Monday, August 13, 2012

Getting Ready for (Re)Launch

Now that NEO Scavenger's new combat and wound systems are in place, it's time to do a relaunch. As with the previous launch, this is more of a "soft" launch, since there's still work to be done. However, the last time NEO Scavenger made the rounds was five months ago. Similarly, the demo has largely sat untouched since late March. Quite a few exciting changes have made their way into the game since then, so I'd like to raise awareness once more, and see how the public responds to the new and improved NEO Scavenger.

What does that mean? A few things, actually. Here's a breakdown:

Update the Demo

As mentioned above, the demo hasn't received an update in quite some time. As a snapshot of the gameplay from late March, it lacks many of the cool new features I've since added. The new night/day system, player camps, combat, and wound systems really transformed the game for the better. Providing players a chance to see those in action is a priority, especially before driving prospective customers to the website.

The new combat system alone is a highlight, according to veteran players.
Of course, with an updated demo, there's also the question of what to add and what to limit. Simply unlocking all the new features would invalidate the beta in many ways. Why spend $10 for beta access if I've unlocked everything in the demo?

I'm considering several options for demo limitations, such as fewer skill slots, no access to vehicles/special camps, and no save games.

I'm also maintaining the current limit of no content beyond the DMC gates. Though that's currently also the case for the beta, until the new content gets added.

However, one interesting limitation that has been proposed by both players and Cameron is a time limit. What if we only gave players 48 hours of in-game time? 48 hours is enough time to experience a full day cycle, get some interesting items and experiences, but not enough to really dig in and power game. I was initially scared of such a limit, but it's growing on me. It's somewhat akin to the demo in Civilization, which only granted 100 turns.

Downloadable Version

As mentioned last time, Desura has contacted me, indicating that they'd be interested in carrying NEO Scavenger as an alpha-funded title. Since I now know that's an option, I can move up my plans to deploy on their platform.

Doing so, however, requires that the game be in a downloadable format. Flash should technically be able to create projector formats for each of the major PC platforms. I just have to figure out what's involved, and how to test them.

Plus, this prepares NEO Scavenger for easier distribution to things like the IGF, Steam, and publications.

Create a Trailer

One of Desura's requirements is that every game they carry include at least 10 screenshots and a gameplay video. The screenshots are no problem. However, the trailer is a different story.

Sure, I could vidcap a few minutes worth of gameplay, slap it together in After Effects/Premiere, throw in some music, and use that. However, the trailer is an opportunity to really sell the game and its atmosphere. If done right, it could become a strong vehicle for exciting new players and drawing them to try the demo.

So I've been exploring ways of doing just that. Josh Culler has submitted some great music for NEO Scavenger, and one piece in particular seems like a great fit for the trailer. The trick will be choosing footage that both describes NEO Scavenger, but doesn't require the viewer to read tiny on-screen text.

NEO Scavenger is not very animation-heavy, so there isn't much to see in a video. In fact, most of the interesting mechanics of NEO Scavenger require watching a few turns of gameplay, and reading text. Not very good for a trailer, unfortunately.

What I'm considering, then, is maybe telling a short story about a player's predicament, and using bits of footage to show some of the systems that got them there. Perhaps with the right narrative, the succession of screenshot-like footage will be more engaging.

Update the Website

Finally, I'll also need to update the Blue Bottle Games website. The site isn't necessarily broken nor out of date, but there are some things I could do to reduce friction. Some changes I am considering include:

  • Moving a NEO Scavenger teaser to the homepage, so first time visitors see it right away. Currently, they are presented with news, and have to click "Games" to see any NEO Scavenger images or links.
  • Changing the pricing info for NEO Scavenger to be shown when users are not logged in. Currently, one must be a registered user to see the NEO Scavenger pricing.
  • Adding Desura links. True, a link to Desura takes some money out of my pocket (Desura takes a cut of each sale). However, some customers are already established with Desura, and/or are more comfortable ordering through Desura than an unknown indie developer. At worst, I expect this to be a wash compared to not having the link. At best, this should create additional sales.
  • Removing the lipstick promo. It was a humorous promotion, but I'm getting tired of signing postcards with a lipstick kiss. Time to retire the silly promo and go with a more traditional "signed postcard" approach.
Once the above steps are done, the process of contacting press and promoting the relaunch begins. I already have a list of writers and editors who have asked to be informed of updates, plus a list of publications I'd like to contact for the first time. There are also some forums out there that I plan to revisit with the news. I think that with a little elbow grease, I can get NEO Scavenger featured in several places, and rekindle gamers' interests.

