This comic was just a joy, the attention is deserved. I looked forward to Saturdays because of it, and look forward to more in the future!
Postmortem: Publishing a Free, Gay Comic on Itch.io
Howdy, and welcome!
nanoff is the author responsible for all of Boomer's Big Date, but since that start I've been on the background monitoring the traffic data for the project, so I decided to write a sort of Postmortem dealing with the data and platform-related side of things. We have a lot of neat things to show and learned a few lessons that should be applicable to LGBT game developers and comic artists.
Without further ado, let's start.
Boomer's Big Date is a 51-page long comic book about "revenge gone horribly right." It stars "Boomer", a divorced mechanic who learns via Facebook that his ex-wife, Karen, skipped her day with their son to go to an office party with her latest boyfriend. Boomer's boss, Joe, then recognises Karen's boyfriend — he says the guy was in a gay hook-up app. Joe convinces Boomer to have sex with the guy, take a picture of the deed and then show it to Karen to get back at her.
Up until this point in his life Boomer has been secure in his heterosexuality, but his first encounter with Miles, Karen's boyfriend, catches him off-guard with how much he enjoys it. He finds himself coming back for more, always stopping himself from taking the picture, and he starts nurturing some affection towards Miles. But eventually he is forced to face the fact that his motivations for starting this were fundamentally wrong and deal with the consequences.
In essence, Boomer's Big Date is a story that begins with a porn plot ("fuck your ex-wife's boyfriend to get back at her!") but plays with the premise by taking it seriously and examining these tropes under a realistic moral compass. It also plays with the interactions one would see in relationships where the partners have age gaps — "Miles" is a millenial, "Boomer" is a baby boomer.
The Format and Business Model
Boomer's Big Data was published in a weekly format — every Saturday evening nanoff would post a new page on Twitter.
Starting on October 2020, nanoff opened a Patreon where readers could pledge an amount to gain access to the following week's page early. Around that same time the comic was posted on Itch.io to facilitate reading, since Twitter's interface is horrible for reading sequential pages of a comic.
Since its release back in October 2020, Boomer's Big Date has been accessed over 30,000 times on Itch.io. This does not count the number of times it was read on Twitter — which probably outnumbers this by a vast amount.
Over this period, nanoff's follower count on Twitter grew by the thousands (sometimes over 600 new ones in a single day), his Patreon became an invaluable financial safety net and Boomer's Big Date became Itch.io's highest rated comic.
So, it's safe to say the reception was good — and that leads us to asking why and what lessons we can take for other LGBT content creators.
Boomer's Big Date has porn, and common sense would dictate that people came in exclusively for it. But that wasn't the case: overwhelmingly, the reasons cited by the readers for liking the comic were the characters, their expressiveness, the humour and the story.
It would be naive, however, to say that the sexual content did nothing. My own assessment is that first it served as an attractive hook for the story, but what made it work was that the sex was the means by which Boomer's and Miles' characters were established and developed. In a sense, the sex was an engine for the narrative and it set the stage for the final part of the story, which took a turn for the heartfelt and honest as Boomer is made to confront his hypocrisy.
I think Boomer's Big Date serves as a very concise and clear case for something I've long believed about fiction aimed at gay and bisexual men: there is a large demand for media which is, all at once
- founded on emotional honesty;
- explores non-traditional gay stories (it's not another "coming out of the closet" narrative);
- happy to portray sex, and
- has characters with verosimilar flaws.
With that out of the way, it's time we took a look at the data. Today we'll first examine first Boomer's Big Date's lifetime data and compare it to our other projects, then show in greater detail how the traffic graph looks like.
As you'll see in a minute, Boomer's Big Date and how it compares to our other projects (Minotaur Hotel, Minotaur Hotel: SFW Mode and Orc Breeding) make up a very insightful portrait of how Itch.io deals with comics in comparison with games.
Before I show the data, here's a handy legend:
- Browser Plays: If a game can be played directly in its store page (as opposed to being downloaded) this number shows up and indicates the number of times a game was played in this form.
- 7d Impressions: The number of times this game was shown on Itch.io in the last 7 days.
- CTR: Click-Through-Rate, aka how often your game being shown on the website leads to someone clicking it.
So, as far as Itch's algorithm is concerned all these projects come from the same team of people. All except for Minotaur Hotel: SFW Mode are tagged as NSFW. Not only that they share a single main core of tags:
- Minotaur Hotel: Bara, Furry, Gay, Romance, LGBT, Management, Mystery, mythology, Story Rich
- Boomer's Big Date: Bara, Furry, Gay, Romance, Erotic, Adult, Short
- Orc Breeding: Bara, Gay, Romance, Erotic, Fantasy, Medieval, Monsters, Story Rich, Text based, Twine
(Tags in bold are shared between all the projects, while those in italics refer to those shared between only two.)
But, as you can see, they all have vastly different performances. Why is that?
Well, for starters they are very different products! They encompass a visual novel, a collection of erotic stories and now a comic! It's natural that they perform differently. But amidst that there's one factor which made for a very insightful comparison.
Let's compare Minotaur Hotel and Boomer's Big Date. On top of all the similarities I commented so far, those two in particular hold another distinction: both of them are ranked among the highest rated projects of their categories on Itch. As of the time of writing this post, MinoHotel is the 11th highest rated game and Boomer's Big Date is the 1st comic. But while Minotaur Hotel is being shown 86k thousand times per week on Itch, Boomer's Big Date is only shown about 6k times.
Why is that? Simply put, it's because you need to go to the comics tab, while all Itch users are dropped on the Games section by default.
So, is that the conclusion? That the comics tab is underused?
