We are very pleased to announce that Bad Hotel will be released for Android, on Google Play, this Friday January 17th.
This follows up from being included in the last 2013 Humble Bundle, which was super amazing. The more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the Android version was included in the bundle, and you can even buy the Android version alongside the PC and Mac versions from the widget on the Bad Hotel site right now.
However, for the very first time Bad Hotel will be on an actual Android store this Friday morning European time. If you’d like a review copy, please get in touch by writing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tacos, Bluegrass, & Videogames took place on January 11th 2014. We billed it as “The best things in the world, all at once, with beer”, and it was sponsored by the fine folks at Codeplay. We also got delicious beer from Brewdog, which was great!
We wanted to produce and host an event devoted to accessible, fun, and unusual games, together with good food and good music. We wanted to make anyone feel welcome, and we wanted to show games that weren’t violent, scary, creepy, or sexist. And of course, we wanted to eat tacos and listen to bluegrass.
It turns out, we weren’t alone. We sold out our first run of tickets in around 40 hours. We released more tickets and sold all of them really quickly too. We had a huge waiting list, and we had to turn people away at the door!
The night took place at Pilrig Church in Leith, right around the corner from Lucky Frame headquarters. The place was packed, the food was delicious, the tunes were toe-tapping, and the games were awesome. We were completely blown away by the response – we had so much help from dozens of amazing volunteers, starting several hours before we opened the doors, and the goodwill and good vibes continued throughout the night.
We showed quite a wide range of games – an abstract 2v2 sports game, a game where you had to punch bowls of custard (yes, real actual custard), a game where you had to wear a caterpillar costume and roll around on the floor…for most of the games we built brand-new custom interfaces, like a super-minimalist arcade cabinet, a videogame embedded into a coffee table, or a mysterious post-apocalyptic camping tent.
The tacos were handmade by Morgan and her team of helpers (special thanks to Roof, Craig, and Hal), and they were a hit. They were proper flat-style corn flour tacos with beans, rice, and vegetables. Yum.
The wonderful old-timey acoustic music was provided by Jed Milroy together with Carrie and Adam Bulley.
A 1v1 game where you actually punch bowls of custard. It’s as silly and ridiculous as it sounds. By George Buckenham
By Magdev – a hilariously bonkers taco-based first person escape adventure. We built a custom arcade cabinet out of wood from our local lumberyard.
Beautiful atmospheric abstract first person exploring game by Titouan Millet. We built this into the Taquito Tower, making a little cinema onstage for people to play. This didn’t come out too well in photos but looked lovely.
A gorgeous musical exploring game by Niall Moody. Fraser painted another beautiful coffee table which we used to present this game, and Niall made a special 4 player version. You couldn’t hear the audio very much, but people loved playing it nonetheless…
A brilliant collage that felt like a really powerful piece of interactive video art, by Jack King-Spooner. We presented this in a camping tent, and Jack created a really wonderful atmosphere for people to experience his game. Did you pick up the phone?
A real crowd pleaser by One Life Remains. A very simple but crazily frantic four player game which slowly got destroyed over the course of the night (which was part of the point…).
The feedback from attendees was amazing. Some choice excerpts from Twitter (the #TBVG hashtag was pretty active…):
A very special thank you to all of the people who came early and helped set up, or stayed late and helped clean up, and of course all of the people who helped throughout the night. We absolutely could not have done it without you – we were completely astonished by everyone’s willingness to pitch in, carry stuff, push gigantic carts of equipment, clean up custard, serve tacos, man the door, and everything in between. HUGS.
Probably the most-asked question of the night was “Is this happening again?!”, and the answer is: we really want to do it again. It took a lot of work to put this together, but it was hugely enjoyable, exciting, and rewarding, and we are so proud of it. At the moment we are eyeing early June as a potential time, and we are as yet undecided as to whether we will keep the formula exactly the same or change it up a bit.
But doing it once more is only a small part of a bigger thought process we are currently having at Lucky Frame about how we can do this on a larger scale. We are currently exploring options for how to make this into a regular event that encourages and showcases experimental game development, alongside quality food and music, on a national scale. Tacos, Bluegrass, & Videogames was for us a experiment, a testing of a hypothesis. We wanted to see what would happen if we presented video games in a way that had never been done before in Scotland. What if we tried something totally new, yet totally accessible? What if we showed that video games in Scotland can be more than games about crime and misogyny? Is there an appetite for uncompromisingly artistic, abstract, or silly games? I think that this past Saturday night gave us resounding answers to all of these questions…
This will require a lot of organisation, and of course money. We have a few different ideas for how to approach both of those things, but we will need your help. If you were there on Saturday, please spread the word. Send us an email at email@example.com with any feedback, positive or negative.
If you would like to be involved in making the next phase of TBVG happen, please let us know. We will need money, games, venues, materials, and more.
