Quick Friday post for prospective (and current) Novy clients. I felt it was time to get back to the topic after a couple game development-centered posts.
In short, picking the right PR firm is CRITICAL for your launch. Of course, having a quality game in the first place is key… but skipping PR activities like targeted pitches, a press release, trailers and screenshots will derail ANY project — be it a strategy masterpiece or the latest “click cow to win” clone.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
(Deep) Understanding of Game Development
Most agencies are filled with casual gamers. It turns out it’s pretty hard to live in 2013 and NOT play games. They’re everywhere: in your Mac or PC, phone, tablet, consoles, portables, you name it. So the chances that someone actually plays games are pretty high. The problem is that they don’t understand development.
If your PR firm doesn’t “get” development, you’ll be in a world of trouble. Getting them to install and play your game will be a nightmare… Communicating with the enthusiast press, virtually ALL hardcore gamers, will be a non-starter. Finally, don’t count on the agency to spot bugs or interface issues – they might not even know what “interface” actually means.
Familiar with Reddit and YouTube Channels
It took me years to mostly understand Reddit. It paid off with a number of successful IAmAs, a better understanding of what’s newsworthy (most journalists look to Reddit for “hot” topics) and even new business/lead generation – a direct result of Novy’s own IAmA. Likewise, YouTube channels are what blogs used to be in 2002: sometimes chaotic, often brilliant, incredibly important in the long run. Nowadays, YouTube channels that focus on indie gaming are ESSENTIAL for PC games and a nice addition to any mobile launch. If a prospective PR firm has no active Reddit users and only visits YouTube to watch cat videos, stay away.
Accountable Human Beings
With Novy, you’ll be dealing with me and/or Jeannie Novak. We are Novy. No one is relegated to the interns… because we don’t have them. That’s not the case with other PR firms. They might sell you the “sizzle” but what you get is a cost-reduced burger instead. Make sure that’s not the case with the always-helpful question: “Who will be my main contact?” In other words “Who is accountable?”
When the person you email/talk to every day is also pitching journalists AND reporting/updating you on coverage, accountability is a very real thing. The opposite is true as well: if you’re dealing with an Account Executive who can blame an intern or his/her own boss, suddenly no one is accountable.
Once upon a time, BlackBerry was all the rage. Then touchscreens became cool with the iPhone, which was quickly followed by the testosterone-driven Motorola Droid. Four years later, now we have iPad Mini versus Nexus 7 FHD, iPhone 5 versus Moto X… a war without end.
Your PR firm needs to be able handle both Android and iOS. They can’t take sides. Maybe your game is iOS-only today, but what if you decide to add Android to the mix six months later? Likewise, they need to own both tablets and smartphones. Finally, an understanding of TestFlight is essential. If they don’t know how to install beta builds – or worse, don’t even have an account – go look somewhere else.
The Intangibles: Fun, Creative, Fearless
One phone call is enough. Half an hour on the phone and you’ll get a clear picture of the PR pros on the other end of the line. Are they funny? Up-to-date? Do they understand the idea of the game quickly, or do they need some “ELI5” (Explain Like I’m 5) lecture to get there?
Make sure to discuss both successes and failures. The way someone fails is often more illuminating than the way they succeed. Explore the client-agency relationship, good and bad experiences. Discuss long-term scenarios and “big picture” goals.
If the call is a success, you’ll be in a much better position than someone who requested (and received) a proposal via email. It will also save both of you from never-ending email back-and-forth.
Of course we want you to become our client. But if the stars failed to align and you decided look elsewhere, keep these tips in mind. They just might save you a ton of cash – and time – in the long run.
Reviled by critics, mocked by gamers and the focus point of a class-action lawsuit against Gearbox Software and Sega, Aliens: Colonial Marines (A:CM) is a master class in what NOT to do in game development. There is a veritable pot of gold at the end of this tragic game – if you know where to look.
Allegedly seven years in development, A:CM looked like Halo-like blockbuster right up to launch, when early reviews told a very different story. They alluded to buggy gameplay, low rent graphics, laughable dialogue and a disjointed, uninspired plot. The only redeeming qualities? The music, atmosphere and production design.
The early reviews were right. Sega’s marketing – including “real” footage from a demo that didn’t really exist – was very wrong. Metacritic rates A:CM for PC at 44 percent, 48 percent on Xbox 360 and 43 percent on PlayStation 3.
Less is More
Gordon Ramsay is known for tormenting ambitious chefs if they go overboard with their cooking. That’s a lesson the (many) studios behind A:CM should have learned as well. The campaign lasts from 5 to 8 hours, but it feels much longer. There simply is a ton of padding, repetition, and trickery. As if the developers KNEW they didn’t have enough, so decided to repeat missions, textures, entire levels in order to make the “minimum” 8-hour long campaign of modern first-person shooters.