Nope! It goes a little deeper, but to get to that we need to look at another piece of data...
We are now comparing the daily performance of Minotaur Hotel and Boomer's Big Date — and the conclusion here is that, despite only being shown 6k times per week, in raw Browser Plays/Download numbers Boomer's Big Date easily outperforms Minotaur Hotel.
Let me rephrase this: Itch.io's Comics section is underused and under appreciated, but it has enough of an user base to outperform even one of the top rated games on the platform if you use the tools at your disposal. So... if you are a comic book artist looking for a place to compile your work, Itch.io is a pretty decent one!
That said, I really do meant it when I say you need to use the tools at your disposal: make the best, most eye-catching cover art you can! Since your Impressions are low you need a great cover so lots of people click on it!
Now, let's take a look at more data, shall we?
Pageviews and Downloads Over Time
So, before we start, the first image you'll see shows the month of October with the game's release included and the second image shows the data for October and November while excluding the release. This was done because, as you can see in the first image, the release peak was so high it made the rest of the graph not very readable.
October and November 2020, excluding release days:
December 2020 and January 2021:
February and March 2021:
As you can see, most of our traffic comes from within Itch.io... And, to be more precise, there's a confounding factor at play here.
That graffic greatly overplays the influence of Twitter. As you can see here, Twitter helped a lot recently (that peak was the day the last page of the comic was posted here!) but on the typical day it's not a game-changer.
Another look at it. As you can see, Itch is the biggest source of traffic on most days.
- There's a good deal of LGBT comic artists making and posting content for free on social media networks like Twitter. That does make sense: after all, these days everyone is in those places and your readers can easily share it with their friends over there.
That said, these networks are not designed for archival, indexation and finding of content. For readers it's difficult finding something that was posted more than a month ago: the artist may have flooded their feed with other content, the search function doesn't do much, there's no good gallery functionality. I'm not saying you should abandon these networks. By all means, keep posting on your typical social media. But consider that these limited functionalities also limit your reach. There are other places — Itch.io being a prime example — that are designed around connecting people with the projects they'll likely enjoy. Content here is named, indexed, tagged and easy to find. You can publish content for free, there's no entry fee or barrier.
At the very least it will make it easier for your readers to find it in the future. Archival is important. But at best it may prove itself an invaluable source of new readers.
- As you can see in the graphs, "Browser Plays" (reading the comic embedded in the webpage) outnumbered Downloads by almost 5 to 1. This is not surprising — if you want to check the latest page it's arguably more convenient to check it on the Web as opposed to downloading the whole comic pack every week, unzipping it, finding the new page and, possibly, putting it all on the trash after you're done...
And, actually, there's a confounding factor here: if you are using the Itch desktop app, your Browser Plays count instead as Downloads here because the app does download and manage the files. So, in truth, the difference between true Browser Plays and Downloads is even bigger!
Overall, making your comic "playable" on the browser is an excellent way to reduce the barrier for access and increase your readership.
- So, if you are publishing a free comic on Itch, I highly recommend you publish it both as a downloadable and as a browser-playable, all in a single page.
- Tag your content and make the best cover art you can! This especially important if you're an LGBT creator: tags can and often are the greatest source of traffic for gender and sex-related projects.
In terms of what this data means, there's another lingering question we have not yet examined well enough to give any conclusions, but I believe it's the next big question pertaining to all LGBT creators on Itch.
Simply put, any cursory glance on Itch's 200 Top Rated games right now will show you that LGBT games are very common there despite only making a tiny fraction of all games on the platform. Why is that?
Is it because LGBT games are just, well, better? Is it because they are the most downloaded ones? Is there some kind of complicated multi-factor thing going on?
Yes, I think there is a complicated confluence of circumstances. I won't go into details here but, looking at the data we showed today, I feel secure enough giving my hunch for what may be one of the factors: I think that LGBT users are more engaged than the average, more willing to display their appreciation for the games they enjoy. And that, among other things, may explain why LGBT content is doing so well here.
But that's talk for another day. Thank you for reading!
Get Boomer's Big Date
Log in with itch.io to leave a comment.
Thinking a little more about it, I see other reasons for the success of the comic in this platform as it relates to its nature.
First is how the comic benefited from being associated with Minotaur Hotel. The game's fanbase is composed of dedicated users that are spurred by its creators to use exclusively itch.io for both interaction with fellow fans and devs, as well as obtaining the visual novel itself. What that means is that (what are likely) the first "fans" of the game here were people that were knowledgeable of the platform and eager to engage with and share it.
Secondly (which I personally find most interesting) is the comic's characters and art. Should one go to the front page of itch.io's comic page and filter so only those with the Gay tag show up, they will find a plethora of "pretty boy" and "anime" archetype stories or artwork. Such, of course, is not a deterrence to their success, but if one "cross-references" with MinoWorkshop's Furry Visual Novel Audience Survey, they will find an overwhelming bias towards "manly" or buff (Bara) men in their content. Of the comics found in said comic page, few seem to cater to such demand, except BBD; the only large exception being comics by prolific furry artist Maririn however most of them are priced. Granted, said survey was aimed at VN consumers. Combing further with free and adult (erotic) tags, and one should pretty easily notice the void this comic superbly fills.
"Then, this comic ain't that good and only thrived through its circumstances?" Not so. What has been said so far only relates to the success found in this platform. Speaking as someone who actually stopped checking the comic here because I became a patron, I can attest to people enjoying it regardless of itch.io and even Minotaur Hotel.
I'm obviously a fan of this artist and comic and I do believe wholeheartedly the success is deserved. Thought I'd share these observations I realized reading this.