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October 2, 2016: Concealed Intent 1.1 Progress Report Twitter Facebook

Tags: DevDiary, ConcealedIntent

September is over and the scheduled month of dev work for Concealed Intent 1.1 complete. The amount achieved was about as much as expected, although not as much as hoped. Since the last update Steam turn notifications are working, but it was a little harder than anticipated. Then came a new skirmish objective (Gather) and a bunch of bug fixes (mainly for Linux). Unfortunately that means there was not time for extra work on campaign missions or online. Still, the update is a large body of work and I’m glad to get it done, the game will be better for it. Now I just need to test it extensively before release! The plan is to give myself a fortnight of testing, so look for the update in mid-October (barring major issues).

Looking at my Concealed Intent todo list I am amazed by how short it is - the shortest it has been since starting! It contains probably about a fortnight of online server improvements (not visible to players) and another fortnight of campaign/skirmish/cosmetic improvements. There are also a half-dozen “nice-to-haves”. Given this list, I am inclined to do a month’s work for a 1.2 update. However, it will not be until next year - hopefully earlier rather than later. After Concealed Intent 1.1 is released I will start work on a much smaller space-themed game codenamed “Blockade Runner” (because I haven’t thought of anything better yet).

Here are the final notes on the original (and intentionally overly ambitious) update plan:

  • Small backend improvements - the main things here are an automated build system and better feedback management. Both are complete.
  • Cosmetic and control improvements - most of these were done as part of 1.0.1. A few more have been done - most notably an onscreen shielding effect and a plan breakdown on the player focus buttons.
  • Linux support - There is now a Linux build for internal testing, so far it has performed just like the PC/Mac version.
  • Bugfixes - many bugfixes completed and the issue list is empty again.
  • Steam turn notifications - Working, but needs more testing.
  • Balance & extra campaign missions - a little balance work has been done, but there are no new campaign missions.
  • Extra skirmish mode making better use of tentative contacts and neutral unknowns - done, the new Gather objective has the player rushing
  • Online improvements - nothing significant for players done here.

September 11, 2016: What is Happening Twitter Facebook

Tags: DevDiary, ConcealedIntent

It has been a little while since my last update, so I thought I should let people know what is happening with Concealed Intent. Previously I wrote about creating some prototypes and having time off. Both those achievements have been unlocked! If you would like to see my thoughts on prototypes, look here. After that I said there would be a month’s work on a 1.1 release, trying to get as far down this list as possible:

  • Small backend improvements to the client and server code
  • Cosmetic and control improvements, as suggested through player feedback
  • Linux support
  • Steam turn notifications
  • Balance & extra campaign missions
  • Extra skirmish mode making better use of tentative contacts and neutral unknowns
  • Online improvements

Work began on this list at the start of September. Thus I will stop developing and start testing at the end of this month. Assuming no big issues are found, I’m still on track for an October release.

So how am I progressing with the list? Firstly, there were a couple of things not considered. On the positive side, there was a 1.0.1 release that contained many of the Cosmetic and control improvements, so much of that task was done before I began. On the downside, my hard drive crashed the day I planned to start work, costing me a couple of days productivity (keep your backups up to date!). Also, I forgot to add bugfixes into that todo list. Thanks to more testing and the good work of a couple of players (obliviondoll and FridayBiology were particularly helpful) a few extra bugs were discovered and have (or will be) fixed as a priority.

So how is that list actually looking as of today?

  • Small backend improvements - the main things here are an automated build system and better feedback management. Both are complete, and while players will notice little difference, both should save me loads of time to work on other tasks. There are lots of other backend tasks that need to be done, but I will probably leave them until later.
  • Cosmetic and control improvements - most of these were done as part of 1.0.1. A few more have been done (most notably an onscreen shielding effect). There is one item outstanding, but I haven’t scoped it yet - I’ll try to work out if it is possible in the coming week.
  • Linux support - There is now a Linux build for internal testing, so far it has performed just like the PC/Mac version with the exception of a few cosmetic issues. This task is looking good. Strangely, my Linux version has issues with anti-aliasing which has meant the height-markers for all versions have needed to change.
  • Bugfixes - there are now four minor bugs outstanding I’ll be starting work on over the next week. A few other minor bug fixes will be in the next release, plus a major online game fix that has already been released. Please let me know if you see anything “weird” or “wrong”.
  • Steam turn notifications - Just started work on this and the documentation is making a great deal more sense than the last time I looked. Confident I can get it done.
  • Balance & extra campaign missions - a little balance work has been done (coolers will be nerfed in 1.1) and I have ideas for more things here, but am currently uncertain if I should do an extra couple of missions or a new skirmish type first - I might only have time for one (but will of course try for both).
  • Extra skirmish mode making better use of tentative contacts and neutral unknowns - see above, if you have any ideas let me know.
  • Online improvements - probably will not make it far enough to do anything here, but if I do it will be something small