The result is a boring game. There are exciting moments for sure (already eclipsed from my memory, unfortunately) but they are few and far between. The lasting memories are of endless repetition, going back to the same locations, fighting the same enemy soldiers. Just terrible.
“Less is more” also applies to pricing. Lower prices are equal to “more value.”
There is one very easy way Sega could have dealt with the storm before it even took shape. All they had to do was cut the price to $19.99. The messaging would be as follows: “We screwed up. We can’t in good conscience charge $60 for Aliens: Colonial Marines. Please accept our apologies and enjoy the game for a price we consider fair.”
Putting the two together we end with the following: a campaign that is 4 hours long for a fair price. Just imagine how the press and players alike would have reacted. In my opinion, the outcry would be almost non-existent and Sega would sell at least 4 million copies, not to mention secure better review scores (probably in the 65-70 percent range).
Play to Each Platform’s Strengths
The PC port of A:CM is regarded as the best way to play the game. After a couple massive patches, the lighting is now light years ahead of the aging PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. It’s less buggy, too. Finally, PCs can offer much higher resolution than consoles, which makes the game look considerably sharper.
I played the PS3 version. The frame rate is locked at 30 frames per second (v-sync enabled by default) and it can drop below 30 from time to time. Nothing major though. There are a couple patches out for the PS3 version, but they’re small (unlike the the 8 GB behemoth released for the PC). I didn’t have a lot of issues with the PS3 version, I just hoped it would run better (60 fps would be nice) and have higher-res textures.
Now, the Xbox 360 version is supposed to be terrible. It’s not locked at 30 fps so frame tearing is constant. Performance varies wildly as well, and textures are supposed to be even worse-looking than the PS3 version.
Gearbox and its minions really should have been more careful with the console ports. The game was clearly optimized for PCs and then shoehorned into 7 year-old hardware. If Halo 4 could look stunning on the Xbox 360, A:CM could have easily done the same. Now, if you consider that the Xbox 360 is the most popular SKU due to Xbox Live/online gameplay, Sega’s mistake is even more disheartening.
Screwing Xbox 360 owners was probably a costly mistake for Sega.
Under Promise and Over Deliver
I was taught this concept early in my PR career. A lot of agencies like to promise the world to prospective clients. The idea is to clinch the business first, then worry about delivering later. At Novy, we do the opposite. We don’t promise a thing. We try to be realistic, honest-to-a-fault, then go all-out to come up with the best possible results. We lost bids in the past by sticking to the facts but we’re much happier for it.
Hype has become a way of life for some. Indie or AAA, it’s too easy to succumb to temptation in order to “generate buzz.” Previews and teaser trailers are usually the culprits, with a famous example being Killzone 2’s “target render.” Marketing moguls take over, promise the world to players, then it all crashes down at launch. A:CM is now the poster child of misguided hype and what many see as outright lies before launch.
Game PR needs to be almost journalistic prior to launch. Stick to the facts. Explain what influenced the devs, illustrate with untouched screenshots (no Photoshop allowed!), allow journalists to play beta builds early on. Don’t make checks you can’t cash before the game is even in beta. If you game is an innovative racer, don’t write “innovative racer” in the press release. That’s just an adjective. Explain what you’re trying to do in clear terms.
Journalists will decide if it’s innovative or not.
Players appreciate candor. Things would be very different for Sega and Gearbox if the hype was kept in check.
Annoying Characters are Annoying. Get Rid of Them
O’Neal drove me nuts throughout the campaign. He wouldn’t shut up even during combat, enjoyed shooting at walls, and would stay back while I was mangled by Xenomorphs in the next room. Worse than useless: O’Neal was worthless.
An experienced screenwriter would have seen this coming. Sega could then choose to eliminate O’Neal altogether, or get him killed in the first mission. Imagine players’ reactions if that was the case. Instead, they let the story (and characters) fester. The result is a game with characters made out of cardboard – lifeless animatronics who deliver lines as if they’re reading a phonebook.
If you can’t make sure the story is going to be top-notch, have less of it. Use scrolling text, abolish cut-scenes, cut dialogue lines. Minimize your exposure so the damage can be contained. Another way to go is to double down on gameplay so story and dialogue are less of a factor.
Irritating players for 8 hours is NOT the way to go. A:CM makes this mistake way too often, which ruins the whole thing – at least for me.
Reviewers are Not 100 Percent Right All the Time
Some gave A:CM a 2 out of 10. Four out of 10 were very common. A reviewer that shall not be named must have played a different game, because he gave A:CM a 9 out of 10 (wut?)
Most of us are HUGE fans of the Alien IP. Sure, we might belong to different factions (“Alien is the only true Alien movie” / “Aliens kicked ass” / “Alien 3 Director’s Cut is an unsung masterpiece”) but we all love the universe created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. The disappointment with A:CM was massive. It sounds like a #firstworldproblem but reviewers are humans like you and me. They WERE saddened by the end result. So, in my opinion, some of them over-reacted.
