Monday, October 26, 2009

Clockwords: Prelude story so far

I just wanted to give a rundown of the short history of Clockwords, for those who are curious.
Clockwords started as a mini game we wanted to make for a larger game around a year and a half ago. It started with a similar core mechanic, "shooting" words at incoming enemies. The enemies were groups of word lengths, like a 4,5,6 letter words. To 'kill' the enemy you had to make 3 words with those specific lengths. It was too constraining. Later we came up with the 'power letters' idea, based around earth, fire, wind, water. Fire and ice(water) seemed to be the most unique and useful, and earth survived later as 'splash' effect.
So later we decided this word idea probably warranted it own game. For theme, we started with the concept of a modern wizard, but who really wanted to write dime store novels. So the game was about using his magic typewriter to fill pages before they got to his editor.(ala ) He would have to write novels around different genres and super lame titles. 'Paperback Writer' and 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' were an inspiration here. Eventually this turned into the current steampunk/inventor theme.
So as we started to build the game out, we wanted a cooler story, so we hired Emily Short, of interactive fiction fame, and she came up with a great story.
We built the game on some new programming paradigms, "component-entity" programming, and pre-rendering vector art, and using copyPixel to help performance (alot!).
In the middle of development we just plugged away - polished as much as we could and tried not to add too many features.
A big takeaway is the good ideas need time to cook. Some of the best ideas for Now Boarding and Clockwords came after many months, often right before release. (and even some after release) Here are a list of features that came into clockwords late. In roughly chronological order.
Features that came in really late:
Boiler/deckbuilding as the upgrade system
Dynamic music
Jade letter power
Microtransactions to sell letters
Activating chambers in game via using all letters
Naming letter powers with precious stones

Don't be worried if a great idea comes after launch. Try to make your development iterative, so you can change based on feedback. And there are always sequels ;)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Window vs Mac Sales

We launched on all 3 at the same time. Mac press releases get alot more traction than PC. Make sure to post a demo on too.

Web traffic Now Boarding
90.5% windows
9% mac
0.5% linux

Sales Now Boarding
76.5% windows
18.6% mac
0.5% linux

The main takeaway here is the x2 conversion rate of Mac visitors. Knowing this should make deciding whether to support it easier, especially if you have some sales data to work with and how much mac porting will cost. Our flash/AIR solution gave us Mac and Linux for free. Linux never did amazing, but we recently got posted on some Linux sites and that percentage may be increasing.

2Dboy had a % platform pie chart in their GDC presentation:
World of Goo
Windows 65%
Mac 25%
Linux 10%

My Take on Pricing

Pricing has been a mystery - it's hard to guess what the right price is for your game. Be assured - there IS a right price for your game. It is the overall most profitable price (sale price * # sales)

Taking Cliffski's advice, recently we started doing some A-B testing on our game price. For a two month span, we lowered our price from $16.99 to $9.99 had no noticeable effect on conversion rates. If anything, conversions went down slightly. We'll keep testing - but our ideal price may be higher than our starting price.

Your audience's perception of your game's "worth" is relative. Price is only one factor. How much value do they see in your game? Value can be replayability - alternate modes or achievements or even just randomization of gameplay. Value can be intensity of entertainment - is it "really fun/addictive", "really visually appealing", "fun story/characters or even "really good audio". Another factor is innovation - people rarely call it that, but if something is original, and they don't know of other games that are like it(free ones or more demos), they will feel more compelled to buy it.

Also the audience's perception is based on what source they are coming from. They may have price or value expectations. Hardcore players on steam are very sensitive to price. Causal portal audiences are getting more sensitive. In the case of our game - most players are new to digital download purchases - they just found the game on a flash site and got addicted to it. My guess is that is why they don't seem sensitive to the price - the haven't purchased many games this way before. Don't feel like you have to discount your price over time like a retail outlet - if you keep getting new players - the game is new to them - always act like your game is new, and people will be happy to pay full price.

My comments on the current casual portal price drops - the discussion is whether lower prices are "good":

I think the price wars are more important when you are working with "career casual game buyers" - who consume hidden object games like soap operas. I think a large part of the game club members are like this. The ones with less money just go demo to demo, so the portals need to get the price down to capture this audience. I don't think the lower prices are attracting NEW players, it's just getting more "lurkers" and demo to demo players to buy. Genuinely NEW players and audiences find a game somehow and get addicted to it, and buy a direct download game for the first time. These buyers aren't picky about price. As long as it's not over $30 they'll probably pay it. Later they will try more games and become price conscious.