Also, send us any pictures and videos you took, or if something crazy/funny/silly/unexpected happened, we’d love to hear your stories. If you weren’t there, tell us what you would like to see, or where you are so we can work out where to go next.
Seriously. We had an amazing time, and we hope you did too. Let’s do more of this. See you at the next one.
You may have already heard that we are putting on our very first event on January 11th: Tacos, Bluegrass, & Videogames. It will feature all three of those things, plus beer from Brewdog. For £5 you’ll get tacos, beer, music, and awesome videogames. A pretty good deal, if I may say so myself.
You can read all the details on our dedicated site: luckyframe.co.uk/tacos/
It is being produced with support from the fine folks at Codeplay.
Putting together an event like this has been in the back of our minds for a while. We really admire what people like Game City, Bit of Alright, and Wild Rumpus are doing – putting videogames into unusual, fun, and exciting settings, encouraging innovation in game design whilst also making videogaming a bit more mainstream and socially acceptable. We feel that there is space to do something like that up here in Scotland.
Since Lucky Frame has a fairly strong American heritage, it only made sense to throw in a few elements from the motherland. Tacos are delicious, and folk music is designed to be accessible and fun – they seemed to us like the perfect combo (though we did consider Milkshakes, Hiphop, & Videogames).
When I wrote up a plan for getting the word out about this event, this blog post was designed to contribute to the push towards selling tickets. Quite amazingly, this has turned out to be unnecessary – we put the tickets up for sale on Monday and they all sold out in less than 48 hours, just from a few posts on Twitter. Social media wins! Thanks to everyone who bought tickets – we are really excited by the support and we can’t wait to make this happen. Clearly, we are not the only ones who are hankering for some tacos and bluegrass to go with their videogames.
The number of tickets is somewhat limited because of the capacity of the venue, so we apologise to anyone who has missed out. We may be able to release a few more, but we would also encourage people to come by on the night. If there is any room we will definitely let you in, and if you can’t get in we’ll point you to a nearby pub.
We are still looking for a few more games to include on the night – if you are an indie developer sitting on an amazing game that would work well in a relaxed party setting, please send it along! We’d love to show it. If you’re not sure that your game will be a good match, just get in touch and we can talk it over.
So, while this post no longer needs to perform the “buy tickets” function I had originally planned, it still has one important role: LAST CALL FOR SPONSORS. We want to print up posters for the event very soon, so if you want to get your name or logo on that poster, now is the time to act. Get in touch by Monday to be a part of TBVG – send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to have you on board.
More details will be announced soon, see you on January 11th.
I imagine we are not alone amongst Scottish game studios in receiving many requests from high school students looking for “Work Experience Placements”. High Schoolers (around 16 years old) are tasked with finding a company in a field that interests them who will take them in for a week.
It had never really occurred to us to take anyone in, since we don’t exactly have the most corporate atmosphere at Lucky Frame HQ. However, we are always happy when any of our amazing friends are able to stop by and spend the day in the studio with us making stuff. We now have an unwritten Lucky Frame rule: if we have room, you are more than welcome to come by and spend the day with us, as long as you’re making something. I guess that is now a written rule.
So whilst we don’t want to have someone kicking around our office doing nothing for a week, we are totally into having someone making something. Therefore we recently decided to start responding to work experience requests with a challenge: if you want to learn what it’s like to make games, make a game. Choose a coding language or library or piece of software (we suggest Gamemaker, but anything will do) and send us something you’ve made. If you can make something and send it to us to play, we will take you in for a work experience week, and you will make games with our help.
I have set this challenge out to a number of people who got in touch with us, and for the most part I have scared them off. However, recently one local student, Reuben Gourlay, rose to the challenge and sent us not one but two prototypes built in Gamemaker. As a result, he came in a few weeks ago to spend some time with us, and he made a game.
We spent the first day talking to him and introducing him to our favorite games (Super Crate Box was a particular hit…), and getting him to think about what kind of game he’d like to make. We talked a lot about scope, keeping things manageable whilst retaining the fun.
After that we tasked him with designing and creating a full game by the end of the week. Reuben laid out a design for a motorcycle driving game, and he worked with Sean to create the art. Jonathan helped him with the code and I made some sound (and, ahem, totally radical music), and by the end of the week there was a complete game. BIKERS RAGE!!!! A few screenshots for you…
You can download and play the game for yourself…
Play Biker's Rage!!!
Well done Reuben, great to have you with us and keep making games!
