We just launched our new game, Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten, for PC/Mac/Linux, a few days ago, and have been pretty surprised at our initial success. Only time will tell if that trend continues, but for now we've seen both brisk sales and some great critical reviews.
Today I'd like to talk about the underlying deployment strategy behind Defender's Quest.
Hi, I'm a PC. (and a Mac, and a Linux...)
It seems all the cool kids are developing for iOS/Android these days. They are much braver souls than I, and I wish them the best, for to me those markets look like bloody red oceans*.
*We might expand into them eventually if we do well on PC, of course. Just, not a great place to start.
People often talk about how "big" the iOS market is (100 million! 200 million!), and that's true, but it's also highly competitive, the discovery problems are well-documented, and choices are limited. In contrast, there's about a billion personal computers in use throughout the world, and though discovery is still a challenge, you have the open toolset of the PC at your disposal. For this article, by "PC" I mean "personal computer," for all Mac/Win/Linux operating systems.
Where is someone likely to hear about your game? On a website. More than likely on a PC*. The next thing I want that person to do is play our free demo and fall in love with our game. Then I want them to buy it. I don't want them to read an article and think, "I'll have to remember that game next time I'm on the train or sign onto XBOX Live." No. I want them to read the article, and if they like what they hear, try it, and buy it.**
I can't tell you how many interesting games I've come across that I wanted to buy but couldn't because they were only for iOS, or for XBLA, or whatever. I don't own any iOS devices, nor an XBOX. Plenty of people have these, but I'm also willing to bet those cool cats also have access to a PC.
*It's true more people are browsing on smartphones/tablets, etc, so this might change in the future, but the majority are PC-bound for the time-being, and I don't see PC's becoming obsolete anytime soon.
**To sweeten the deal, I usually send out a coupon code to any and all reviewers to post for their readers that's for a $1 off until the end of the month.
It may not be the easiest platform to develop for, but it certainly is the easiest way to get a game in someone's hands.
I remember the first XNA game I made many years ago. After fiddling with a friend's computer for half an hour getting it to install, the title screen finally appeared in all its glory. I stood back and triumphantly proclaimed, "Ta Da!"..... and then sheepishly asked, "Ummm... have you got an XBOX 360 controller?"
From then on I decided I would make it as easy as possible for people to play my games, because I wanted as many people as possible to play them.
This seems so obvious as to be a tautology, but it wasn't always so clear.
That's the old grocery store saying, at least. I'm pretty surprised at how difficult it is to play a demo for most commercial games these days. For most PC downloadable titles, you have to download a giant file, remember where it went, install it, and then find the desktop icon and run the program. That's four steps, with two big wait periods, and that's if the installer doesn't require a reboot, online activation, or a bunch of other dependencies. Steam does a better job, but even then you have to download something and check back later.
Even for facebook games, I have to remember my facebook password, log in, click on the thing, relinquish a chunk of my privacy, and then start playing. That's slightly easier, but given how much I hate facebook, I personally find it even more annoying.
It should not be this hard to play a demo.
This also happens to be on every page of the site, and is repeated at the bottom of longer pages.
Clicking on "TRY Free Demo" takes you here:
You're playing the demo! You don't have to download any files or install anything. All you have to do is click once and you're there. One step, one short wait, and zero moments of "where-did-I-put-that-thing-ah-forget-it-who-cares!"
I don't have a control setup to compare against, but I'm reasonably sure this has drastically improved our bounce rate. Our goal is to get as many people as possible to play the demo, and the entire page is designed to make that as easy as possible.
To that end, some people actually do prefer a downloadable installer, so they can get the full desktop experience with native fullscreen resolution switching, etc. For these folks, these links are just below the browser demo, as both torrents and direct links:
Obviously, the language you choose to develop with determines whether you can release a browser-based demo, but I strongly recommend considering that in your choice of platform for your next PC release.
Adobe AIR/Flash, Game Maker, Unity, Java, Chrome Native Client are just a few choices off the top of my head. I strongly believe the browser-based demo is a large reason for the success of Minecraft, for example.
Once we get people to play the demo, we have to deliver the goods, and the manner in which we present the demo is just as important as the game's quality.
People have been commenting that our demo is quite long by most standards, about 1-2 hours. There's no time limit, and it includes the first 2 of 7 total acts, or about 20% of the total game (the later acts are longer).
One of the major reasons for not buying a game is not knowing what you're getting, and is a commonly cited reason for pirating a game*. A generously long demo is our way of making it clear to players exactly what kind of experience they can expect. Many developers are wary of giving long demos, fearing players will figure they've gotten enough milk for free, so why buy the cow?
*Not sure if that's just a rationalization, but making the demo easier to find and play then a pirated copy is a first step in testing that hypothesis.
Since we're a Tower Defense / RPG hybrid, there's several reasons to buy - first, the player wants to know what happens next in the story, second, we've given the player a tiny taste of the mechanics while suggesting that there's plenty more to come, and third, the player can see that they've only scratched the surface of filling out their party's roster and skill trees, knowing that things will get good in the next five acts.
Another reason for an easily playable demo is to let parents determine if the game is safe for their kids*. We provide a prominent "is it safe for my kids" link with a detailed content rundown, and along with a browser-based demo, there should be plenty of information to make a judgment.
*I'm pretty surprised that more games don't offer something like this - the ESRB ratings don't really tell you much by themselves. I mean, there's "Halo M", and "Gears of War M", after all.
Finally, we offer an option to export your save file from the demo, which you can import into the full version. We mention this prominently both in the demo itself as well as on the landing page to buy the game if you came from the link in the demo. We want the player to know her time spent playing the demo wasn't wasted.
This is a PC game. To that end, we included a lot of little touches that take advantage of that specific platform and make it as enjoyable as possible.
- Native full-screen resolution switching
- Button that shows you where all your data files are stored
- A ridiculously detailed options menu
- All the configurable controls and hotkeys you can eat
- A 100% tab-navigable interface on all screens
- Accessibility options for the disabled, etc.
- Experience multiplier to speed up/slow down the game's pace
- Cutscenes you can skip, pause, and re-watch at any time
- Turn dialogue and tutorials on/off
- Layered challenges to make the game as hard/easy as you want
- Play the game at any speed ranging from 1/4x to 4x
- Make decisions even when the game is paused
- Dead easy Import/Export of save files
So, those are some things we did with Defender's Quest. There's buckets more I could write on this subject and probably will, but that's a good start for now. Hope someone finds this useful!
Oh, by the way, you can try our free demo and buy the game right here: www.defendersquest.com, and the coupon code GAMA is good for a $1 off* throughout the month of January :)
*You have to input the coupon code AFTER you enter payment info, but before the sale is finalized. Yes, I know it's stupid, but that's how the store sets it up.