Nobody knows about your stupid game – on promoting Indies

I’ve read many articles on indie promotion and they all seem to emphasize one point which is: nobody knows about your game. In this post I go through our experiences on promoting Prisonscape and the things I’ve learned during the process.

Our first promotional posts were done around 10 months ago. We posted
this announcement for the game to /r/IndieGaming on Reddit and after that just kinda hoped for people to notice us. At this point I knew absolutely nothing about indies or where
they can be promoted. After a while I got to know the scene and just recently I came up with a “layering system” for promoting our game. This system divides the population into three different layers, and your goal is to penetrate as many of them as possible. Usually indie developers should only concentrate on the last layer. These layers are:

“Normal” people

Almost all the people I know belong to this layer. These are the people who play
Farmville, Candy Crush Saga or Angry Birds in the loo. They are often called as
casual players. This layer is almost impossible to penetrate, since basically every
game is a potential hit in this target group. It’s like playing the lottery – you make
a game and hope for the best. Even ridicilously polished, great games fail among normal
people. Most indies can forget about this target group.

Fuck yeah, three stars!

How to penetrate this layer:
– Lots of advertising on mainstream medias
– Viral campaigns
– Simple gameplay
– A stroke of luck

Regular gamers

This group pays for games and play them a lot, but it’s mostly AAA stuff. Also very hard
layer to penetrate, since it’s very difficult for indies to compete with top quality games
made with huge budgets. These people will most likely choose 30 USD AAA game over 10 USD indie. Every once in a while this layer is penetrated by indie titles. Good examples of such titles are Amnesia, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Mount & Blade and the newest addition, Pokemon: Generations.

This game sells better than your game.

How to penetrate this layer:
– AAA quality graphics
– Advertising on mainstream medias and large social media platforms such as Reddit
– High production value
– Large monetary investments
– Experience
– Popular concept (Pokemans, etc.)
– Unique and interesting idea

Indie gamers and nostalgics

Now this layer is something most indies will try to penetrate. Indie gamers are people who specifically concentrate on games that don’t necessarily have top quality graphics and effects and they are also more eager to pay for games (my observation, might not be true). I also put up nostalgics here, since these people enjoy classic gameplay and graphics which indies have. I think that we haven’t really done that with Prisonscape just yet, but hopefully this all changes once we reach a few promotional milestones. When we started doing Prisonscape last November, I knew nothing about this group. I didn’t know about Gamasutra, Indie/ModDB, TIGSource or any other similar sites. I had never used Twitter and to be honest I thought it was a stupid and limited platform. But after a while I started finding these resources and also discovered their potential for promoting the game.

First thing we did in our promotion was to start our devblog with own domain name. This didn’t really do anything, since nobody knew about our game, so we tried to put the word out there. The problem was that we only had the idea and nothing much to show. This all changed after we hired an artist to work on the graphical assets. After a while we found out about Reddit’s Screenshot Saturday and tried to bring something new to the table every week. After a while, we created pages to IndieDB – I really like this site since it already has a big audience and promoting your game was very easy. TIGSource’s devlog section is also very good place to promote your game. Twitter is a very good platform for networking, and some jaw-dropping screenshots can get a dozen of retweet and amount
you tens of followers.

This was the first screenshot we posted to SSS of Prisonscape

The first people who will notice you on this layer are indie developers. I would say that most of our “fans” are actually indie developers themselves. The reason for this is because they often can tell the difference between a prototype/tech demo and an actual game. They will take a look at your concept, even when the game looks like shit. Indie devs are also very encouraging towards other people’s projects, because they know how difficult it is to make something as simple as moving objects on the screen.

How to penetrate this layer:
– Have something to show. I’ve seen a lot of concepts getting popular based only on one or two amazing looking screenshots or tech demos
– Write a LOT about your game – all of it doesn’t have to be big announcements about big, new features. If you are on IndieDB, notice that even adding screenshots puts you on top of the browse list which gives you more coverage
– Have a dialogue with your target audience – take feedback and comment on it. For example, we decided to do complete overhaul on our battle system after a discussion on RPG Codex
– Study your “competition” – check out past Screenshot Saturdays, check devlogs on TIGSource and browse top 100 games on IndieDB. Read comments on these games to see what people like and expect from these games
– Don’t be afraid to go and pitch your idea and concept on social media – we’ve done it on 4chan /v/ and got a lot of positive feedback (and also a LOT of negative feedback!)
– Don’t be annoying spammer and try to make every gaming website write about your game – these guys usually contact you if they find the game interesting. Exceptions are “media bombs” nearing big announcements and releases such as Kickstarter or putting out an alpha version/demo for your game
– Use analytics tools to see where your traffic is coming from. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are of course good for this
– Keep up good relations with other developers, they can help you pitch your game when the time comes as long as you’re also helping them
– Don’t worry about overdoing it – nobody knows about your stupid game.

