Developer Interview — Marketing A Date with Death

6 months ago, a brand new self-insert romance visual novel hit the market called A Date with Death, created by visual novel veterans Two and a Half Studios. Coming off of the success of The Divine Speaker, they dived into the chat sim space in visual novels with a huge splash. A Date with Death is currently sitting at over 5,000 positive reviews on Steam with a Kickstarter for an after story launching this week.

Today I’ll be talking to Gabby, the lead developer at Two and a Half Studios about designing and marketing A Date with Death!

Arimia: Hi Gabby, thanks for sitting down to talk about A Date with Death! Both of us have been into visual novels for quite a while, but what got you into them?

Gabby: I feel like my introduction to visual novels was probably similar to a lot of people my age…. and that was being on Tumblr too much and being introduced to Dramatical Murder much too young, and installing the fantranslation for myself and all of my friends, hahaha. From there I played the rest of the N+C games, and then moved to things like No Thank You! since it had a translation. After that I moved further to Japanese games that didn’t have a translation. These were 95% BL as well – I’ve played one or two otome games in my time but never really been super into them.

Actually, when I first got into development, I hadn’t played any Western visual novels yet. It was only after I started in game development that I tried more indie visual novels in general.

As for my favorite VNs, I have a few favorites! My first favorite and it’ll always have my heart is Lamento. It was kind of the culmination of a lot of different things I love in media, and I still love the game. There’s another untranslated game I really like called Pigeon Blood. I actually helped with some editing of translations for some of the routes a looong, long time ago. A more recent favorite, and probably my favorite overall, is MAMIYA! MAMIYA is a Japanese indie visual novel by KENKOULAND which I will happily shill over my own games (LOL) about a group of people at the “end of the world”. The way the story is presented, I don’t think I’ve ever played anything like it, and I found it very inspiring. I was lucky enough to work with the creator Kokoroten on an animation for my own game Dreambound, which was fantastic.

Arimia: Would you believe I’ve never played DMMD? Definitely cut from the same cloth though about being exposed from too much Tumblr time and hearing about all of these Japanese VNs that would never get localized over here, but now Fate/Stay Night is coming to Steam in a few months…. the visual novel landscape has changed so much.

You’ve worked on several boys love and girls love titles before A Date With Death that are more in the fantasy historical realm – how did you come up with the idea for ADWD?

Gabby: Well, we’d actually been wanting to try something more modern for awhile now, despite our love for fantasy settings, and we only happened across a screenshot from another developer’s chat sim and I kind of fell in love with the format. I’ve been really wanting to try my hand at something “cozy”, and though A Date with Death doesn’t really sound cozy on the box, we have a lot of features that I think set well with that crowd. I’m a very big fan of the informal aspect of the writing. I think even in my more serious games, I always lean into humor a little bit and I really enjoy writing banter, so the chat sim format was perfect for that.

For the actual story though, I think it took me a little bit to settle on “romancing the Grim Reaper”. I had some ideas for a more Discord-like approach about a server for a group of amateur writers, a server for people who were all fans of a game, and an afterlife setting. In the end we did settle on “a bet between the Grim Reaper and a mortal” as our premise, and we kind of went from there.

(I styled my MC after my character Rose. he’d probably wind up in a shady chatroom like this)

Arimia: Having played some of A Date with Death, I can definitely see how it’s more “cozy” than some of your other games, and I think a lot of the player reactions I’ve seen have shown that too. The overall scope of the game is also on the smaller side, despite the player customization. How did you go about deciding the size of the game? Were there any parts/features you wanted to include but didn’t?

Gabby: Actually, the size is a lot BIGGER than we originally planned. Being our first free to play game, it’s always a little bit of a risk to put a lot of money into something when visual novel development is your livelihood, and obviously with a free game there’s no guarantee of a return. We originally planned for each “day” of the game to be only around 2000 words, for a grand total of 14,000 words for the game. Very short and sweet. Over the development we realized we had a lot more words than originally planned that we wanted to tell, and part of that is owing to just how many choices and options there are. There’s some conversations in the game which people are honestly surprised about because they’ve never managed to get them on any of their playthroughs. The game actually ended up being around 60,000 words, and this should be near doubled when Beyond the Bet releases.

We also included a lot of other things that weren’t originally planned when we concepted the game. We knew we wanted character creation and some degree of room decorating, but we also added a lot of small missable content – like interacting with your pet, watering your plant, reading books on your bookcase, minigames and websites on your computer, eavesdropping on your neighbor… the one thing we had originally planned but cut was voice acting. It’s something we really wanted to do, and we wrote Casper’s character with a very talented voice actor in mind, but it was a bit too much of a risk with the price of it and the unknown of releasing a free game but still making money on it. We don’t believe in having people work for us for free, even on free projects or jam games, so it wasn’t something we were prepared to have someone do for free even though I’m certain we could have.

