Marketing: What else can I do to promote?

Discussion in 'Public Game Developers Forum' started by headcaseGames, Jun 26, 2010.

  1. headcaseGames

    headcaseGames Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2009
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    #1 headcaseGames, Jun 26, 2010
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2010
    My game 180 has been available on the App Store for nearly 2 months now.

    This is my second App, following a much simpler game released last August.

    For 180, our critical reception has been remarkable, but our actual sales are very lackluster.

    What we've done:
    -2 videos

    (how to play)

    - huge TA thread (160+pages)

    - Contest to win iPad/game console, and iTunes gift cards

    - Blog Updates nearly daily (discussing retrogames, and development notes), promoted on several different big websites including front page of Gamasutra

    - Facebook page w/ nearly 500 fans

    - twitter account w/ nearly 5,000 followers, updates daily

    - title is easy to write/spell for stupid people (180), and works in several different languages

    - has mascots (most puzzle games don't have anything for people to relate to)

    - cross promotion with a minor celebrity

    - game is unique, familiar at first play but quickly you can see how it is different and addictive (yes, the "A" WORD!). We tested the heck out of it!

    - gave out swag at E3, regularly hand out stickers/items

    [​IMG]

    - met several reviewers/etc in person and demo'd the game 1st-hand

    - sent out promo codes and gift codes to several known reviewers/websites at all the usual places, along with the usual PR stuff

    - made a Japanese YouTube video and Press Release

    - lite version available (a month and a half now)

    - dropped price from 1.99 to 0.99

    - freeAppCalendar.com promotion (we got HUGE download numbers, but didn't effect sales one bit)

    - appearing on some smaller to decent sized websites with interviews, podcasts

    - excellent iTunes reviews. Ranks are alright, what you'd expect after going free for 2 days..

    - game is easily accessible for casual and hardcore

    - openFeint integration

    - posting on neoGaf iPhone thread

    Our known issues (things working against us)

    - Game title is not descriptive if you don't know what this game is about

    - it's a match-3, even though the mechanic is unique people's first reaction is "ohhh another match-3"

    - screenshots aren't terribly descriptive, and are not very interesting out-of-context

    - no zombies or ninjas

    - Apple (unintenionally) screwed up our promotional campaign with TONS of "dud gift codes." I sent several (100+) out to many important people, only to find out later that when they tried to redeem, many of them just errored out (I had no way to check this). Majority of these are people who I don't get a second chance to talk to, and they won't think twice about trying to figure out what was wrong.

    - started out at 1.99, should have been .99 and let it stay that way.

    - we should have milked our free campaign a few days longer (instead of merely 2)

    - game was intended to release @ Thanksgiving 2009. It launched just shy of May 2010, which is so late that it is almost suicide to put out a puzzle game of any sort that looks like this...

    - no ads in Lite version, no in-app purchases right now

    - some negative reaction to the App Icon (I don't know if this is the vocal minority, though)
    [​IMG]

    - WAY overestimated the reaction we would get to our expensive contest (there was almost no interest/discussion)

    - our "how to play" video was poo-poo'd by "normal" gamers

    - can't seem, for the life of me, to get any mention on the front page of any big iPhone-centric sites (biggest we got was probably Destructoid, for a moment) and no feature by Apple.

    SO THEN.. what crucial things have I missed? Obviously I have spent a lot of time and energy on this production. I know all the usual rules apply: "don't expect one app to 'make it,' try to put out as many different quality applications as possible, foster relationships with gamers/websites, etc." Please let me know if you have any more input for things I should try to get a little more support for this game. We are planning to put out an update at some point soon, but what (and when) exactly that will be remains to be seen, up to the programmer of course..

    Thanks for your help!
     
  2. Osmiral

    Osmiral Well-Known Member

    Nov 19, 2009
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    Is that contest still going?
     
  3. headcaseGames

    headcaseGames Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2009
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    iPad contest has just ended, a day ago.. but the high score contest is still active for a few days. I will update the website today to reflect this.
     
