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?

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Crowdsourcing Localization: Can it Work for You?

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When Johnnemann Nordhagen brought his team together to make Gone Home, he did it from the basement of a shared rental house with nothing more than a small savings account and a dream. That dream became one of last year’s greatest localization stories as he turned Gone Home into an award winning, multi-lingual success.

His localization budget? $0.

At GDC 2014, Nordhagen revealed the secrets to success behind the crowdsourcing translation of one of the best games of 2013. In this post we’ll cover the lessons learned from Gone Home’s localization and whether or not crowdsourcing can work for you.

Lessons from crowdsourcing Gone Home’s localization

The first, and most obvious, problem when crowdsourcing anything is forming the crowd. First and foremost, your game has to be interesting and exciting enough for people to rally around. Use Kickstarter, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, news outlets, and any other media to form a community around your game, and make sure you promote ownership of their work. Don’t forget to give credit where credit is due.

Second, if you are going the route of crowdsourcing, do it early and do it right. Make lots of documentation to help provide your translators fill in context gaps and solve technical issues. Using plain-text files (XML for subtitles) is easiest for editing. There are a number of other technical considerations you will have to make before starting as well.  For example, will you localize voice acting, or make subtitles? How will you handle baked-in text? (Gone Home solved this problem with overlays). Lay out these problems beforehand so that you won’t be surprised by them later. Some problems may not have easy fixes.

Nordhagen said that crowdsourcing localization ultimately meant a very simple dictionary where changes in the source text resulted in un-localized versions in the target. Some languages presented font difficulties and UI spacing forced translations to be shortened rather fixing the UI. Crowdsourcing also meant they didn’t have enough testing and there was no support on launch. Keep these problems in mind when you decide how you will localize your games.

Can crowdsourcing work for everyone?

The Gone Home example provides hope for developers on a budget, but in the larger picture, crowdsourcing is not likely to replace traditional models of localization. First, it requires that you build a community around your game; a community dedicated enough to take time to help you. In the PC gaming world this is much easier to create than in the mobile market, where the majority of gamers are more casual and only spend a few minutes a day on any given game. If you are going the crowdsourcing route, be prepared to put more resources – money, time, and people – into community management and foster a strong following for your game.

The technical issues presented by crowdsourcing may also present a number of problems when localizing higher budget titles where accuracy and testing are a higher stakes game. This goes double for Asian translations where font and UI become much bigger problems.

For the time being, crowdsourcing is a great option for indie devs on a shoe-string budget, but If you have the budget to pay for localization, it is an investment worth making.

What do you think about crowdsourcing translations? Can it work for everyone or is it just for indies? Leave a comment or tweet @CurtisFile. Make sure to follow us on LinkedIn to get more updates!

*To see more about the localization of Gone Home visit the GDC Vault at: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1020097/Crowdsourcing-the-Localization-of-Gone

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