Last Friday I made this post
on reddit asking for some Let's Plays of our game. The results were pretty amazing. Within two or three hours there were twenty replies and my inbox started getting flooded with emails. Our yes votes on Greenlight
jumped up as well. That night one of them did a twitch stream. Everyone who responded was pretty awesome about it and very eager to dive into a demo even if it was still in development. I think that most people were just excited to have a game on their channel that not a lot of other people had.
After handing out about 50 keys we stopped taking requests so that we could start studying the videos that began popping up. To date we've had around 11 Let's Plays and First Impressions made which is a ton more than what we had before.
The videos that were created have been invaluable to us in terms of getting feedback on the current state of the game. Actually watching what players were doing and hearing what they were thinking helped us figure out what players truly wanted at this stage of development. The morale boost of seeing players enjoy the game was extremely gratifying and reassured us that we are on the right track with Ascendant. The free marketing is not bad either. I would absolutely ask that group of people to cover our game again.
The average subscriber count from each request was around 100. This seems low but for us it was okay as this was meant to be a trial run for our overall YouTube Let's Play marketing strategy. We had a few different types of reviews most of which were generally positive. See below:
These types of reviews are just fantastic and we are pretty happy to watch this over and over. They are great for seeing what parts of the game players really enjoy along with the very significant morale boost gained from watching other people besides friends and family really get into it.
However, the ones that we paid the most attention to were the less positive videos. These ones we had to really understand and decipher where these players were coming from so that we could better address the issues that they had. They brought up things we hadn't even realized were issues. Here is one example below. It's pretty long but you can get the gist of the feedback within the first few minutes.
The point is, no matter what you do not everyone will like your product. Explicit instructions don't always get read and people will get lost in your game. Your game is not for everyone. But there are people who will enjoy it. For those that don't however, you really need to listen to what they are saying, take their feedback and see what you can do to make the experience better.
Our goal now is to take this new information and improve Ascendant. We know what we have to do and without throwing our demo out into the world we never would have understood what players wanted. We know what we like, what our own development priorities are, but we must also consider what the players want to experience.
The biggest takeaway from this post is that Let's Plays allow you to see and experience a game through the eyes of a player. This can also be achieved through standard playtesting or through services like GameAnalytics
but most of the time (at least for us) this boils down to friends and family telling you the game is looking good . The information gained from the Let's Plays are honest and easily perceived. They can vastly improve your mechanics, design, and help you make decisions on features. I'm not saying put all your trust into a Let's Play, but the more players that do get a chance to test your game while it's in development the better it will be in the end.
A full list of the Let's Plays and First Impressions created can be found here on our Ascendant subreddit.
Someone recently asked me for tips on how they could better promote their Kickstarter campaign. I was kind of surprised about the question because our campaign
, while successful, did not overly exceed its goal as many projects do. This does not detract from the enormous amount of gratitude that we have towards our backers - without the funding, Ascendant would have been cancelled and we would have had to find 'real jobs'. I've had a lot of time to think about what things I think we should have done differently since completing the campaign and now that a fellow developer has asked for advice, I feel like this is a good opportunity to make another post about the topic. There are a ton of blogs and posts that give Kickstarter advice already and some of the points you will have heard time and time again. This just reiterates their importance so if you're not doing them then you damn well should be.
This is also a reminder to me on what I should keep doing with Ascendant
post-campaign. These things certainly extends beyond Kickstarter.
Most of the points below have to do with timing even if they don't explicitly state it. Timing is - almost - everything. You need time to develop your project. You need time to come up with a powerful, appealing, creative campaign. You need time to create an audience BEFORE you enter the campaign. If you are thinking about asking a bunch of people on the Internet for money you really need to think hard about whether your prototype or idea is ready to be seen. Research other campaigns prior to starting yours. We spent a month figuring out at what point other games were at before they launched. More often the unsuccessful ones were not in a place to be seen yet.
A side note: I've said this in a previous post but we had to run our campaign out of necessity rather than because the time was right. We knew going in that the time was absolutely wrong. We were relatively unknown and had just a basic unpolished prototype. We were very lucky. If we had a few more months to develop and build a community we would have run it much later than three months into the dev cycle.
When should I join some forums? Immediately.
Are you only on one forum? Try to branch out to see what other forums that might be interested in your project before launching. And not only a month prior. As soon as you have a piece of concept art, or a gif of something you've prototyped you need to be using it to generate an audience. There is much lower risk in starting a TIG devlog or setting up an indieDB page when you have very little to show than there is in launching a KS campaign with your livelihood at stake.
reddit is hit or miss.
