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Hurlbz

What constitutes the MVP, When are you ready to release?

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Hey,

 

I'm looking to launch my upcoming game Ninja Gold Rush on the Android play store in the near future and I'm looking to get feedback regarding release strategy.  

 

My question is, how mature does a game have to be before you consider releasing it? I realize that the more you put into the game the better the reception, but I want to know if it's worth my time to keep adding features. I've heard stories of some companies performing "small" launches limiting to say Android Canada or something along those lines. They gauge reception and see if it's worth spending more money developing. 

 

I'm a single developer working on this game (in my spare time) so I really want to know if people are going to play the game before I continue to log more hours. 

 

How do you know when you have the MVP (minimum viable product) that you can launch and gauge reception? In general do you feel this a good idea to launch a game before it is complete (i.e. your full intended scope)? 

 

My plan for the game (if reception is promising) is to add more depth:

 

Additional Levels

Power Ups

More Weapons & Abilities

 

and release on iOS (right now I've only really been testing the Android version and occasionally popping an iOS build on my iPad).

 

Out of the gameplay items, I'm thinking the additional levels is the easiest to hold off on. I see a lot of games release and have the other levels "coming soon" in a future update. However, regarding the power ups and abilities, In a perfect world I'm hoping I get some people play the game, like it and leave a comment stating that it be nice if had some more depth like power ups, etc. Worse case is that they bash it for all it is worth and perhaps taint the game's reputation (though I'm thinking initial release is likely to be so small the repercussions of this are minor)?

 

Obviously, these items are specific to my game but the question about what constitutes a minimum viable product for release is a general one.

 

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this.

 

Thanks,

 

hurlbz

Edited by Hurlbz

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MVP is a not something you can define before you have it.

You can tentatively define it's shape, and playtest until you feel you've 'hit' what you need for success.

No amount of prepp work can help you gauge that, but experience shipping products will help, and a good experience of the competition can also help you 'cheat' at it.

 

You also have to be careful about trying to cut on content to reduce dev time and time to launch:

- Too little content can break your game

- Postponing content means you need to devise a system for future content. Much more than just updating the base file, you often have to consider how it will affect users that had the game before. 

 

Limiting geolocalization access (often with Philippines) often makes more sense when you're a big developer. People tend to have expectations about the quality level of your game, so instead of releasing something unfinished to the great public, you 'test the waters' with smaller pockets of the market (usually always the same ones from title to title) so that your core audience only ever gets a 'final release' and your image/brand remains untarnished.

 

For a lone developer, geolocalization limitations may help alleviate exposure of users to a less high quality game, but as a general rule of thumb, as an indie, you need all of the exposure you can get, and most of it will occur on day one... 

 

So to answer your question bluntly: find people to play your game. Look at them play the game, take note of how they seem to enjoy the game (ignore the 'your game is great' part, they all say that), notice how long they play it. Are they asking questions?

 

When you feel that enough players seem to enjoy it, release it.

Once release, read your own forums. See what people are asking for. Deliver on it.

Did you have any feature you wanted to add? Has anyone suggested something remotely similar? Can you discuss it with your fanbase through your website/forums before deciding exactly how it will work? (But eh, we'll discuss again when you have this level of success!)

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Generally through experimenting and playtesting and market research on the early end, focus groups and playtesting and marketing on the tail end.

There is no absolute way to guarantee it. There have been an enormous number of games where people and established companies thought a product was good enough, launched it, and customers found it lacking.


In more of a professional work environment there are usually a large number of experiments that can be done with gameplay before writing any code. Designers will make paper-based games, build mock-ups, run the rules themselves, make notes, and make the game feel fun when playing against other designers. They'll pull in other designers, artists, programmers, and people's family members (who aren't game developers) to play test with them to ensure the game really works and really feels fun. They'll experiment at removing features and altering features to see how it changes the game. After many people are convinced that the game is fun and the ideas have been refined after a few hundred hours of experimenting and play testing, they do a bunch of research on similar products to estimate how many customers they are likely to have for various marketing amounts spent.

Then they work backwards.

