py, the Lemma Soft forums, and the world of free, hobbyist made VNs and absolutely loved playing them.
- My Harvest Moon (the series is now called Story of Seasons in Western regions) obsession had reached a point where I was making fake story concepts and character ideas for fun. Basically, I had a cast of HM OCs.
- I recently got my first full time job but was still living at home and so had disposable income, also for the first time.
I’d work my night shift and during the day I would post about these ideas I had on a Harvest Moon forum, and people actually joined in to compliment what I’d thought of and wanted to know more. It was great encouragement and I was inspired enough to try my hand at making it a thing you could really play. However, there was no way I was gonna make an actual farming game. I wouldn’t have even known where to start. Instead, I was gonna commissions some artists for sprites/BGs/UI and make a visual novel. And I actually did. My first VN project is a game where you get to know the characters I made up for a fan Harvest Moon game premise, aha. It’s no longer available to download anywhere.
I originally assumed making VNs was a means to an end (getting to enjoy HM related things more), but far before that game was done I’d fallen in love with the act of creating VNs. I was already planning what I’d do for new, original game concepts next. I started in late 2012 and have actively worked on my VN projects ever since, nearly every day. It’s my favorite thing to do.
Arimia: That’s really interesting, I never would’ve guessed you got started through Harvest Moon! Where did you get the idea for Our Life from? You developed several VNs before that, so what led you to want to make something so huge in scope and highly customizable?
Katelyn: I’m a very nostalgic and sentimental person myself. I think it’s extremely special when a piece of media can evoke those feelings as an innate part of it, though it’s also lovely when you’re sentimental about a game actually from your past. But for years I wished I could create something with that tone. I didn’t feel capable of it at the beginning. Once I did have a few games under my belt, and with other ideas falling through, I decided I would finally try to make that nostalgic story I aspired to.
The reason I conceptualized a series about growing up where you lived through multiple time periods was for two reasons. First, I wanted to have people feel sentimental towards the experiences in the story within the story. Letting the MC look back on things in the past was the easiest way to do that. And the second is, I’m a sucker for the childhood friend trope. Characters who share a long history provide impacts and emotions you can’t get anywhere else, in my opinion. If some VN players thought that was boring or middle of the road type of story, I was gonna to show them how great it was to have those types of memories by letting them go through the life-long connection themselves. And if someone already liked it, I was gonna let them enjoy this type of concept to the fullest.
As for the scope, I wanted people to connect with the world and experiences themselves, so having it be a customizable MC was the obvious choice. But I hadn’t originally planned for it to be as customizable as it ended up being, haha. Each time I thought about how something should play out in terms of relationship or the MC’s opinions/attitude or the type of dynamic you had with Cove, I would struggle and just decide to let the player decide instead. That’d make everyone happy! So in the end, nearly every element was player choice.
I wanted people to connect with the world and experiences themselves […] Katelyn
Arimia: I like that! I also like childhood romances, you get a sense of comfort from the familiarity the characters have with each other—it’s not a romance started over a few weeks or months, it’s something that’s been brewing for years so there’s a lot of different things you can touch on with those types of romances. From what I’ve seen, Our Life players really appreciate that and the unique ability to actually grow with the LI rather than it being years later and you’re told that they’re a childhood friend.
The latest Kickstarter for Our Life was very big. how did you prepare for it? How long in advance did you start seriously preparing for it?
Katelyn: I personally made the first document related to brainstorming Kickstarter ideas in July 2022. We were collecting pre-launch sign ups starting on May 29th, 2023. The Kickstarter launched on October 10th, 2023! For that year between July 2022 and May 2023, I was figuring out things like rewards to include and their prices, how much the base goal should be, and deciding for certain that there’d only be one stretch goal to start with and deciding how much that should be. I also kept an eye on as many VN and other story-based game Kickstarters as I could. I took note of the types of categories they had and worked out how I generally wanted our page to be arranged, planned the types of headings/subheadings we’d need, etc.
I knew who I wanted to do the graphics from the start, it was the same person who worked on the OL1 campaign: Sitraxis. I reached out about the job in January 2023. That’s when things were really serious, prep-wise. She began creating the KS assets in February. All of the lovely graphics you can see on the campaign page were done by her!
May to October I switched my focus to the marketing copy, creating screenshots, recording videos/gifs, implementing the assets Sitraxis had been making throughout the page, and figuring out changes/additional elements that I hadn’t thought of ahead of time.
Other preparations for the KS were hiring guest artists to do bonus pieces to celebrate major milestones of the Kickstarter ahead of time, planning posts to make before and during the campaign, and putting together a major update to the game’s demo that was set to go live the same day as the campaign.
Arimia: That’s a lot of great prep work and it really shows. Kickstarters can be pretty stressful, so what did you do to help calm your nerves, or were you confident because of all your planning?
Katelyn: I did feel pretty confident it’d make the base goal. It wasn’t our first game or first Kickstarter, we’ve had quite a few releases by this point. We could plan for things based on those prior experiences. There were a lot more worries and uncertainly when the company was newer. But when it got close to actually happening, I did have doubts about it going wrong.
I tended to reassure myself by focusing on the fact that it doesn’t have to succeed on the first try. There’s various games that didn’t reach funding initially and came back later to have a success. Though, I know having the time to do another campaign isn’t an option for everyone. If you need the funding to keep going, the crowdfunding has to work out ASAP. GB Patch Games is extremely lucky to have crowdfunding be one part of the long process of development rather than a single shot to make the game.
I tended to reassure myself by focusing on the fact that it doesn’t have to succeed on the first try. There’s various games that didn’t reach funding initially and came back later to have a success.Katelyn
Arimia: Yeah, having a lot of experience with these things and having backup plans definitely helps. Were there any things you wished you did differently for the KS?