You are allowed to post in some of the gaming and indie game subreddits about KS campaigns. It is worth it to post but the success of such a move is dependent on the interest of the reddit hive mind. There is a snowball effect and the more upvotes you can gain immediately after posting the larger your chances are of gaining traction there. There was an example of the flaw in the reddit algorithm
that is worth understanding. Apparently they recently changed it
is absolutely worth your time during the campaign (leading up, during, and post). It is an excellent place to find information on technical topics, participate in events (SSS, FF, SS, MM, and now the monthly showcase), and get to know your fellow developers. People will give you feedback on how your campaign looks, problems they see in game mechanics, art, everything. Take the critique and make it better. We are all in this together and we're all rooting for you to succeed.
Let's Players can be your most important ally.
If you have a decent prototype with limited bugs and a good gameplay experience you should send it to LPers. Personalized letters requesting coverage work and most are very appreciative that you've taken the time to learn about their channel. Find ones that feature indie games, alphas, betas, and Kickstarter projects. Even ones with only a hundred subscriptions are valuable. They can reach people who would potentially be interested but are unaware of your existence. They will tell their viewers to help you and have much more leverage and sway to their audience than you currently do.
Keep in mind that Let's Plays are a double edged sword. If your prototype is not in a place to be put into the hands of someone that will record footage they will almost certainly break your game and may show their following something you don't want them to see. It happened to us and we had a twenty minute Let's Play of a broken tutorial room which was viewed by hundreds of people. It was a huge lesson learned.
Find ways to be seen by press
If I could go back, I would have sent out multiple press releases through Games Press
and the like. This has recently become our best tool at obtaining visibility. Big sites scrape through this and will either pick up your press release in their own news feed or an interested writer will do a quick article on you.
Additionally, if you can't get the big sites to feature your campaign there are a bunch of small time indie sites that you can reach out to that are generally very helpful and want to support unkown devs. Don't forget to thank them if they write about you!
Simultaneous Greenlight launch
Simultaneously launching a Greenlight page while Kickstarter is running can be beneficial or do absolutely nothing for your campaign. There has to be as much detail and research done with a Greenlight campaign as with a Kickstarter launch so do the same research, take the same steps, and put the same love into both.
And don't ever forget about #screenshotsaturday.
Other devs are always in SSS to help you move your game forward. They will tell you things that you missed and reasons why you should feel excited about your game. Below are our posts for SSS in r/gamedev
- SSS #158 - Where we are now. Everything is better, tighter, and more awesome. I wish we were at THIS stage when we launched our KS campaign rather than where we were at SSS #142.
A lot of changes happened to us recently. We were abruptly kicked out of our incubator space back in December and had to scramble to find a new dev space. It was a hard time with the holidays, people leaving for vacation, and just the overall craziness that comes at the end of the year. We were lucky enough to find a house that a number of us could live in and keep working. These were our goals and motivations behind the project:
We were successful in all of these goals. Below you will find some pictures we took as we built out the project.
- Build a space to dev and finish Ascendant that is comfortable enough to work in for eight to twelve hours a day.
- No permanent fixtures; all material must be able to be ripped out at the end of our time here.
- Stay within our very, very small budget
- Finish project in four days
So, it's been a week since we successfully raised $11,124 for Ascendant. That's a little more than 11% of our initial $10,000 goal. As always, thank you to every person who believed in us, who encouraged us to keep going, and for trusting us enough to help us produce this game.
It was a roller coaster of emotions; stress followed by relief, glory mixed with anguish, and a consistent, debilitating lack of sleep. I would stare at my phone every night just to make sure that the backing amount was still there. I think that sometimes I would have nightmares about the amount suddenly dropping to zero and would scramble in the darkness to find my mobile, reassure myself by staring at those numbers, and breathe a heavy sigh of relief.
But we made it. We didn't make hundreds of thousands of dollars but we got what we needed to keep Ascendant alive and make the game a reality. That is what is most important; our ability to keep developing and producing this game with the support of our backers.
Obviously, most of our backing came externally with Facebook and direct links from the widget doing a bulk of the work. We also got nice pushes from reddit, and IndieDB. We were not featured in the Staff Pick but we were in the top of the Orlando based projects section for last half of the campaign.