A:CM is a 5 out of 10. Deeply flawed, buggy, with terrible character animation, plot, you name it. But it’s also fun from time to time. It oozes atmosphere. The Aliens soundtrack, taken from the movie, simply rocks. I think some of the low scores are more psychological than anything. They go beyond game criticism because of what the IP means to fans.
Boss Fights Should be Exciting, not Painful
The boss fight is the “big finish” of your level. It’s when expectations are re-calculated, when courage takes a hit and you wonder if you’re going to make it. Bosses demand creativity, cunning, and dexterity in order to be beaten.
Now, if your game is buggy… A boss fight can actually end it right then and there. Game over, back to GameFly/GameStop.
The Raven boss fight, when the player finally gets to use the legendary Power Loader to fight Xenomorphs, is broken on the PS3 version. I used to be a tester, so I know what I’m talking about. I was stuck for a solid 2 hours, replaying it over and over again. In my desperation, I decided to look for walkthrough videos on YouTube. Most of them were of the PC version and they certainly didn’t look that hard. It seemed to me that the player was not taking damage from Xenomorphs while operating the Power Loader…
On PS3, soldiers (the lowest class of Xenomorphs) would hit me constantly while I was trying to kill the Raven. Sometimes it would be a one-hit kill. What’s even worse, the boss fight was so buggy that, while dying, the game would prompt me to hit “R3” to melee one of the enemies. Wait a minute – what?? I’m DYING (already dead in fact, just watching my character’s body hit the floor) and you want me to press R3? WTF?
And so I spent 2 hours trying to get past this excruciating, buggy, ridiculous boss fight. If it were not for my wife’s encouraging words, I would have quit. Rage quit.
Well, that’s what I learned from Aliens: Colonial Marines. How about you?
At Novy we do PR for games. It’s our job to promote a client’s game so that the press is aware it exists – which hopefully will lead to downloads and/or sales. It’s a fun, rewarding gig, especially when we get to work with truly brilliant individuals.
That’s not always the case, unfortunately. Counting back from my start in Game PR (January 2008), I can safely say that some of the games I represented were uninspired, rushed, or simply misguided. It’s not like developers are trying to make a bad game on purpose; releasing such game is often the byproduct of a lack of resources, talented devs or even external pressure from publishers. However, everyone wants their game to be a huge success. They want news items, positive reviews, accolades, downloads, in-app revenue, the works.
I can’t say I was very impressed with Dead Space 3’s press release. Read on to find out why
Back in January, I was asked “What do you find works most effectively to spread the word about a game?” on Reddit. My answer inspired this blog post, which focuses on the true impact of a game’s quality and/or uniqueness on press coverage.
There are two levels of magical thinking that may affect game developers when launching a game:
“If you build it, they will come” – I blame Kevin Costner for this one. Heard first in Field of Dreams (1989), it means that a superior game will ALWAYS attract coverage. I call it magical because it’s simply not true. Brilliant games need coverage just like average ones. Sure, they will generate word of mouth early on but that’s not enough. In order to become a hit, a game needs the press behind it. Minecraft, for example, was a huge hit at PAX in 2009. I remember working in the press room and hearing Enforcers first tell journalists all about it, then show it running on the few PAX laptops in the room. Soon enough, dozens of extremely positive write-ups flooded the Internet. They told gamers that Minecraft was the real deal, a once-in-a-lifetime game. Without the press, Minecraft would be a cult hit, but not a true hit.
“All I need is a good PR firm” – Some developers seem to think PR is enough to part the Red Sea. Back in 2009 or so, I had a client that was sure his game would be a major hit. They hired the PR firm I worked for at the time and expected nothing less than greatness. However, his game wasn’t that good in the first place. So the press didn’t show much interest… and we lost the account. Hiring a PR firm doesn’t automatically translate into coverage. That’s one of the reasons why we NEVER promise coverage at Novy – we promise to do our very best instead.
THE GAME IS THE MESSAGE
It shouldn’t be a big reveal that it’s THE GAME that defines the coverage, not the other way around. Marshall McLuhan nailed it back when television was the great disruptor: you can’t separate the medium from the message(s) it carries within. It’s the same for Game PR. I can spend a few hours coming up with the proper messages for the game and/or studio, but in the end the game itself will have its way with the receiver. That can happen in a number of ways:
Screenshots – Screens will inform the journalist of the genre, superficial gameplay (as much can be inferred from a static frame) and visual polish.
Trailer – Trailers go one step further. They are able to detail gameplay thanks to a moving image (think moving trains in the dawn of cinema), soundtrack, sound effects and, in general, the mood or vibe of each title. It’s a well-known fact that trailers can make or break a launch.
