Case in point: adding Twitter integration to ZenCell means you have to make a lot of menus.
Here’s one of them.
It’s been a big year for me. Udell Games did not even exist in January, and yet here we are with a website, a domain name, some content and a heap load of free games! In the last six months I have been incredibly productive. Here’s a look back on everything that’s happened over 2013 as we look forward to 2014.
The star of the show! Hyper Gauntlet started as nothing more than an idle play around while bug fixing the next big release of Fuse Breaker (my bad). I imagined a game with a third person camera, similar to Temple Run, and a character running and jumping over obstacles. I nixed that idea though, when I realised that being able to see the player meant not being able to see the coming obstacles. I tinkered for maybe 3-4 days, and ended up with a build that is remarkably similar to the one you can play today.
Well, except the UI perhaps.
I submitted that build (then called Speedrun) to Reddit’s GameDev Feedback Friday post, and it garnered a lot of praise. Besides the UI, people liked its punishing nature, how fast it felt, and how addictive it was. I felt like I was on to something and after a week of continued development, decided to shelve Fuse Breaker. A few weeks passed and interest waned. People were still enjoying it, but there wasn’t enough changing for them to feel the need to pick it up properly.
Meanwhile I made friends on Reddit and Twitter. Noble Kale, who runs an excellent website with guides on empire building, pointed out a dire problem – one that I’d been aware of but hesitant to change – the name. If you google “Speedrun Game”, as you might imagine, you are swamped with videos and articles about people attempting to beat a game as quickly as possible (“speedrunning” it). This pushed my poor little arcade game back ten or twenty pages in the search results, and nobody tends to look past page 1. Not one to rest on his laurels, Kale immediately offered to help “fix this” and started brainstorming like no tomorrow. Eventually we reached a couple of options. I liked “Hyper Gauntlet”, but he was a strong advocate for “Nozzlethruster” (which I figured might have slightly too much innuendo).
I decided to make a compromise. Go with Hyper Gauntlet, but keep “Nozzlethruster” in the subtitle. It’s eye catching and I can’t help but smile any time a journalist talks about it, and that’s the story of how Speedrun came to be Hyper Gauntlet: Legacy of Nozzlethruster III.
More releases, and more positive responses from Feedback Friday, coupled with all the indie dev blogs’ incessant harping on the subject of marketing finally gave me the courage to give my little darling to the brave new world of reviews. I scraped email addresses and contact details from as many sites as I could find, in any language I could just about parse. I crafted an email to every one of them (all right, I kind of cheated. I had a base message and I personalised it for each person I emailed Any email that began with editors@ however didn’t get the personal touch), hit the magnificent send button and waited with hot breath baited for the Google alerts to pile in.
I got my first response the next day. Surprised and groggy, I woke up to read that the ever great Chris Priestman over on Indie Statik had picked up on my email and played the game, and what’s more he seemed to like it! It floored me. The first piece of media notice for Hyper Gauntlet was positive! I felt like I floated down the stairs to tell my girlfriend. I’d had a sneaking suspicion, all along, that I was secretly the only person who liked Hyper Gauntlet, that perhaps people were just being kind to me because it was my first real game, or because I’d posted it myself to Reddit. I think every dev feels this, and probably every creator. The deep, insidious doubt that what you’ve made isn’t good enough. A hyper-awareness of your project’s every flaw. I knew that Hyper Gauntlet still had bugs, it didn’t have much in the way of replay value. It didn’t even have a High Score table then, and yet here they were, professional games journalists, talking about my game as if it was somehow worthy.
And then in came the Rock Paper Shotgun article.
I’d tried every major outlet, Joystiq got an email, PC Gamer got an email, Rock Paper Shotgun, everybody did. I didn’t expect any responses at all, but as the SAS will remind you: He who dares, wins. And I won that day. In an article titled simply, “HYPER GAUNTLET”, Nathan Grayson wrote about my game as if it were haunting poetry. I was overcome with a levity and sense of unbelievable warmth reading that article, there were genuine tears of joy in my eyes and if I could float before then now I was practically on my way to the Moon. I’d been reading RPS for over three years and there I was, on their front page. What’s more is it was picked up and redirected all over the globe. Hyper Gauntlet was worldwide.