A week before writing this postmortem we were sitting around 22% completed plays. Our video was timed at 1:53 featuring only gameplay which I think became both a benefit and detriment to the project. The benefit came from the video length as it was designed for viewers that just wanted to see the game in action and not the plea. However, it was also a detriment because it removed the developer's personality from that initial introduction. This personality is essential to every campaign and we might have lost a bit by not including the developers in it.
This postmortem is for the small time devs because that is who we, Hapa Games, are. It's for that single developer sitting in their home office making magic in their spare time. It's for that little group that no one knows about but believe they have something awesome worth sharing. It's for the backers and the fans eager to get some insight into what goes on during a Kickstarter campaign. Enjoy. And don't forget to vote on Greenlight!
What went right.
The power of friends and family: We wouldn't be where we are right now if it weren't for our friends and family believing in us. It was people that we knew who gave the most and having strong connections with the right people paid off for us in the end. Along the way we've picked up a ton of new friends and fans who were equally as supportive and promoted Ascendant in their own way either by posting mentions on their websites or blogs, interviewing us, leaving handouts in game and comic shops, or even by simply talking to others about the game. This small army of advocates increased our backing and renown in ways that we were personally unable to. Without this network we wouldn't have made it.
A different aesthetic: Most of the messages we received during the campaign were very, very interested in the art direction. The press that we received remarked specifically on how beautiful Ascendant was which greatly helped us to stand out. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of incredibly artistic and stylized indie games out there but Ascendant's niche style gained appreciation by people who enjoy its particular aesthetic.
Concept art of Summer Level
In-game screenshot of Summer
Cross-promotion is essential:
The Ascendant campaign was able to receive cross-promotional assistance from a number of KS projects running simultaneously with us. We focused mostly on local developers in the Orlando area but were able to get help from a couple of other projects on the west coast. This was immensely helpful and brought in a multitude of new backers that had never heard of our project before. Timing is always an issue but project creators are usually more than happy to assist with this endeavor as long as you are willing to do the same and if the promotion is viable within their own schedule.Local community:
The overwhelming support from the Florida indie gamer community was where a lot of our strength came from. We went out to the gamer bars, conventions like WasabiCon, and developed relationships through the local indie dev network to find more backers. The local developer community wanted us to succeed and became some of our most vocal word-of-mouth proponents.
In particular, Indienomicon
, deserves a lot of credit for putting us in front of people that were interested in cultivating the Orlando indie community. They have a monthly meetup where developers and gamers can come together to view in-development or completed projects from independent developers in the area. They were gracious enough to allow us to show a trailer of Ascendant during one of their events even though we were (and are kind of still) relatively unknown to the world.Press:
Games journalists and YouTube LPers are amazing. They talk and preview games that no one has heard of in an effort to help remove them from the shroud of obscurity. We had a handful of sites write about Ascendant
and these were incredibly helpful in showcasing the game. Even local gaming publications - The Indie Mine
, Headbang 'n Buttonmash
, and Geekenstein
for example - were very encouraging and helped us out a ton with the exposure.
Here's an action concept so you don't get tired of the wall of text.
What went wrong.
Small following and poor timing: Hapa Games was formed in the middle of August 2013. That is when we started production on Ascendant. We had just finished our graduate school work and decided to forego internship opportunities to start the company and develop our idea. We went from literally nothing to a trailer, demo, and Kickstarter campaign in less than three months. You cannot build a huge, rabid following in three months. No matter what we did, we were unknown to the world and not a lot of people wanted to pay attention to what Ascendant was about.
We decided to run the KS campaign out of necessity, not that we felt it was the right time. This month we are losing our office space, and our school is wiping our computers so we needed the funding to buy proper licenses, back up our files, and get a new place to work. However, we knew that it was going to be a struggle and I really wish that we had had a few more months of development and marketing to make the game look better and get fans behind it.
Social media and updates: I am bad at social media. I just am. It's something I'm working on but I take full blame for this. Had I managed this better, this could have been a great way for Ascendant to gain more followers who we could then turn into backers. It's not about just spamming Twitter, or posting updates on Facebook or reddit. It's about timing and content. The lifetime of tweets is so short that I should have put more research into exactly when to update, when to post something on our Facebook wall, or update the IndieDB page.
