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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperBusinessIndie Exposure: Blog Series
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Alistair Aitcheson
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« on: March 06, 2012, 10:54:27 AM »

Hi everyone,

I'm running a blog series on indie exposure. Getting exposure for our games is a big challenge for all of us, and I thought it would be useful to share my experiences from working with the Greedy Bankers games on iOS. They're being cross-posted as guest articles on Gamesbrief.

Article #1: Why's it so hard to get exposure?
Article #2: Making the most of your USP

The next article will be on the power of the personal touch, and I hope to have it on the blog later this week. I hope it's useful! Smiley

<EDIT>
I've added two more articles to the series:
Article #2b: Virality (continuing the discussion of gatekeepers and using Bateleur's awesome video)
Article #3: The Personal Touch
« Last Edit: March 10, 2012, 05:08:32 AM by Alistair Aitcheson » Logged

ஒழுக்கின்மை
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« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2012, 12:43:05 PM »

in the first article, i disagree that the gatekeepers have been replaced by a mass mind gatekeeper -- i do think that largely there are still a few powerful people who decide what games get exposure and what games don't. one valve blog post hyping your game is worth much more than 10,000+ average gamers doing the same, as we saw with minecraft's rise to fame. i also wish you had included some numbers on the rise of competetors: the astronomical increase in the number of games released each year is something that can and has been measured, and it's worth posting actual numbers about it. the first article also failed to mention the biggest hurdle to exposure for an indie: that the gaming press still largely ignores indies (although it's getting a little better) and operates mainly to regurgitate the news corporations want them to repeat, rather than as investigative journalists or people who care about finding and exposing unknown games

second article seems okay, i don't see much to improve on there
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Alistair Aitcheson
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« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2012, 04:07:10 PM »

Hi Paul, thanks for your feedback.

I guess my point about the gatekeepers was more about the role of the platform holders determining what can and will make it through. My point is that it's no longer the platform holders who decide whether who can and can't make it onto the marketplace, but there is a new gatekeeper decides who can compete in that marketplace.

The argument that tastemakers are the new gatekeepers is an interesting one. I don't believe that's so true on iOS (my area of expertise), where press coverage does not necessarily convert to sales. On the other hand, Apple themselves still have a large hand in App Store success (through Featured and N&N lists), but in many ways the consumers themselves have taken on the mantle of bringing games to the attention of Apple or the tastemakers.

In terms of the increase in games in the marketplace, I guess if it's been widely documented it doesn't need me to give numbers! Wink I know it makes me sound more credible as a writer if I do, but at the end of the day it doesn't change the points I'm making. I'm sure I could find something though.

I would disagree that the games press largely ignores indies. I think we've seen a massive increase in attention given to indie studios, with the growing popularity of sites such as indiegames.com, and a marked increase in coverage of indies in magazines such as Edge. I personally feel like the games press have been quite easy to talk to and responsive. Indies provide interesting source material, after all, as we have unique stories and are identifiable as personalities. On the other hand, in the iOS market, some have commented that games press coverage is largely ineffectual in terms of sales anyway. At the end of the day, I don't think a lack of press coverage is the issue here.
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« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2012, 11:25:01 PM »

Alistair,
Perhaps it's the chicken and the egg?
As I understand, you say that the audience determine which games will be most popular, on the other hand, you also said that only the top 20 games gets the most attention from the audience...
So the things that put a game in the top games are what counts, not the massive success it gets after it's there.
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Alistair Aitcheson
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« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2012, 02:23:54 AM »

I agree, it is a chicken-and-egg kind of situation in that respect. I don't think you can rely on being the Top 20 as a strategy, but my point is that to even get to that place you need to grab hearts and minds in some other way. That's why I think building up a niche audience is so powerful, as well as some kind of outstanding USP or innovative business model. Putting a game into the marketplace and expecting it to be spotted because of its quality alone isn't enough.

My point with the gatekeeper is more to do with the fact that while access to a marketplace has gotten easier, getting spotted in the marketplace has gotten harder. Whereas before it was publishers and platform holders who decided what would be viable, now it is the consumers themselves - whether it's tastemakers or the general mass audience who determine consumer trends depends on your product. Ultimately the point I was trying to make is that the rules of the game have changed somewhat with open marketplaces.
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bateleur
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« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2012, 06:05:18 AM »

Personally I think the idea of a collective gatekeeper-like phenomenon is pretty insightful.