The three of us are back in Edinburgh after a few days in Nottingham at the fabulous Game City Festival. We were really pleased to be invited to Game City and given a pretty blank slate to play with. It gave us a great chance to experiment with a few ideas we had been kicking around for a while. The first thing we brought was the Suitcase Arcade – a four player arcade box built into a vintage suitcase. Of course we loaded Gentlemen! on there and set it up in the Open Arcade. It was really brilliant to watch people of all ages coming and playing together. (picture callously stolen from Laura, see the rest of her great shots from the festival here) The other thing we managed to put together for Game City was Roflpillar. This is a new project for us, and one we hope to develop further in the near future…Roflpillar is a two-player game where each player controls a caterpillar who is trying to eat apples. The game is controlled by lying on the floor and putting your head into a covered structure which hides a screen. A sensor is attached to you with a belt, and you have to move your hips to move your caterpillar. You basically end up rolling and wiggling about, twisting and contorting your body to control a caterpillar while everyone outside giggles. It’s amazingly fun, and we are super proud of it. People really liked this one. Keith Stuart at the Guardian called it “hilarious” in his roundup of the festival and IndieHaven picked it as one of the “Things to Watch Our For” (along with Gentlemen!). Here’s a video of it in action:
We’re planning on doing more with both of these projects, so keep an eye out. Many many thanks to the Game City team for having us along, especially Iain, David, and Chloe, and to all of the amazing volunteers who helped us out (Charlotte, you’re a legend). Good work team!
The Steam version is for Windows and Mac. For $5 you can get the critically acclaimed tower defense music game for your glorious big wide screen.
As a quick reminder, here’s what some important people said about Bad Hotel:
“…to understand how excellent Bad Hotel is, you need to play it. And you need to hear it…I like Bad Hotel so much I’d buy it for you. Get it. It’s wonderful.” – Kotaku
“Bad Hotel is, in short, the stuff of wonderful nightmares: an eerie soundtrack, a menacing palette and an all-pervading sense of inescapable doom. Yet it’s also one of the most original and atmospheric tower-defense games we’ve played all year…” – Modojo
If you would prefer to buy it outwith Steam, you can buy it using the Humble Widget from the Bad Hotel website.
As an extra little bonus, today we are also releasing an update to the iPhone version which adds iPhone 5 screen resolution support. Because, you know, those phones have been around for like a year now and I guess they’re not going anywhere. Go update or buy the new version!
Three weeks ago we released Gentlemen! for iPad and Android. If you aren’t aware of it, it’s a 2-player head-to-head Victorian dueling game for tablets. Two players required! Go buy it if you like – here’s the App Store link, Google Play, our marketing site, and a presskit site. It’s on sale until Monday, so now’s your chance.
Since that release we have been working on a desktop Mac/PC version, for up to 4 players. It’s now nearly done! And it’s super fun. We’ve been playing it a lot in the office, and having friends over to play too…we’ve starting falling into the trap of just playing game after game after game, which I suppose is a good sign.
So we will be releasing that soon, at the same price as the tablet version ($5). If you’re a journalist/blogger/fan and you’d like an advance preview, let us know.
Let’s get down to a bit of a release analysis.
Without a doubt, Gentlemen! was one of the best-reviewed projects we have ever produced. We received a coveted 8/10 on Edge, 4.5 stars on Touch Arcade, and a 9/10 Gold Award on PocketGamer. This was totally brilliant, and we are so proud.
It’s interesting to think about why we got such great reviews. Obviously it’s a game that we’re super proud of, and we think it’s amazing, but that’s not always enough to secure great critical acclaim.
At one point, during the development process, we were planning to make a single player mode in the game. We got as far as mocking up some concepts and even designing a few challenge levels before deciding that it wasn’t a good idea. Gentlemen! was designed from the very first prototype to be a local multiplayer game – the gravity flipping, the level layout, it was all created with two players in mind. Any single player mode would have been superfluous and probably not very fun.
I think the positive reviews were an unanticipated outcome from this decision. If Gentlemen! had a half-baked single player mode, then reviewers would probably have only played that and not enjoyed it very much. Instead, the reviewers had to find someone to play with, and play a game together for enough time to make an educated assessment. As it turns out, playing games with other people is super fun, and I think it’s harder to be negative or cynical about a game when you’re sitting across from someone who is having a blast throwing pigeons at you.
The downside, of course, is that not all reviewers were able to find someone to play with. Reviewing games tends to be a fairly solitary activity, and more than one reviewer really wanted to test the game but was unable to find people to play with. We are lucky to have really great support from a number of different media outlets, and several of them made the extra effort to review Gentlemen! – though our overall number of reviews was far lower than Bad Hotel or Wave Trip.
Another interesting result of our no-compromises was that we have gotten some user reviews, almost exclusively on iTunes, saying that we should make a single player version, or network multiplayer. Partially this is my fault, because the marketing copy says “Two Players Required!” and many people don’t realize that means “two players in the same place”. But there is also a funny logical thing going on, where many of the reviews say something like “Good game, could be so much better with online multiplayer or ai”. This is strange to me, because it admits that it is a good game, but then goes on to say that it should be different. My argument would be that the whole reason this is a good game is because you play it with a friend!