Having a plan for campaign updates is essential as well. I had made a basic one in a spreadsheet but didn't follow it as rigidly as I should have. This left me slightly unprepared each time that I needed to post an update on the KS page. I thought that our update frequency was good but in retrospect, having a concrete plan with incredible content ready to be published for each one would have made the entire process much, much better.
Press: It took a long time to get even a handful of websites and LPers interested in what we were doing even if the ones we did get were outstanding. I had sent out emails at the very beginning of the campaign and every week during. The initial emails were personalized but were WAY too long for people to take any interest in. I'm sure 90% of these were deleted as quickly as they were opened. I cut the length of the second set of emails by about half and put the link to our trailer close to the top. This received a lot more attention and we were previewed on a number of small publications.
Game demo: Our first demo had a few game-breaking bugs and the combat wasn't where it needed to be when we sent it out to the press. It was a lot slower than it is right now and that turned some people off to the project. Halfway through the campaign, we updated the combat making it a lot more fluid and exciting. Consequently, we received a lot of new attention from this drastic change but we could have had so much more if we had a few more weeks to redo the combat.
There are a few other things that went right and wrong during the campaign but these are the main points. I firmly believe that we did the best we could with the hand we were dealt. It comes down to a ton of planning, researching both successful and unsuccessful campaigns, building a fan base prior to entering the campaign, and just an absurd amount of work and stress during the campaign. I hope this helps anyone thinking putting their project onto Kickstarter or any other crowdsourcing portal.
PS, onwards to Greenlight!
It has been quite an exciting if stressful month. We are 59% funded and that is just fantastic! Even though we are closing in on Dec. 1st I am confident that we will reach our funding goal. A huge thank you to everyone involved with what we are doing. All of our friends, family, and fans, you are all incredibly supportive and know that we wouldn't be able to get to where we are without you. All of us here at Hapa Games are incredibly grateful.
Yesterday, Brandon Schmidt at The Indie Mine
published a preview article about Ascendant.
The preview is very honest and has given us a lot of insight into what kinds of things we need to change to ensure that the game is more accessible for players. Have a read by following the link below:
Again, we are still running our Kickstarter
campaigns so if you or anyone you know would like to be a part of a budding indie company, please share it, contribute, and give some love to Ascendant.
We are 25% of the way there and that feels awesome. I am very happy to see the continuous support by the community; it's kind of an emotional roller coaster. We just made another gameplay video that features multiple Aspect combination, a much greater volume of enemies to fight, and different weapons to equip. Check it out below.
If you haven't checked it out yet, please take a look at our Kickstarter campaign found here
. We'd really, sincerely appreciate any help either through backing our project or by letting others know about Ascendant
. Thank you so much!
Hi everyone! We are proud to announce that we have finally put up our Kickstarter and Greenlight pages!
Please, please, please take a look at them here:
Huge thank you to everyone that has helped us get where we are today. Your continued support is what has made our passion become a reality. I hope that we can get a chance to share our work and project with you soon.
Hi everyone! We will be at the Player 1 Bar in Orlando tomorrow night, 10/30, playing a demo of Ascendant. It's going to be super rad and awesome. Here is the link to their event announcement: http://tinyurl.com/kxsfs9w
I felt that last time I really didn't capture the essence of what our spring level was really about. We had a blocky UI and the video quality wasn't that great. So, to rectify this, I have some better screenshots to show you.
Spring assets are coming together very, very well thanks to Mike, Anthony, and Sean. They will create a new environment every play through.
Aspects can be found in treasure boxes such as the one in this picture. Players will only know what each thing does by placing it into their Aspect slots.
An Aspect in action! Explosion effect added to the basic spell.
As you can see, a lot of things are improving. From UI, particle effects, character animations, environment art, gameplay, enemy variations...We've come so far in the past few months. Very excited about where we are going and how this game will take shape.
Got through another playtest with some excellent data for making the game better. Big thanks to everyone who came out to break Ascendant. Here is some gameplay footage from that build.
We put a lot of things into the game this week. A number of new Aspects are in and all of their functionality is there. Whenever you pick up an Aspect you will have the opportunity to socket it into your weapon, spell, or armor. Each socket has a different effect allowing for a ton of variation. Right now, the game is way too hard for players to enjoy the Aspects but we are trying to balance it out.
And a shopkeeper. He is awesome. Also he represents player-determined goals in the game. You can now explore every level to find items and weapons and a whole slew of things to improve your character's chance of survival. As you play, you become better and the game becomes more accessible. This screenshot represents a huge step in the right direction.