With the game about to open its doors to the public – albeit in a limited, beta – we’re very close to the finish line. Very close indeed. We’re confident in how the game plays – in fact, that’s something that hasn’t changed significantly over the duration of the project. The beta will be used mainly to highlight bugs and any shortcomings in our ‘onboarding’ process – that is, how well people who have never played the game before are introduced to all of the features that they need to know to be able to play it.
There are no major features to go in. We’re about to hook up some rudimentary analytics so that we’ll be able to tell how far people get in the game and that sort of thing. Beyond that, it’s a case of waiting for the audio to be finished and implemented.
Then it’s go time!
So our thoughts are now having to turn to that of marketing and there’s one absolutely huge question that stands out here:
How do you market a game that, to a casual observer, seems like ‘just another Match-3’?
It’s a real doozy too. Most marketing takes the form of images or video. In fact, even the helpful articles written by sites like Touch Arcade or Pocket Gamer will normally have come about because you reached out to them with a screenshot or two of your game in the first place.
People (and especially mobile gamers) are incredibly lazy in general. They’ll make snap judgements based on an initial impression and, being incredibly time-poor, move on to bigger and better things the instant they think they ‘get’ it. But it’s not just their fault – the sheer amount of noise in the mobile space is simply ridiculous. You couldn’t possibly take it all in.
That’s a real problem for us. Our game starts out like a very simple Match-3 but rapidly evolves into something much, much more than that. Sadly, you really have to play it to appreciate that fact.
Screenshots just won’t cut it. Sure, they’ll highlight Leanne’s wonderful artwork, which is plenty different from most of the stuff out there and enough for some people to take a punt on it, but I’m not convinced that’ll be enough.
I don’t even think that gameplay videos are going to be much use here. I think there’s going to have to be some pretty hardcore editing to get the damage model – one of the core gameplay differentials – represented in such a way that people can see the depth.
Downloads occur in two ways – either people discover our game organically or through marketing.
The organic side is a real crap-shoot. This is the bit that happens because we got featured or were spotted in the charts. Being featured is not guaranteed by any stretch and even if we do manage it, there’s still no real promise of success beyond the initial week or so of featuring. A lot of that depends on when we release and what else comes out at the same time. Thankfully, we’ll be avoiding the bloodbath that is December and be more in line with February if all goes to plan, which will give us a little more space to be seen.
The marketing side means that the person has actively sought us out – either by searching for us on the App Store or following a link that they’ve discovered through some other channel. Nominally these channels will be from review sites, blogs, vlogs or adverts.
As a free download, we don’t have the barrier to entry that a premium title would and that’s something. Then you’ve got to hope that the user in question is of the mind to ‘give it a go – hey, it’s free right?’ and not one of those that takes a look at the bit that says ‘Contains in-app purchases’ and storms off in a huff like we just said something derogatory about their sister.
We do have some interesting selling points to offer up. I think there’s still some cachet in the story of our development setup – it’s who we are and the fact that we’re not a big, faceless corporation out to fleece everyone for as much as they can get has got to carry some weight, yes? So hopefully features like Patron Mode – where we disable the energy mechanic if you spend a certain amount of money – will have an appeal to those that despise F2P.
Then it’s back to convincing people that the game has so much more depth than a common or garden Match-3. Mastering Chains and Reversals to take down creatures much bigger than you’d otherwise be able to with raw power. Using the Combos to migrate your Chain and exploit elemental weaknesses. Discovering the Pull Glyph mechanic and using it to plan for future moves. Optimising and upgrading equipment and your Familiar to counter the types of monsters you’re likely to meet on a given quest. Laughing at the really, really funny* jokes.
Of course, once someone has downloaded our game, it’s not over yet. Then we have to hope that they like the game enough to actually pay us some money for it.
And that’s a whole other can of worms…
* Well, I like them so there.