2010
10.17

So, GCAP 10 has come to a close and it is time to try and analyze and synthesize the vast flood of information into something useful for our specific situation. Conferences are great in that they are good at fairly efficiently disseminating ideas. However, as we all know, ideas are the easy part.  Now that we have all these ideas, we have the hard road of actually implementing them in some meaningful way.

For me, there were a few stand-out themes that really resonated for our current projects, but they all boil down to one thing: reducing friction between our games and our players.

This idea applies across the board to all aspects of development and distribution.  We need to optimize our development processes to reduce the ‘friction’ of creating our games.  We need to make it as easy as possible for our players to find our games, we need to make it as easy as possible for our players to purchase and play our games (not necessarily in that order) and we need to make it as easy as possible for us to update and extend our games.

Starting with the development process: Tony Albrecht from Overbyte gave a good talk on meta optimization.  As a programmer type I took away lots of good code tips to help make my part of the process smoother. Things like embedded profiling code and constant performance measuring so that you can always be on top of the things that are slowing you down.

However, we also need to focus on streamlining all of the other parts of the process.  This generally means that we need to develop tools to automate and leverage the creativity of the rest of the team.  With Gamebook Adventures we have an internal editor for the game books that makes it easier to deal with a non-linear story, and does all the heavy lifting in terms of converting a human editable game book into a machine readable file for the engine.  We also just added some in-engine tools to allow the writers, editors and QA folks to ‘cheat’ in lots of different ways so that they can quickly and easily check the logic links and tweak the story.  This includes a new ability to load an entirely new game book file into the game while it is running so that the editors can make changes and instantly see if they work.

Taking some ideas from GCAP and applying them to the current tool set means that we need to identify the new and existing bottlenecks in the process and updating our tools to fit.

The next source of friction we need to focus on is making it easier for the people who are interested in gamebooks to be able to find out about Gamebook Adventures.  This is one of our weak suits. Neil basically deals with all of the marketing, and he does an amazing job, but it is not something that either of us really enjoy doing, and there are tons of places we could be doing more.  The Halfbrick guys gave a fantastic presentation about what they did to launch Fruit Ninja.  It wasn’t entirely applicable to Gamebook Adventures, but there was so much good information there, that it was easy to take some away and apply It our games.

One of the many useful slides from the Halfbrick talk at GCAP 10

One big thing we need to take into account more is adding the social hooks into our games.  For iOS this means game center and open feint. I must admit that I have been thinking about the OF vs GC issue in a stupid way.  I got it in my head that it had to be one or the other.  I had a great chat with one of the Halfbrick designers and he basically told me the most obvious thing in the world: put both in and let the usesr decide.  Duh. So obvious, yet I hadn’t given that any thought.  Now I am.

Also in-game notices of news.  Neil actually suggested this idea awhile ago for GA, and we are planning on implementing it, but hearing about other devs success with the idea helps justify that addition.

And of course, all the other marketing stuff.  Getting your story in front of the press in a form that is most beneficial to them, so that it takes as little effort as possible for them to create an article or review for you.

Finally, making all the marketing count as much as possible means getting it all to hit on the same day if possible.  We learned this when we updated  GA1 and GA2 to the new interface and updated them for the retina display and released GA3 at the same time.  Having all three of those ‘stories’ to sell to the press at once made it easy for them to write articles, and we timed it all so that the articles would come out when the games became available.  Getting validation of this technique is very gratifying.  But we can do even more.

On the last point: making it as easy as possible for our players to buy the game.  In our case I think this means some sort of free demo, or light version, with the ability to upgrade to the full experience with in app purchase or something.  We have discussed this one many times, and it is a hard one, but I think we need to start seriously looking into it.  We constantly try to position the GA brand as the premium game book brand.  Much if this is possible because we spend huge amounts of effort to make sure that the experience is superior to our competitors, but some of that premium brand is gained via perceived value. There is a fear that, with our niche product, if it is free it will be downloaded by many people who do not ‘get’ the idea of a gamebook, and will one-star us on the app store.  Since GA is so niche, a single ranting jackass with a one-star review can halve our daily sales average, and for a small company like us, that is very painful.  However, I think it is time for us to figure out a way to get the Gamebook Adventures in front of a wider audience, and I think that means opening the floodgates of one-star jackass reviews and just try to make the game as best as we can.

This article is getting quite long and I haven’t even gotten to the multiple platform issue.  Perhaps I will leave that for another day.