Uncut Gameplay Video – I love watching Let’s Plays on YouTube. They allow me to experience a game I might not be able to play at home in a way that was impossible a decade ago. Of course, you’re still not playing the game but uncut gameplay videos are the closest to actually putting the disc in and hitting the start button. If a game lacks audio/video quality, this format will make it patently obvious.
Genre – Traditional genres have been burned in journalists’ minds. They know at once if they’re dealing with an RTS, FPS, turn-based strategy game or RPG. Anything out of the ordinary needs to be carefully explained in the trailer, press release, website and pitch. The last thing you want is a “nebulous” perception of the genre – or worse, materials that lead journalists in the wrong direction. Unsurprisingly, genres often affect coverage. Puzzle games are harder to promote, for example. Casual games are nearly impossible to promote. Speaking from experience, FPS and other action sub-genres (like third-person shooters and action-adventure) are considerably easier.
Press release – I know, “press releases are dead and everything” except that they aren’t. Press releases are an expression of the game and serve as a repository of everything that matters about the launch, from key features to the location of the assets (trailer, screens and logos). They should have personality, style, and take chances just like the game itself in order to succeed. Nonetheless, even AAA games will often make the mistake of relying on boring, fluffy press releases. They might not lose coverage but will certainly lose brownie points with the press. And if there is one thing journalists love to roast publicly, it’s badly written press releases.
Playthrough – Once you play a game from beginning to end, you will KNOW how good it is. Hell, even the first hour is usually enough for console games. A good trailer can trick journalists into playing a game, but getting through it with your own two hands will tell the tale of the tape. Some publishers try to tip the scale by “hosting” reviewers, feeding them restaurant-grade food and placing a PR person “over the shoulder” but even then, if a game sucks, it will get a negative review. Ethically-challenged journos might succumb to such efforts, but everyone else will be equally merciless eating foie gras or playing the game at the office through a devkit.
The game will affect how all the elements above are perceived. The true quality will “seep in,” giving journalists a chance to decide to cover it or ignore it completely. A strong game will often make enough of an impression to warrant a deeper look. If a journalist or reviewer is not impressed, they will pass. In PR, a pass is also known as “hearing crickets” – not replying to the pitch in any meaningful way. Pushy PR people might try to force their way in, harassing journalists with multiple follow-up calls, but I’ve learned that doing so is a serious offense.** The last thing you want is a pissed off journalist.
TIME FOR SOME TOUGH LOVE
We’ll always do our very best to promote a game – every client will get that from us once they sign with Novy. At the same time, we refuse to lie about the game to the press. Once the trailer is on YouTube, the press release on the wire and pitches sent, the game needs to stand on its own two legs.
Every game deserves a fair shot. We only ask one thing: please see your game as a son or daughter. Like offspring, they deserve the very best you can give. They need proper quality assurance, investment, humility and, in the end, love. The only way we will make a game (any game, really) into a success story is if the game is the best it can possibly be in the first place.
Games speak for themselves. Set them loose in the world once they’re ready for it. You’ll find that the press will be much more receptive and, chances are, you’ll be much happier with your PR firm.
If you have any thoughts about this admittedly tricky topic, I’m listening :)
** I was once told that some in the press saw me as “pushy.” Hearing that shocked me to the core. Right there and then, I decided I would NEVER pester journalists if they ignored one of my pitches.
November — and early December — were an incredibly busy time for Novy. Let’s look back and remember some of the highlights:
VentureBeat interviewed Swarm, creator of the SwarmConnect platform. The piece came out a day before our big Unity announcement.
Appy Entertainment (www.appyentertainment.com)
Kotaku writer Mike Fahey loves Animal Legends for one reason and one reason only: he gets to be a Rogue Raccoon.
Shadegrown Games (www.shadegrowngames.com)
TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog)
TUAW featured Starbloom as its Daily iPhone App for December 3. Better yet, editor Mike Schramm shot a video review of it!
Modojo / Business Insider
Editor Chris Buffa needed developer reactions to Peter Molyneux’ Curiosity. Novy PR was happy to help.
Swarm’s CEO (Matt Haggerty) penned an extremely polished piece for GamesIndustry International. His article includes a ton of updated numbers and in-depth analysis, making it a must-read if you’re interested in mobile gaming.
Woo Games (www.woogames.com)
Indie Woo Games relied on Novy PR to help them with the iOS launch of ErnCon. 148Apps, one of our favorite sites, did a very fair and accurate review of the game, helping this one-man studio reach a wider audience.
Kickstarter. It extends funding for those who are tired of catering to publishers. It creates a lasting bond with your “backers,” leading to tons of press coverage, adulation from gamers worldwide, and financial freedom. It will change the world as we know it.
Hold on a minute. Let’s back off a bit. There’s a lot of buzz around Kickstarter and game development ever since Double Fine’s Adventure created a huge splash back in February. Adventure is regarded as Kickstarter’s poster child thanks to almost 90 thousand backers and $3.4 million in funding.
