Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mid-Mortem: Space Squid

Mid-Mortem time!

I don't like using the term post-mortem with things are still going on, but I thought I'd talk about April's game-of-the-month, Space Squid.

As this is my first foray into the business that is Flash game development, I wanted to get a nice scientific baseline sample for what kind of interest self-generates around a game.

I wanted to use a few tools and just let it stew for a while and see what happens.

So here's exactly what I did:
  • Throughout April: Blogged about the game, right here. I also posted the occasional link to IRC chatrooms and IMs to get some feedback from trusted sources. The occasional twitter and facebook status update.
  • April 18th: Posted the game to FlashGameLicense.com, clearly marked as "under construction and unfinished" in several places. I decided to post it early - just in case a publisher saw it and said "Hey, turn it into a SpacePenis and you have a deal!" - and I'd still have time to make some development changes before my May 1st deadline.
  • May 1st: Finalized the game and marked it "Complete" on FGL; filled in a game submission form at AddictingGames.com, and emailed all my favorite 10 indie-related blogs announcing the release in a very low-key way (and even offered an open invitation for an interview about rapid prototyping, indie development, and all that other nice stuff). I also made a forum post at The Independant Gaming Source (TIG).
  • May 2nd: Attempted to upload the game to GameJacketWhirled, and Kongregate, but failed - GJ does not support games written in Flex at this time, and Whirled/Kongregate had some sort of malfunction once uploaded. Probably something like direct stage references; surely fixable if I put more time into it.
  • May 3rd: Submitted game to JayIsGames as a review request. They did such a great service for Fantastic Contraption I wanted them to have first stab at it.
That is all. I did not approach any publishers, I did not email-blast everyone in my extended family, I didn't lift a single finger to promote my game other than the above half-hearted effort. I wasn't trying to fail - I was just trying to see what kind of self-support the game would get just existing on it's own.

Here are the results of the above work, as of today (May 19th):
  • Three friends twittered about SpaceSquid.

Let's take a look at what went wrong, shall we?

The first and biggest problem I saw was a complex issue: A misunderstanding I had about how FlashGameLicense worked, a misunderstanding from their users about how it could be worked, and probably a poor design choice in the development of the FGL site. You see, as soon as you post a game as "visible" to the FGL-browsing publishers, it goes right to the top of their list as "fresh" and "new." It does not take into consideration the "incomplete" flag you set on the game, nor does it bump you to the top of the list once you do finish the product.

So what happened was I received 8 pageviews from publishers when the game was only half-done and the graphics largely placeholder. Here's a comparison: Final Build vs. The Build They Saw. It kinda makes me shiver that my biggest opportunities may have been seeing that fateful build. 

I built a lot of data-mining ability into the game, with Google Analytics tracking level-loads and the game itself logging activity. Of those 8 pageviews from publishers - which seems to me to be an embarrasingly small number to start with - only one ever clicked "Play Now" and they closed the window after about 20 seconds. The other 7 never made it past the menu - and considering the state it was in at the time, that is probably excusable.

It has now been 19 days since the game was marked as finalized on FGL. The game has since been viewed twice by publishers, and "Play Now" was never clicked. Of the 10 total views, only one was from a username I recognized - AddictingGames.

On top of that, JayIsGames decided not to review the game (or the review request was lost in the trash - though I did speak to Jay directly about the game and he seemed excited to get to it). My AddictingGames.com submission form likewise did not produce any further communciation. The few people who did played the game enjoyed it, but not at length, and didn't seem to particularly pass it on.

Suffice to say, the game cannot support itself. This is completely counterpoint to the success that Fantastic Contraption enjoyed, and I can't altogether say that I am surprised. Lessons learned:
  • FlashGameLicense does not have many Publishers that use their service;
  • FlashGameLicense punishes you for posting your game before release;
  • The game must suck more than I thought it did, and I thought pretty lowly of it to start with.
Well, even a piece of crap can sell if it has enough marketing behind it. And the power of
 marketing is now within reach to humble folk like myself, thanks to the power of the internets. I guess I'll have to give it a try and see if I can't turn 3 twitter posts into a financial success.

Yes, that wlil be me sitting there casually high-fiving someone over my bluescreened laptop with a briefcase so stuffed full of money it's falling out of the sides. Because that's how I roll.

Anyway, don't want to make a big to-do about it all - I have a new game in the works and I'm making a much bigger effort towards it than I did with SpaceSquid. Maybe that will be my golden goose.

Er, wait, a golden-egg laying goose. A golden goose wouldn't work at all, it can't even float proper! Stupid goose.

1 comment:

  1. I played Space Squid briefly being linked from your post at the Box2D forums; my impression was that the idea was not fleshed out enough. The raw addictive power wasn't there. I can elaborate on this some more but it seems like you're done with that project.

    I was reading through the FAQs at Flash Games License and I found this: "Can I delete my game and resubmit it? Now that it's complete it's a lot better..."

    Their response was "The best thing to do is to let us know. We have ways of bubbling games to the top." You can check out the FAQ here if you're interested, but it seems to amount to "if we think your game is good enough, we'll draw some more attention to it. Could be worth a shot.