Making the Game
Fig. 8 is our latest game here at Intuition. It’s a relatively simple concept, you control a bike through a technical diagram. At first Fig. 8 was actually called US and it was an art installation. In my junior year of college I was walking in the snow one night and I noticed some bike tracks running through the snow; an unusual scene in the middle of winter. While I walked along I noticed the two paths diverging then returning to a single unified track, it made me think about how relationships change over time how we grow distant then return. The more distant the wheels become, while they may briefly intersect, if it’s too great they’ll separate again and perhaps even crash the entire bike, bringing it all to a standstill. That’s what US is about, but doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with Fig. 8.
I was telling Mike and Joe about it one day at work and they thought it might work pretty well as a scoring mechanic for a game. Perhaps eliminate the difficult control scheme of keeping a bike balanced through obstacles and just use it as a means of rewarding expert players. We went ahead with it. I started how I usually start with these smaller games and that’s through research. Sifting through lots of entries about bicycle history and how it all got started I got really attracted to the idea of this velocipede coming to life off of a patent page. Looking at that image there it’s obvious to see that I more or less hijacked the design of that entire document. The circle was complete after finding the proper typeface [Sirenne Eighteen MVB thanks to typographica’s twitter rescue].
I’m not going to say making the game was easy, there are a lot of things that we’ve learned about making these 2 week style games over the last 6 months. For one, you just dive in. There’s no room for real planning when you’re aiming to get a fully playable alpha build out in a week. We usually aim for getting something playable start to finish within a week, then spend the next entire week on polish and bug fixes, perhaps a few new features, music and etc. It’s pretty break-neck but it works and simply having an alpha in your pocket goes a long way towards feeling comfortable that the game will actually get done. Simply grinding on docs and drawings still leaves a lot up in the air and with a 2 week cycle, you’ve got to stay on the ground as long as possible.
Also, throughout the development we always had a clear vision in mind. It was simple really, we have this bike, two wheels and a scoring mechanism. You avoid the stuff on the page as the camera scrolls independently of the bike. With those three elements we had a design that was relatively easy to visualize, even if there were the typical personal aberrations between Mike and I. All in all, the development went smoothly. I’d say perhaps the one thing that we struggled with most was the music. First in finding the right theme that would really push the game over the edge and also second in finding tasteful royalty-free music that would all work together. In the end I think it’s one of the games strongest points because we took it so seriously.
Selling the Game
Now here’s the real reason I’m writing this post. There’s not a lot to talk about with the development, all was well for the most part in that department. However, selling this game has been something of a learning experience. Like I said it took about 2 weeks to create the game from start to finish, however to sell it, it’s been about 4 weeks now. Now that doesn’t mean we’re both spending every waking minute selling this game, but personally I have spent over 2 weeks solid doing things to sell this game. Pushing out a trailer, putting it out there in the internet, talking to sponsors and trying to show them all the press we got. So far, it’s been going well, though not as well as we’d hoped for. Looking back it blows me away the amount of time spent on simply selling this thing.
Generally, everything I’ve been doing to try and raise Fig. 8’s stock has been an experiment. In the past we we simply left it up to luck and FGL. Sometimes it worked, others it didn’t. The only games we’ve actually gotten sponsorships for are Effing Hail [with Jiggmin] and Wild ‘n’ Free: EX. All the other games we’ve made, we received no money from. Well… ad money but that amounts to about $90 total. That’s not exactly going to pay the rent. So when Fig. 8 saw some bid action [very low bid action] initially I was disturbed. It drove me to put everything I have into selling this thing because I strongly believe in the quality of our games, particularly this one. While we’re still in the process of finding the right sponsor for the game I think it’s safe to say that my efforts have at least made some impact. So because this was an experiment, we learned a fair bit about how to “sell” for a sponsorship. Here’s a bit of a breakdown.
Put it on FGL
First off, if you’re a flash developer and you’re not familiar with FlashGameLicense.com defintely check it out and survey the land over there. There’s quite a bit of resources just in the FAQs alone on how the sponsorship model works. After you’ve done that, you should consider more than just the form they give you to fill out. FGL is a world all its own and deserves a fair amount of your attention.
Is your game ready for FGL?
Eric, one of the admins at FGL, has put together a very good report on the importance of waiting to put your game up until its in good enough shape. In this advice he stresses how important an Editor’s rating can be to getting valuable sponsor eyeballs on your game. If you put it up too early, you may suffer a poor Editor rating and risk getting your game buried. Aside from the status of the gameplay itself, here’s some other things to consider.