With the hot fire of recognition burning at my soul, I set to work outlining exactly what needed to be done to bring Hyper Gauntlet to release. Since that day, there have been some major releases: power ups, the vignette system and the high score boards, and we’ve bolted closer and closer to the finish line. According to my list I have only one item remaining. Excellent!
So what happened then? The PSU on my development PC died. My computer can now no longer boot up for longer than three seconds. Thankfully, all of my code is backed up on Bitbucket, and I’m still able to get a hold of Hyper Gauntlet. Unfortunately my laptop is slow. I can add new code to projects, but bug fixing is a pipe dream. I’m doing my best, but now the best bet is to just get my old machine back up and running. Luckily a friend of mine runs a computer shop and is offering to do the fix for free in exchange for a copy of Hyper Gauntlet when it’s done, so all is not lost.
What does the near future hold? A fixed PC, that last bug shattered and a major announcement! Watch this space.
PR is not something you wanted to do when you signed up to be a game developer – it’s not your passion, or you’d be working for a PR firm by now. It is necessary however, unless you’re happy making games for yourself that nobody else will play. This isn’t a guide on how to do PR, because I’ll be the first to admit that I suck at it. Instead, this is a guide on how to use the tools around us to reduce the time marketing a games takes, so we can spend more time making great, new, original pieces of art (or explosions).
There are so many different arenas for getting your game in front of prospective players: Screenshot Saturday, indie game reviewers, Let’s Players, forums, the list goes on. One thing they all have in common? They need content. You’ve got to have something to show them, whether it’s a new build for the reviewers and let’s players, to screenshots, gifs or videos for the forums. If you don’t have anything to show, nobody’s going to take notice, but making screenshots, gifs, videos, builds – this all takes a lot of time. Save some of this time by reusing your stuff. Posted a new screenshot to Screenshot Saturday? Put it on your twitter feed, post it on your blog, add it to your press kit. Act smart, keep a folder of your content for each game, and then when you need to send out images, videos, etc., it’ll all be there.
Before I started thinking about it properly, making a set of screenshots for Screenshot Saturday took me 2 hours. That’s 2 hours of my time out of every week. Now, it takes maybe 15 minutes. How? I take the screenshots as I’m going along. Anytime something interesting happens, a new feature, a particularly crazy bug, a cool new high score, I snap a screenshot. I don’t end up posting all of them because nobody wants their twitter feed, or their reddit post filled with your images. Pick the best ones and move on.
Often with Screenshot Saturday, Feedback Friday, new forum threads or sending your game off to reviewers or LPers, you’re going to have to include a description of the game. If you’re writing it out every time, you’re wasting hours of your life. Keep it saved in that folder of yours. Seriously. Sometimes you might need slightly longer or shorter versions, depending on the medium. Save those too. It’s amazing how many times I’ve had to enter the same description for one of my games.
Stream! Streaming your development and play-testing nets you wonderful returns (even if you’re silent when you do it). 1) You’ll have people watching as you code, suggesting improvements or just keeping interest in the game at a high level, 2) You’ll have copious quantities of video to edit and post as trailers, gameplay videos, dev highlights, etc. All of this while you’re working, only adding the video editing time to your trailer making.
If you’re not using version control I will come to your house and sing horribly at you until you do. There is not a single good reason not to be doing it, especially when your baby’s on the line. But while you’re there, committing away with your funny little messages, do you know what you’re doing? You’re passively writing a change-log from one build to the next. When you post to Feedback Friday, update your game on your site, or send out a new build for review, attach your commit messages (and maybe edit them a little bit, because nobody writes good commits).
As you start to get a bit of a following, you won’t be the only person producing this content. Reviews, previews, let’s plays, streams, funny pictures and gifs, memes, fan art. Your fans and the indie reviewers out there will start making their own PR content for you. Now, I’m not saying you should plagiarise, but if you see a cool bit of content made about your game, share it! Share it with the world. And make sure you credit the creator, because when you do – you’ll have made a fan for life out of that person. Keep sharing the work of others alongside your own work and soon you’ll have a never-ending stream of varied, interesting content.
You should have a regularly updated website and dev log. Don’t have one? Get one. Web hosting and domain names are cheap. Really cheap. If you really, truly can’t afford one then wordpress.com or blogger have your back. Give it a nice look and make sure it’s got a Content Management System on it to make updates easy for you. Do everything you can to make it easy to tell the world about your game, because you’re going to be doing a hell of a lot of it in the future.