They (the designers, producers, and eventually the executives) might work out that if they spend about $3M in marketing on that type of game they can -- for that specific genre and age group -- likely get $14M in total revenue. Then they subtract the marketing costs, the support costs, the certification costs, the distribution costs, the design costs, minimum profit margins, etc., etc., and discover a development budget of around $7M.

They might run the numbers again with a $4M marketing spend that shows $16M in total revenue, again with $2M in marketing spend that shows $6M in total revenue, again 2.5 in marketing spend that shows $10M in total revenue, again with $3.5M in marketing spend that shows $15M in total revenue.

Mostly the revenue ends up being a curve, a function of marketing and the product. Figure out the product and marketing becomes the dominant and only easily-manipulated variable. From the revenue result you can work backwards to discover what constraints your other budgets must have.

Now knowing the maximum development costs, they work backward again to estimate how much of a game they can develop for that much money, what they can reasonably expect from a development team with that level of resources. If the development team can realistically create the game that matches or exceeds the end project used to make the estimates then the project gets a green light. If instead the estimated product at that level of funding does not match the necessary end result, they either go back to the drawing board if the results are fairly close, or they file it away if the levels are very different.


For you as a hobby or lone wolf developer, you don't have much market data to go on. You can't judge it with market research comparing multi-million-dollar marketing levels. Instead you compare it against zero dollar marketing levels.

In something that shouldn't be a surprise, one of the biggest problems with zero marketing dollars is not the quality of the games, but instead a death from obscurity.

There are many excellent hobby projects out there that only see a double-digit or triple-digit number of downloads. It is not because the games are bad, but because nobody knows about them.

Working backwards from $0 in sales when $0 or $100 or even $1000 in marketing, you don't have much of a budget for anything. It becomes a lottery of random chance for discovery.

If you do have money for marketing, then you can figuring out approximate tiers of revenue based on similar products.

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Not to take away from the excellent replies already here, I just want to say that trying to define MVP in a scientific way is not really what I'd recommend personally. So much of the process can be, but for that question I'd really say intuition should be guiding you. Ultimately you're making a decision about what to give a customer who's paying you money on faith - hoping the experience will be good.

 

That said, launching small and growing from there is really nothing new, in fact I'd pin-point it specifically as an emerging trend in the industry. Steam early access is a good example.

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Thanks all for the excellent and detailed responses. 

 

I realize MVP is difficult to define and is going to be specific to the game. Asking if the customer would be happy with the purchase is a great benchmark. In my case, I have always intended to release the game for free on mobile platforms and use ads / IAP to drive revenue. 

 

Really what I was wondering is if the strategy of releasing a game incrementally to validate ideas & gather feedback has merit in the mobile market. 

 

Essentially using the Google Play store to beta test the game. Or since as Orymus pointed out, most exposure for an indie is on day 1 so does this approach actually hurt your chances for success?

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I think holding back too much can be a problem, particularly on the mobile marketplace.

With  the ap store and google play featuring you mostly on day 1 (this is the highest traffic peak you'll ever reach, most likely), if your product lacks core features, it can be a big problem.

This is very different than the PC scene where platforms such as Steam encourage you to do early access programs and even go as far as allowing you to make an actual release later down the road to squeeze as much exposure as you possibly can.

 

I think adding levels later is fine, but as far as your core experience is concerned, it should have all of the features you are sure about already in the product before release.

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With  the ap store and google play featuring you mostly on day 1 (this is the highest traffic peak you'll ever reach, most likely)
True only with heavily advertised products.

 

For most hobby products day one gets zero, day two gets zero, day three gets zero... eventually if you keep pushing hard enough you'll have a day with two or three or four downloads.  

 

It is the curse of obscurity. You need a large marketing budget or a win at the lottery to overcome it.

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With  the ap store and google play featuring you mostly on day 1 (this is the highest traffic peak you'll ever reach, most likely)
True only with heavily advertised products.

 

For most hobby products day one gets zero, day two gets zero, day three gets zero... eventually if you keep pushing hard enough you'll have a day with two or three or four downloads.  