There it is. I would say progress so far is better than expected (especially considering the hard drive crash), but who knows how things will go for the remainder of the month. In any case, be assured I am working hard trying to improve the game!

August 30, 2016: Prototyping Twitter Facebook

Tags: DevDiary

It takes more than one game to become a successful game studio. A portfolio of games is required to spread risk. This is even more the case for Jarrah Technology, as on current trends Concealed Intent will not be a financial success. I am committed to a 1.1 update and have started work towards that goal. However, realistically any time spent will not reap a corresponding financial reward. Thus with the little time remaining to me for working on games full-time, I need to come up with new games quickly. Luckily, ideas are not the problem. There are exceptionally few “ideas people” in games, because everyone has tons of ideas. Choosing which potential games deserve the risk of developing with limited resources is the real skill.

Over the last four years I’ve compiled a list of three dozen “maybe later” game ideas. They are of variable quality, but there is no standout, clearly a winner, concept. So how to choose? After Concealed Intent I have a few requirements for my next game. First, it must be simple. Simple to develop and simple to play. With only a few months left available for unrestricted development, any game I start must be finished within 9 months or risk never being finished. Realistically, with Concealed Intent work and other distractions, 6 months is the maximum time. Thus since I also repeatedly underestimate effort significantly, I want games that I think I can create in about 3 months. So an order of magnitude smaller than Concealed Intent. This has many implications. For a start, no story, that takes too long (or at least, it takes me too long). Also, my next game will be 2D or 3D with a fixed camera. Having a fully mobile camera in a 3D world adds a host of UI and control problems. The next game needs to be relatively cheap to make (not including my time). Being able to reuse existing assets is best, otherwise I need to be aware of how much extra cost is required and factor that into to likely earnings. It is a fuzzy line.

The game should be simple to play. Definitely no complex internal simulation models. It should be clear what is happening on the screen and quick to learn. This is for two reasons: it is easier to develop; and, it widens the market of the game. Concealed Intent is complex to play, and difficult to learn. There is a lot of maths happening “under the hood”. This greatly decreases the number of people willing to play. The vast majority of potential players (and press) will only play the game for a few minutes. If after that time they are still going through a tutorial explaining mathematical game concepts, most will stop and never start again. Thus, my next game will just have a couple of simple game mechanics.

So those are the criteria for evaluating ideas: quick, simple, cheap (and fun!). With that in mind my long list became a short list of 4. So I decided to prototype them. Two on paper as the technical complexity is low, so the gameplay elements are most important. Two in code as the most challenging part would be the programming. At this stage I don’t want to talk too much about what each idea actually involves - it is too soon. Instead, here are photos of each game in progress.

August 3, 2016: Release Twitter Facebook

Tags: ConcealedIntent, DevDiary

Done. Concealed Intent is now fully released. No longer is it marked with the stigma of Early Access.

For the next week there is a 34% launch discount on Steam, and now for the first time it is also available on the Humble Store too (same discount).

The success of a modern games tends to be determined in their first month of release. Visibility, reviews and sales now will result in more visibility, reviews and sales later. So I’m not too proud to beg… If you enjoy the game please consider telling people about it and/or writing a review on Steam. It will all help. Also, if you do see something wrong in the game, please let me know, the quicker I can find and fix any issues the better.

Right now I’m also incredibly busy trying to get the word out and responding to people’s messages. I am way behind. One of the more interesting things I’m doing is a Reddit AMA. Come along and ask me anything? Everyone who comments (with a question or otherwise) by Friday 5th August 10:00am GMT will go into the running to win one of 10 copies of Concealed Intent.