After Adventure, it was Wasteland 2’s chance to shine. And it didn’t disappoint: almost 62 thousand backers, $3 million in funding. Wow.
Those two games led to a veritable gold rush. Independent studios and amateurs alike suddenly realized they didn’t need to bootstrap in order to make a game. They didn’t need to go begging to a publisher either. Getting funded on Kickstarter would mean getting a project fast-tracked to success with full creative control and a horde of “backers” ready to help spread the word. It seemed too good to be true, and in a way, it still is.
Winter is Coming
Stealing from Game of Thrones is fun. Do you know what’s even more fun? Watching history unfold in real time. My day job, promoting indie and mobile games, allowed me to observe (and learn) a lot in the past few months. In HBO’s hit series, “winter” is when the White Walkers may return once more to wreak havoc on the Realms.
In the Kickstarter world, winter would be:
b) Failed projects
We already had our first scam. Uncovered by Reddit, Mythic: The Story of Gods and Men was quickly outed to the whole world as a shameless attempt to scam Kickstarter users. Since no one’s credit card gets charged unless a project is fully funded, financial loss was avoided.
There are hundreds of failed projects. They are no fault of Kickstarter nor the project owners. Like the App Store, the sheer number of new projects — increasing every day — will make getting noticed and therefore funded much harder than in the halcyon days of 2011. Such failures should be taken as learning opportunities, high quality feedback before the game is actually in the market. Seen in this light, failing to get funded on Kickstarter might actually be a blessing in disguise.
This is what a Kickstarter scam looks like
Best Laid Plans
It pains me to see quality projects fail to generate enough excitement to get funded. As an independent games supporter, I want creative ideas and concepts not only to get funded, but to get made. I want to read about them — and play them. Still, a huge number of projects fails to take off or crashes right before landing. After months of careful observation, I concluded the problem is fourfold:
(1) Developers without a “following” fail to gain traction
(2) Projects without playable code scare away possible backers
(3) Lack of a high concept or “big idea”
(4) Journalists tired of Kickstarter pitches limit the amount of coverage devoted to Kickstarter projects
As seen in Adventure and Wasteland 2, well-known studios/developers have a much better chance of getting funded. Gamers recognize that such developers have a track record; that they have shipped dozens of games in the past, often much bigger projects than the one currently hosted on Kickstarter. Of course, no one takes a minute to consider that a huge number of well-known developers has failed to ship titles before, or that even publisher-supported AAA titles may get cancelled (sometimes mere months before release). Nonetheless, being a celebrity — or even a minor celebrity — pays off if you need to fund a game via Kickstarter.
Playable code. We’re all used to open betas where an almost-finished game is stress-tested by hordes across the planet. Few of us have access to alpha builds and an even smaller number to prototypes. In Kickstarter, concept art and videos are a given, but real prototypes are hard to come by. Well, I can share with readers right now that in the near future, you will need a prototype to get funded. A backlash against prototype-less titles is already evident — see this Reddit thread for the supporting evidence. Concept art, music, videos will not be able to assure possible backers that a project is healthy. The same goes for the press: it’s much more newsworthy to try a new Kickstarter project, share your own particular impressions with readers, than to write about yet another new project.
Everyone knows a big idea from a generic, OK one. Big ideas have reach. They make us look at the world in a different way. The personal computer was a big idea. Same for the App Store and the creation of Android. In Kickstarter, big ideas inspire gamers to become backers. They are more viral and more newsworthy to the press. A big idea spreads via social media, provoking oohs and aahs on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ — and therefore driving funding. Picking a niche genre in Kickstarter, something smaller, is a big risk instead. You would think that gamers would welcome an approachable, doable concept but the opposite is true: they shrug their shoulders and move on to the next game. Another problem is that a niche genre like casino games or music has a smaller pool of fans than something big like first-person shooters or even the Phoenix-like adventure genre. From a small pool of fans, you’d need to convince an even smaller pool of Kickstarter users or sympathizers to support your project. That makes things exponentially more difficult.
Promoting SRRN’s Always Outnumbered last month, I encountered three different reactions from journalists. The first one was support — they know SRRN from Ash and Ash II: Shadows and helped us with a small post or tweet. A site even gave us free advertising (!) The second one was silence. No reply, which is expected and part of everyday life if you work in Public Relations. The third reaction was one of frustration. The journalist in question told me he gets such pitches, dozens of them, day in and day out. That other journos have filters set up so by merely mentioning the word “Kickstarter” an email gets moved to a particular folder, or deleted forever. He told me that there are way too many developers jumping on the bandwagon and flooding journalists with pitches in the process.
