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Postmortem?

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Hi. I don''t post to these boards much, but I often look to them for help and advice. Currently I''m trying to write a postmortem and I''m looking for somewhere to cast the blame. Let me give you a few details. A little over a year ago I programmed and began selling a puzzle game through the online software vendor RegNow. My game was similar in style to the game Snood, and my plan was to tap into the game''s success, while offering varying modes of gameplay and superior graphics. The trial version expired after a number of games, and included a fully functional level editor. The friends who had been involved in beta testing enjoyed the game, and some even offered to buy it. I paid to have my game listed with CNET and submitted my PAD file to every game site I could find. However, while my game pulled in at least 5,000 downloads, I have not yet had more than twenty purchases. I understand of course that not every game is successful. But I feel like I would have liked to learn something from the experience. It would be nice to be able to put together a postmortem to help other aspiring developers, but I''m afraid "Everything went well, and then the game didn''t sell" wouldn''t make much of a postmortem. Any help would be appreciated in solving this mystery. Thanks.

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Quick question - can I assume you included some form of popup or direct link to a registration/payment site?

Speaking from personal experience, I''ve been much more likely to pay for shareware if I didn''t have to go through the "effort" of finding their website and navigating it. Every program I''ve bought from a download had a convenient (and prominent) "Buy now?" button that came up whenever I loaded the software.

Lazy? Yes, I fully admit it, but I''m willing to bet I''m in the vast majority of downloaders. The software would have to be incredibly important to my needs for me to go "out of my way" to pay for it, and if I go the website and find it hard to navigate and/or pay for the game (hint: paypal!) then I just decide it isn''t worth the effort.

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Hi, thanks for your reply. I did have a popup window with a Buy Now button when the user opened and quit the game, and also after every game over. Perhaps it was too often and became an annoyance?

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Guest Anonymous Poster
What price point did you try for? For an online game I was interested in I would pay $20 no more no less. Seriously. If the game wasn''t worth $20 to me, it''s not worth my time.

How did you handle payment? Was it through a reputable handler?

Would you honestly want to play the game longer than your trial period? By this I mean how long was your trial? If it was over an hour, you probably made it too long.

How much of the game did you give them? Did you leave them wanting more?

How did you compare to similar games for content?

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You have some good points, Anonymous. In terms of content and variety, I do think I had a definite advantage over similar titles. I decided on $12.50 as the price of the full version, a couple of dollars short of Snood. Payment was handled through RegNow.com which I believe is one of the most reputable software vendors.

The trial was limited to 30 games, probably between 7-8 hours of gameplay come to think of it, but friends and testers played for long past the trial expiration. At the time, it seemed that many games offered longer trials as well. In fact, some let you play the easier levels for an unlimited period of time.

In retrospect, I probably did offer too much of the game to trial players. In fact, the entire game was playable within the trial. I think I based the idea off the trial of Super Collapse or another similar puzzle game.

Thanks for the advice. You''ve certainly opened my eyes to a couple of things.

superpig, I no longer offer the trial version for download, but it can still be found at Simtel here:
http://www.simtel.net/product.php?id=60698&sekid=0&SiteID=simtel.net

Note: The Buy Now button is no longer functional but was certainly working when the game was being distributed.

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Hmmmm.

I don''t intend any offense, metagenic, but are we sure that people actually like the game?

I mean, I headed to the link you gave me and picked it up. It works fine, but it feels like it''s lacking in polish.


  • You use very basic dialog boxes and on-screen fonts. I know that immersion isn''t exactly an aim here but it would encourage the whole ''user experience'' thing if everything was veggie-related. As it stands the ''try this level again'' or ''you have a high score'' boxes look more like something I''d expect from a hardware utility.

  • You steal the mouse and won''t give it back unless I exit to the menu. While a more experienced user can use alt-tab to switch (pausing the game), the fact that the mouse cursor''s gone will confuse many ''casual users.'' If the game went fullscreen, it would be more ok.

  • You don''t follow standard Windows UI conventions. For example, there are no ''sanded keys'' for menu items (Quit becomes Quit, for example). There''s also no accelerator shortcuts for things like ''new game.''