Cheers!
Ben, the scarecrow, if I only had a brain! 🙂

UPDATE: here is part 2, a word about platforms

6 comments so far

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  1. Hi Ben,

    Great article on the GCAP. I can appreciate the difficulty you have in opening up the market for the GA brand to a larger audience that might not appreciate the nature of gamebooks. The expectations of gamers these days can be very high indeed and I have felt the sting of unfulfilled expectations on more than one occasion myself. What you do have on your side is an excellent product and from the reviews I have seen GA has been well received in even the mainstream press. The problem we all have is being noticed in a veritable sea of offerings and having a few freebies to throw around doesn’t hurt. I believe that if the product is good enough the odd crap review tends to fall by the wayside. My stuff operates on a far less sophisticated level than GA but it hasn’t stopped more than a half million people rolling through the Chronicles over the years. Looking forward to your thoughts on multiple platform issues.

  2. About the demo; I’m not sure how feasible/affordable this would be (probably not very), but how about instead of creating a demo of one of your existing gamebooks, you create a free miniature gamebook that may only have a fraction of the content, but pulls in new customers while simultaneously deepening the world for existing fans of the series? It’s a two-for-one: you get new customers while gaining loyalty from your existing customers by providing new, free content. You might even create some kind of bonus in the main series for people who play the mini-gamebook.

    Again, I don’t know whether or not it’s actually a practical idea, but it’s something to think about.

  3. Thanks for the feedback and support guys! Just to elaborate on your point Aaron – we were in the process of creating a mini adventure for just the reasons you suggested. In fact I had already started writing it, but was never completed as we got snowed under with our funding obligations for the follow-up books. It may be that we need to revisit this idea and finish it. The premise was a prequel to The Siege of the Necromancer, called A Guard’s Tale where you get to see the unfolding events of the siege through the eyes of one of the stronghold guards. If you’ve completed GA2 you’ll actually meet this guard towards the end of the gamebook too, so its a nice little piece of continuity.

  4. I was just about to post a comment about a ‘mini-gamebook’ too, when I scrolled down to the comments and saw that everyone has thought of it already!

    I don’t know how much of ‘A Guard’s Tale’ has been written, but my suggestion would be to drive home the point that it’s a -puzzle game- in the story itself, and not a ‘read-along-with-multiple-paths-all-leading-to-happy-endings’ book. From what I’ve seen from the one star reviews, people go into these gamebooks with a mindframe of ‘read to the ending, and only lose if I pick an obviously stupid option and deserve it’, so when they reach an unwinnable scenario from not having a certain item, they can’t figure out why they got a game over and unfairly blame the game’s design.

    SO!~ For the mini-gamebook-demo, consider breaking the fourth wall a little just so they can get to grips with gamebook design. Let them come face to face with what would normally be an unwinnable scenario, then save them from it, telling them how they could’ve avoided getting into that situation in the first place.

    For example… “You ride the pogo stick down the grassy hill, when out of nowhere, you realise you are approaching a cliff edge! If you’ve found the Espresso Machine, turn to 281. Otherwise, turn to 10.”

    “10: Pacnicking, you fall to the side and narrowly escape certain death! You curse yourself, wishing you had only gone to the pantry this morning, for your reactions are lacking… and it’s not as if there’s any reason to avoid a nice breakfast. You make a mental note: In the future, always grab a hot drink before you set off on your adventure. You lose 3 VITALITY, and continue on, lucky to be alive… Especially as you may not be so lucky in the future.”

    While text like that may be blatant, the penny just might drop in players minds on how to ‘fully enjoy’ the concept of figuring out solutions like a puzzle for future gamebooks.

  5. Hey all,

    Thanks for the comments 🙂 It is great to get some other thoughts on the issue. Neil and I have had some great chats about how we can provide that ‘taste’ of GA while still maintaining the brand, and lots of stuff you guys have suggested were tossed around as well 🙂 Ultimately I think we will end up doing a bit of all the above, right now we are trying to get our ducks in a row to be ready for the xmas season.. in any case, thanks for all the support, and be on the lookout for mini-free-gamebook-sampler-lite or something like that in the future 🙂

    Cheers!
    -Ben

  6. […] few weeks ago I got back from GCAP2010 and posted my thoughts. I talked at length about what I learned at GCAP 2010 and what we are going to try to do to get our […]