Devlog #4 Prototyping and us, The forge and Fight! Experience 3

3) Test & Analyze

This is the end of the trilogy! We’ve been through pitches, intense voting and rapid prototyping. Now it’s time for the moment of truth. It’s time to test if your game concept can hold water and sail towards a full product and a market success!

We’ve found that launching the prototype live on indie sites like itch.io, Gamejolt and IndieDB are the most effective for the types of games we make, but it’s important to remember why we’re testing. For us, the whole point of going through this entire three-part ordeal is to find a great game concept we can make a full game of. By great, we don’t just mean fun, interesting and engaging but also that it has market potential. That it’s a game people want.

A bunch of our prototypes on Gamejolt.com

We treat this almost like a small scale launch. This means that we produce a trailer for the prototype as well as a few good looking screenshots and in some cases a GIF or two. The “store” pages on the sites you choose need to be set up with proper descriptions and graphic material. It’s important to think about the message you’re conveying about the game, just as you would with a normal launch. All your materials need to reflect the vision of the game while being engaging. A small tip: We’ve found GIF thumbnails for the pages to be more effective than static ones, make sure to utilize that!

GIF thumbnail for Passpartout: The One Man Band, which has gotten quite a few downloads

We usually spend 2-3 days on creating the trailer. There’s a common saying in the business that is “if you can only afford to invest in one thing for the release, invest in the trailer”. The trailer is indeed the most effective weapon in getting people interested in your game. However, you usually only have about 5 seconds to capture the viewer, so make sure to get to the point quickly and don’t waste precious time at the start of the trailer by flashing logos. I feel a good trailer length at this stage is between 30-60 seconds, shorter than that and it may be difficult for the viewer to understand your game, and longer than that will make it drag on allowing people to lose interest.

The trailer for Passpartout, made 4 years ago

When going live you’re going to be able to track downloads and page visits as well as get a good view of the influencer coverage. But you should ask yourself if there is any other data you could use to improve the game later on. If you haven’t already I’d recommend setting up some sort analytics system (we use Unity Analytics) and pop in whatever metrics you think is important to guide your future design. 

The game is ready, your material is ready. It’s time to launch! Set the game live, launch your trailer and start spreading the word! Most sites have a built-in algorithm that promotes well-performing recently launched games, so if you manage to get some players early you’ll set yourself up for more exposure. We usually reach out to some influencers we know that usually covers these types of games to make sure they’re aware of it as well. The game is live *phew*, congratulate the team and make sure to celebrate!

Now, the prototype needs time to reach the players and it would be a waste to just have the whole team refreshing statistics for two weeks (even though it can be thrilling for a short while). In the meanwhile we usually restart the whole process, doing another pitch session, prototyping and launching that game while the previous one is out in the wild. In some instances, we have to abort the new prototype to take care of success but if it turns out to be a failure it’s good to have saved time.

So how do you know if the prototype is successful? You need to define your own metrics for success and it may vary a lot depending on what type of studio you are and what games you do. For us, a successful prototype manages to reach somewhere in the tens of thousands in downloads and has been played by a few influencers who managed to make some awesome videos of it. The reasoning behind this definition of success is that we want our game concept to have a ton of shareability. Your goal may differ, but make sure to establish that before your launch rather than later. If you establish it after launch you tend to shift the goalposts to be more in line with the outcome, which may not always be the best for your studio.

Awesome video

What if it fails miserably and no one plays it? This sucks. It hurts. And you need to take care of each other when this happens. Failure is normal and necessary, I think, for you to be able to find that one gem of a game that you’ll invest your time, money and love into. The upside of using this three-step method is that you’re able to weed out less optimal game concepts at an earlier stage. Launching a failed prototype hurts a lot less both emotionally and financially than launching a failed game. Keep each other’s spirits up and move forward, even though you may be going through several failures in a row.

When a prototype fails there can be several reasons. Usually, it’s either a). you haven’t managed to convey the concept and vision in a good way i.e. it lacks in execution either in-game or with promotion material, or b). the game concept is just not that interesting. Now here you could start justifying that it failed because of reason ‘a’ and that you just need another chance to “get the game right”. This could be a valid analysis but before you proceed with another attempt you need to make sure you understand what you’re really missing and then make a decision if it’s worth fixing those issues. It’s easy to fool yourself here and forget the bigger picture. You’re here to find the next great game concept. By choosing to do more work on a failed idea you also choose to not do work on a new concept, so choose wisely!

If the game fails you move on with a new idea until you find success, but if you meet all your targets and you consider your idea a success you need to handle that in a proper manner. Use the momentum of your success to start building your community. Give them somewhere to gather, like discord or a twitter page. You’ll learn a lot by talking to your players and watching influencers play the game. If you feel confident in the game idea, it’s time to move into pre-production. Use everything you’ve learnt throughout the journey and craft the best game the world has ever seen!

This covers how we tackle finding new ideas, proving their viability up until we’re ready for pre-production. The whole process takes about 6 weeks in total and we’ve found it to be an incredibly efficient way of reducing risks by finding out sooner rather than later whether your idea bears any water.

I hope this series is to help for any indie out there and if you have any questions or want to bounce ideas, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @MattiasLindb (I may take some time to reply on Twitter as I’m trying to contain my social media use due to self-care, please be patient) or by joining our Discord

Thank you for reading, and stay cool!

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