Why Lucas Pope 'didn't market' Return of the Obra Dinn
Today on Gamasutra, you can read about the making of Lucas Pope's Return of the Obra Dinn, a mercantile murder mystery that defies most conventional gameplay and marketing concepts. Do you try and sell it to first-person fans? Storytelling game fans? People who grew up on Mac-friendly games like Colony?
According to Pope, you don't really do anything, actually (if you're making a game that lacks immediate competition).
During our conversation on Twitch, Pope explained that the broad point of doing any "marketing" for Return of the Obra Dinn was to get some useful player data and provide a public developer log that tracked his progress. At game events like PAX and Indiecade, he says, "I don’t do the marketing or anything. I set up a booth and try to watch people play the game. And so for me that’s critical. That’s not necessarily perfect: showing the game at an event is very different than watching someone play it alone in their room or something like that."
"For me it’s a good way to gauge kinda what’s—it’s a good way to compare it against other games. Are people playing this game compared to some other game?"
Pope specifically discussed why he's now averse to gathering event-focused game metrics as a solo developer as well. "I made a game for iOS called Helsing’s Fire. Back in 2010 or something, it was really important to get analytics, to record what everybody was doing, how far they got, basically all this information that lets you design a better game. So I recorded a ton of analytics for everybody that played this game...and I never looked at them."
"After that incident where I put all this work into collecting information but never actually looking at it...I’m always on to the next thing. I don’t really want to make a Helsing’s Fire 2 and fix everything; I just want to do something totally different. I kind of got into this situation where I’m not really going to do the analytic thing basically which a lot of people do for design. I’m just going to try to hear the problems, understand the problems, and fix them as they come up. And if I don’t hear it then I never fix it, you know, which is kind of the downside for the whole thing."
Pope said that as the launch of Obra Dinn approached he didn't overextend himself trying to market the game because his experience with Papers, Please (which he says is still selling well) taught him that wasn't the most productive use of his time. "That tells me that if I can make the right kind of game then it’s not something that needs to sell in the first 3 months only," Pope said. "And I don’t need to make all my money at the beginning and I don’t need to push this really hard to get it to sell or to make a return on it."
"So for Obra Dinn I focused more on how can I make this game different enough from other games, and Papers, Please is sort of like this too, make it different enough from other games that If you want this kind of game you pretty much just gotta buy this one game."
It's an interesting analysis of what game marketing means for developers who are able to reliably make polished games in genres that don't field a lot of competition.