Katelyn: I think it might’ve been good to have it in September or right at the start of October instead of on the 10th. I do wish I hired a marketer to reach out to news sites and streamers. I don’t know much about doing that myself and perhaps that would’ve helped the campaign reach people outside of our existing audience. And lastly, I would’ve limited the amount of voiced names that were available. I’m glad so many people wanted it, but it’s going to be a huge undertaking to manage, aha.
Arimia: The voiced names is such a cool reward though, I can see why so many people wanted it. It’ll definitely be a challenge for the voice director though. What was your approach for designing the tiers & rewards?
Katelyn: I didn’t do anything experimental with the rewards, have a wide catalogue of physical goods, or try implementing limited-time-based rewards. Only one tier was an early bird with limited availabilities. Besides that, the tiers just gave people perks of stuff that’s going to release later (like DLCs and the soundtrack) or it was custom content (like your name in the credits or designing an accessory for the MC doll icon). So, pretty standard stuff, haha. It would’ve been nice to have more interesting options, but I wasn’t sure how many people were gonna join and focused on keeping the KS fulfillment something we wouldn’t have any issues with. Though, that issue of way more voiced names being backed for than expected did still happen.
Arimia: Yeah, fulfillment and the cost of creating rewards is a pitfall I see a lot of devs fall into when they’ve never done crowdfunding before. Did you avoid physical goods because of fulfillment costs/time sink?
Katelyn: Right. [W]e wanted to offer physical rewards as an add-on rather than a perk that’s included by default in tiers since many people don’t want physical goods. But we learned that Kickstarter only allows physical add-ons for tiers that have physical goods included by default, which defeated the purpose of making physical add-ons optional, haha.
We were able to have a physical reward as an add-on through Backerkit, though! It was a few different items bundled together. To keep the complexity down we didn’t have individual items that could be gotten on their own or mixed and matched. Everyone who backed for the physical reward pack will get the same things. I hope people will enjoy them when they come in.
Arimia: What do you think was the most beneficial thing towards marketing the KS? What was probably the least effective?
Katelyn: Really, it was already having prior games and a built up fanbase that made it a success. We did try Facebook ads managed by Backerkit and that was the least effective for us. But they did their best. It just didn’t fit well for our project.
Arimia: Yeah, I know without our existing fanbase our most recent KS would’ve never worked, it’s very helpful to have. Were there any other KS campaigns / VNs out there that were an inspiration for your campaign/marketing efforts?
Katelyn: [T]here are a lot of nice VN KS campaign pages to take inspiration from! Some examples I can think of right now are Peachleaf Valley, Royal Order, Spirit Swap: LoFi Beats, and Diffraction.
Arimia: You’ve said that having an established fanbase was a big factor for your KS (which I definitely agree with), so what were some ways you grew your fanbase for Our Life and retained them?
Katelyn: Now that the game is out, a major draw to the series is the fact that the base OL1 experience is free. The game also looks very pretty. So, it’s easy for people to just wanna give it a try. Then what tends to keep them around is the quality of the content and the fact that OL has some elements that are hard to find in a VN. You can be whoever you want as an individual and have a ton of control over the relationship dynamic/how things progress with the main leads. That’s a lot of fun for our players.
I also think it helps that we’re sure of the specific experience we’re creating and are very upfront in sharing it. Figuring how to get your game across to others makes a big difference. People who don’t like this kind of game rarely play OL because of how it’s presented and those who do enjoy that kind of story tend to think OL lives up to what they believed it’d be. I’m not an expert in describing/promoting games, but OL is straightforward enough in concept to let players know exactly what they’d be getting into even without special skills.
Figuring how to get your game across to others makes a big difference.Katelyn
Arimia: Yeah, there’s a lot of things that led to the initial success of Our Life (it’s free; you’re an experienced dev; timing of its release during the pandemic; a unique offering that allows a level of self-insertion and making OCs that hasn’t really been seen before in Western VNs; etc.) and I think focusing on those unique traits has helped y’all a lot.
To end this off, do you have any general advice for other VN devs or advice for any dev looking to run their own Kickstarter for VNs?
Katelyn: Honestly, my biggest piece of advice is to look out for yourself and your team when making your development plans and funding aspirations. It’s extremely tough to actually make as much money as a team needs to comfortably develop a game from beginning to end. A Kickstarter alone isn’t going to make everyone a fulltime job for years to come. Generally, the funding is used to pay only certain team members while others work free until the game launches and makes money, or everyone is getting something but are working at super low rates. As much as someone loves their idea and are determined to make it a reality, it can become a burden.
Projects tend to take longer than you expect and the pressure to get it done on a strict schedule increases exponentially if you do have a success crowdfunding. I don’t want to scare people away from trying their hand at making VNs, but I also don’t want passionate people to end up working themselves into the ground for months or years while having the bare minimum budget to do it.
A way to avoid this is to make your first project small and manageable with limited funding, complete that on a schedule that doesn’t burn you out, release it and build up an existing player base to help the next game have more support, and continue doing that with progressively larger/more ambitious projects. Or you might stick with shorter/simpler types of games, there’s nothing wrong with that.
[M]ake your first project small and manageable with limited funding […] Katelyn
If you’re not intending to crowdfund a project, starting small is still helpful for completing a first project though it’s less of a big deal. If you don’t have a group of people who have paid for a massive game and are waiting for it to be finished than going big is less of a risk. I’d tell new devs who aren’t starting off with crowdfunding that they might want to consider joining a game jam to help the process of finding a team and getting going right away.
And there you have it! This was my marketing interview with the lead for GB Patch Games for her Our Life series. You can check out their projects and social media here: