What I learned from releasing a game

The Nodus was the first commercial game that I developed and released myself. There were a lot of things I learned along the way, mainly from mistakes I made, and I would like to share them in case they help you on your journey.

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Marketing – The Press

Marketing is an area I’m still learning about. One thing I’ve learned is that the press, if you can get them to talk about your game, is a very powerful tool. When I first released The Nodus, I knew little about how to get the press to talk about your game. My plan was to launch some online ad’s and post on social media about my game, meanwhile hoping the trailer gets noticed on Youtube. This didn’t really pan out the way I planned. Social media works best if you’re already well known, and it works better when you’re not just posting about your own product.

Two weeks after release a friend told me I should do a press release. I had no idea how. He then linked me to some video’s on doing press releases, and after a bit of extra Googling, I finally had an idea of what to do. After putting a package together I mailed out to around 80 different articles. Now, being that my game had already been out for a fortnight, I was going to be lucky if anyone wrote about it. As it turned out, 3 popular Android gaming websites wrote about and praised my game, and I got a live radio interview. These more than anything helped boost sales.

So what I learned: Press releases are better than running ads. Make sure you do press releases, and prepare them prior to a games release.

Marketing – Social Media

I am more and more seeing how social media is the most powerful tool available for marketing and gaining an audience who will want to play your games. I think I finally understand how not to use social media, which is a very important thing, and I believe I’m beginning to learn how to use it well. This article, for example. Being candid about talking about my games development process is a big part of my new strategy.

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The people I see who are successful with social media are those who are relevant to their audience, useful or interesting, and who don’t just talk about themselves. Some people use social media just to release news about their own projects. Pewdewpie’s approach works better. Pewdiepie just plays other people’s games and does it in a way that many find entertaining. Because of that, he developed a large following. Recently he released a game and it’s selling very well – because he had already built up that audience.

Find a way to be either useful to others, or interesting (I would put Pewdiepie down as ‘interesting’, also can be read ‘entertaining’), talking about topics other than yourself, and occasionally interjecting news about your own games. At the moment that seems to me like the successful strategy for social media. I also think Youtube is more powerful than any other social media platform, when used correctly.

I also learned that Facebook is not very useful in updating customers about your game, due to the way the news feed works (new posts drop off the news feed very quickly and maybe 1% of your fans will actually see it without paying for a ‘boost’). But having a Facebook page with a sizable audience makes you look good, and image is important to make sales.

Animated GIF’s are also useful wherever you can find a reasonable place to put them, especially on platforms like Twitter or blogs. They just catch your attention – but don’t be annoying with them or you’ll put long-term customers off.

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Realistic Timelines

I began The Nodus thinking I would get most of it done in a month, and that it would be out in 3 months at the absolute worst case scenario. How wrong I was. The Android release took 6 months, partly because I was also studying at the time and also because I was learning how to program with Fusion. That was June. In December I finally released it for iOS. Due to the nature of indie development, life events often delay projects, and even when they don’t, things often seem to take longer than expected. A friend of mine in the animation industry once said they estimate how long something will take, then allow for 3 times that. It works.

Keep It Simple

I have seen developers begin many projects they never finished. Before The Nodus I was working on another, bigger project, but in the end I decided I needed something more achievable for a one-man team. In general I indie developers should make smaller, simpler games at first, then work on larger projects as experience comes. I also think indie developers need to be realistic about their resources and the size of their team and not over reach with projects they will never finish. Working on a game is good; releasing a game is even better. In that way The Nodus was a perfect first project because the concept was relatively simple, I just had to design enough levels and give the game polish. I did all of that, and it works. I’m very happy with the finished product.

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Enough Is Enough

There were more features I had thought about adding to The Nodus, but there comes a time when a project just needs to be finished and you need to move on. Avoid feature creep. Just finish the game and move on. You want to figure out what a game really needs, put it in there, and finish it. The features I cut I realised didn’t really need to be there – they would have been nice, but ultimately didn’t need to be in this game.

Play-testing Is King

You need people to play your game. That’s one of the secrets to a good game. And not just play it once, but over, and over, and over, and over again. And over, and over… That’s the reason why The Nodus is a solid product. I watched people play it. A lot. Whenever I saw there was something players didn’t understand, I asked myself if there was a problem with the game’s design. It helped me understand which levels were harder than others and many, many other things.

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I also tried to get a lot of different people to play the game so that I was always getting fresh perspectives. If the same people were always playing, they would be getting used to it and I couldn’t see how a new player would react to the changes I’d made.  You can’t be precious about your idea’s; you have to do whatever it takes to make the game the best can it can be. It helps if you think about it like this; anything you remove or improve that wasn’t working will make the game better. Look forward to those opportunities when someone helps you discover something that wasn’t working about your game.

Also, play test early and often throughout development so you’re not too committed before you have to make changes. Watch players carefully to make sure they have fun as well as understand what they need to do.

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Summary

To summarise what I will do the next time I make a game, I will:

  • Use social media to build a gaming audience and prepare them for my game
  • Be relevant on social media talking about things other than my own game
  • Do a press release prior to launch and get them ready for the release of my product
  • Look at a realistic timeline
  • Keep things simple for my team size, eg, not trying to make too many levels
  • Review what features are really necessary
  • Know when it’s time to finish the game
  • Play test the heck out of the game, and test early

If you haven’t played The Nodus, make sure you check it out. It’s out now for iOS and Android. I hope you got something out of this article and it helps you with your own projects.

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