  4. Osmiral

    Osmiral Well-Known Member

    Nov 19, 2009
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    Ok, I'll try to go for the highscore contest then. By the way, I think the game is really fun :)
     
  5. Harpgliss

    Harpgliss Well-Known Member

    Nov 8, 2009
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    This is not meant as a shot, or to flame, but starting a thread such as this might help.

    If you bring attention to your app, even if it is about it not selling, it will bring awareness.

    My suggestion is to go to as many sites as you can and start a similar thread, certainly could not hurt.

    Good luck with bringing awareness to your apps.
     
  6. AssyriaGameStudio

    AssyriaGameStudio Well-Known Member

    Dec 1, 2009
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    Jeez dude sounds like a serious effort!

    Only think I can think of is something were now thinking of doing, which is including a "please rate our app" link within your app to encourage people playing the game to rate it, rather than just those that delete it...

    Take a look here: http://arashpayan.com/blog/index.php/2009/09/07/presenting-appirater/

    What I would say is that a lot of it is a about luck... The best you can do is put yourself in a situation where your more likely to be lucky, and you seem to be doing that quite well so keep going and I'm sure you'll get a success soon :)!
     
  7. Foursaken_Media

    Foursaken_Media Well-Known Member
    Patreon Indie

    Well, I think you've done it all, and then some in terms of marketing -- much more then I think most devs do. As hard as it might be though, you might have to start looking at the game itself for why its not doing as well as you would like.

    There are a few things that stand out to me, personally (please don't take offense -- the game looks great imo). For example, while the mascot is a great idea, I don't think the girl has that wow factor that could really draw people in and give the game a unique personality. In Angry Birds for example, you take one look at those things (or even read the name) and you're like "Whoa, I am totally intrigued." -- one of the whole reasons people get sucked in is because of the theme and characters; I mean heck, apart from the characters even Angry Birds is really just another physics castle destroying game. I don't even see any focus on a mascot in your pics or description to really bring the title to life and give it personality (can you choose characters or what?).

    The other thing that stood out to me is the combo effects, which didn't look all that satisfying. Sure its a minor detail, but its ALL in the details... Fruit Ninja epitomizes this -- its a game that has VERY repetitive and stale gameplay, yet its presentation and fruit slicing effects instantly grab people and draw them in, even by looking at the screen shots.
     
  8. AssyriaGameStudio

    AssyriaGameStudio Well-Known Member

    Dec 1, 2009
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    I'd also say in terms of marketing to the gaming audience you are far better off going a bit retro or hardcore in terms of the style...

    Our game "The Glowing Void" has sold twice as many units as "The Mirror Maze" even though both got the game eurogamer rating, and The Mirror Maze was mentioned on touch arcade's home page, while The Glowing Void wasn't...

    I believe this is as Mirror Maze was very much a casual looking game (and intentionally so, it was basically prime colours, with a little bit of gloss), while The Glowing Void was neon glowing and quite retro...

    I consider the concept of Mirror Maze as far better; it's unique and hadn't been done on the App store, while "The Glowing Void"s primary gameplay mode was essentially a filler genre game with rotation (although we added other gameplay modes to enhance the experience, and spent a long time tweaking the physics to be an improvement over the existing ones on the market).

    Perhaps consider going out of the norm of the "match 3 market" (as it's saturated as it is), and replace some of the graphics with something more hardcore looking? This might make it stand out from the crowd a bit more, and as a gamer I still enjoy match 3 games but all of them seem very much target towards a casual market, which puts me off a little; but the slight added complexity of flipping the pieces etc makes a more hardcore feel potentially justified?

    Just a thought as I imaging it would be a week long job tops if you just quickly swap in some new artwork and release a "hard core" or re-named version also?
     