Development work is not over, there will still at least be a version 1.1 update at some point. However, I think the largest part of game is now complete. Reaching a standard I felt happy about and then saying that people can pay for it without that Early Access caveat is a huge step.

Having said all that, I would also like to give a huge thank you to everyone who played Concealed Intent, purchased it, wishlisted/followed it, or even just checked it out. This game could not have been finished to this level (or even at all) without your support and feedback. Thank you!

August 2, 2016: Concealed Intent Development Postmortem Twitter Facebook

Tags: ConcealedIntent, Postmortem, DevDiary

“People wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Paraphrasing Shakleton’s recruiting notice for Antarctic exploration works surprisingly well for indiedevs too.

Today is the culmination (but not termination) of nearly four years of effort. My game, Concealed Intent, is now out of Early Access and fully released on Steam. It has easily been the largest project I have ever undertaken and required intense effort to reach this point. Working largely alone in a foreign country I often found myself questioning what I was doing. However, in retrospect, I would still do it over again - but with a few changes (see the “What went not so well” list below).

After a brief (and shameless) video interlude for Concealed Intent itself, I will detail the things I think went right and not so well during the development process. I have tried to think back to my state of mind four years ago, just before starting and offer advice to that naive and optimistic person. A later post, some time after the release, will look at the business and financial side of the game - was it profitable: stay tuned to find out!

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July 29, 2016: Steamgifts Part 2 - The Surveying Twitter Facebook

Tags: Marketing, Steamgifts

Previously I have written about my experience running giveaways on Steamgifts.com for marketing Concealed Intent. Several people made some good suggestions as to what I could do better, or at least differently. One of those was asking other people for their experiences.

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July 21, 2016: In My Own Words Twitter Facebook

Tags: ConcealedIntent, DevDiary, Marketing

One of the game development tasks I have found particular difficult is writing a good tutorial. Of course, best would be no tutorial at all. Unfortunately, Concealed Intent is much too complex to be playable with the player doing a little learning first - and that complexity is part of the game’s design. Numerous hours have been spent tuning the tutorial, but it is still a little clunky - probably the result of my inexperience and the nature of the game. To help overcome this and the common subtle misunderstandings, I have created a couple of videos to help newbies. They will be added to the game page, the press kit and maybe even as a link in the game itself.

Here is a 20 minute tutorial on how to play:

And here is a 34 minute introductory tactics video

I have also created a YouTube playlist of all the Concealed Intent videos I can find (let me know if I’ve missed any!). It is at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-BfCOTbn76q7pAq9BMnmjYpLH19hRbrN

July 5, 2016: Release Date Twitter Facebook

Tags: ConcealedIntent, DevDiary, Marketing

Concealed Intent will leave Early Access and become fully released to Steam on Tuesday 2 August 3pm GMT (8am Pacific Time & 11pm where I am in Malaysia) - here is the store link. The original plan was to release a week later, but it appears a little game called No Man’s Sky is released that day. It seemed best to go a week early. I’ll need to get going on marketing quickly.

Also, if you enjoy the game, writing a positive Steam review is hugely useful. I would be greatly appreciative, please consider it.

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June 27, 2016: A Gamedev Plays... Twitter Facebook

Tags: Marketing

This is an edited version of a post on the Cordinc blog

I have set up a new website: A Gamedev Plays… will be dedicated to discussion and reviews of all sorts of games (but mostly games that I want to play). There is already an associated YouTube channel and Steam group. I will be using the Jarrah Technology Twitter and Facebook pages for promotional purposes at the moment.

The plan for the new site is to play more games and write about them, both as a game design learning exercise and as motivation to create more myself. As a secondary goal, I also hope to create a small community around my games writing.

There is an explosion of game making at the moment. More and more games, many with innovative ideas are being released. I need to be aware of what is happening in game design. Since starting work on my own games I can’t help but try to analyse what makes a game work (or not!) when I play it. Being able to organise these thoughts into a coherent argument in a presentable form can only help me improve my future games.

May 25, 2016: Steamgifts Twitter Facebook

Tags: ConcealedIntent, Marketing, Steamgifts

As my indie game nears a full release, my interest in indie marketing increases. Recently I was on the Space Game Junkie podcast, and one of the hosts mentioned that the Steamgifts website had not worked well for their sales effort. At that point I was planning on including the site for marketing Concealed Intent’s full release. There are a number of game giveaways on Steamgifts with messages stating they are for marketing purposes, and a few people have contacted me asking for keys to giveaway on the website (all refused, I can do it myself). So I wondered, how useful is Steamgifts as a marketing channel? Not finding any information online, I decided to try a few amateur experiments just to see how it worked.