  • Using the space bar for things like pause or ''next level'' is unintuitive. Why can''t it be any key?

  • There are a few language issues ("Do you want to retire this game?" is a somewhat unusual way of saying "End the game in progress?")

  • The commands in the ''window'' menu don''t have instant effect, and can''t be used once the game has started. A good UI will always cause commands to have very obvious responses - I thought the option was broken at first. A dialog box saying "The window size will not take effect until you start a new game" would suffice. Still, I think you ought to find a way to make it change instantly.

  • Too many menus, which is liable to confuse people. The three option menus - Sound, Mouse, and Window - are things that people are only likely to set once, and then never change; as such, they don''t need to be exposed like that. How about moving them into an "Options" dialog, and then making that dialog accessible through the Game menu?

  • The ''try this level again?'' box in the Puzzle mode is indescribably irritating. Plus, it''s asking the player to choose not to stop playing - that''s not a choice you want to give them. Make the default behaviour retry by default, and then have the player hit a key to pause/exit the game if they so wish.


I''m also unconvinced by a few of the game design decisions you''ve taken (the switching pieces and ''arrow'' blocks to name a couple) but that may just be my personal taste.

These may seem like small annoyances, but trust me, they build up. Given that the game is like Snood, you may even have ended up with some users thinking, "I like the idea, but the implementation''s not brilliant. I wonder if this ''Snood'' that it''s based on is any good?"

I notice you said "The friends who had been involved in beta testing enjoyed the game." Never, ever, get your friends to test your games for saleability. All too often, they''ll just tell you what they think you want to hear - that the game is great, well done, etc etc. Posting a link to it in a place like this - where making saleable games is what it''s all about for many of us - would give you much more accurate feedback.

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Thanks for your honest assessment! No, we''re not sure people actually like the game. :-P In fact, we''re pretty certain they don''t, and I think you''ve made some pretty good suggestions.

I agree the dialog boxes and on-screen fonts are very basic, but what would you suggest? You''ve made a valid point with the mouse as well. While it''s true that defaulting to fullscreen would be less likely to confuse casual players, I find windowed games easier to play with AIM or other applications open. But that''s just a personal preference.

The menu headings and the some of the more common items (New, Quit, etc.) do have shortcuts, but there doesn''t seem to be an intuitive choice for others such as Puzzle Editor. I agree on using any key for pause and ''next level'', however a friend mentioned it was too easy to unpause the game by accident.

In the case of the three option menus, the current setup is largely due to the fact that I don''t like sub-menus, but again that''s only a personal preference. The window menu not having an instant effect is simply the result of laziness, but I hadn''t considered that it would confuse players.

You''re definitely correct that testing saleability with friends is not very accurate. In retrospect, these seem like issues I should have picked up on. Do you consider the aesthetic issues that you''ve mentioned substantially relevant to game sales?

I''m definitely not ready to call it quits because of the sales. This time around I''m going to try my hand at designing a more original game. Your pointers have been an invaluable help to future efforts. Thanks!

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quote:
Original post by metagenic
I agree the dialog boxes and on-screen fonts are very basic, but what would you suggest?
Well, change the font to something more ''fun,'' and just throw more graphics at the app. Icons and bitmaps... here''s a mockup of a high scores dialog, for example:



It''s not a very good mockup, but you get the idea. Throw the key ''art concepts'' - i.e. the vegetables - around as much as possible. The fact that you''ve got them on little counters should make it even easier.

quote:
You''ve made a valid point with the mouse as well. While it''s true that defaulting to fullscreen would be less likely to confuse casual players, I find windowed games easier to play with AIM or other applications open. But that''s just a personal preference.
I agree - but not having the mouse makes it difficult to use those other applications Fixing up the pause, such that it becomes much easier to get the mouse back, would probably fix this though.

quote:
The menu headings and the some of the more common items (New, Quit, etc.) do have shortcuts, but there doesn''t seem to be an intuitive choice for others such as Puzzle Editor.
Well, it doesn''t have to be applied to all of them - just the most commonly used ones. If the shortcuts are already in place, though, you should list them in the menus - otherwise you''ve implemented them for nothing.

quote:
I agree on using any key for pause and ''next level'', however a friend mentioned it was too easy to unpause the game by accident.
Ah - true. Perhaps you should keep a single key for unpause (and make ''Hit [key] to unpause'' part of the ''Paused'' graphic that pops up).

quote:
You''re definitely correct that testing saleability with friends is not very accurate. In retrospect, these seem like issues I should have picked up on. Do you consider the aesthetic issues that you''ve mentioned substantially relevant to game sales?