So! Great reviews? Check. How does this translate into sales?
So far we have sold 1,047 copies on iPad, and 112 copies on Android.
Whether this is a ‘good’ result is up for debate. Certainly, many many games are released every day that don’t sell anything close to these numbers. We knew very well that we were making a pretty esoteric game, in the sense that it is limited to iPads and tablets bigger than 7 inches and requires two players, so we didn’t exactly have high expectations. We also set the price relatively high – starting at $5, and currently on sale for $3. So far the number of sales is a bit lower than we hoped – my personal target was to sell 2000 copies, but with a little luck we will get there!
As a side note, amateur mathemagicians out there will realize that selling 2000 copies, even at our high price point, is not exactly good business for a 3-person studio working on a game for 5 months. Well, that’s because for this project we were really lucky to be supported by the Prototype Fund, a brilliant support grant run by the University of Abertay in Dundee. They give money to studios who want to make something great without the crushing weight of commercial expectations. We certainly couldn’t have made the game without them, and we are extremely privileged to live and work in a society where this exists.
One problem we definitely had was that just as we were releasing our game, a lovable little scamp named Psy happened to release a song named “Gentleman”. The deep irony of all of this was that we had a really hard time naming our game, and for the longest time it had the terribly uncatchy title of “Martin vs. Monty”. We finally settled on “Gentlemen!” (other ideas: ‘Scoundrels’, ‘East Stabwich’, ‘The Panic of 1857’, ‘Crumpet Clash’, etc) and sent out all of the promo material accordingly, blissfully unaware of this pop song. You wouldn’t think a pop song would cause problems for an app, but we quickly learned about the seedy world of games and apps piggybacking on other entertainment media. What a strange time we live in. Also, how depressing that people spend their time making Jetpack Joyride ripoffs using graphics referencing pop songs. So unfortunately, discovery was and remains a major problem.
We also didn’t really get any featuring from Apple for this release, which was too bad, but then they have really supported our previous releases so we can’t complain!
Anyway, pricing a game is always an interesting question, and there were a few eyebrows raised at our initial $5 price. Part of our thinking was that a two-player game has a higher value than a single player game, because it is being shared with friends. Tablet games can sometimes command a higher price as well, I suppose just because the bigger screen size conveys greater value. But most importantly we believe that Gentlemen! gives you way more than $5 worth of fun. We’ve watched people play game after game, and we get feedback from users who say they play with their child/partner/parent for an hour or more at a time. It’s a bit of a tired argument, but the fact remains that this is pretty great value entertainment. Finally, there’s a bit of a trend in the indie game world for raising prices on games, and we’re in favor of that and wanted to fit into the cool kids club.
(all of that said, it’s on sale for $3 until Monday! so go get it now if you want us to have less money)
A few days after release, we started noticing some pretty strange statistics on the Android version. At the last minute we had included an analytics package into the game that told us how many unique users there were playing around the world. After two days we had sold a total of 8 copies on Google Play, but we were getting significantly more players. The numbers surprised us so much that we actually contacted the analytics company to confirm that we were interpreting them correctly. Once we had done that I posted on the Lucky Frame twitter feed, asking people to guess how many pirated copies were being played. Nobody got anywhere near:
Ok! I think I’ll call time on this. Official Android sales numbers for Gentlemen! after three days: 8 copies sold. 2,462 copies pirated.
— Lucky Frame (@lucky_frame) July 19, 2013
If you’re interested, after three weeks those numbers are now 112 copies sold, over 40,000 copies pirated. And they said it wouldn’t last!
This set off a firestorm of social media activity – basically, I spent the next three days responding to tweets and facebook messages (844 retweets!). It resulted in a definitely jump in Android sales (we sold about 25 the next day – woo marketing!) and generated some interesting discussion around the interwebs. This taught me several things…
This experience was very similar (though much larger scale) to our whole experience with the unVerse rejection. Whilst that story provided fodder to Apple haters, releasing this data was a great example of confirmation bias. One narrative that kept appearing was “this is why you shouldn’t develop for Android”, or more bluntly “this is why Android sucks”.
I find this attitude pretty silly. Let’s face it, all of these devices are just computers. Some of them have nice UI, some of them have nice product design, and they all certainly have downsides. It’s pretty sad when people associate electronics products with lifestyle choices, and judge others accordingly. These devices and companies are loaded with moral and ethical dilemmas, there is very little critical thought devoted to their place in the world, and the differences between them are negligible at best. Instead of saying “Product X is so much better than Product Y” or “Fans of Product X are blind/idiots/fanboys”, we should really be saying “How can we use this technology in a positive way?”