  9. headcaseGames

    headcaseGames Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2009
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    Foursaken - yeah, the mascot thing is tough, in general. It's pretty hard to know when a design will catch, and when it will flounder. We've all seen several huge companies struggle with that issue over the years - best example is the Doodle Jump... thing, it looks like something anybody would have drawn on their notebook in high school (maybe that's why it was successful!) but there's nothing to it that would stand out if you didn't already know what it was. I intended to do a lot more to playup the characters, but for a bunch of reasons we didn't get further with it - though I am satisfied with the place they do hold in the game.

    Combo effects were another sticking point as well. early in development, people asked us if they were going to be elaborate/etc. Ultimately between programming time/memory available we leaned on the light side, but we wanted that stuff to be subordinate to the gameplay anyway; when combos/chains are going off, the player is supposed start lining up more moves immediately to keep within the rhythm of the gameplay - so we wanted to downplay distractions and keep the game moving fast and clean. Taking cues from Tetris Attack, where they handled it very well (but yeah, 1st time players would be let down, I agree)

    Assyria - style has been a hugely difficult issue in development of this game. We compared it to a ton of other games that shared our desired audience, and we went all over the spectrum in the course of designing it. Ultimately the game needed to be clean, slick, and polished - but also subdued, again to support the gameplay (that's harder to accomplish with this kind of game than I'd expected!) Sady, this doesn't make for intense screenshots, but as a designer I'd prefer a game with strong, memorable gameplay over flashy looks that aren't supporting the gameplay. Ultimately, we decided to make something that would appeal to kids and girls, but when demonstrated to a hardcore player (familiar with more popular, yet complex puzzle games) they'd feel right at home as well.

    Making a hardcore/renamed version is a thought, but I am still considering that what we are presenting currently should not be too difficult to sell, it just needs a little more exposure in the right places.

    But I don't know. If ten different people chime in, in this thread and say "I hate the look. change the look" then that's certainly saying something :)
     
  10. AssyriaGameStudio

    AssyriaGameStudio Well-Known Member

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    #10 AssyriaGameStudio, Jun 27, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2010
    I don't think the look is bad at all, but as you say it doesn't "Grab you" from the screenshots... And in an impulse buy market place where everything is so cheap I think screenshots are really the vitally important bit...

    The reason I say a hardcore look may be better is as you are putting an awful lot of work into marketing the game to gaming press (E3, Demanoid, Touch Arcade etc)... But casual players are unlikely to read up on gaming blogs/ magazines, it's the proper gamers which will read from these outlets...

    So I'd say if your going for the casual look then focus on the mass market media, and not games media (so newspapers, maybe radio, hone in on where "kids and girls" consume their media if thats the target market your going for and advertise and focus your PR efforts there)... Also I agree that I think the icon could potentially be changed if it is the kids market your going for as (maybe this is just be being a young guy), but she has her boobs covered with a logo which could be taken the wrong way by parents considering it as a purchase for their children to play etc.

    Essentially what I'm gradually learning is to put aside my own tastes and really just focus in on the target market and ensure all the effort is being directed in the right place and really design the product and marketing plan around them... This is something I think we could have done better on our last title Mirror Maze (albeit sales have been ok), and are trying to improve on with the next title.

    It does look like a fairly well polished, quality product so the best of luck :)!
     
  11. RevolvingDoor

    RevolvingDoor Well-Known Member

    Dec 13, 2009
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    #11 RevolvingDoor, Jun 27, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2010
    Just out of curiosity, what were your expectations like in terms of sales? Your marketing looks like it was a great, well-organized effort... But, as you have already pointed out, this is ultimately another Match 3 game, which means you have a lot of competition. In a market that's so heavy with competitors, luck is always going to be a significant element. You can't control what your competition will do, or how your target audience will react to your competition's actions.

    I think the App store may be at a point where it's "safer" to use a scattergun approach with both game development and marketing than to focus entirely on one well-polished game.