- Does your game take too long to load? If you’re getting a bunch of 1 minute plays, perhaps you need to make a preloader to curb some of that player impatience.
- At least have a menu of some sort in the game so the sponsor can see how they’re branding may be implemented. This is possibly the most important element a sponsor considers beyond the actual value of the game itself.
- Test your game. Bugs, especially early in the game, can drive off sponsors or a fair editor rating.
Make your FGL game page attractive
Take screenshots, be clear and concise in your short description. Play up what’s great about your game in one sentence. Post the screenshots to your page if you have some levels that you want the sponsor to see that they might not get to in a normal play-through. Take care of your thumbnail, make one that stands out or expresses what your game is all about. All of these things are trivially individually, but combined they can not only show your game off, but also show that you value your game quite a bit by putting in all this extra work.
Open up your game on FGL
The posted game on FGL can be a great place to lead interested devs, media or sponsors. Don’t be afraid of showing your game to people on FGL, it’s secure and that’s kind of the point. Use their Kindisoft service if you’re extra paranoid of getting your game jacked. I see a lot of devs putting up their games and not letting other developers view them, I’m not totally sure if that’s the way to go or not. We usually open it up to devs on FGL that have 1 or more game on their account. It lets devs come in and play the game and give [usually] nice compliments. We reciprocate if we like their game and I think it drives sponsor interest up a bit.
In addition, we open up the game to all possible avenues of monetization. We feel it’s up to us to decide if a deal is bad on an individual basis. If someone wants to offer us 100K for an exclusive deal with some strings attached, we certainly wouldn’t want that filtered out because we only checked the Primary Sponsorship box.
Push for the Editor’s Spotlight
Get on FGL and get involved. Start messaging Steve, Chris, Eric and the whole gang if you feel strongly your game deserves more attention. Get the ball rolling. I’ve pestered Chris many times about getting games in there and even other games. I’m sure he’s tired of it by now, but it’s just another thing that can put your game over the edge and into a bidding war.
This is a bit of a strange environment here. First Impressions can be a great way to get some solid [but more often sparse] feedback on your game. You pay $1 per First Impression and FGL magically makes sure someone plays it for at least 5 minutes. First Impressions can be great for working out usability issues, but keep in mind the rating is shown to sponsors and that can sometimes scare them away as it’s a sample of the player base. Though, often a grossly small and unsatisfactory one…
For us, it’s hard not to use them to get an idea of what people think of our game. We’re suckers for punishment. In addition to these remote impressions, I’d urge any game developer out there to sit down and watch a few people play your game while you don’t say a word. You’ll get a great idea for places to improve on usability, level design and overall feel.
Go way beyond FGL
I’ll be honest, I haven’t had great luck [at least directly] from “cold-calling” sponsors, but it never hurts to try. I have a handful [about 30] emails that I’ve collected manually of sponsor email addresses. After I throw it up on FGL and everything seems to be automatic over there I send out a big general email to all of them. Usually, 1-2 people respond. Here’s the actual email I sent.
I’m Greg from Intuition Games. You might have already received an email from me when shopping around Effing Hail or The Great Red Herring Chase, but in case not… Hello! You might also know us from our multiplayer game Dinowaurs. We’ve just recently created a racing-exploration game and are in search of a sponsporship.
Anyway, it’s called Fig. 8. In it you control a bike through what is essentially architectural diagrams of a suburban landscape. It may sound a bit weird from that blurb but we think it’s a lot of fun. It’s been up on FGL for a bit now and as usual, has been a bit buried so far. We’d love if you could take some time to check it out here.
We’re looking for a primary or secondary sponsorships or perhaps a performance based sponsorship of some kind. If you’re interested please use FGL as a means for communicating that interest.
Thanks for your time!
After I sent that 2 sponsors responded and ultimately nothing came out of it other than a few views on FGL. Still, you must stay strong and not give up hope. It’s at this time that I started to get creative.
Make a video trailer
Get a trial of a program or purchase a relatively cheap application that does high quality video capture. I use Snapz Pro X. It’s something like $70 and while that seems like a lot, i’ve used it for every single trailer we’ve made and it takes excellent quality video. Once you have your video, you need to edit it together with a program like FinalCut or AfterEffects. There are much cheaper solutions though I’m not knowledgeable enough to know them.
