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4. Communicating 4am to the Media
4am is not a traditional "game." We probably took too long to realize ourselves that it is more of an instrument than a game, and so we slipped into our regular PR habits. The mistake we made was expecting the same response as usual from the traditional game media outlets: Many review sites and journalists clearly didn't know how to approach the title, and either chose to not review because it didn't fall within their definition of a game, or reached in with a lukewarm reviewing hand without really wanting to shake the boat.
This was in stark contrast to the sharp love/hate response we've seen in comments and forums from people. It's validating to know we made something that generates a passionate reaction from traditional gamers and challenges their definition of a game.
Those players who do love 4am have continued to perpetuate it through word of mouth and online user reviews, which has been a great boon. However, we definitely needed to act earlier and reach out in more lateral PR directions to audio- and music-production-specific sources.
We've also been showing 4am at a variety of music festivals this year, such as Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, and very soon at Lollapalooza, giving festival-goers a cool chill-out option.
5. Managing Beta Expectations
There was a degree of miscommunication surrounding the beta for 4am. We were the first beta to have two packages (a Free Viewer and a Full Version), which made it tricky before we'd even started. Of course, both were critical for testing purposes, but the main problem was people mistaking the Free Viewer as a demo and expecting gameplay. In the context of the full title, the Free Viewer is great and has had a huge uptake, but in a climate where betas are free anyway, that value was lost and people expected playable content.
From a developer standpoint, we wanted to use the beta to test the PSN broadcasting system in a semicontrolled environment and get some player feedback to make some last-minute changes. Prior to the beta, the only broadcasting tests we'd been able to perform were between internal QA with Sony, so we didn't know how 4am and PSN would handle having thousands of people download the Free Viewer and watch.
The great uptake meant we fulfilled these two goals, but I feel that some people may have been burned on their first impression through the beta. The official beta announcement was a combined effort with our publisher Sony and our own official channels, but ultimately we should have taken more ownership of the message and ensured that word got out about how the beta was going to work (by baking an informative screen right into the package, for example).
Unfortunately, with the small team size and time restraints, we really couldn't give the beta the time it deserved. Overall, the beta was successful in satisfying our development requirements, but from a marketing perspective, I feel there may be a few players out there who might never give 4am a second chance.
If someone had asked me to sit down and seriously design a new musical instrument in January 2011, I would have been enthusiastic. I also would have had no idea where to start. (Now, I would probably clutch my knees and rock back and forth underneath my desk.) Yet at the end of our musical-space journey, we now have a new electronic instrument and performance-art platform that people are enjoying online.
I feel amazingly fortunate to have landed in something that was backed by so much faith, and I am grateful that we were given the time we needed to make 4am and not some corner-cutting "missed opportunity." Since then, we've been working in secret fervor on a new PixelJunk IP that will see a return to more traditional gaming roots (but still has that unique PixelJunk twist).
It's almost a year since we released PixelJunk 4am and in that time we've learned a lot about player tendencies, the pleasure and pitfalls of pioneering a new kind of game-performance experience, and some lessons along the way. The upside to all the hard work that went into PixelJunk 4am, however, has manifested in an ‘Excellence in Audio' nomination at the Independent Games Festival during GDC, so it's great to see 4am recognized for its technical achievements.
Since the description of the category is a little vague, it's difficult to ascertain whether the Excellence in Audio nomination is based on the quality of one's game soundtrack or if it's given to a developer based on the technical merits of a game's audio design. Hopefully it's the latter, because there are very few games out there using technology like 4am's positional audio engine.
Ironically, one of the most popular elements of PixelJunk 4am -- the multitude of music visualizers that accompany each stage of the game-- has little to do with the audio design at all. These have proven so popular, in fact, that we've created an entirely separate app for PS3, called Visualizer, for people who don't possess at PS Move or PS Eye.
This way, people who've wanted to enjoy the eye-catching visuals of 4am, but didn't have the means to do so, can now enjoy this music app and use it with their own PlayStation 3 music library. Many people don't know that Q-Games developed the original visualizers for the PS3, along with other things like elements of the XMB. In a way, we're getting back to our ‘roots' by releasing this new set of visualizers just as the PS3 makes way for it's new sibling.
PixelJunk 4am has similar origins; the project started off with us testing tech for the algorithms and DSPs used in the visualizers. It's fitting that both 4am and Q-Games should return to their PS3 origins, full circle.
Publisher: Sony Santa Monica
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Initial Number of Developers: 3
Final Number of Developers: 6 + art and music by Baiyon
Length of Development: 16 months
Development Tools: C++, GameMonkey
Hallucinogens consumed: Minimal