I understand why he reacted this way. I share some of his misgivings and can certainly imagine how annoying it is to get 20, 30 Kickstarter pitches every day. Where you can click on a link and download the game featured in a real pitch, that’s not an option with Kickstarter. There’s no way to know how good — or how bad — the game truly is. Journalists are forced to trust the studio, believe in all the promised features, have faith in the release date. And that’s IF the project gets funded. No wonder so many are burned-out.
I still have hope that projects like SRRN’s, full of potential and with innovative gameplay, get fully funded instead of yet another zombie game. But I don’t have that power. What I can do is list a few directives that may help developers in their quest for crowd-funding.
- Wait for the right moment. Invest some time and money in order to have a prototype ready by Day One
- Be careful with niche titles. Unless you’re really, really famous like Tim Schafer, a niche title will be much harder to fund
- Consider your rewards carefully. Make sure to include high dollar rewards for those who can afford them. Avoid expensive-to-manufacture rewards — you should spend your budget making the game, not designing/creating/shipping rewards
- Try to include experienced developers in the team. Ideally one or all of you will have shipped multiple titles in the past
- Kickstarter is no place for amateurs — if you’re making games for the first time, it’s best to create a mod or even a small mobile game. Getting funded implies real responsibility for shipping an actual product
- Invest in a great camera and microphones. Enlist pros to shoot your videos, even if they’re still in film school. Production values are becoming a huge deal — some (unfairly) see them as an extension of your talent as a game developer
- Finally, have fun with it. Understand that it’s cheaper to fail on Kickstarter than on the marketplace. If your project didn’t get funded, regroup and start anew
A period of euphoria tends to follow the introduction of every new technology. In gaming, we saw it with CD-ROM drives in the 1990s, in-game advertising in 2007 and now free-to-play. In its current incarnation, Kickstarter is a truly disruptive development for the game industry, one which no one knows where it will take us. It will be worth your while to take a few deep breaths, then make the best possible decision(s) for your project.
Feel free to share your opinion/experience in the comments. And if you feel like this is a worthy post, please share it with colleagues, friends and family.
Step 1: Make a trailer
It’s hard to believe that some developers choose not to make a trailer. But it happens. While screenshots are easy and straightforward, trailers sound terribly complicated and time-intensive. Don’t let the extra workload deprive your game of a proper trailer. The consequences are often dire, starting with less coverage and ending with non-existing sales.
Step 2: Make every second count
The only thing worse than not having a trailer is having a 3-minute one. No one will watch a 3-minute trailer for a mobile game. The ideal length is 45 seconds to a full minute.
Step 3: Make it dynamic
We like trailers that show off different gameplay mechanics, characters, locations and atmosphere. You can’t have a minute of the same exact gameplay, over and over again. Think of the joy of driving the Pacific Coast Highway versus the mind-numbing boredom of the I-5.
Step 4: Make it descriptive
Text-less trailers might look stunning but will often leave viewers with a big question mark. Is it a sequel or an update? Is it for Android or iOS? Is this a new feature? Is it free? This information must be in there. If the best you can do is list the most important information at the very end, with bullets, that’s still better than leaving everyone in the dark.
Step 5: Make it real
Killzone 2 is famous for trying to pass CGI for actual gameplay. Don’t be tempted to make the same mistake — I know it’s easier to re-purpose the intro CGI or cut-scenes in the trailer, but you will lose your target audience in the process. Gamers watch trailers on YouTube and GameTrailers in order to evaluate a future purchase. They need to see how the game plays, not how great the cut-scenes are.
Step 6: Make your mark
Lush trailers can cost a lot of money. They usually have sweeping 3D art, post-processing, sharp HD visuals and booming soundtrack. That’s awesome if you can pay for it, but it doesn’t mean a more “indie” trailer can’t compete. The YouTube video embedded in the post is for a game currently in production, Planck. It’s for a single level. And it didn’t break the bank. Still, the trailer worked wonders for the game. It made Reddit and many game sites and blogs. It worked because it had personality. The developer, Shadegrown Games, poured itself in the trailer… And it shows. From the copy to the music choices, everything meshed. If you’re like me, you were dying to play Planck after watching it. So… be creative. Make the trailer an extension of your game. Give it an attitude. That’s the only way to fight the big boys, with their over-produced trailers and licensed music.
Feel free to add great mobile game trailers in the comments. Then tell us why you chose each particular example and what makes it an excellent trailer.
Looking forward to your submission :)
Appy was chosen one of the Top 10 Mobile Developers to Watch in 2012 by Pocket Gamer! This awesome bit of news follows the two Best App Ever awards won by SpellCraft earlier this year. 2012 promises to be epic for the Appy Combine :)
“US outfit Appy has been around almost as long as the App Store. Spun out by veterans of the console scene, it quickly found scale with its FaceFighter franchise. Subsequent games were interesting but didn’t have the same mass market appeal, at least until the company’s first proper free-to-play release SpellCraft.