When you’re making your trailer force yourself to keep it under 2 minutes. 2:22 actually. That’s the magic number. Also, when you’re making this trailer, think about what it is you want to show and who you’re showing it to. At first glance, this is a trailer for sponsors, so you might be inclined to show off unspeakable action or maybe show people playing it and having tons of fun! But frankly that can be dishonest and feel strange. Besides, the main goal with the trailer is two pronged. It should be aimed to get people in general excited about your game.
The big disconnect with a sponsor and a developer is that the sponsor doesn’t want to take a risk on your fresh new game. Or at least that’s usually the way it is for us. They’d rather sponsor a sure thing than a innovative risk. So, you’re trying to get people clamoring for this game, show them that it’s not such a big risk and that people actually want to play something other than a tower defense clone. By releasing a trailer to the public you’re generating buzz. It’s like a mini focus group test. Sponsors/marketing people love to form people’s opinion into cold hard data, now you can do that to a certain degree with trailer.
Push it to the press
Now you’ve got your beautiful trailer. Show it to everyone. Tell them your story. I posted mine on the Announcements section of the TigForums. I gave them the link to the trailer, some screenshots and even a peek into the background of the game. Most importantly, I was up front about why the hell I was doing it. Frankly, I have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to these Flash sponsors. I think they grossly undervalue the games they sponsor, especially the experimental ones that are so exciting. Though, it’s hard to fault them for trying to run as profitable a business as possible [not that hard, though] so I figured getting some press out there to prove this is an exciting game would do well to drive that home.
The only two places I posted the trailer were on my twitter and on TigForums. Now… That seems like dumb luck, but I spend a hell of a lot of time at both of those places. Being an active community member is huge in being taken seriously when it comes time to “cash in”. Also, it’s not like I’m there just to pimp my games, [like so many are] but I thoroughly enjoy being an active member of the indie dev community. If you’re not much for community, I suggest you give it the ol’ college try. Otherwise, you can try individually emailing press outlets with your trailer, they might pick it up too. This is just how I like to operate. So… after putting the trailer out there with a bit of a plea as to what it was about, we got some press.
Get creative and engage potential sponsors
Phew, ok this is getting long. But that’s because there’s a lot to do. While the press was getting underway I decided to contact a few potential sponsors directly. I won’t list them specifically but it’s important to note that my contact with them was very personal and directed towards them and their company. I wanted to get creative with how we approached sponsoring Fig. 8 in hopes of striking an interesting deal. At least it’d be in the spirit of this whole experimental business! I would highly recommend this approach. There are a few portals out there that aren’t yet in the sponsorship game, mostly because they’re quite young, though it can’t hurt to contact them. As young portals, a boost in users might be just the thing they need to grow a bit more.
While we didn’t have any explicit success with this, I think by rule of thumb that targeting sponsors specifically and seeking them out puts them on the spot to respond. With this approach you’re more likely to get a response from a sponsor and it feels more like a partnership than an exchange of goods.
Right now, with this very post I’m creating exposure for Fig. 8, an unreleased freeware flash game. Sure, I’m not writing this post because I’m desperate for attention [remains to be seen] or to explicitly sell Fig. 8. I’m actually writing because a few folks have been interested in reading some tips on getting a sponsorship. I’ve learned a lot in the last couple weeks, most of it I never really wanted to learn but it’s necessary to wear many hats being an indie. In a way, this whole process has depressed me a bit. I’ve realized that to be successful making more experimental and smaller games you’ve got to put in a lot of energy selling the game. Sometimes more than the actual game made. That’s not where I want to be spending my time, but it’s certainly something I felt I had to do with Fig. 8.
Now, we have some moderate bids, but even today I’m still working on selling the game, though in a much smaller capacity. I check up on FGL, email the occasional sponsor, talk to press here and there. A surprising amount of people are interested in the game even though they’ve never played it. That’s a strong power that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to wield if you just kept your little 2 week game under wraps.
Fig. 8 is a game I strongly believe in. You’ve got to believe in your game and that it’s worth a fair bit of money. Mike didn’t agree with my approach when I started on this death-march to see what kind of effect “creating hype” would have on the sale of our game, but I think it’s clear that is has had an effect. I was compelled to never give up on finding a proper home for this little guy, and I still am. I don’t think it’s right that re-skinning the same design over and over again makes more money than original design.
Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it is original you will have to ram it down their throats.