 

It is the curse of obscurity. You need a large marketing budget or a win at the lottery to overcome it.

 

 

There's an exception to this worth noting - if you pique the interest of the various App-Feature teams, your day one (actually it's week one) launch can become something of a big deal. Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all have dedicated editorial teams that are actively interested in presenting good new content to customers. They don't charge anything for it either, so it's worth approaching them if you think you have something special.

 

Failing that, you're in the obscurity struggle yes.

 

It's also worth mentioning that the "lottery" shouldn't be thought of as an esoteric or mysterious event, you can always trace it back to something - i.e. a popular Youtuber or celebrity picked it up, a big publication organically included it in a spotlight type piece, etc. While in most cases you might need lottery type luck for one of those things to happen, the more noise you make about your own game (in the right ways) can make it all the more likely.

 

But, as to the issue of first impressions and help or harm... It's a valid concern. I've seen Steam developers note that they've had early-access customers come and go early on, and then found it difficult to hit any critical mass at "1.0" launch because everyone had seen and played it already. I can vaguely remember an article along these lines as well.

 

For a small scale project I don't know how much of a concern that would be though - and especially if it's free, the player feedback would be easy to come by and hopefully useful.

Edited by onfu

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For most hobby products day one gets zero, day two gets zero, day three gets zero... eventually if you keep pushing hard enough you'll have a day with two or three or four downloads.  
 
It is the curse of obscurity. You need a large marketing budget or a win at the lottery to overcome it.

 

Hobby: most definitely.

 

Anyone had success with external websites pointing to the apk or the store link though?

I feel that, as an indie, it's best to avoid relying on the store itself as a means to sell copies, but my indie experience with mobile is limited...

 


There's an exception to this worth noting - if you pique the interest of the various App-Feature teams, your day one (actually it's week one) launch can become something of a big deal. Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all have dedicated editorial teams that are actively interested in presenting good new content to customers. They don't charge anything for it either, so it's worth approaching them if you think you have something special.

 

Indeed. Scored two top 1 downloads based on editorial picks alone. Was really worth it. Didn't know an indie could go through though, thanks for pointing it out!

 


It's also worth mentioning that the "lottery" shouldn't be thought of as an esoteric or mysterious event, you can always trace it back to something - i.e. a popular Youtuber or celebrity picked it up, a big publication organically included it in a spotlight type piece, etc. While in most cases you might need lottery type luck for one of those things to happen, the more noise you make about your own game (in the right ways) can make it all the more likely.

 

And you released on a thursday, when the "top" resets.

 


But, as to the issue of first impressions and help or harm... It's a valid concern. I've seen Steam developers note that they've had early-access customers come and go early on, and then found it difficult to hit any critical mass at "1.0" launch because everyone had seen and played it already. I can vaguely remember an article along these lines as well.

 

Interesting, please link it up if you come across it again. I'm curious given I've seen this under a drastically different light (though, arguably, my position may not be a representative sample). I'm interested to see whether the article covered "a few teams", or a general study.

 


For a small scale project I don't know how much of a concern that would be though - and especially if it's free, the player feedback would be easy to come by and hopefully useful.

 

Being free nets you one major advantage: it's free, you'll get tons of downloads if people see it.

Being free gives you one major disadvantage: there are a lot of free games, meaning chances of exposure are further reduced.

 

In other words, it's even more a make or break kind of situation. The early hours post-release will be critical, so make sure your MVP is rock-solid.

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Unless you know somebody who can give your game a rub to the people picking the new "what's hot" games then it is in fact a lottery to get any love as an free indie game.

 

Soft launches are generally the complete game used to get some real world stress testing on your servers (in applicable) and to see if there are any critical bugs your QA team missed.  Developers do add new features to existing mobile games all the time but mobile game players don't have the attention span to come back in six months when the game is finally "done".

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Unless you know somebody who can give your game a rub to the people picking the new "what's hot" games then it is in fact a lottery to get any love as an free indie game.

 

Well, you can BE that someone to be fair. It just takes a bit of getting used to it. There's a WAY to talk to the press.

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