It’s certainly not perfect, but it is different to the typical Ville-style games, providing a deeper design mentality, as well as quality of presentation. This, combined with a push into Android and the company’s previous game experience, leads us to expect good things in 2012.”
One of the spells in SpellCraft
Follow this link to read the whole piece.
Liquid Entertainment’s founder and president, Ed Del Castillo, was featured in Gamasutra with a new post filled with valuable productivity tips, [Productivity] Tips & Tricks from a Game Developer. Ed figured out a way to keep projects, the studio itself and personal life on track with select techniques and mobile apps, most of them free (!)
"There are times that you need to write and write fast. I’m a decent speed iPhone typist and I now take notes on my phone. Draftpad is the simplest, easiest to use note-taking app ever created. I think the thing that turns people off to Draftpad is that there is only one page, but that is its biggest strength."
Visit Gamasutra to read Ed’s post and don’t forget to leave a comment :)
Indie developer Woo Games has announced its new multiplayer-focused Android shooter, ErnCon. The game has been available as a beta in the Android Market for a couple days now. ErnCon was downloaded by thousands of Android users and it currently has almost a thousand installs, pretty impressive for a game designed/programmed/tested by a single developer :)
Here’s the trailer:
Next week, I’ll be at GDC. If you’d like to meet, send me an email at luis ‘at’ novypr ‘dot’ com.
Jovan Johson is an attorney with L.A. firm Johnson & Moo. Like Novy PR, Jovan specializes on helping indie and mobile developers grow their companies from one-man start-ups to successful studios with a global audience.
Stray Pixels asked Jovan a few questions about attorneys, contracts, working with foreign publishers and more. Let us know what you think in the comments!
1. When should indie studios seek out a lawyer?
Indies should probably seek legal counsel once they begin working with others, including artists, programmers, marketers, etc. This will help ensure the terms of their agreement are written clearly and structured properly.
For example, last year my partner and I met with a potential client who produced a song (which, of course, is a form of intellectual property) that turned out to be quite successful. Gross revenue was close to $460,000, costs and expenses were approximately $25,000. Under his arrangement with the recording artist the producer’s share should have been $160,000, give or take.
The producer’s first problem was that he drafted the contract he signed with the artist. The document he came up with was quite detailed but didn’t make any sense. I’m not saying that as an attorney. I’m saying that as someone who reads and writes English. Next, he involved himself with investor-partners who were attorneys. The producer didn’t have an attorney review this second deal either. At the end of the day, he’s probably going to wind up with nothing to show for his efforts. In fact, he may be in debt before the ordeal is over. If he would have retained counsel from the beginning, he would probably have $160,000 in his bank account right now.
Some people think they cannot afford a lawyer. If you’re doing business and want to succeed, you can’t afford not having a lawyer.
2. How are mobile deals structured nowadays? What is the publisher role, for example?
The publisher’s role is to promote the game and sell units. They should provide input on polishing the game and a base level of PR and marketing. For that they receive a percentage of revenue, which may seem high to some developers. However, it’s better to have part of a financially successful game than 100% of one that sells 200 copies.
Some publishers have relationships that help with key placements within the Android Market and App Store, but that will not show up as a contract term.
3. What should developers watch for before signing a contract?
It’s always important that both parties have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them. Warm and fuzzy feelings are nice but the content of the written contract is what matters.
Some common issues that developers need to understand before signing a deal are:
- Can either party terminate the contract before the term is over? If so, how?
- How will disputes be resolved?
- What exactly is the developer giving up? Is it worth it?
4. Can working with foreign capital or a foreign publisher affect the way a contract is drafted?
Absolutely. If you plan on dealing with a foreign publisher you may have an issue in terms of choice of law. If the publisher insists on their local law, it’s a good idea for the developer to hire an attorney who is familiar with those laws.
Any deal regarding capital gets complicated quickly because it may be a securities transaction. Most attorneys are NOT capable of reviewing these contracts. Get help immediately if you’re thinking about a deal with capital, especially if it’s foreign capital.
5. Tell us about yourself. Were you always a gamer? When did you decide to focus on indies?
I’ve actually been a gamer on-and-off. Of course, I can remember spending many hours playing Nintendo when I was in elementary school. Same thing throughout high school, college, and after law school. Let’s just say if I get into something, I’m really into that thing. It’s best that I stick to casual games.
One of my brightest friends released a couple of iOS games. He worked with a small team on a handshake deal. This made me wonder about others making games without business and legal assistance. I’ve had a great time working with all of my indie clients. That makes me feel like I’m on to something.
6. Where do you see the game industry in the next 10 years?
I think gaming may go the way of movie studios. That is, large game companies who are financially sound will focus on blockbusters. That leaves a big opening for the indies to produce most everything else.
I also think mobile games will continue eating away at the market share console games have enjoyed for so many years. Game engines like Unity allow for increasingly advanced mobile games. It’s astounding, really. Google and Apple release mobile operating systems at a break-neck pace and developers take advantage of that.