Luckily, in the end we decided to hold a Kickstarter for the project, and that allows us the possibility of adding voice acting if it goes well!

Arimia: Yeah, it’s definitely a risk to spend so much time and effort on a free project, but I’m glad it worked out in the end. When announcing the game, what was your strategy? Did it differ any from how you announced and marketed your previous games?

Gabby: It was a little different! This is the first time we’ve had TikTok as one of our platforms when announcing a new project, and we knew we wanted to focus a lot of our attention there. Video content is very strong performing we’ve found, but it is definitely a skill in and of itself. We spent a lot of time honing down on our hook and how we could make people get it in a single line. On a platform like TikTok, you have a split second to catch someone’s attention.

@twoandahalfstudios It's called A Date with Death and you can wishlist it on Steam now!! It features character and apartment customisation, too 🥰 #indiegames #gametok #datingsim #interactivefiction #adatewithdeath #gamedev #visualnovel #otome ♬ vampire – Olivia Rodrigo

We also had a much shorter amount of marketing time than our usual multi-year projects. We knew we wanted it out within a few months of announcing it, so we needed as much impact as possible in a short amount of time. We knew we wanted to get an animated opening since it can be a very powerful piece of marketing material, and I think that was a great idea and we’ll likely continue it going forward.

At the time of announcement, we had less than 10,000 followers on Twitter. Twitter is probably my favorite platform, but it was kind of falling off for us a little when we were ready to announce A Date with Death – but it just took off after we announced the game. We had a multi-month document with marketing beats and announcements we’d make over the few months we had, but with everything taking off much more than we expected we added to it a lot. I think you always have to be ready to adapt to change quickly in this field.

We actually never planned to market the game as “tease the babygirl”, but it’s something fans latched onto, and you can’t make that kind of marketing yourself, I think. We really leaned into our audience and what THEY thought of the game, and used that to our advantage in a way. I’m very thankful for whoever first asked if he was a babygirl.

@twoandahalfstudios it's called A Date with Death and the best way to support is to wishlist on Steam! #otome #gamedev #interactivefiction #datingsim #visualnovel #adatewithdeath #indiegames ♬ Lil Boo Thang – Paul Russell

Arimia: Twitter (was) probably my favorite platform too, mainly because it’s so easy to just make a quick post or update. TikTok has so much reach but it’s just so much easier to tweet a meme out somedays.

A little side question- with the name having the word “death” in it, were you worried about SEO / being censored on social media, or did it affect you? When I was creating Drops of Death years ago, I was worried social media platforms would suppress posts about it but ultimately went with it because it fit with the serial killer theme.

Gabby: Actually we weren’t too worried about that – we’ve definitely used words like death, kill, murderer, etc. in relation to our other games before and haven’t have much trouble. There ARE certain words especially on TikTok that it’s best to censor, but I haven’t had any problem using the name anywhere and we were prepared to risk it to use the name we wanted.

Arimia: It’s definitely a catchy name that summarizes the experience well. Back to the part where when people were first getting exposed to the concept and came up with Grim being a babygirl— how would you advise other devs to understand what keywords and pitches work better for their games?

Gabby: My first suggestion is to look at similar games to yours and the words they use. Look at the concept of your story and try to boil it down to a paragraph, then a sentence. Look at what makes your game unique, or how you can lean into what fans will get out of your work. Give your players elements that they can recognize instantly without a lengthy explanation.

  • “A romance chat sim where you flirt with and/or bully the Grim Reaper”
  • “Compete against the Grim Reaper to keep your soul… or die trying”
  • “Create your custom MC and flirt with the man trying to take your soul”

I use all of these in our marketing, because even though there’s a lot more to the game we’re not talking about, this is a hook that can capture someone’s attention straight away and then you can funnel them to your game.

Arimia: Getting hooks down can be such a difficult part but it’s so, so important. What do you think helped you most marketing-wise?

Gabby: It’s a tough question. We did a lot, and had huge amount of attention from all over the place and it just snowballed more, and more, and more. I think honestly what started the snowball was TikTok. Once we had one video go big, we were having multiple a week go 30k-400k views. We were getting 500-1300 wishlists per day for months. A lot of people joined our Discord from there and went to follow us on Twitter. TikTok is hard and the format is a lot to handle when you’re new to the platform, but it was absolutely worthwhile for us. Another thing I’ll quickly note – reuse your content. I just repost my TikToks to Insta Reels and they get a similar, if not more views, for no extra effort.

Arimia: Yeah, it’s wild how quickly TikTok can blow up for someone. I’ve had posts get 100k+ views and then a few posts later they’ll struggle to hit 1k.

