Monday, October 11, 2010

Top Score Competition Post Mortem

My main 3 Event competition is now over. Sunday night was it's last hurrah. In the wake of this ending i am going to try and do SorceryGames first Post Mortem, and it will be based on the competition i was running.

Although a lot of this stuff might cross over into the actual games post morten, i want to get this part out first, as best i am able.

What went right...
Got organized before the game went live. A lot of stuff gets left on the shelf when developing games. Not just ideas but also other useful materials for marketiing and such. I knew quite early on that i wanted to run competitions once the game was ready. I did not know quite what to run at that time. But i made it a priority to keep writing down ideas before the game was live. This really showed in the fact i had rule ideas before i needed them.
High Score Sharing was introduced to the project development. This was a real boost to the game, as i grew up playing arcade games in actual arcades. Racking up a top score and seeing it there along with my initials the next weekend was a great feeling. Though with todays leaderboards most people experience a version of this more readily. With the development of this score sharing i was able to set my initial competition goals for the high score.
Knowing what is going on out there is also paramount to being able to create new competition ideas. With the sharing scores i could see people playing my game and make some quick adjustments for competition ideas etc. That was how the first person to score on my leaderboard was created. I just got so excited to see the first shared score. Now if that had been multiple scores at once it would have been more interesting. I shall also use that sharing feature to give out a prize for the first person to complete the last level of A Shooter. Something i find very exciting.
The Press release was a big hit, it went everywhere and a lot of sites listed the fact there was a competition. A lot of the Indie sites i know and love also did special posts to help get the word out that there were prizes to be won in this game.
Life is about Stories. Ones you can tell your friends or wife or children. I was very blessed when the competitions second event produced a real fight for the top of the leaderboard between two brothers from Germany. I got to follow this unfolding rivalry live, even though i am 9 thousand miles away. I of course already wrote about this particular story. It was exciting and i am not sure that it would have been so epic if there were not a competition involved.
There was more interest in reviewing A Shooter than i have recieved for all my other games combined. Some quite large web sites actually asked for review copies and press packs. This was amazing and i put that down to the fact i was willing to run competitions based on my 1 dollar game. This pleased me a lot and felt like a real boon provided by the competition.

What went wrong...
Although i was organized before the game went live, there is no actual control of when a game goes live. Thanks have to go to a lot of my Peers who really helped the game come out about the time i needed it too (Thanks you Xblig Peers, you rock!). So organizing a competition was fraught with danger, what if i failed reveiw for example. The desire to have a competition running when the game goes live had risks for sure, but it also added  alot of time to development. I placed A Shooter into a lot of playtest sessions and did a ridiculous amount of testing for the stuff that fails games.
High Score Sharing is wonderful and i started with JWattes high score sharing component (much like everyone else). This however turned out to not really suit to my needs. It has some issues like garbage collection and to be honest was a lot more than i needed (version 2 is out now btw). I already had a high score class written. I just needed something to interface with that and then share scores. So i took it upon myself to rewrite the component, and now it isn't even a component, and i am not sure how much original code there really is. It is however pretty solid and there are no hiccups when sharing. So i can share while people play the game. However all this took a long time to rewrite and test. I also had to buy a second account so i could connect two xboxes together to truly test my sharing code (i borrowed a second Xbox off my friend). The live account and new cco membership were real money.
Knowing what is going is a great thing, only... It can also tell you when nothing is apprently going off. there are times when my game over the first weekend had not a single highscore shared with it. This was ultimately a very depressing time. Whenever an hour went by without a connection i felt more down about the release. This was more unpleasant than not actually knowing.
Although the Press release went everywhere, it was also late. I never checked with my press release guy and he was on vacation when the press release needed to go out. DOH! that was stupid on my part and so the release came out after the weekend and not on the friday (again delayed dated releases for Xblig would be good!). So i missed the best opportunity, but still it wasn't awful. The worst fact of the press release is my games name. It is very hard to find a press release for 'a Shooter' as any first person game released in the last 10 years has that combination of letters in their own press release. So it is actually hard to find mine.
Life is about Stories and as you know i had 1 epic one last weekend. However since then and before then there has not really been any stories, except maybe between my artist and myself. I should really type that one up at some point soon. So although the one i have is great, i have only one story from my high score events.
Although there was more interest in reviewing by the larger sites, not one of those larger sites that asked for a press pack and review copy actually seem to have printed a review. All the friendly Xblig covering sites did a bang up job and i am very pleased to be a part of their community (i do not care if the review is good or bad, everyone has their opinion). However asking for that kind of information from me and then just not doing anything with it bothers me and makes me feel taken for granted.
*edit* Advertising in Game is not allowed on the Xblig games. It is an imediate fail. So i was not allowed to advertise my competitions directly to those people that had taken the time to download the trial version. I would have hoped that this knowledge would have had two effects. Making a better conversion rate and also allowing this Xbox players to tell others that one of the Xbligs had a competition running. I truly believe thios would have helped my conversion rate by about another 50% and also my downloads by about 25%.
Although i got a lot of press telling people that i had this competition running. I am ultimately not sure it was worth it. I had quite the time investment and commitment creating the background functionality and setup to handle running this competition. Each prize cost me money along with time. Money that so far i have not gotten back. Now of course i do not know if my game would have done worse download wise if i had not got this competition running. Though at this point i do not know how it could have been worse, as it now stands as my lowest downloaded game in its first two weeks. It appears from where i sit that even with all the coverage i feel i got about this competition, I just did not reach the Xbox players themselves. Posting on Facebook, Twitter and various Xbox fan forums did not seem to significantly effect downloads.
If people had downloaded it and just didn't like my game, then fine, don't spend ya dollar. But it hasn't been that way with a 20% conversion rate and one that is getting higher each day.