Very definitely.

To sell the game, you need to do three things:

  1. Get them to download it. Seems like you''ve already got that part sorted.
  2. Get them to feel that the game is fun. That''s dependent on your game''s design, and of course on the players involved. But we''ll assume that you''re a competent game designer and can make a fun game, ok?
  3. Get them to keep that feeling until they make a decision whether to purchase, which is often when they quit the game. That''s where the aesthetic issues come into play. It''s not necessarily that they look bad (thus "aesthetic" might not be the best word), but they distract the player from the core of the game. That''s what you want to avoid - any and every distraction. Consider that what you''re selling is really the gameplay; the rest of the game is merely support and packaging. As such it should be as non-intrusive as possible. Every little annoyance causes the player to stop thinking about how fun your gameplay is, and start thinking about how much they don''t like the way Dialog Box X isn''t quite centered, or how they can''t skip cutscene Y.


quote:
I''m definitely not ready to call it quits because of the sales. This time around I''m going to try my hand at designing a more original game. Your pointers have been an invaluable help to future efforts. Thanks!
Good to hear. Though I don''t think the central game design is necessarily the problem; I certainly ended up playing through more levels than I intended to when testing.


Richard "Superpig" Fine
Smoother than a greased baby
[TBRF|GP&T|Enginuity1|Enginuity2|Enginuity3|Enginuity4|Enginuity5|TB|DirectXFAQ]

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Here my humble opinion. 20 purchase on 5000 downloads is 0.4% conversion rate. Such conversion rate, while below average "successful" rate is not considered a falure for shareware games. Successful shareware game have conversion rate 1% ( that would be 50 purchase for 5000 download). The problems seems that during the year game pulled only 5000 downloads.That is clearly not enough. May be you should make your game more appealing to download, work marketing, your website etc...NOt that I''m much qualified to judge, I''m still in the process making my own game

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Look at how PopCap does their system. They get lots of traffic and downloads.

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You''re clearly correct that more downloads will lead to better sales. But I am suprised that a conversion rate of 1% is considered successful. If true, it may prove very challenging. Downloads of that quantity are not easy to get. In fact, it''s possible Popcap''s success is due in part to the fact that you don''t even need to download many of their games. I don''t know about most people, but I know I''m more willing to play a game I don''t have to download.

Then again, that''s only half of the problem; you need to have the traffic too.

By the way, good luck on your game.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Metagenic, based on what superpig writes your game is fun... you just need to polish it a bit.. so why not write a v1.01/... patch and try again?

If you take a good look, many succesfull games have got sometimes a high version number... example - dexterity''x dweep (currently sold as dweep gold) has had over 40 upgrades during the last 7 or so years.... that''s one upgrade every second month... and it sells better then ever. (partially because his website has got much larger audience... but as you write your second game and gain audience with it, why not use it to sell the first game as well and vice-versa?)

The conversation rate... good games have got between 1-2% conversation rate, with very few games going as high as 5%.
Anything under 1% is a failure. Of course there might be several reasons... from poor gameplay to marketting working towards the wrong type of customer.

Downloads.. 5000 downloads isn''t much... you can go much better here. If you can''t push this numebr with your current game, what makes you think you will do better with your new game?

If I may advice you, try to fix your "problem" zones(mentioned above), maybe add something little to your game, give the game some more marketting and see how it goes... maybe this year you will get 200 sales instead 20 and learn a whole lot of new things... and writing a small patch is always much easier/faster then writing a new game...

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