A Day in the Life: Postmortem on a Launch Failure

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Sterling Selover’s story is one that a lot of developers are familiar with. He had a great game idea with a twist on a favored genre, some friends willing to help make it into an international success, and even great press.

But like so many hopeful game developers, a few bad decisions led to the game flopping in the charts. The game in question is Running Quest, an RPG runner hybrid inspired by games like Temple Run, Everquest, and Elder Scrolls.

In spite of his efforts to combine those games into a mobile chart-topper, it peaked at #611 in the top grossing charts for the iPhone in the US. I met Sterling in January at the London Pocket Gamer Connects event, just prior to the release of the game. At the time, I told him I thought the game could do really well in Korea (and I still stand by that), but he was already overwhelmed with the international releases he had scheduled.

I’ve kept in touch with him since and he agreed to share some of the lesson he learned in working on the project on the blog. They are brief and to the point, but they highlight the problems and decisions a lot of young developers have to face when releasing their games, so I hope you’ll be able to learn from his experience too.

Q: Why did you choose Japan as your entry point into Asia as opposed to Korea?
A: I chose Japan and China because I personally knew people in those regions that were willing to help translate the app for a reasonable share of the revenue in those countries.

Our Advice: While it’s great to have people you know in new markets, translation is rarely done on revenue share basis and ought to be a relatively inexpensive cost in your marketing budget. It’s better to partner with someone who is able to deliver, not just localization services, but access to a network of ad agencies or publishers who can assist with translation and user acquisition obstacles.

Q: If you could single out the biggest problem or mistake that was made, what would it be?
A: Spending money on advertising as opposed to user acquisition.

Our Advice: No doubt user acquisition is the problem to solve in the mobile sphere. It’s both an issue of quantity and quality, so not only do you need to acquire users, you need to make sure you keep them. Resources will also need to be allocated to community building and maintenance, so factor those into your budget when you decide to tackle new markets.

Q: I saw that there were multiple languages available for the game, what was your methodology for localizing it and what made you choose those languages?  
A: I will likely not be localizing in the future.  I have not generated a return for the investment in localization.  I chose the most popular languages of English, French, German, Italian, Spanish as that is pretty standard these days.  I also included Japanese and Chinese because I knew people that were willing to help.

Our Advice: For an initial release, immediately expanding into multiple markets without prior experience may be a bit more ambitious than feasible. Entering a new market is a time investment, so make sure you’ve got a good understanding of what is required of you for each place, or look for publishing/marketing partners who can handle the bulk of the work for you.

Q: What would you do differently the next time you make a game?
A: Strategic partnerships and have a rock solid plan for development and marketing.

Our Advice: As mentioned above, this is a great tip. Strategic partnerships and development plans are a must.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from making and marketing Running Quest?
A: Don’t release the product until its ready and don’t commit to anything until you’re ready.

 Our Advice: Not really much to add here. Solid advice.

Q: Tell us a bit about your upcoming projects/game releases.
A: I’ve started working on a very cool top down, RPG, adventure game.  Think The Legend of Zelda : Link to the Past meets Dark Souls.  That’s about all I can say for now.  We will actually be releasing the game on PC/Mac before Mobile, but it will be released on mobile as well.  The game will also be a premium title with no In-App Purchases.

 

Tell Us Your Thoughts

Have you released an unsuccessful game? What lessons did you learn? What advice would you give to someone releasing a title in multiple markets at once?

We love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below. Don’t for get to follow us on LinkedIn, and Twitter, and subscribe to our RSS feed.

I Got 99 Problems, But a Publisher Ain’t One: Publisher relevance in an age of indies

publsihing relevance

With the rising number of successful independent game developers, game pros from all corners of the industry have been calling the necessity of publishers into question. While some still see a purpose, other industry experts, like Bryan Cashman over at the Consulgamer blog, are questioning publisher relevance all together.

Choosing to go it alone in your domestic market where you have home-turf advantage is difficult on its own, but launching in new markets by yourself incurs a whole new level of risk that you have to be prepared for.

Wherever you stand on the matter one thing is for sure: whether or not the relevance of publishers is diminishing, the problems they have traditionally solved are more complex than ever.

Knowledge and Experience are the Weapons of Choice

Marketing Support, financing, personnel, brad recognition – and the list goes on. Whether you are launching in the domestic market or abroad, going it on your own means arming yourself with more knowledge and tools than you had to in the past.

I often hear small indie companies heralding the success of games like Titanfall and Star Citizen as evidence that publishers are no longer necessary. The reality is, those games are backed by professionals with decades of experience and a well-established industry network. For developers taking their first baby steps, the expectation that they will reach the same heights is just short of delusional.