Do Screenshot Saturday and Feedback Friday. Seriously. Traffic spikes.
Review sites should be getting your game every time there’s a major update. Pixel Prospector has a great list of game sites and let’s players. Remember that they rely on getting great games to continue reviewing, so don’t be shy in emailing them. Make sure you also check out one of the many guides to writing a press release, to make sure you don’t put anyone off your future games.
Platforms are important too, not least because they act as marketing tools in their own right. Is your game freely available from your site? Cool. Unless you’re planning on earning millions through ad revenue it should be on IndieDB too, and GameJolt and any of the other platforms out there. Not freely available? Then put it on all the stores! Humble store, Desura, Steam. Always make it as easy as possible for people to get your game.
TigSource forums are a great place to put up your game, but just like with Screenshot Saturday, remember that you’re expected to respond to feedback on fora. Spend some time doing this, because people who you connect with are much more likely to seek out your site and keep up to date on the game.
Be social! It feels like there are a hundred social networks out there, and ideally you should be on every single one of them. Have a Facebook page, a Google+ page, and a Twitter handle as a bear minimum. Link to these pages from your blog, try to work links to all your different content platforms into every post (without annoying the reader). Remember, even if a social network only has a couple of thousand users, that’s still a potential couple of thousand fans.
I could sing the praises of Buffer forever, but it would give me a sore throat. Tired of managing all your social networks individually, or relying on their own spotty inbuilt sharing API’s? Then Buffer has your back. If you share anything with Buffer it will wait until the perfect time to post, and then post to all of your social networks. This means you can have posts queued up for when you’re asleep or simply out, and you can spread out your updates instead of spamming twitter with a hundred screenshots.
If This Then That is the greatest internet tool since Yahoo Pipes. it’s a simple condition->action system where the inputs and outputs are the various APIs of a multitude of web apps including Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, RSS, the time of day, etc. Got a game out? Send out reminders to your social networks by regularly sending a link to it to Buffer. Automatically post on Twitter and Facebook when you write a new post on your blog. If you favourite something on Twitter, then automatically share it to facebook. The possibilities are endless.
It’s no good having all of these accounts filled with tumbleweed posts. You’ve got to keep updating and you’ve got to be interesting. Automation can help with this, but you still need to make at least one update for it to be copied to every other network. Sometimes this will feel like a chore, but force yourself to do it. My regular Thursday blog post is always followed by a spike in page views, and the spikes are getting taller with every new post.
Write down thoughts as they come to you, compile these together with a smattering of the English language and you’ve got a rudimentary post. Flesh it out with some research, some pictures and there you have it. I can’t pretend this won’t take a long time, but it’s worth it. People are interested in news, updates and insights. We’ve captured news and updates, but the insights will keep a reader engaged.
Don’t over automate. Don’t. Nobody wants to tune in to your twitter feed to find five sparse messages reminding them to play your game, posted from IFTTT.com. Communicate with people. Retweet interesting or amusing insights from other developers. Respond to people, talk to them. At the same time, make sure you’re not too formal either. While technically you may be a company or a brand, an indie game developer is a person or small group of people, first and foremost. Keep people aware that you’re not a corporation with suits and casual Fridays, remind them you have a soul. People will connect much better with a guy called Nick who likes Firefly and finds farts funny than they will with Udell Games – Play our latest game in your browser now!
Got any other tips for making the PR process more efficient? Think I’ve said something stupid? Think something else? Tell me about it in the comments below!
I now have a twitter. If you follow me, then I can twit at you. Like a twit, Perhaps you will twit at me and we can be twits together.
However if you don’t wish to follow me in the magical twitverse, then I understand, but at the same time must stress that there will be consequences*.
I also have a Google+. Some people use Google+, and if you are one of the lucky few, then by putting me in one of your circles (preferably something close, like “Following”, but not as stalkery as “Building a shrine to”.) I can give you updates on the blog. I imagine this makes sense for you, because you don’t know what RSS is. If you do know what RSS is, then my twits and Google+ updates will also contain random thoughts as they enter (and quickly exit) my head. So that’s something, I suppose.
* Those consequences being that you cannot read my awesome twits.