On a more technical note, the idea that we “shouldn’t develop for Android” is kind of ridiculous. We made Gentlemen! in the Unity game engine, which makes building an Android version extremely easy. It probably took us an extra two or three days to make the android version (out of a 5 month develop cycle), so even if we only sell 200 copies total it’s still just about worth it.
Many people assumed that we were really upset about this statistic. In retrospect, talking about the piracy numbers on twitter probably implies that we were unhappy, but in reality the number of pirates just confirmed to us that we made a game that people love to play! The people who are pirating our game are also playing a surprising amount, with really great engagement – these are no casual pirates just downloading because they can. So this confirmed to us that our game design is solid, and that we’ve made a super fun game that people enjoy. To be honest, that is really great. It’s unlikely that any of these pirates would have bought the game anyway, so we’re just glad that people are playing. Android makes piracy very easy, and thanks to that Gentlemen! is being played by more people around the world than all of our previous games combined.
A lot of talk has been devoted to the insane amount of Android phones and tablets on the market, and how this poses a challenge to developers. We were very wary of this, and our strategy was to release only for devices that we were able to test on. This was a pretty limited number of mostly Google Nexus and Samsung devices. Our thinking was that we didn’t want anyone to buy the game and then have a negative experience with it. We got a fair amount of criticism for this, with people saying that the game wasn’t available for purchase on their specific device. We’re still undecided on how to approach this, because it is very scary to allow people to buy our game on a tablet or phone on which it won’t run well. We thought that releasing on the most popular devices would be fine, but it probably wasn’t.
On the other hand, I don’t think that this was responsible for our piracy rate. It seems unlikely to me that people tried to buy it on Google Play, found it wouldn’t run on their device, and then tracked down a torrent instead. It’s far more likely that the people who pirated the game have only one method of finding and installing apps, and that is through pirate sites.
One thing that helped me reach that conclusion was the location statistics for the pirated copies. About 95% of the pirated copies are being installed in Russia and China (and of those, mostly China). We didn’t even translate our Google Play store into Russian or Chinese, so it’s almost certain that the pirates just found our app on localized pirate sites. On the other hand, I’m glad our menu design is intuitive enough that you can play the game without speaking English!
This was our first Android release. We probably could have done more to avoid the massive piracy of our game – or, even better, convert pirate users into paid users. I think that Android apps are definitely going to get pirated no matter what…I can only dimly imagine the level of piracy that a truly successful paid app has. However if we had anticipated this situation we probably would have included some sort of in app purchase, perhaps to unlock extra levels or game modes. At least then the pirates would have the opportunity to pay us a little something if they were enjoying it so much – the main problem is that most of these pirates probably exist in a commercial ecosystem where the Google Play store does not even exist, and it doesn’t occur to them to buy any games from there at all.
One small thing that really surprised us – Google Play users are far more likely to leave reviews in the store…and very positive ones at that! Nearly 10% of the people who bought the game on Google Play have left reviews, averaging 4.8 stars. On iTunes, it’s more like 0.01%, and we’re only averaging 3.2 stars. Awww!
So there you go. As I mentioned, we’re now gearing up to release the desktop version of Gentlemen! so if you’d like a sneak peek, please drop us a line at email@example.com.
Our new game, Gentlemen! is out now for iPad and Android. Go buy it!
We’ve already garnered some amazing reviews…we’re very proud:
Thanks to everyone who helped put this out! If you’d like more information, please visit our Presskit page, and don’t hesitate to get in touch by writing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We certainly agree that Wave Trip is brilliant for commutes – short levels, non-punishing creative gameplay, a dash of level building to add creative spice to your morning – but we thought we’d take this opportunity to talk about some of our favorite commuting games.
First up, press and marketing guru Kristina, who you may remember from the “Hope With Added Strategy” blog post, or perhaps from the Lucky Frame stand at GDC this year. Kristina has another day job which makes her something of a commuting expert…
I have been a serious commuter for almost two years traveling from Edinburgh to Dundee and back again everyday (about an hour and twenty minutes each way). My experience isn’t unusual, new research shows that the average worker in the UK spends 41 minutes commuting daily and almost 2 million people spend over 3 hours commuting everyday.
Commuting isn’t always fun, especially when you have so far to go, but it does present you with a fantastic opportunity to do new things and spend time for yourself. Having an extended period to try out new games uninterrupted is one of these advantages. So with that in mind here are my recommendations for games designed for the serious commuter:
So much praise has been heaped on this game that it may seem like an obvious suggestion but it’s worth pointing out why this game is particularly suitable for a serious commuter.
The storyline is complex and mysterious, and the writing is really excellent. It manages to keep you entertained, giving you something to think about in those moments at work when you find your mind less actively engaged. When I was working my way through this game I actually found myself looking forward to getting onto the train to play the next installment.
