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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A Day in the Life: The Man Behind the MMO

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A Day in the Life is a new weekly series about working in Korea’s game industry. We’ll talk about current projects (as much as we can), upcoming events, and trends in the making.

Before I started working in Korea’s game industry, I lived a former life as journalist, counting all the pennies I earned while subsisting on cup rameon. Every now and then I still do the occasional spot of freelance writing. Last week I was presented with such an opportunity that I couldn’t resist.

Seoul Selection, the publishing house that operates KOREA magazine for the Ministry of Cultre, Sports, and Tourism, was in search of someone to interview Jake Song, CEO of XL Games, and the mind behind Lineage: The Bloodpledge. He is considered one of the most important designers in the Korean game industry and is largely responsible for launching the country’s online gaming culture.

So, last Friday my interpreter and I headed down to the XL Games office in Pangyo, just outside of Seoul. I can’t give the full details of the interview until it is published, but some of the topics included his take on the origins Korean game industry, politics, the international release of Archeage, and the upcoming release of Civilization Online.

Meeting Mr. Song was particularly interesting for me because I worked on the initial round of localization for Archeage (before Trion made their changes) and I have worked on the translations of design documents for Civilization Online. Even though I can’t share interview yet, I can share what it was like to be a part of Jake Song’s projects.

An MMO Worth 1,000,000 Words

Archeage was an incredible project to work on. We started it right off the heels of another large, multi-lingual translation for Webzen’s Continent of the Ninth.

The game had somewhere on the order of 1,000,000 + words to translate and review. We knew ahead of time that Trion would be making their own adjustments to the game (as is often the case when third party publishers are involved), so our job was just to make sure that the translations were consistent and easy to understand. The glossary for the Archeage alone had nearly 80, 000 unique words in it.

This meant that at times we had logistical nightmares to take care of. Projects of this kind of scale have a lot of moving parts, particularly when the deadlines are relatively short. Multiple translators meant more time invested into the QA process to ensure consistency. In the end, there were some 24-hour shifts pulled to get it done but the coolness factor of working on a game of this scale made it well worth it.

Civilization: The Time Warp

When I first started work on Civilization Online, I had coincidentally just started playing Civilization V. It was then that I learned that it had the reputation for being loathed by girlfriends and wives all over Korea and had a reputation for being a “time warp,” as in, you start playing Friday night and what seems like five minutes later it’s Monday morning.

Unfortunately it’s a game I can’t say too much about given that it hasn’t even had its first round of closed beta tests yet.

I did see the early art mock-ups for it and they look amazing. They went with a cartoony look that you can see in the video below.

It will launch later this year with four different playable civilizations: China, Rome, Egypt, and Aztec. Players will be able to choose from engineers, miners, soldiers, or farmers for their classes.

There is a chance I may be able to join the CBT coming up at the end of the month, so check back for more insights on the game.

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