Games are complex to analyze, but lots of analysis has been done on simpler but related questions like what makes YouTube videos "go viral". And in fact it turns out that Paul Eres is right as well. That is, even clips which have what it takes to go viral will often not do so until given a kick by a widely-respected source. And yet when they are, that source itself accounts for only a tiny fraction of the resulting explosion of hits.

(Recommended viewing: Kevin Allocca on Why Videos Go Viral.)
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Alistair Aitcheson
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« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2012, 07:17:39 AM »

Wow, that video is really awesome! Thank you so much for sharing it Smiley

Perhaps there's something to be said for developing and promoting your work so that it is remarkable to the tastemakers. That said, I'd argue that being remarkable to tastemakers and being remarkable to general consumers are very very similar. Would you say that's the case?
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« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2012, 07:58:51 AM »

Would you say that's the case?

It's complicated. Certainly there's a lot of commonality between what "tastemakers" seem to like and what the public like - which to some extent is why they're in that influential position to begin with - but I think there are also differences.

Broadly my impression has been that tastemakers in gaming tend to be people who are short on free time but who are fairly skilled game players. Both of these traits serve to skew the kinds of things they rate highly.
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PompiPompi
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« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2012, 08:39:27 AM »

It is extremly hard for me to get interested in new games these days. Mostly because I am very busy so I am always very critical of new games, and always think twice before playing a game in case it's not worth my time(even if it those worth my time).
I imagine that it's the same for the busy taste maker, but in addition he is being bombard by tons of requests from indie developers to test their game.
Now I am afraid that just being informative about your game might not be enough to convnice a taste maker to seriously try your game?
You need to do something spectacular to intrigue the taste makers? Even if it's not directly related to the game?
Or do you think that taste makers actively search for interesting games?
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Alistair Aitcheson
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« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2012, 01:44:46 PM »

Broadly my impression has been that tastemakers in gaming tend to be people who are short on free time but who are fairly skilled game players. Both of these traits serve to skew the kinds of things they rate highly.

I'd be inclined to expect them to be very similar. The fact that they're short on free time means that a short, clear USP is probably going to be imperative, in the same way as it is for consumers with more free time but a lot of competing options on what to play. With them being highly skilled game players, they're probably going to be more attuned to spotting the interesting bit in a niche game. It also means they're more likely to ignore a USP if it's predominantly cosmetic.

Still, I don't think it's impossible to develop something that appeals to both - it's probably most desirable. I see no need for that to be a limitation on game design either Smiley

It is extremly hard for me to get interested in new games these days. Mostly because I am very busy so I am always very critical of new games, and always think twice before playing a game in case it's not worth my time(even if it those worth my time).
I imagine that it's the same for the busy taste maker, but in addition he is being bombard by tons of requests from indie developers to test their game.
Now I am afraid that just being informative about your game might not be enough to convnice a taste maker to seriously try your game?
You need to do something spectacular to intrigue the taste makers? Even if it's not directly related to the game?

Haha, I'm exactly the same! I think you do have to do something spectacular to intrigue the tastemakers (just like you do to intrigue regular consumers). In terms of whether it has to be related, my guess it would probably would have to be some part of the game, although I do think there is a human interest level that can be important. The developer's story or his motivations behind developing the game can be of great interest, and (particularly if they're games journalists) provide a lot of interesting material!

Quote
Or do you think that taste makers actively search for interesting games?

I would expect they do see a little deeper into the workings of the game, and how it sits next to others in the genre, more than general consumers do. However, I think it has to be spectacular or surprising in its gameplay. If it's the kind of thing you need to play for 15 minutes before you see the interesting bit you're likely to get missed. If it's interesting before you've even played it then that's much better!

In terms of where tastemakers find interesting games from, I would expect it's either from developers' pitches, real-world networking or coverage from other commentators. Does this sound accurate?
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Alistair Aitcheson
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« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2012, 05:09:40 AM »

Just to let you know, I've added a couple of new articles to the series:

A discussion of virality (continuing the discussion of gatekeepers and using Bateleur's awesome video), and the power of the personal touch.