The levels can comfortably be completed in 40 minute segments. Just enough time to get settled in play it through and have time to put your makeup on and check your email before you arrive at your destination.
Other reasons to love this game: It has a female protagonist who isn’t a sex object. The game arc is time sensitive so you can only play certain elements on certain days of the month – delayed gratification just makes that commute all the more rewarding. Oh, and the artwork is beautiful. Negative points: after a while I got really bored chasing sylvan sprites and the musical element is a little too self aware, but the overarching story kept me coming back.
Full disclosure, I didn’t play through Year Walk on the train but on a mammoth 15 hour journey from San Francisco to Edinburgh via Newark. Put quite simply, this game blew me away. I would describe Year Walk as a post-modern literary horror puzzle game that reminded me of reading Mark Z. Danielewski’s epic novel House of Leaves. The graphics are gorgeous and it’s just difficult enough to keep you engaged without becoming off-putting. I cried at the end.
A strategy game where you play a police captain trying to crush the drug cartels of Mexico. This game is like a complex and compelling version of Risk where variables like the street price of drugs and which political party you support undermine your efforts for victory.
Playing the game at the “difficult” level it takes me about an hour to win a game (less to lose!) and I got almost two weeks of commutes working my way through all the variables. It’s not the perfect finished article. The button size is a bit small and the dice roll mechanic is frustrating. But the impact of politics on your decisions is a compelling driver which adds an exciting twist to this game.
Thanks Kristina! Next up is Jonathan, 1/3 of the full time Lucky Frame crew. He currently does the opposite commute to Kristina (we’re well organised like that).
Here are Jonbro’s favorite commuting games…
A currently unreleased game by Smestorp. This is an outright action game that operates somewhat like an arena shooter. Enemies come from all sides, and in a standard arena shooter, you would need to fire bullets at them. The brilliant mechanic flip in this game is that you need to encircle the enemies rather than firing at them. This allows it to operate much as a shooter would without the control complexity of dual stick. More than once I have needed a shoulder tap from the conductor to remind me to give them a ticket while playing this. Apparently Smestorp is still adding difficultly layers due to the game no longer being hard enough for him. Hopefully it will be out shortly, but who knows.
Another unreleased game by Smestorp, available in a prototype version on PC/Mac. This game operates in an entirely different space than Helix. Smestorp is one of my favorite solitare board game designers, and he has a really tight grip on the scope of a board game that works on iOS. While he has been creating and marketing these under the banner of roguelikes, I think that does them a disservice in terms of the audience that they could appeal to. Last year he released a game called Zaga-33, which is also very worth playing, which encapsulated a bunch of the ideas that he brought to this one. Single screen boards, extremely focused player verbs, graspable enemy types. 868-HACK expands on that structure and adds a very strong risk/reward system in which doing a highscore run increases your likelyhood of dying. Since you are scored on both the number of runs that you have done without dying, and also your cumulative points across those runs, there is a push to play safely. Even in low level play, it is difficult to make it to the end of the game, and requires strong planning against unpredictable systems.
This was a pretty widely overlooked game as far as I can tell, and I think there are a few things that contributed to that. I would encourage you to overlook those issues though, because there is something really fun and charming in here. So once you get past the shonkyness of graphics (I swear, they are really charming in motion), the game at first appears to be something that controls like Angry Birds, but is brutally hard from level zero. The trick of it is that this isn’t Angry Birds at all, you can’t just be close and have gravity take over for you. You need a ton of control adjustments and perfect timing and really good aim and quick trigger fingers and all that good stuff. This is a game that appears to be about chance, when it is really about finesse. There are about a zillion levels, a bunch of which add something interesting to the mechanics of the game. In some ways it feels like a really good platformer, while entirely changing the way a platformer controls.
A guest post today from Kristina Seznec, who has worked tirelessly with us since the very earliest days of Lucky Frame, helping us enormously with our press and marketing.
DIY Marketing and PR for Indie Games
The other day I had two dramatically contrasting experiences: In the morning I attended Digital 2013 where I watched Edward Rumley, COO at Chillingo, a division of Electronic Arts, give a presentation entitled ‘Games Strategy: Publishing Indie Mobile Games in Today’s Competitive Marketplace’. His impressively bleak presentation championed the idea that in an ever-crowded marketplace mobile indie game developers can never achieve the publicity levels needed for success without the help of a publisher.
That afternoon, with Rumley’s forbidding words echoing in my ears, I visited the Apple Store in Glasgow to check out their new billboard marketing campaign which features the independently produced and self-published app Wave Trip from Scottish independent studio Lucky Frame. What my experience at the Apple Store shows us is that Rumley’s dismissal of self-published indie games is baseless.