    All that aside, I think your icon and name may be responsible for some of the blame here. Both are great -- when I hear something as vague as "180" or see an icon with a nice bit of visual pop, I become intrigued... But they don't work very well together. Given that your name and icon are going to be the first two bits of information a potential buyer receives, between the two of them, they should do something to describe the game. If your name is deliberately a little vague, the icon should expand upon it in some way. In your case, this does not happen. If I had to make a guess based just on these two factors, I might say "it's a game where you probably have to tilt the iPhone... Oh, and there's OpenFeint." That's just not enough to make me consider a purchase.

    I hope that helps. Good luck with getting your sales up!
     
  12. iStephen

    iStephen Well-Known Member

    May 4, 2009
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    Well I didn't know about the contest.

    You just got yourself another sale! :D

    EDIT: And another follower on twitter!
     
  13. headcaseGames

    headcaseGames Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2009
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    Assyria - all you say is correct. Being that I am a dev who comes from the world of gaming to begin with, way more than a marketing background, I've "gone with what I know" and concentrated my efforts towards marketing at the gamers (not the hardcore, but relatively) esp. since there's a good amount of them who'll still go for this type of game. If I was more market-savvy I would have probably concentrated my efforts where they might be more well-received - and I don't think it is too late to do that, so thank you for the suggestions :)

    Revolving - good point you make, in that the logo and the icon both work in different ways but possibly not together. I am thinking of doing a new version of it, so this adds fuel to my fire. As for what I was expecting in terms of sales? Well, as mentioned I was originally intending to release last fall, so putting it out just now yields pretty much what I would have expected (if anything, we've probably done better than we "should have"). Anyway, it is always hard to know what to expect with this stuff, especially when I'm admittedly a noob when compared to many other folks on here (I've only put out two apps, this is my first puzzle game, etc) I find it helps to think of all of this as a big experiment really, an experience to be learned from, and any success is a bonus - but might as well try to push it as far as I can :) Now is the time to do it, after all!

    In hindsight, I've long thought that we'd likely have more short-term success, business-wise, creating a very polished-looking Bejeweled clone and putting that out instead - but as a designer (and gamer), I'd much prefer to make something more original and memorable in the long term, even if the sales aren't so hot.
     
  14. ArtCoder

    ArtCoder Well-Known Member

    #14 ArtCoder, Jun 27, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2010
    As others have said, you've done way more than most of us in terms of marketing. You even handed stuff out at E3! Wow :eek:

    I don't think your marketing is to blame for the lack of sales. I think it may be a combination of the App Store just being a really hard marketplace and IMHO a not so great game presentation.

    About the market, I'm only going to say things that you probably know... Most of your intended audience only discover and buy games through the App Store and so it's really hard to reach them with any marketing efforts. If you don't get picked by Apple to be featured, it'll be very hard to get any casual gamers to notice your game, let alone buy it. That's something that we're battling with at Oniric, and still have no answer for. The only thing that may work is doing an ad campaign through AdMob or the like, but for it to be meaningful you must be ready to spend some real money.

    However, once you get someone to notice your game, presentation is the only thing that matters (aside from price, of course, but you've got that covered). When people find your game, it'll probably be on some sort of list (say a search on the App Store). That's when your icon and name have to attract them enough to click on it. Once they're in, people will go right down and look at the screenshots and, only if they see something interesting there, they will skim through your description (probably only the first few sentences and the feature list). Your screenshots and description are in charge of closing the deal, if they're interesting enough, you'll have a new customer.

    IMHO, these presentation aspects is where 180 is lacking. (The following impressions are from just reading your post and looking at the app description on iTunes. I intentionally didn't watch the gameplay videos and I haven't tried the game, to have a perspective closer to a prospective customer's).

