Monday, August 18, 2008

The Rejections

So, I finally got around to submitting Rune Rescue to the portals - again. First a bit of background is needed...

I submitted Rune Rescue to the portals about a year ago and they were interested. They gave me some good feedback on ways of possibly making it better which I did and I'll tell you what they were as I found them to be pretty interesting:

Player Awards - The early version of the game had didn't have the exploding panel after you complete each level that reveals a part of the location image down in the lower right corner of the game screen. Players need some incentive to keep playing and supposedly that little change is going to do just that. Ok, no problem... tweak,'s in there.

A way to quit the game - Perhaps I am have played too many games. Pressing the ESC key always brings a menu allowing you to quit. Well, after one portal ran it through their beta testers, it became pretty apparent that a LOT of people don't know that. So the latest version now has a menu option button on the game screen.

A bit more theme - So I've got this Indiana Jones-esque character on the screen and lots of imagery. But it still looked a bit plain. So I added the leaves and vines to each screen to make it look a bit more interesting and busy.

The Fatal Error

Ok, so I've got the 2 biggest portals interested in the game, but I still have lots of coin in the bank so I'm not in a rush. Time seemed to be on my side and I started to wonder if I just wasn't giving the game enough time to circulate. After all, I hadn't really done any web banner advertising on various sites, nor had I contacted any newspapers or tried other thing to get the word out. So I held off on the portals.

I managed to get a massive listing of newspapers and email contacts at those newspapers. Thus began a flurry of emails all over the place. Out of dozens of emails, I got 3 responses. One said that they don't review games, another said they don't review games that are that small, and the last said they don't review games BUT they would be more than happy to put a blurb in their paper about me to try and help out. I was told by one of them that it's a difficult thing to get people to hear me out, as they put it - I'll find that most of the time I'm shouting into the wind. Truer words have never been spoken.

So out comes the newspaper with a circulation of 120,000 and there is the blurb about me on the front page of their business section. Woot! Surely I'll see some traffic and perhaps some sales? I anxiously kept looking at my webstats on Google Analytics to see how many visitors I got from that area. Would you believe 3 visitors and ZERO downloads for the day? Wow. That was a real eye-opener.

I also got a free banner posting on a website from someone trying to help me out with a circulation of over 1 million visitors/month that resulted in... drumroll please... 12 or 13 visitors, zero sales. Another site also did the same to help me out with pretty much the same results. Meanwhile another site is offering me a rotating web banner on their site for a month for $250...ummm, no thanks.

I won't get into the various others who promised help in getting the word out, but did nothing. I'm an adult, I can understand if you changed your mind. I fully understand that one hand washes the other. Why should you help me possibly make money when there is nothing in it for you? I get all that. Be an adult and say so though, don't patronize me and promise things you have no intention of delivering. I have TONS more respect for those that are honest than those who are full of crap.

The thing is, I have this rather radical sense of loyalty to those who did help. Maybe we'll grow by leaps and bounds, or maybe we'll remain in obscurity, only time will tell. But if we do grow by leaps and bounds, rest assured that those who helped when we were nothing will get lots of exclusives, while those that said they would but didn't will get a middle finger. Even those that didn't help but were honest about it will get more than the ones who flat out lied.

The most radical attempt at getting the word out is almost pretty embarrassing. It involved flyers. We made up these 400 flyers along with a code for getting a 10% or 15% discount on purchases. Let me tell you that 400 flyers might not sound like much, but you'll walk several miles delivering them. I went to 2 totally different areas delivering them door to door. Net result was another goose egg on the visitors and a goose egg on the sales.

Obviously there is a secret to all this and I was doing all the things that didn't work.

One thing that did seem to be working was Google Adwords. I set myself up with a budget of like $30/week and would see a sale once a week. The problem was that I make half that amount on the sale. After I few weeks of spending $30 to make $15, I pulled the plug on the adwords.

So I figured if I set up a blog and posted my thoughts, maybe I'll get enough visitors who will click on the adwords on my blog and it will make enough money to pay for my own adwords for my games. Essentially the blog could pay for them and I wouldn't be losing money. After several weeks, it was again becoming apparent that the only people reading my blog was me since I can see how many times ads were displayed and how many times they were clicked.

For the ultimate in irony, I wrote an article for Just Adventure that had nothing to do with me or my games, yet resulted in our highest daily total of visitors and sale. There is a lesson to be learned there. I used to wonder why people would do things to get their name out there that had absolutely nothing to do with the product they were selling. Now I know.

The Second Round

So I tried all sorts of things to get sales on my own and none of them worked. I wanted to get more games on my site before putting Rune Rescue on the portals in the event that people would actually look up Hidden Sanctum after playing the game or demo via the portals. Block Stomp was now up, as was Cryptomadness. By default, these games can't go on portals because they link back to my site - a big NO-NO with portals. For Block stomp it was the high scores, for Crypto it was the skins.

This time instead of submitting it to 2 portals, I went ahead and submitted the new improved version to all of the big ones. There is a bit of tweaking that needs to happen when you submit a game to the portals. For one you have to remove all links or web addresses you have in there. You also have to put the portals logo in there on the main screen as well as a splash screen for that portal. No problem, I did this for all of them and resubmit.

What follows next is just how quickly the industry changes. To give it to you in a nutshell, all of them rejected the game, but it was the reasoning that it was rejected that causes me to pause.

"80% of our customers are female and over 35."

"The shotgun sound effects are too violent and arcade-like."

"Look at our top 10 list to see what sells."

"Why are we traveling around the world?"

"Where are these thieves that are supposedly stealing the Rune stones?"

"There are no chain reactions."

The top 10 thing kind of floored me. People complain about the shear number of clones out there and nothing new being made, yet here was a portal saying to clone like crazy.

The whole female thing also floored me. For years women rightly vented about the lack of games geared towards them, yet here was a portal demanding games that were ONLY geared towards women. I can understand them doing that as that is what their customer base in mostly made of, but it makes you wonder (and maybe realize) why there are so few action shooters on the portals. They are still being made, but apparently the portals don't what them - they want cute and "simple". That in itself should be a bit insulting to women.

As far as the question about the thieves, it comes down to the realization that people just do NOT read things. At the very start of the game it says that the thieves are stealing rune stones and are backing their truck up to load them. The lesson here is that I should have displayed cartoon images step-by-step explaining the back story. Even though the text was very brief, apparently it was still too much for people to bother with reading.

To it's credit, I have to give major kudos to one of the portals for saying that if I address some of the issues, they would like for me to resubmit it and try again. Ironically this is the same portals who a year ago was going to distribute it without any of the changes I had now added. So it was better than the original accepted version, but no longer good enough now. Yes, the casual games industry is changing fast.

The other portal who was previously interested? I hadn't sent it to them yet. After getting those previous rejections and reasons for the rejections, I figure I have more tweaking to do. In all honesty, that is a bit difficult to do. I almost feel like I am beating a dead horse and my time should be spent on new projects, not constantly revisiting an old one that repeatedly gets met with failure. The thing is, it's a good game that just starts too slow. Speeding it up at the beginning turns off Group A players, while slowing it down turns off Group B. Even worse, I have several games on the drawing board that are looking pretty spiffy and I can't shake Pieces of Eight and Raven's Hollow from my mind as I keep getting more elaborate with those two - let's just say that XNA and real-time 3D are wonderful thing. When I say "running around the island", I literally mean running around the island.