Stepping over the obvious irony of asking a major publisher to talk about indie games, and some of his more outrageous comments (“Just because I publish my book on Kindle that doesn’t make me a published author” – tell that to EL James), I found his presentation to be profoundly negative in its outlook, implying that if you work on your own you have simply no chance of finding an audience. It inspired me to dispel some of the myths around PR and Marketing of indie games (or in fact any artistic product). This is not a comment on whether or not you should use a publisher, Chillingo or anyone else for that mater; it is just designed to give you a starting point to promote your work.
I have been working as a PR and Marketing Professional for just under 10 years. I began my career working at a private art gallery and from there have worked for a range of public and private arts organizations across the UK including New Media Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland and most recently as Head of Marketing at Dundee Contemporary Arts. In addition to this, since 2008 I have worked with Lucky Frame as a Communications Consultant to help them plan and implement their PR and Marketing strategy for games such as Pugs Luv Beats, Bad Hotel and Wave Trip. Experience has taught me is that if you have a great indie game, and you want to self-publish, then you can get the publicity you need to be successful.
Hope is not a Strategy
One of Rumley’s more chilling statements was the most accurate: hope is not a strategy. This isn’t ‘Field of Dreams’, you are not Kevin Costner, if you build it they will not come. The App Store is littered with the dead corpses of apps that were never downloaded and whose marketing strategy was built on a wing and a prayer. The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to get your work out there.
It’s not what you know
Publishers, like Chillingo, have contacts books filled with the names and details of all the key influencers in the business. For success to come a-knocking you need to get together a list of key journalists, bloggers and influencers in your field. Chances are if you’re a hyper-keen engaged indie developer you already know who you need to target, but it’s definitely worth taking some time to do a little research. Publicity often has a snowball effect, and if this is your first project it is just as important to get on small blogs as it is to have a feature on Kotaku.
Most medium to large size organizations pay for contacts databases which are constantly updated, so it is simple for them to find that all-important email address or phone number. These systems can cost several thousand pounds and certainly take the legwork out of promotion, but they aren’t essential, something I learnt as Marketing and Audience Development Associate at New Media Scotland. At that time the company only had three employees and had just received a significant funding cut from the then Scottish Arts Council. We didn’t have the money to pay for a press database, so instead I spent an afternoon calling the switchboard of all the national newspapers and relevant magazines and broadcasters and asking for the name, email address, and phone number of their arts correspondent. This took three hours and at the end of the day I had a spreadsheet of 20 key contacts in my subject area. The next day I sent out a press release and secured coverage with several major outlets. (NB New Media Scotland has since gone on to secure new funding and moved to a new home at the University of Edinburgh find out what they’re up to at mediascot.org)
Building a contacts database isn’t hard, it doesn’t need to be expensive, it just takes time. That was several years ago and now collecting contact information is even easier with online contacts and tools like Twitter and LinkedIn. We used this exact same strategy to build the contacts list for Lucky Frame and for our last game we secured coverage in The Verge, Touch Arcade, Eurogamer, and much more.
Once you have a list of contacts you need something to send people. Journalists from bloggers to lead writers for national newspapers need a clear and concise piece of text to explain what your work is about. There are lots of tools online to show you how to write a basic press release, my favourite is this post written by Katie Cowan at Creative Boom.
It’s Nice to be Nice
It is essential you nurture your contacts once you have them. Always where possible use a named contact and don’t continually spam people with information. Talk to your contacts like humans, read their work and show an interest in what they tell you. Never get aggressive when people ignore you or write up a bad review (there is no such thing as bad publicity after all). Be in it for the long haul and remember that relentless positivity is the name of the game. And always say thank you when you get a review or write up, even if it is less than flattering. Remember it’s nice to be nice!
A Picture Tells a Thousand Words
Strong images and video are just as important as a good press release. It may be a cliché but a picture tells a thousand words and more than anything a great image or snappy video is going to sell your project. Try to make images as eye catching as possible and make sure that you offer a variety of file sizes that will work in print and online.
Lucky Frame could be said to be founded on a university video project that unexpectedly went viral. We’ve tried to echo this quirky approach to every Lucky Frame video since with mixed success but it’s always useful to give people a way to visualize your project. Don’t be frightened to think outside the box: you might find yourself in a in a cold hall chasing a group of cute but naughty dogs; or in a public park with your company founder dressed in a homemade cardboard suit; or at the depot of your local bus company; or strangest of all in a toilet with one of your more adventurous friends.
But you may well set the spark which sets the internet alight and either way it’s definitely a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Fortune Favours the Bold
Don’t be frightened to sell yourself. Where most artists who choose to self publish fail is by being too modest and too shy. Nothing beats getting out there and talking to people, both online and in person.