The communities of Star Citizen and Titanfall were built on their founders’ previous success, solving the major problem of brand recognition. New developers will have to consider the how they will tackle community building for their games and solve the dreaded user acquisition equation. This is particularly true for the mobile sphere where user acquisition is far more nuanced.

Launching in a new market means finding out what the life-time value (LTV) of your game is in that specific region, what kind of budget you’ll need to expect for marketing, and how to run a proper soft launch to test market interest.

Crowdfunding is Not a Panacea

“But,” you say, “I can always build my community and funding on Kickstarter!”

I heard this multiple times from young studios I met at GDC this year, but I also had the pleasure of listening to a rather sobering talk from Simon Strange about crowdfunding games. He drove home a very important point: both fundraisers and backers don’t know how to use Kickstarter. Not only is it a horrible way to raise money, according to Strange, but crowdfunding isn’t necessarily a viable option in all markets (particularly in Korea and Japan).

Even if you do choose to go this route, there is no guarantee you’ll meet your funding goals, or that the money you do raise will go as far as you expect it to.

So How Do You Remain Indie and be Successful?

A strong team and strong partnerships. While, every now and then, the odd two-man studio has breakout success in the mobile sphere, the honest truth is that we don’t yet fully understand the formula for viral games.

Avoid setting unrealistic expectations and take a measured approach. Set reachable goals and make sure your team includes someone with marketing experience and someone with user acquisition and community expertise. This can mean bringing people on full time to your team, or hiring an agency to work on your behalf. The agency route may be particularly advantageous if you are choosing to enter a new market and you want to do it without a publisher. There are several organizations like KISS, who act as a bridge between Europe and Asia for the PC market, and even Latis Global ourselves.

A Final Thought

I’ll end this with a quote from a Pocket Gamer article I read this week about this issue:

“The thing about publishers is, they do have to take risks,” added Revolution’s Charles Cecil.

“That really shouldn’t be underestimated. If you don’t have a fanbase then going through a publisher is a valid idea – I’m not anti-publisher in the least.”

There are lots of avenues to be successful. While remaining independent and protecting your ideas from the influence of publishers may be your ideal, it’s also worth it to consider publishing contracts while you are earning street cred and getting over the learning curve.

Now it’s your turn

Have you published your own game before? What lessons did you learn from going indie? What do you think about the future of publishing: will it continue to be as relevant as ever, or are we witnessing its gradual decline into irrelevance?

We love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment. Remember to share this article and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Building Community Through Localization: How to be a Global Hit

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This week Latis co-hosted Game Next 2014, one of Korea’s biggest mobile gaming conferences. We shared some of our strategies for helping indies be successful global businesses by delivering quality localized products in markets around the world, and we’re sharing the slide presentation with you here.

Here are some of the take-away lessons:

It’s not just about impressions, it’s about good impressions

The current environment for mobile marketing has been heavily focused on interstitial ads, banner ads, push notifications, and an array of other in-app ads all indexed by list of confusing acronyms –  CPC,CPI, CPV, CPA, etc. – that can be both intimidating and confusing for new developers. Not to mention that users find them annoying.

We know getting impressions is important, especially since only 2% of users ever make purchases, but don’t make this the only impression on your would-be-fans. Building a solid community where your fans can feel a sense of ownership and excitement is equally important for curating a following. There are a number of great ways to do this that include forums, contests, and community pages.  Figure out what will work best for you and don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas.

Customer Support is not just about fielding complaints

We are used to a model of customer support that focuses on solving customer complaints, often pushing them through frustrating email ticketing systems. While it is important to have a system in place to field complaints, customer support strategy should involve more than that. A good customer support model includes:

1) Hearing customer feedback

2) Helping new gamers feel comfortable

3) Keeping current customers satisfied

These can be accomplished by providing easy problem resolution (FAQs and Forums where your customer base can help each other solve problems), social networking communities, and reward systems. Once you have curated a community around your game, give them a space to live.

Language translations alone can help you increase your rank

It’s been shown time and again that having your game in the language of your target market alone can help increase your rankings. Even if you are on a budget, don’t skip this very important step.

Share your ideas

Do you have experience building a community around your game? What successes or failures did you have? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments or send us a message via twitter @latisglobal.

We’d like to thank everyone that came out to Game Next 2014. The speakers shared some great ideas that we will be posting online in the weeks to come. If you have any questions or comments about this presentation, or the summit, please leave a comment.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for more great ideas on how to tackle the global mobile market.