Street Fighting Man aka the fighting mechanics reprised

Okay, apparently we’re not done with the fighting concept. We found this thread on RPG Codex, one thing lead to another and we started discussing combat in Prisonscape. The guys from the forum had some great ideas how to spice up fighting in the game, and in this post I’ll go through some things we thought of adding. These are just ideas, and it’s not 100% certain that these will ever be implemented.

Grid and multiple combatants

Current battle system in Prisonscape is a tad boring. It’s basically 1 vs 1 combat where guys hit each other taking turns. There’s no movement or much of any other dynamics either. Weapons and drugs bring some interesting aspects to it, but we still thought of spicing it up with grid and adding multiple combatants, including henchmen. Henchmen can be acquired by getting influence with factions or straight up paying someone to protect you. The control over these henchmen is based on your intelligence – higher the statistic, more commands (attack certain enemy, stay defensive, etc.) you can give them. If your influence is low, they act on their own and might even flee the fight.

Grids would be randomized and removed from the actual game environment. Different grids have different benefits/hindrances. For example, fight against 3 opponents you can use the narrow spaces so that all of your enemies can’t surround you and attack you at the same time.

Example grids

Fights will start in different positions, based on your and the enemy’s stats. For example, high agility and intelligence characters have the ability to surprise the enemy, and sometimes you might even start surrounded by your enemies. Because the grid system would also have facing direction, there is always a possibility for powerful back attacks (not a rape pun, by the way).

Book of dirty tricks

This idea came from the user Lhynn from RPG Codex, this is what he wrote us:

“You could even add a bit of random luck and depth to the mix by making move options in the form of a card deck, were attacks will come up and be usable depending on the situation, being stronger means more powerful attacks, being faster means more complex attacks and being smarter means a bigger hand.”

“Each player skips his or her next shanking phase. During your turn, discard one trick to shank your enemy twice.”

So we came up with this idea of “book of dirty tricks”, which would be randomized in the beginning of every battle. These random powers/events help you in the battlefield and they can range from attack bonuses to very powerful special attacks. The tricks you have and the size of your “deck” will be determined by your statistics, and higher stats give you more powerful tricks to use.

Stamina

Stamina determines how much you can accomplish in a fight. Once you get more tired, you’ll get disadvantages. It’s a strategic choice to do either fast, heavy attacks that eat up your stamina real quick and hope that your enemy goes down before you run out of stamina, or do low energy attacks and try to wear your enemy slowly down. Stamina is based on agility.

How do you feel about these additions?

And how do you feel about real-time combat? Could it work in this kind of game?

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for fresh updates!

KO! aka the second part of fighting mechanics in Prisonscape

In the last part we started going through some of the fighting mechanics in Prisonscape. This time we’ll talk about weapons, items and drugs and how they can be used in fights.

Sitting in your cell for 23 hours a day and only working with limited resources, it is a well-known fact that inmates have an endless capacity for invention. Every little item can
become an ingredient for a deadly weapon, and there is a constant cat and mouse game between inmates and guards in finding this illegal contraband. These weapons can give you the needed edge in important fights in the game. There are three different type of weapons in Prisonscape: piercing, slashing and bludgeoning weapons and their durability and effectiveness is based on your crafting skill, agility and intelligence. Once you get better at making weapons, they’ll become sharper, more durable and easier to hide.

Of course there is always a risk in carrying a weapon. Shakedowns are constant and if the guards find you carrying one, to the hole you go. Sometimes it might even affect your reputation, as shivving enemies without weapons might make you an aggressive lunatic in the eyes of other inmates, which causes them to attack you with more often wielding deadly weapons.

To make weapons you’ll have to find the materials inside the prison. This can be anything from a sharpened bed spring, razor blade melt into a toothbrush to metal bar unscrewed from the wall. Telephone books can become a handy body armour and once you get a hold of some chemicals you can even make explosives! The process of creating these items borrows heavily from old classic adventure games where you have to find and combine items from your surroundings. If you don’t feel like looking for these items and trying to come up with the right item combinations, you can always buy some weapons from your gang mates with a high price.

Other items you can use in fights are drugs. Just like makeshift weapons replace the swords and axes of traditional JRPG genre, drugs replace potions, ethers and phoenix down’s (well, not really the last one) of these games. For example, taking amphetamine increases your motor performance and energy (affects your hit-% and HP), but if taken in large doses may cause aggressiveness (-defense) and even heart failure (-strength permanently and a trip to the infirmary). Taking fentanyl makes almost all of the pain go away (+HP, +sanity), but also makes the player confused and drowsy (-hit, -defense).

Using drugs can also cause addiction. Every time you take another dose your chance of getting hooked increases. The more you take, the harder the withdrawal. In withdrawal, all of your statistics and skills are drastically lowered and training becomes impossible. If the guards test you for drugs (random event) they might send you to the hole and after that to the NA meetings which take away your training time altogether.