Tips and Advice

The Big Launch is Dead for Free to Play Games

Are you launched? Have you launched yet? When are you launching?
These are questions you hear quite a lot when developing your first game. To be honest, I always dreamed of doing a big launch like Steve Jobs, dramatically unveiling our great product to the public and listen to the crowd cheering.

Steve Jobs

 

Ok, back to reality. The fact is that I’m always struggling with these questions. SOOMLA, my current company is doing a platform for mobile developers – allowing them to add In-App Purchase Stores to their games. We are big advocates of ‘Lean Startup’ and so we had quite a few launch related events. Here they are in chronological order:

  • Sep 2012 – Released our first ‘thing’ – an open source project for IAP in Android
  • Oct 2012 – A similar open source project for iOS
  • Oct 2012 – We participated in a Startup competition that is often considered a launch pad. We also received some coverage in TechCrunch
  • Nov 2012 – Our Cocos2d-x Plugin was completed and we received coverage in the official Cocos2d-x website
  • Dec 2012 – Released an early version of our premium product (on top of the open source framework)
  • Jan 2013 – Launched a plugin for the leading 3d engine, Unity
  • Mar 2013 – Our premium product reached a level where the value outweighs the problems.
  • May 2013 – Releasing a new version of our Dashboard – giving mobile game developers the ability to edit the stores on all devices in real time without a need for an update.
  • July 2013 – Completely redesigned the dashboard to fit
  • Aug 2013 – Released Store-Front V2.0 including: direct category linking, floating stores and optimized user experience.
  • Sept 2013 – Release analytics backend.
As you can see, the right answer for “when are you launching” would be “all the time”.
The same approach should be applied to free to play games since they are also services rather than products. The reality of any kind of start-ups is that you haven’t raised huge chunks of money and you can’t really attract big press coverage just by announcing something. In these conditions, it’s much better to take a ‘Continuous Launch’ approach as it allows you to avoid big and expensive mistakes. Try to reach the critical mass in order to launch quickly. Get feedback from users and iterate from there.
I have a friend who happens to be a game developer. He released one game after a year of development and perfected gameplay. But it tanked. He then released another after a month of development with sketchy interfaces that feels like stock images. He then started iterating on this game and after 2 months it was doing better than the first.
To those of you who dream on a big announcement on Gamasutra. Think who are the readers? Are they really your audience. If you are developing a game for kids, I can assure you they are not reading gamasutra. Same goes for casual games, action games and puzzle games. For us, the holy grail was TechCrunch but when we checked how many of the game developers using SOOMLA is actually reading TC, we realized that it’s the wrong kind of publicity. Our audience is not there.
Some companies even go and hire a special PR consultant. This can cost you $3,000/month and usually more. These money could have been used for more iterations on your game and getting your users to become evangelists for your game.
So how are we getting noticed? For us, the answer is content marketing. Being able to produce valuable content in topics that interest your target audience is a great way to get your brand out there. Hubspot, Walkme and Flurry are great examples of doing it right. There are so many ways you can leverage good content to get traction. But that’s a big topic by itself so I’ll cover that in a different post.
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    The Big Launch is Dead for Free to Play Games

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