Let me know your thoughts Smiley
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larsiusprime
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« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2012, 11:41:49 AM »

In the interest of providing some additional data points for the debate, here's some basic stats from our January launch of Defender's Quest. I've written an upcoming article that goes into more detail but Gamasutra has it under embargo for now until it runs next month.

We were reviewed (and previewed) in several major media blogs, I've listed a few of them below. So I think we attracted some pretty decent attention.


Here's a full listing.

So how did that all translate into sales? One thing we did was make coupons available, and in most cases the reviewers included these in their article (Destructoid did on the news post, but not on the review, so their numbers in this chart are likely under-counted).

SiteCoupon Sales
Kongregate3,652
Newgrounds476
RPS 390
Joystiq225
Reddit108
Destructoid93
Site Newsletter  83
Zeboyd41

These are just coupon sales. Total sales were significantly higher.

The forthcoming article will go into methodology a bit deeper, ie, coupons are just one metric and present an incomplete/limited picture, blah, blah, blah, but what's immediately clear from even this rough sample is that the flash portals had a way bigger effect on driving traffic to our site and converting to sales than even the biggest media mention (RPS), and had a much longer lifespan. We're no longer getting traffic from these old media articles now that they're buried in site archives, but we still see daily traffic from flash portals, even though it's slowed down a bit now.

Using other metrics (site traffic referalls, etc), we're reasonably sure at least 90% of our total revenue is being driven by flash portal traffic from our free browser demo. The lion's share of that is from Kongregate.com, though Newgrounds alone brought in more revenue than RPS did.

Smaller flash portals like minijuegosgratis.com that "stole" our swf file from Kong/Newgrounds were giving us as much or more traffic referrals than some of the other articles.

Thoughts:

-Media is important
-Media hits usually give you big sales spikes, then dip back down
-Flash portal presence > good media reviews
-Make a browser based demo. See what happens.

We released the browser demo on a whim just because we were already using Adobe AIR and it wasn't much effort to make a vanilla flash demo build. I will never release a game again without a browser demo. Even if I make a game in something other than flash, I'll ensure I have a pipeline to make a browser demo somehow, such as Java, Unity, Chrome Native Client, HTML5 javascript, whatever. Flash has the unique ability (today) to leverage flash portal distribution, but above and beyond this, I think our non-flash-portal sales were higher because of how easy the demo was to play.  Furthermore, it probably made it easier to get reviews because a skeptical and time-strapped journalist would be more likely to click on the "free web demo" link than to even plug in their free review code to download and install the full version.

We didn't quite "go viral," ie, the media hits didn't launch us into a chain reaction. Most of the media posts were the result of us directly contacting those sites, so the only people who wrote about us without us sending them a press release or personal email to the editor were some lesser known sites.

As far as I can tell, the popularity on flash portals had little to nothing to do with the media reviews. Getting featured on Kongregate is very closely tied to user review score, so it's more of a meritocracy than strongly curated portals like the appStore. We were less at the whim of a few fickle tastemakers than we were at the whims of hundreds of thousands of fickle players. 

Even without all those great reviews from game sites, based on the data I have I think we still would have made about 90% of our current revenue.

So that's our specific experience. Just one data point, but maybe it will be helpful to someone.
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Alistair Aitcheson
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« Reply #12 on: March 13, 2012, 01:39:23 PM »

Thanks for posting that - that's very useful data and experience! I'd been thinking a lot about doing browser versions alongside desktop/mobile versions for this very reason, but wouldn't have suspected that the difference would be this distinctive.

Do you think a lot of the people trying the flash version were directed there by reviews, at least initially? Or would you say the flash version generated a lot of its interest on its own, from people recommending it to each other, or from being featured on-site by the portals?
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larsiusprime
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« Reply #13 on: March 13, 2012, 01:59:34 PM »

I'd have to dig more into our stats to say for sure, but everything points to the flash portal traffic being mostly self-contained.

People trying the flash version on our site were often directed there from the review sites, but the kong/ng portal stuff took off on its own. I have a friend who works at Kongregate that I can ask for more details as he has more of an insider's view.

Of course, your mileage with this technique might vary. Our design was something that appealed strongly to the flash crowd, and the price point was set pretty low.
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« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2012, 08:51:57 AM »

thanks for sharing that info larsiusprime, really really agree with you about having an instantly playable version for browsers. Flash + AIR really combo well for this
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