    • First of all, the name. You said it:180 says nothing to your prospective customers. It's a cool name, but it does little to sell your game. Maybe you should consider adding a meaningful subtitle?
    • The icon... isn't very good. Paired with the name, it gets confusing. 180 and a girl in a sexy(?) pose, it looks just random. The little version looks ok, but the larger version looks amateurish. (The line art could be better, but the coloring is especially lacking. And what are those greyish things below the 180 sign?) Also, the OpenFeint logo is just pasted onto the icon, obscuring part of it, and it just means nothing to the large majority of your audience. They just don't know what OpenFeint is.
    • The screenshots look very good and show the game has a very polished look. The problem, I think, is they fail to communicate what's unique about your game. In your posts above you've stressed that gameplay is very important, a unique selling point that sets 180 apart of all other match-3s. But your screenshots tell the "just another match-3" story... I'd do a couple of changes. First, I'd get rid of the title screen, it looks like you have nothing else to show. Second, include short gameplay descriptions in your screenshots, make sure your customer can understand the core gamplay without having to read the description (they probably won't). Look at Project 72 for a great example of this.
    • The theme looks quite generic, nothing that says it's anything different from the likes of Bejeweled. The play area and the pieces, look cute but are hardly meaninful (moons, stars, hearts, musicnotes and... pink triangles with antennas :confused:). You made the effort to add charactrs, but judging by the screenshots, they don't seem to be very integrated in the gameplay or serve any actual purpose. You said you were hoping for people to identify with them, but that's not apparent in the screenshots either. The two characters I can see seem totally unrelated to each other (a girl and some kind of alien), and none of them looks unique or interesting enough for the player to make a connection. I totally agree with Foursaken's comment about this. A couple of examples that come to my mind right now that you can compare your game to are 7 Wonders and Zuma. The theme in both of those games make them seem so much more than simple match-3s, they tell a bigger story that instantly draws you in. Of course gameplay must be great, but unfortunately that comes after they clicked Buy.

    I have some other comments about the presentation, but those are just details and this post sounds negative enough as it is :)o sorry, I do hope this is helpful).

    One last suggestion: I'd get rid of the free version. It is really hard for a casual game to stand out enough to grab someone's interest. Once you do, you don't want your free version to steal them away. Your game's just 99c and, if it looks interesting enough, people won't give it much thought and get it. But if you have a free version available, they may get that instead and, even if they like it, you'll have to convince them a second time to go ahead and buy it. Most will have enough with the free version, and will just move on.

    Just my 2c. I hope you find something useful inside this huge post! :)
     
  15. headcaseGames

    headcaseGames Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2009
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    ArtCoder - thanks very much for the thoughtful and honest post :) This is the type of info I need to hear!

    Yeah, may details you've mentioned make sense, and some I have spent a lot of time thinking on. We definitely need to alter the screenshots so they tell more of the story, rather than "here's a game screen with some pieces on it" The icon, as others have said, definitely needs so TLC as well.

    One thing I am hanging on right now is the pricing.. and having a free App. This is obviously something that most folks spend a lot of time going back and forth over, and for good reason! We were at $2 for awhile, then after talking to a lot of people went down to $1. Our sales seem exactly the same. Also, I like having the Free version out there (because I can say "go to our website for the Free Demo!") but at $1 it might be cannibalizing things. I think we did a good job adding in enough features to the Full to make it stand apart from the Free, but I don't know how well it's actually upselling - it is hard to tell from the little data we've got (I guess I need to talk to my programmer more!)

    I am tempted to either go back to $2, or temporarily remove the Free. I am expecting some larger promotion from other websites in the coming weeks (possibly), and I want to be ready to take the best advantage I can. I don't suspect that erratic pricing/etc is too horrible on our part (will the potential customers, notice, or care?)

    I do like seeing @50 downloads of the Free each day though. What do you guys think?
     
  16. RevolvingDoor

    RevolvingDoor Well-Known Member

    Dec 13, 2009
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    Here's a link to a PocketGamer article about one company's experiences and conclusions regarding a free version: http://www.pocketgamer.biz/r/PG.Biz/iCombat/news.asp?c=14717

    I would take this with a grain of salt -- not everyone is going to have the same conversion rates, your mileage may vary, and so forth. However, it does suggest that the lite version strategy can be effective.
     