Final thoughts...
I do not believe i will be running more competitions on future games unless i find a way to get the actual Xbox owners to know about it. I believe they are a great idea, but not worth the investment till i can reach those potential buyers.

Thanks for reading. I hope this give other devs out there some ideas to do better than me. Good luck.

Da Voodoochief


  1. Hm. Makes me sad to read another story from a dev about some problems on XBLIG. But honestly, I was wondered also, why there werent uploaded / shared a lot of more scores whilst the competition. The game is good, gameplay is good, soundeffects are good. Dont know what else you should have done to push your game.

    Since I know some old Basic skills(C64) and a bit of assembler(Z80) I can imagine how difficult it is today to programm a bug-free game. And seeing that all of the efforts arent get honoured is surely a disaapoiting fact.

    Perhaps you remember DrMistry's (MStarGames) Space Pirates from Tomorrow release from earlier this year. It is/was a good game also, but there were some problems with errorcodes 4. So he pulled the game, went off the new releases list and never came back to Best downloads or else. Very disappointing(!) to see such a fate for such a good game - even for me as just a user.

    So you see, there seems to be no way to invade / to rule the xblig market. Hypership is another fine example that makes me wonder, why it isnt on "best rated". So after all Im very sure, its not your fault or the fault of other devs if a game "fails", its much more about how MS markets XBLIG. And in 10 days you can miss a good bunch of very good games. If there is a retail game coming out at the same time, you may even miss lots of pontential buyers of your own game (Halo for example). There are mayn sideffects on XBLIG imo.

    But Ok, just my thoughts and I dont wanna beat the lenght of your post, but be sure, my brother and me enjoy(ed) your game. I have bought Aceball and Dreamland also bc of AShooter...add Pelmell to my brothers list (beside Aceball and Dreamland also). We wouldnt have bought those games without the experience of AShooter - dont forget ;)

    In short: XBLIG is a strange market if you ask me, but I hope youll stay on it anyway.

  2. Hi Matey,

    Yes, i believe you have it correct. It is just hard to reach people to let them know about an Xblig game. As A Shooter did not make any list, including the download list, it has fallen into obscurity fast. Once we can get some avenue to the players/potential buyers. We should do much better. It is a strange market, and I do not feel like I want to bow to the demographic i see there. Making more adult themed/gory titles was not what i was about. Will that change? I don't know. I have two children that i do not let play mature titles, so making one with them in the house seems off to me.

    Da Voodoochief