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Launch is Dead for Free to Play Games
by Yaniv Nizan on 09/30/13 04:06:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Are you launched? Have you launched yet? When are you launching?

These are questions you hear quite a lot when developing your first game. To be honest, I always dreamed of doing a big launch like Steve Jobs, dramatically unveiling our great product to the public and listen to the crowd cheering.

Ok, back to reality. The fact is that I'm always struggling with these questions. SOOMLA, my current company is doing a platform for mobile game developers - allowing them to add In-App Purchase Stores to their games. We are big advocates of 'Lean Startup' and so we had quite a few launch related events. Here they are in chronological order:

  • Sep 2012 - Released our first 'thing' - an open source project for IAP in Android
  • Oct 2012 - A similar open source project for iOS
  • Oct 2012 - We participated in a Startup competition that is often considered a launch pad. We also received some coverage in TechCrunch
  • Nov 2012 - Our Cocos2d-x Plugin was completed and we received coverage in the official Cocos2d-x website 
  • Dec 2012 - Released an early version of our premium product (on top of the open source framework)
  • Jan 2013 - Launched a plugin for the leading 3d engine, Unity
  • Mar 2013 - Our premium product reached a level where the value outweighs the problems. 
  • May 2013 - Releasing a new version of our Dashboard - giving mobile game developers the ability to edit the stores on all devices in real time without a need for an update.
  • July 2013 - Completely redesigned the dashboard to fit 
  • Aug 2013 - Released Store-Front V2.0 including: direct category linking, floating stores and optimized user experience. 
  • Sep 2013 - Release analytics backend.

As you can see, the right answer for "when are you launching" would be "all the time". 

The same approach should be applied to free to play games since they are also services rather than products. The reality of any kind of startups is that you haven't raised huge chnuks of money and you can't really attract big press coverage just by announcing something. In these conditions, it's much better to take a 'Continous Launch' approach as it allows you to avoid big and expensive mistakes. Try to reach the critical mass in order to launch quickly. Get feedback from users and iterate from there.

I have a friend who happens to be a game developer. He released one game after a year of development and prefected game play. The game tanked. He then released another game after a month of development with sketchy interfaces that feels like stock images. He then started iterating on this game and after 2 months it was doing better than the first one. 

To those of you who dream on a big annoncment on Gamasutra. Think about who the readers are. Are they really your audience? If you are developing a game for kids, I can assure you they are not reading gamasutra. Same goes for casual games, action games and puzzle games. For us, the holy grail was TechCrunch but when we checked how many of the game developers using SOOMLA is actually reading TC, we realized that it's the wrong kind of publicity. Our audience is not there. 

Some companies even go and hire a special PR consultant. This can cost you $3,000/month and usually more. These money could have been used for more iterations on your game and getting your users to become evangelists for your game. 

So how are we getting noticed? For us, the answer is content marketing. Being able to produce valuable content in topics that interest your target audience is a great way to get your brand out there. Hubspot, Walkme and Flurry are great examples of doing it right. There are so many ways you can leverage good content to get traction. But that's a big topic by itself so I'll cover that in a different post.

Will be happy to discuss more about this or any other game business/production topic. You can find me at Google Plus , the SOOMLA blog or on Twitter.

This article was originally published on the SOOMLA blog - Launch is dead for free 2 play games

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Harry Fields
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Forget making games, let's just make hundreds of thousands of apps, re-skinned with various iterations of a "pay me 1$ to close" button! The kids will love it! We'll make a fortune!

Yaniv Nizan
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I'm assuming you are being sarcastic but I'm not sure you really read what I wrote. Iterating on a game is a way to make it better for the user not worse. The fact that the game developer made more revenue with the second game is not because the second game had more "pay me $1 to close" buttons. Actually the first game had more monetization built in. The second game was more fun because the developer listened to his users rather than assuming he knows what they like.

Matthew Buxton
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Launching as part of larger company in freemium is much the same, though when you have a user base, releasing early often does more harm than good. With smaller guys, I can see the benefits but I'd imagine you really want to be known as having good quality?

To be honest launching as a small guy would terrify me, (may not stop me in the future) but scary nonetheless

Sterling Reames
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Always be launching.

Lance McKee
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One of my biggest frustrations with software of any kind these days is that everything feels like it's in a constantly changing beta stage. I miss the feel of purchasing a new game and trusting that it would just work, and that it would be a complete and carefully crafted piece of entertainment, you know? Now games (and again, all software) just seem to be constantly changing but never stable. With every update comes new crashes, new bugs, and new "improvements" that sometimes even make some of my in-game progress now pointless. To make things even worse, most of these updates are addressing issues that don't even affect me anyway, so I end up with no improvements at all but several new problems. Do you have any ideas on how this could be avoided?

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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lol yeah, patches can be game ending for me. I still dread Counter-Strike's 1.4 patch. Or the day Blizzard nerfed my sword, seen in my icon.

A big game company can release a nearly finished game and patch it some. I think patching is still somewhat new to most companies and don't realize their patching potential. But the ones who patch amazingly(Valve, Blizzard, modders), can constantly be in the news.