Another advantage mobile developers have is that very few people want to buy a new Sony / Microsoft / Nintendo console year-after-year, but statistics seem to indicate that many people will opt to buy a new iPhone annually.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to say to Novy PR’s clients and readers?
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help. We answer emails and return phone calls. Kamal Moo, my partner, focuses on music and film law and has been around the block. We’re currently working with a fan-funded project, Angry Video Game Nerd The Movie. If you have a creative project in the works, there’s a good chance my firm can provide the attention and advice you need.
Here are some PR mistakes new studios will often make. Each (or all) of them can sink your mobile title in a single hit.
Duke Leto knows best:
"The first step in avoiding a trap is knowing of its existence"
1. Launching on a Friday
Fridays are when bad, bad companies like BP put news out so it gets BURIED. Therefore, if you need your game to stand out, the whole idea is to launch on a productive day like Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Another reason to avoid Fridays is the fact that Friday morning in the West Coast is Friday night in the UK, so you will lose most (if not all) Euro pubs.
[Go here for a great top ten of “buried news: http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=14489]
2. Failing to produce a trailer
Trailers are essential nowadays. They’re a basic complement to posts in sites like Gizmodo or Slide to Play. Through trailers, customers & press alike can understand how the game looks and sounds in motion — in short, how polished the whole thing is except for pure gameplay. So make sure to have a 30-second to 1 minute trailer ready for launch.
Here’s a great example: http://youtu.be/2_ObxR8d6LA
The game is FaceFighter Ultimate, a fun mobile brawler by Appy Entertainment.
3. Engaging in astroturfing
Astroturfing is when PR pros & interns pretend they are the common folk in order to give games they represent great scores/reviews in the App Store or the Android Market. Recently, a famous PR firm was caught doing it, making them look really bad to both prospective clients, the press and iPhone users. NEVER, EVER engage in astroturfing. You can easily get caught red-handed and in full public display.
Le Astroturf. As fake as my French accent
4. Changing the price / business model two weeks after launch
Pricing and mobile apps/games is always a point of contention. There’s a whole school of thought preaching that $0.99 is the place to be since it allows for mass penetration and wide distribution (the Angry Birds model). Others believe every game or app has it’s rightful place in the Great Pricing Pyramid — so games with a niche audience or high production values demand a higher price. That’s what EA and Activision do and I’m with the big boys on this one. However, there’s nothing worse than launching at, say, $1.99 then quickly dropping the price to $0.99 if lacking in sales. Or going for the whole in-app purchases bonanza only to find out no-one is buying — therefore immediately launching a premium (paid) version. Don’t change horses in the middle of the race. Stick to your guns — hopefully, you didn’t take the whole pricing issue lightly and made a great choice in the first place.
Don’t forget to check their user reviews in the App Store
5. Pestering the press with multiple emails/phone calls/voice messages
The press is busy just like you. They work hard and are often underpaid. It’s perfectly fine to send them one email and leave one voice message.
Don’t email them multiple times per day or leave multiple voice messages. Don’t keep calling either — maybe they are at their desk, but can’t pick up the phone due to a major deadline. Annoying journalists is the shortest path to getting ignored for the foreseeable future. No press = no coverage = tiny, tiny sales
Pests are found in many shapes and forms
6. Failing to provide sites with promo codes / premium accounts
Give the press promo codes of your game. Don’t make them buy it. Also, if your game is an MMO, let them know you can max out their character after a couple hours in-game so they get to see the whole world. Don’t make them play 10-15 hours straight just to have access to all the content — journalists have better things to do with their time. Finally, a word of warning: U.S. promo codes won’t work in Europe. If a target publication is in Europe — like the aptly-named Eurogamer — you’ll need to produce Euro codes or possibly reimburse them via Paypal.
No one will buy your game in order to review it
7. Having no presence on Twitter/Facebook/Google+
Twitter is great to keep in touch with your fans on a day-to-day basis. You can let them know a patch is in the works — or that this massive giveaway starts in two days. Facebook, on the other hand, fosters a sense of community, of belonging. You can still “broadcast” like in Twitter, but you need to understand every post will have lots of comments under it. So don’t assume everyone will love everything you say — expect criticisms from time to time. No matter what, use Twitter and Facebook to RESPOND as well. Engage your fans. Answer their questions. Post pictures of the studio, goofy videos, tips & tricks. You’ll thank me later.
Google+, the latest entrant in the Social Media Wars, it a hybrid of both Twitter and Facebook. G+ is perfect for the typical “broadcasts” done on Twitter but it also allows for posts well-beyond 140 characters. G+ is also a much more engaging social network; comments will be thoughtful — and plentiful.
How about you? Do you have any sins to add to the list? Tell your story in the comments!
Dropbox makes everyone’s life so much easier, it’s almost impossible to imagine working and playing without it.