No publicity is bad publicity, something we learnt early on at Lucky Frame when we applied to appear on BBC business reality show Dragons’ Den. At the time it felt like a high risk strategy, the chances of getting any funding were low and the chances that Yann would make a fool of himself were high. But the opportunity to get the company name out there in front of a primetime TV audience was too good to miss. Even though we didn’t get a deal, the next day we were contacted by representatives from several major British games companies. The resulting consultancy work kept Lucky Frame afloat for a year, ultimately leading to the production and release of Mujik, the company’s first iPhone app.
Think Global, Act Local
Promoting your game face to face is just as important as online and you don’t need to be in London, New York or San Francisco to meet people interested in indie games. There is lots going on in local communities all over the UK which you can get involved in: for example Nottingham Game City are inviting developers to come and show off their work at monthly club nights and at DCA we hold regular Drop in and Play events for local developers to showcase their work. There are also a whole host of hackdays and Maker Faires out there where you can get out and meet people. Don’t just do game focused events, if you try and reach out to the wider community you are bound to reach a larger and more diverse audience.
Local people are the biggest champions of things made in their community; everyone wants to see the guy or girl from their neighbourhood succeed. If your game is going to make it you will need all of these people cheering you on, in person and online, to get your voice heard. So get out, meet people and tell them about your work.
Getting Noticed by the Mother Ship
Getting press might be easier than it first appears but what about Rumley’s claim that you need a publisher to secure a much-coveted feature on the App Store? Again this is not true, Lucky Frame have been featured by Apple and so have many others including: Simogo for Year Walk and Beat Sneak Bandit; Firebox’s The Room; and Super Hexagon by Terry Cavanagh.
No one can claim to know how to get that elusive Apple feature, but buzz does help. At Lucky Frame we certainly credit our ability to get publicity as helping us get noticed by Apple (for more information on this read Yann’s post detailing all the numbers and coverage for Bad Hotel).
Free is too expensive for some people
So you have a game, you’ve got some attention and you’re ready to launch, but how much do you charge for it? You’re desperate to go full-time making games but the freemium model makes you uncomfortable.
People like Rumley maintain that the age of the premium game (where the customer pays upfront for the product) is dead. According to Rumley even making your game free to play is a bad move as “Free is too expensive for some people”.
At Chillingo they advocate releasing freemium or paymium titles as a way of increasing revenue. Rumley did not address the ethical questions around games structured in this way, something the UK government is now investigating, and more importantly from a game designer’s standpoint the freemium model can devalue game creation in general and leads to badly made games. For more insight into this read this outline of Bennett Foddy’s presentation at GDC on “Why Fremium Sucks”.
Let’s not kid ourselves – making money is important. Being a struggling artist in a garret sounds super cool but having enough to eat is fun too. If you make your game freemium or paymium then perhaps you have a better chance of financial survival. But it’s just as important to make a product you are proud of and one that is an awesome game – if you don’t truly believe your game is good then you won’t be able to convincingly shout about it.
If you are weighing up these two options remember there are still indie premium titles making a name for themselves in the market place (Year Walk, The Room, Minecraft etc). Arguably the freemium/paymium model is touted by companies like Chillingo because it works for large publishers. They have huge ad spend and design the games entirely around “gems” and IAP. They have the knowledge and ability to deliver that model. Indie developers should use their biggest advantages to their benefit – their ability to think originally, create brand-new concepts and be fully engaged and excited about their work. Don’t take the publishers on at their own game – make something people will want to buy.
According to Rumley, Chillingo likes to work with developers who are only a third into completing their game because they have the expertise needed to polish down your game’s rough edges. Chillingo can smell what sells, they know what an audience wants and how to shape your game into that product. He also advocated never releasing a beta version of a game.
For me this approach stifles innovation, suggesting that games shouldn’t challenge conventions or people’s expectations. If all games used this approach then it would lead to a lack of variety and ultimately decrease the potential audience as customers searched for more exciting ways to spend their free time and cash.
A Word on Advertising Spend
I’m not naïve, Rumley’s model for success does work, if you sign with a major publisher then it is likely that your game will be a success. A company like Chillingo can put budgets that most indie studios can only dream of against ad spend, you don’t need to spend afternoons tracking down the contact details of a mobile gaming blogger in Newcastle when you can globally carpet bomb every major gaming site with ads.
The ultimate flaw in Rumley’s presentation was that it was a sales pitch for his business rather than an insight into the world of publishing and indie games. In order to sell us Chillingo he presented a vision of a world in which publishers hold all the cards and the individual artist is left relying on their grace and favour to polish, promote and sell their product. This may have been true 10 years ago but the world is changing.
There is More Than One Way to Skin a Cat
I am not saying you shouldn’t work with a publisher, rather that publishers are not the only answer. My suggestions alone won’t necessarily get you thousands of sales, your project still needs to be great and you need a bit of luck, but these ideas will certainly help you on your way. Have confidence, tell people about your work, get involved with your local community so that your not relying on hope as your only strategy for success.