For the September One Game A Month challenge (#1GAM), we decided to polish “Hello, Alien!” and release it for Google Play. We previously had problems publishing on Google Play, but we finally had access to a credit card, so we went for it. You can still get it on Itch.io too.
Some might say, that this doesn’t qualify for a #1GAM release, as we didn’t even port the game to another platform, just release it on another marketplace. But we updated it quite substantially and setting up a Google Play Store Page was a whole new challenge for us. So I would argue, it still counts.
We polished the artwork, streamlined the HUD, added more visual indicators, refined all the levels, made small performance improvements and fixed many bugs.
Despite all this changes, I’m still not happy with it. Everywhere I look, I see flaws, some tiny, some large. Yet, in the spirit of the #1GAM challenge, I just published it at the end of the month, instead of spending an undefined amount of time trying to make it “perfect”. I guess this challenge is not only about learning to hit deadlines, but learning to “let go”.
This #1GAM reports have usually been about the Good, the Bad and Lessons Learned, but I think I’ll cut it down to just the Lessons Learned, as they are the most important thing to take away from this challenge, and it makes this easier to write.
Marketing is hard, good Marketing is even harder (and takes a lot of time)
We all know the hardships of marketing: providing a good first impression, evoking interest and finally convincing the potential player, that your game is worth their time. This also holds true if you provide your game for free.
Some things to take away (and how we failed them):
- Have a video of gameplay. Videos are the best way to show what your game is about. I sadly never bothered to record a video, partly because recording and editing a quality video is difficult and partly because you need surprisingly good hardware and software. But having a video is essential to conveying prospective player a feel for your game, especially if your screenshots aren’t telling much. Speaking of which.
- Provide your best screenshots. The screenshots are the first thing a player is going to see when they visit the store page. Out of the whole game they will only see mere snapshots of it, so make sure that those are the most appealing moments of your game you have to offer. But I honestly have no idea how to create the most awesome screenshots. If somebody finds out, please tell me.
Looking at our own screenshots, I doubt it would convince myself to play the game. I’m not really proud about the artwork and the kinda incoherent artstyle.
- Screenshots and recordings can expire. So you spent one day making all those great screenshots and recording gameplay and whatnot, and probably feel pretty proud of yourself. Cool! Then you go and rework the HUD, delete some levels, add particle effects and maybe update the player sprite. Great! Now all your previous hard work has been invalidated, rendering everything outdated, not representative of the final state of the game.
Sometimes that’s no big deal, because the player probably won’t notice small details. However, if a screenshot shows a level that isn’t really in the game, it somehow feels like lying to the player. Sometimes this means placing a disclaimer with “beta footage”, and sometimes it just means straight-out redoing everything.
Don’t be a fool, record gameplay last. (Note: I’m talking about screenshots/videos/trailers on store-pages, where you present your game, and what’s in it. Having outdated screenshots on Development Blogs and Social Media is totally okay, if not even mandatory.)
Google Play is powerful but setting up a store page can be complicated
The Google Play Developer Console is a really powerful tool, providing a lot of statistics and ways to manage your game. It can be overwhelming at times, as you can literally spend weeks reading documentation and help pages. There are so many things I never even knew I could think about, that suddenly need a decision.
- So many regulations. You need to fill out a questionnaire to find the proper content rating for your app. Suddenly tiny details matter. For example, there is one question, whether there are references to alcohol in your game. And I know for a fact, that there is exactly one line of text that one alien says, that indirectly references drinking alcohol. Suddenly questions appear like: Should I remove that single line to avoid having to rate it as containing references to alcohol? Should I just remove all the silly text? Will anybody notice if I just don’t tick that box? Does anybody even care about the content rating? I know I’ve never cared about it.
- Banners and icons. Not only is it an own science to create appealing ones, they also have to be of specific sizes. The launcher icon is even needed in multiple sizes.
- Think about localisation. In an attempt to have an international or even global reach, I use English in my games. But this completely neglects all the geographically local players, that don’t speak English (or prefer not to), but prefer my mother tongue instead. I could easily translate the game to German, without having to hire a translator. It would most likely be worth the effort to implement internationalisation, but I never bothered to. The least I could do, was to provide a German store description.
Of course, the best approach is, to explain your game without using words, just with interactive tutorials that use symbols and graphics.
This post is slowly getting out of hand, and there is still so much to talk about. Maybe I’ll write more about this another time, and cut it short here.
When you think something is obvious, it isn’t
Having played the game quite some time during development, you start to internalize how things work. That’s why it is absolutely mandatory, to watch other people play your game, to get some reality check.
Whenever you give your game to play testers and you have to interfere and help them or show them how something is done, your design has failed. Note down those things and improve on them. It’s your job as a designer, to educate your players through the game itself, be it through tutorials or intuitive design.
Make tutorials interactive, don’t only SHOW them how something is done, make them actually DO it. “Show, don’t tell.” becomes “Let them do what you show.”. And provide feedback, whenever the player does something right. Reward them with flashy particles and let them know, they did it right.
Avoid sunken cost fallacy
There have been lots of features, that I spent a long time implementing, that didn’t turn out great. It’s really hard to cut those features. Humans tend to think, something gets inherent value because they spent a lot of time on it, and it would be a waste to throw it away, but that’s simply not true. Ultimately, if it really isn’t that awesome, the game is worse off because you stuck to it. *insert joke about polishing a turd here*
Really late “monthly” blog post this time, but I’m slowly catching up. The next one will follow shortly, accompanied by an update to Pixel Soldier. I guess this is the part where I should advertise our Twitter, so you don’t miss it.