Side note: Gabby has written about her experiences with TikTok on her blog. You can also read about my discussions on TikTok marketing for visual novels here.

What do you think was the least effective thing you did for marketing?

Gabby: I suppose Steam events this time around kind of paled in comparison to our own marketing efforts. They’re always worth doing though – any Steam events you can get into, participate in them! You’ll always see some kind of return. But for us, an event giving 200-300 wishlists was just a drop in the water. Not at all not worth doing, but certainly it wasn’t a huge focus for us this time around.

[A]ny Steam events you can get into, participate in them!


Apart from that, I posted also to some other social media sites like bluesky, but I didn’t find it very worthwhile and stopped rather quickly. There’s only so much time in a day, and as the only person handling all of the marketing, it just wasn’t worth it.

Arimia: For newbie devs, what would you recommend they focus on? TikTok, Twitter, or something else?

Gabby: I think TikTok is the easiest platform to hit it big on “fast”. I say “fast” because it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to hit it big, it really depends how well you adapt to the platform, but your content there has a chance of being seen, even without any followers at all. That’s probably why I recommend it as a platform for new and old visual novel devs alike.

I think you’ll also find that once you pick up the format, it can be pretty fun to make. I think platforms like Twitter are easier to use, but getting started on them is hard. VNs are so visual heavy so we already have so much content that works well on TikTok. Of course, there could be problems in the future with using TikTok in the US, so we’ll see how that goes.

It’s best to focus on a few places though, and not to put all of your eggs in one basket. When you’re putting your audience in places that can go away, it’s always a risk, so it’s good to spread them between places like TikTok, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

Arimia: Yeah, I think one thing devs forget is that these social media platforms are ran by big tech that don’t care about the little guys – if your account gets banned or falsely flagged, what are you going to do if you can’t get it back? Always best to have more than one site you’re posting on, but you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.

At what point in ADWD’s development cycle did you start marketing it? It was a pretty short development cycle to begin with.

Gabby: We started working on the concept of A Date with Death January of last year, and announced it on the 5th of July. This wasn’t really 6-7 months of dev time though – we were working on two of our other games at the time. By that point, we’d finished maybe half of the game and announced the game in time for the Steam Visual Novel Fest a month later.

This was actually pretty successful for us, and gave us a decent boost to start from. We then released the demo at the end of September in time for Steam Next Fest, which was a bit more meh for us despite going in with a high wishlist velocity. We then released the game at the start of December. But, like I said, we were working full time on Dreambound and The Divine Speaker: The Sun and the Moon, so I think we could have made it in much less time if we didn’t have other games on our plate.

My suggestion is to announce the game and start marketing early, but not so early you run out of content you can post. My strat is usually announce the game at the same time the Steam page is ready, so you can use the announcement to drive people straight to it. A trailer can be another marketing beat, and then lead up to the demo release. Going in with a solid marketing plan is a great idea, too.

Side note: despite the short amount of time to market the game, they were able to enter it into at least 2 different Steam-ran festivals! That’s a great boost to wishlists and they usually don’t require much work from yourself.

[A]nnounce the game and start marketing early, but not so early you run out of content you can post.


Arimia: Once you’ve worked on a few games it’s a lot easier to gauge when that sweet spot is, but when you haven’t it’s definitely hard to figure out. I usually go with how much progress I have towards something playable like a demo. When ADWD was ready to release, how did you reach out to press?

Gabby: Actually, I didn’t sent out any press releases for the full game! I can’t tell you exactly if this was a good thing or not – but the way I’ve done it for all of my other games is that I send out a press release and streamer keys for the demo only. Especially for A Date with Death, we already had a lot of press and streamer interest naturally, so we decided to use our time for other forms of marketing and polishing up the game instead.

For the demo though, we curated a list of ~70 people to send out early keys to. I think this is quite worthwhile in hyping up the demo release, and it’s quite easy these days with tools like sullygnome.

Arimia: What lessons learnt from your previous games did you bring with you when making ADWD?

Gabby: We’ve been very lucky to work with our amazing artist Fuyuure for over six years now, so we came in with a great team who worked incredibly well together. I think that was a big bonus – working on something like a big character creator can be a difficult task for many artists, because of the sheer amount of assets you need. So, I would say coming in with a talented team who were ready for their tasks was a massive boon.

I think working on so many games beforehand prepared us to make the game in the time we did. We usually work on bigger, multi-year projects, and this was our first proper commercial endeavor into a smaller game. Our experience helped us to pinpoint exactly what we would need, which is a lot less than our other projects. The game actually only has 5 CGs, which is less than usual for us, but I think we managed to do it in a way where it doesn’t feel lacking, either. Getting scope right is a difficult thing and it’s easy to want to include anything and everything, but we were very particular about what we wanted and how long it would take.

