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3. Low Difficulty and Slow Interest Ramp
Very early screenshot of Explosionade back when it was called "Take the Base". Check out the pink Shoot 1UP enemy fighter!
I wanted to make sure as many people as possible beat Explosionade. That worked out pretty well as a lot of them enjoyed the funny story, and played through to the end. But many also complained that the game was too easy, even on "Serious" difficulty.
I also believe while the conversion rate is good from trials to sales (27 percent), it could definitely be higher still. I think some of this has to do with the difficulty ramp in the trial.
If a few of the first 10 levels could convey a very chaotic feel, rather than ramping up so smoothly through all the enemy types, it would have reached the hardcore audience more effectively. Try to get as much variety from the later levels into your trial experience -- don't assume people will look at screenshots.
4. Subtle Expectations
The design of Explosionade, letting you play full-screen or zoomed in, and in large-but-still-single-screen-challenge-rooms is not exactly standard. Balancing the look of the game, and gamers' expectations, was difficult. Many expected it to play in a longer-level, side-scroller fashion -- probably more like Contra or Cybernator. I had good number of gamers seem lukewarm because the game was not a "proper" side-scroller (though it scrolls when you zoom in).
It's difficult to address but unavoidable that gamers' expectations will color their impressions even if they end up actually enjoying your game.
The game's psuedo-antagonist, Colonel Bouche
5. Marketing Ramp Too Short
The gaming press is busy. And they have lead times for articles. And I think there's an inherent tolerance of "how popular is your game versus how often can we stand to talk about it". I see that as no fault of the press; it's just something to keep in mind.
By September 20th, I had something attractive enough to show the press, yet I ended up launching only a few weeks later. Three weeks is a terrible way for an Indie Game to build hype. If at all possible, give yourself at least two months -- though three months is probably optimal (or more of course).
As it stood, a lot of sites covered the announcement; some covered the dashboard issues, but not as many covered the actual launch. I think this is a mix of being busy, some disinterest, and also "already covered a small game too recently". It's very important to "plan and date" your stories for the press with your game coverage. Keep their schedules, and big game launches, in mind.
Explosionade box art
Overall Explosionade came out waaaaaaaaaay better than I expected. That's probably a mix of the art style jiving well, my intern Richard kicking complete butt with an awesome editor, AJ writing a very funny story, and some lucky design inspiration like the shield jump.
Though the difficulty is low I still enjoy the "experience" you get when playing through on a single sitting. I consider Atticus and Colonel Bouche great characters, the mech fun to play, and I plan to expand on the Explosionade universe soon!
Developer and Publisher: Mommy's Best Games
Platform: Xbox Live Indie Games
Release Date: October 7, 2010
Full time developers: 1
Interns (part-time): 1
Development Time: 38 days
Hardware: AMD 2.2GHz, 1GB RAM; retail Xbox 360; 19" flat screen monitor; ancient, giant SDTV, 12" HD TV, Super NES, Sega Genesis
Software: XNA, Dark BASIC, Visual Studio Express Edition, Photoshop CS2, GoldWave
Best late night quote: "Can we take out the one that rapes you all around the edges?" (Referring to a roly bug that rolls around the level edge, and eventually tracks you down.)
For any unanswered questions, just fire away in the comments or email me directly!