Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Value of Attending Games Conferences

In the next few months I will be attending my sixth Develop Conference, sixth! It feels like only yesterday when I went to my first one back in 2010 just after having finished University, with a prototype of Q.U.B.E. to show around. I left the event hugely inspired and ready to embark on a journey as an indie developer, not knowing what the future would hold but immensely confident that I would turn the prototype into a full game, whatever the cost. And for the record, I did just that. 

There are many positive takeaways to get from conferences and yes, you may leave feeling a bit worse for wear and would have taken time out of game development but it’s so worth it. For one, you get to mingle with other like-minded developers and compare notes on game dev, funding, PR, time management and many other things. That in itself is valuable as there’s no default way to make games so it’s nice to find out how others work and apply new techniques to your own workflow.

The lectures are a great way to learn about broader topics and gain insights into how other developers handle things, what worked for them and what didn't. Talks can be majorly inspiring and motivational. You can learn about all sorts of things from level design, game art, development best practices and how to fund and market your game.

If you’re looking to secure new business or even land a job, conferences are great for making new connections. I've done several deals in the past from purely being at a conference and meeting people. If you’re a skilled graduate looking for your first job, an employer is more likely to choose a familiar face that they bonded with over a drink at a conference than CV 524 that came in via email.

Another thing a lot of conferences offer is the opportunity to showcase your latest game and enter it into an awards ceremony. Not only is this great exposure for your game and studio, it’s also a good way to get constructive feedback on the title from established game developers.

One of the best parts of going to conferences is that you get to travel a great deal and a lot of the time, travel abroad to some of the most prestigious industry events such as GDC: San Francisco.

It’s not all pure business either. Many fun activities happen outside of conference hours such as poker tournaments, football matches, networking (aka not-working) and hanging out on the beach.

And once you've become comfortable with the above and gained sufficient experience, you can start giving your own talks at these conferences as a way to give back to the developer community and generally get your name out there.

If you’re heading to Develop Conference this year, come along to my talk where I look back on five years of being an indie developer and observe how much has changed since I started out. And if you’re not going, why not!? I look forward to meeting some of you there.

Dan Da Rocha
Director at Fiddlesticks/Toxic Games

Friday, 15 May 2015

Telling Tales of F2P Games

Those core gamers, eh? They don’t like mobile games much, do they. And don’t even get them started on free-to-play. 

And who can blame them? The successful early F2P games were simple – their interactions mundane, their gating mechanics brazen. They were skeletal monetization mechanics, with a paper-thin layer of skin to make them look at least presentable. Meanwhile, in triple-A land, games were going the other way – doubling down on the experience, the spectacle and the set-piece. You might say that they became all meat – or fat, depending on your stance – weighing down a crumbling skeleton.

But I think core gamers are a valid market to target if you’re making a F2P game. To use the cynical terms of the marketeer, these oceans are teeming with whales – millions of people who pay monthly MMO subs, buy collectors’ editions and season passes. Playing to the lowest-common denominator and chasing a broad audience is valid, sure, but it’s ignoring a vast market.

The biggest challenge mobile F2P games have in winning over the core gamer audience is a battle to prove legitimacy; a fight to prove that the game isn’t just a cynical Skinner skin but a full game experience that deserves to be judged amongst “premium” games.

How do you do this? You can do it with graphics - games like Vainglory, Dawn of Titans and Square Enix’s upcoming Mobius Final Fantasy are pushing that particular envelope, partly I believe in an attempt to establish their credibility. But can narrative help with this?
Spoiler: I think so. But I’m a writer so I would, wouldn’t I.

Hear me out though. Narrative is grounding; narrative is glue. To extend the slightly wonky analogy earlier, in addition to being some of the tasty tasty meat, narrative is the layer that binds that meat to the mechanical skeleton. It gives reason and underlying logic for everything. It isn’t just dialogue; it threads through everything – it’s in location design, character design, even interface design. And, importantly in this context, it shows effort: it shows that you’ve thought things through. Creating a cohesive world and distinctive characters is hard and takes a lot of effort, but there are enough high-grossing franchises to prove that’s exactly what gamers want.

If gamers can get a sense that your world isn’t just a Tolkein rip-off but something with its own identity and history; if they can encounter a character who’s been thought about in terms beyond just “carries big sword” or “has tits, will show”; if they can get an inkling of twists and turns that await them – how can this not engender interest? In a market drowning in copycats and reskins, how is this not going to encourage people to launch the app for a second time?

If you’re a numbers person and all this sounds a bit airy-fairy to you, let me put it in your vernacular: yes, I really do think narrative can help your ‘day one retention’. *comedy spitoon noise*

What about beyond that? Can an on-going narrative in mobile F2P games actually continue driving retention? We consume more story now than we probably ever have done – albeit in different media – and an increasing proportion is serialized, long-form content. I’m not going to pretend that a developing story alone will drive people to repeatedly engage with your game - that’s for the gameplay to bear, of course - but is there any reason why it can’t be part of that equation?

So, if you’re not completely repulsed or amused by the idea, come to my talk ‘Narrative as a Service’ at the Develop Conference in Brighton. In addition to looking at this argument in a slightly less slapdash way, we’ll take a look at mobile games that already do this in the Japanese market, and I’ll also give some concrete examples from my experiences attempting to do this and the new challenges it raises.

By Ed Fear, Creative Producer, Mediatonic

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

How to get the most out of Twitch

Livestreaming is on the rise, and we're yet to see the full force of what Twitch streaming can do for game developers looking to get the word out about the latest and greatest new game experiences.

At tinyBuild, we've been working with Twitch and livestreamers for a while now -- in fact our best ever sales day was thanks to a livestreaming session we put together with PewDiePie last year. If you can get the livestreaming community to care about your game it can yield incredible results for building a fanbase, and of course, scoring sales.

For those of you who have no idea about the ins and outs of Twitch, it's best to get to know how these services really work first. Once you begin to watch lots of content that is in a similar vein to how you'd want to be covered, you'll get a good idea of how to proceed with your Twitch strategies.

Twitch streamers love to focus on interacting with their audiences, so you'll want to give them reasons to use your games to build their communities, rather than just spamming them with links and codes for your game.

When you're contacting Twitch streamers about your game, the best way to make them care is to give them exactly what they need, as quickly as possible. Streamers want a quick description of your game, a code or link to download the game for free, and a video or two of the game in action, so they can assess whether it's worth covering.

As mentioned previously, they also want ways to use your game to interact with their audience, be it extra codes to give away to viewers, or an assurance that you'll tell your own fanbase when a livestreamer starts broadcasting your game.

But before you even get in contact with them, make sure your game actually streams properly! Go download all the most popular streaming software, like Open Broadcaster Software and XSplit, then make sure your game plays nicely with each. If a streamer is put off playing your game because of technical issues, that's just the worst.

There are opportunities to work with Twitch directly too. The company is still pretty fresh and the team is exploring how it can help game developers out. At tinyBuild we've been working with the Twitch team to market some of our upcoming games, including featuring on the front page of Twitch, and it's working rather well for us.

Before I sign off, you might find the following link useful. It's a list of contact information for hundreds of livestreamers, as collected together by myself. Enjoy!

By Mike Rose. Formerly a video game journalist of eight years, Mike Rose is now the talent scout and general firestarter at indie developer and publisher. tinyBuild Games.