6 comments:

  1. About the demo, I think location limits are better than time/turn limits. For the Civ 5 demo, I quickly hit the turn-limit before I even had a civilization worthy enough to try the new features. Not all players advance at the same pace. In their case, it actually made me forgo buying the game since I felt that it wasted my time playing that demo.

    It is not completely rational, but it was the first impression they left on me and I am having a hard time shaking it.

    With an achievement oriented limit, you can celebrate the player's ability and further leverage that into a purchase. On the other hand, auxiliary limits such as time can easily be viewed as a form of penalization. The negative feelings associated with it makes it much more difficult to turn into a desire for purchase.

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    1. Player frustration is the landmine I'm hoping to avoid when limiting the demo. To date, NEO Scavenger's been pretty lucky in that it gets praised for being such an open demo.

      Players pretty much get run of the map, and can play through the cryo facility, hatter's quest(s), and the Hidden Lake house.

      Just as the player overcomes the obstacles to getting into DMC, and they're walking through the tunnel into the busy crowd, the demo gives the choice to buy the game or turn back and keep playing.

      That enticing moment becomes a literal gate into the full game.

      However, I feel that much gameplay freedom is probably enough to satisfy many gamers without buying. And for the moment, anyway, that's all the content in the beta as well.

      I *could* corral the player in, limiting them to a smaller field of play. I was worried that might frustrate players too. I could draw the corral such that it blocks access to the DMC or Hidden Lake. It'd give freedom to experience the cryo encounter and meet with Hatter, plus plenty of random hexes to loot/explore. But the gate would still trigger "Buy Now" and it cuts the Hidden Lake off.

      At any rate, thanks for providing a counter argument against the time limit. Until now, I've heard a few votes for it, but none against.

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  2. Whichever way you go, make sure to put a "buy" button at the end of the demo.

    About desura links, can you make the game more expensive on desura than on your site?

    I'm not very savvy in this regard, but I wouldn't worry too much about a trailer. Just show the game play. People interested in turn based survival will dig it, people who aren't, won't. I mean you could do a hollywood blockbuster trailer, "IN A WORLD GONE WRONG" (fade to black) "ONE PERSON HAS THE WILL TO SURVIVE" (fade to black) blah blah, but I'm not sure it suits. How about an off beat trailer showing N different ways to die in neo scavenger?

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    1. Definitely. The "buy now" button currently appears at the DMC gates, which is a tantalizing place for it. If the boundaries change, I'll have to find a way to keep that message intact.

      Regarding Desura pricing, I believe I can change the price to anything I want. But I'll have to double check, and to see what other devs are doing.

      For the trailer, it has to show gameplay for Desura's requirements. I agree with their policy, too.

      I think I've got a decent idea for one which shows gameplay in the context of a scavenger's downfall. Sort of a vignette: one player's story using gameplay footage.

      The N different ways to die is a good one too. I had a similar thought. Maybe when I'm doing another trailer, I can use that angle as a humorous counter point to the desperate tone this first one has.

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  3. I haven't played the demo for a while so you may be ahead of me, but in addition to whatever limits you may add to the demo, maybe some of the better items (and vehicles, as you mentioned) could be visible but marked "full game only". Then when the player inevitably dies they think to themselves "you know what would have been handy? That rocket-powered skateboard with the laser cannon that I wasn't able to pick up in the demo."

    Also, good to know my lipstick postcard will be a limited-edition collectible worth millions one day!

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    1. I had a list kinda like that. E.g. they could see the shopping cart, but not equip it. Fewer skills available, etc.

      After a while though, I decided many small restrictions might seem a bit adversarial. And Ted's point about time limits got me researching. Instead, I decided the big restrictions should be geographic, and no saves.

      The former restricts exploration (will be a smaller area than the current demo), and teases with the big city on the horizon. The latter makes it feel transient, like visiting NYC without a hotel room to sleep in.

      And yes, hold on to that limited edition, signed and kissed postcard!

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