Arimia: I can definitely see how that helped – working with people you’re already comfortable with can alleviate a lot of stress. For the A Date with Death: Beyond the Bet Kickstarter, how did you prepare the marketing campaign for it? How long did that pre-planning take you?

Gabby: We really started planning the new DLC the day A Date with Death launched last December. We knew we wanted to make more content, and with Dreambound nearly complete it was a good time to start thinking of running a new campaign. I would say the preplanning took a couple of months – working on a good date, working with lots of artists on new merch, setting up the page, getting the page to our graphic designer to make some images up for it… running a Kickstarter is definitely a lot of work! Even organizing the tiers takes some time.

We prepared mostly by getting the prelaunch page up as early as possible and getting the word out on all of our socials – Twitter, Tumblr, TikTok, Reels, Steam itself, Discord, our email list, itch…. basically, did a big blast out everywhere and we had a huge amount of people come and prelaunch straight away. We also really enjoy doing countdown images the week before launching – it lets us work with a bunch of amazing artists, and we use the art for rewards during the campaign too (as prints). Being our third campaign, we came into it knowing what we had to do, which is a big timesaver. For new developers, I’ll say don’t sleep on the prelaunch time – it’s not a good idea to put up a Kickstarter and instantly launch it. You need to bring an audience with you and get as many pledges lined up on that first day as possible.

Honestly, the support so far has blown our mind. With a similar amount of prep, Dreambound launched with less than 300 followers on the page, but as of writing this we’re already over 4500 on A Date with Death.

[I]t’s not a good idea to put up a Kickstarter and instantly launch it. You need to bring an audience with you and get as many pledges lined up on that first day as possible.


Arimia: Even though I’ve helped run and advised several Kickstarters before, there’s always something I forget or push off until the last minute. Was there anything you learned from the Dreambound KS that you used/did differently for the ADWD KS?

Gabby: Oh, for sure. I learned a lot about my tiers and page organization from our past Kickstarters. We actually have a lot more tiers than usual on this Kickstarter and I don’t think we’d be able to manage that without our past experiences.

If I had to pick one thing from the Dreambound Kickstarter that I’ve changed for A Date with Death’s, we decided to have all of our stretch goals viewable from the get-go. I enjoyed the “unlocking” of stretch goals we had before, but with the amount of attention I think we’ll get, it’s just easier to lay everything out for everyone.

Arimia: Yeah, I imagine you’ll probably be hitting stretch goals pretty early on with how many people are excited for the KS. Aside from social media like TikTok and Twitter, how do you keep your audience interested?

Gabby: I think one of the things that mobile games have as an advantage is continuously adding more content and patches. That really keeps people interested and coming back to your game and characters. Obviously we don’t really have a big enough team or enough time to be adding more and more content, so keeping people interested can be quite tough. We were very conscious of this when deciding WHEN to hold a Kickstarter in the first place – if we wait too long, people will move on. It’s already been 6 months since the game released, after all.

There’s multiple ways we’ve kept people interested during these months. One is that we funneled a lot of people to our Patreon, where we have exclusive art every month from the game, as well as behind the scenes stuff about the new DLC. We then can tease these on social media too, and drip feeding content works pretty well to keep people interested.

Another is we now have near 8000 members in our Discord, and these people become some of your core audience. We encourage interaction with each other and the game by weekly game questions that players can answer. If you had enough time to organize it, I honestly think even doing daily questions would be a really great idea. Anything to kind of keep people chatting and thinking about the game.

Lastly, we’ve had a lot of merch drops since release and had great success in that. We had a big drop on our own store, and two plushies and a hoodie from our collaboration with Makeship. Just having new things that people can see really does wonders.

Arimia: To wrap this up – what advice would you give to other VN devs?

Gabby: There’s so much I’d like to say, but I’ll just give a few pieces of advice that I think could help newer developers. Don’t think of marketing as a bad thing, or an annoying thing. I see a lot of new developers come in and say “I won’t market. I feel like a shill and my game will speak for itself”. I think this is a huge mistake, because people won’t play your game if they don’t know it exists. Marketing can be fun! Share your little stories with the world proudly, don’t feel bad about that.

If you want to do game dev as just a hobby, then that’s absolutely fine – but it’s totally possible to do this as a profession, too. My partner and I have been working on visual novels full time for over two years now. A lot of people tend to think that’s there’s no money in visual novels, but I would say that’s not true at all. It’s hard work – like all small businesses are – and not every game is going to be wildly profitable, but it’s totally possible with a good game and good marketing. Keep making the games you love, doing market research to see what other people love, and you might be able to find a good crossover.

And there you have it, some insight into the development and creation of A Date with Death! If you haven’t already, check the game out – the base game is completely free to play on Steam and You can check out their social media here:


Support their Kickstarter!

Leave a Reply