  17. Foursaken_Media

    Foursaken_Media Well-Known Member
    Patreon Indie

    #17 Foursaken_Media, Jun 28, 2010
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2010
    Wait, how can you measure your conversion rate of lite to paid if you release both at the same time? There is no way to tell that your lite is doing anything unless you release the lite after the paid version, and are able to see a tangible, sustained drop or gain in regular sales (otherwise its impossible to know whether its just a regular fluctuation or not). I sure hope they didn't just take paid sales/lite downloads and thats how they got their conversion rate haha, because that is just.... not accurate at all.

    We actually did a simultaneous full and lite release with N.Y.Zombies, and from our various tests of removing the lite and putting it back on sale later in the games life cycle, have concluded the lite has done little or nothing to our paid sales (at the 2.99/1.99 price point -- in fact, we got a BOOST in sales when we did a $.99 sale and removed the lite), so we can only assume having the lite on release did relatively nothing as well.

    In the future we will release lite versions later in the life cycle of our games, in hopes of using the lite's release as a "second chance" for exposure once our full version's ratings dip.
     
  18. RevolvingDoor

    RevolvingDoor Well-Known Member

    Dec 13, 2009
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    @Foursaken: I believe the company in the article didn't release the lite version at the same time as the paid one. However, based on their impressions of how well it did, they plan to do so for their future releases.

    I've heard a several developers claim that a lite version boosted their sales, but then again, I've heard a few claim that it seemed to have no effect. It's not easy to come to a conclusion, but they don't (as far as I can tell) cannibalize sales, as some people fear.

    I think your strategy is a pretty good idea.
     
  19. headcaseGames

    headcaseGames Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2009
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    i think it is dangerous to think that a "certain situation will only happen because we did/did not do a lite" - there are so many other factors going on (did it get featured, etc)

    From my (little) research it's been hard to tell what the general consensus is on the issue, but by and large most folks have said "we wish we had done a light in hindsight"

    Still, you look at some of the recent standouts - mega jump, fruit ninja, ninjatown, several zombie games - all have performed remarkably on the charts, none had a lite at launch (or since). All were high-quality, all were (I think) 99 cents, none were puzzle games.. whereas 6 months ago the trend could have been "you need a lite to compete," lately it fees like maybe "lite might be hurting you." I am tempted to disable for a few days and see what happens, but again.. there's so many factors at play that it is tough to determine.

    For those keeping track - we had a nice (relative) burst of downloads at launch of Full, then it dropped off pretty quick to low numbers. We got a nice boost back up when Lite launched (nearly 3 weeks later) then it trickled back to normal sales of Full.

    Featured on FreeAppCalender, Full + Lite enjoyed a quick burst following that, then zip right back to normal for both. Reduced to 99 cents, no change.
     
  20. TinyTechnician

    TinyTechnician Well-Known Member

    Apr 21, 2010
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    Well I'll have to say that your marketing efforts are seriously a cut above the rest in my opinion. It really is a marketing campaign I could only dream to do right now (due to time and money restrictions). But even after all that...to hear that your promoted Apps are still not making the cut, sales wise, is kind of disheartening :(

    I've downloaded 180 and think it's a great puzzle app but to hear that...

    good puzzle app + great marketing effort != good sales figures

    makes me think that the hand of Apple and being featured is really the determining factor for the majority of apps seeing any kind of big time sales numbers.

    I do have to agree with others about the App Icon though. I think a good app icon really really makes a big difference as far as getting someone to notice your app. At least I know it has worked for me. Regardless of what the app is even. If an app icon catches my eye, I will 95% of the time click on it just to see what it is. Then I'll decide if I want it...and usually I don't want it...but the thing is at least the icon got me interested enough to check it out.

    Maybe all 180 needs is an app icon swap to really make it pop. Well...that's probably hoping for the best but you never know ;-)
     

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