For those that don’t know, Steamgifts is a website where members can give away copies of Steam (and only Steam) games. There are hundreds of games given away each day. It is not designed as a site for game marketing, but giveaway creators can include a short message, and these are often explicitly advertising related (for a game, or group, or YouTube channel, etc). The winner is chosen at random among those members of the site who have chosen to enter. Members are restricted in the number of giveaways they can enter, and must have at least $100 worth of games on their Steam account (so it is hard to enter a giveaway multiple times). There are currently a little over 900,000 members, of which around 135,000 have given away at least one game, and some many more. If a giveaways is open to everyone for over a day it will usually have 1000-2000 entries, depending on the game. Some very large giveaways (50+ copies) or desirable games gather 10,000+ entries.

Here is an example of a giveaway created for this experiment. The marketing text in the message is the standard copy for my Steam Early Access game, Concealed Intent. A brief description of the game, followed by a link and call-to-action, “please wishlist the game” (I thought a “please buy” CTA might be overly ambitious), then some social media links. The only way to enter the competition is through this webpage. So theoretically everyone who enters the giveaway should be exposed to the message.

I do very little marketing for the game at the moment, because as a sole developer I chose to spend most of my time on development tasks. This will shift in the next few weeks as full release nears and I go nearly full-time on marketing. However, during the experiment, I did no other marketing so views on the Steam store page are at a low and baseline level. Above is a graph of the store page impressions according to Steam, the grey line is total visits. Can you see the giveaways’ effect? There are 8 giveaways through this period, each separated by at least a day. The two most successful giveaways ended on the 11th May & 17th May. On those days there is a noticeable jump in direct visits to the store page (the light blue line).

Let’s see the raw numbers for Concealed Intent giveaways. I made two giveaways, each for a few days, a week apart. Both giveaways spanned the same days of the week. The number of visitors from Steamgifts to the Steam store page is measured through Google Analytics (which I suspect under counts visits slightly), and the number of extra wishlist entries is taken from Steam after subtracting the baseline growth in the week before I started the giveaways (1.5 per day).

Entries Comments Steam Visits Wishlist CTR Visit CTR +Wishlist
890 6 70 11 7.9% 1.2%
1027 4 47 8 4.6% 0.8%

I believe this CTR compares very favourably with other advertising. However, it must be considered that the cost of each giveaway is a copy of Concealed Intent, with a retail price of US$15, making those clicks extremely expensive by traditional measures. Although, that is only the case if the winner was going to buy the game at full price (or at all), probably unlikely given current indie game sales. Both winners did immediately redeem the game and play, which makes me happy. There were no extra sales in during the giveaway period, but I did gain a couple of Twitter followers (of course I can’t be sure they came from Steamgifts).

It is interesting to note that rise in the number of entries for the second giveaway corresponds with a drop in CTR. Perhaps the second giveaway included many people already aware of the game from the first giveaway. In any case, there may be diminishing returns on repeated giveaways. Thus they didn’t need to pay much attention to the text or visit the store a second time. I suspect a third giveaway would be even lower.

Prior to giving away my own game, I also tried giving different games for which I had keys leftover from bundle purchases, all with the same Concealed Intent marketing message attached. The *’ed rows indicate multiple overlapping giveaways with aggregated statistics.

Entries Comments Steam Visits Wishlist CTR Visit CTR +Wishlist
1269 1 6 3 0.5% 0.2%
2655 15 8 5 0.3% 0.2%
671 4 3 4 0.4% 0.6%
4296 22 8 8 0.2% 0.2%
829 3 2 3 0.2% 0.4%
686 4 4 3 0.6% 0.4%

Here the CTR is much lower. So low in fact I think that errors in counting visits or random changes in non-Steamgifts wishlisting will greatly skew the figures. Basically, giving away other people’s bundled game does not have much effect (although of course using bundled games means there is not much expense either). I would suggest relatively few people read the message, and most of the clicks are from checking out the game actually being given away before entering (rather than for the game in the marketing copy - makes sense to me).

So giving away my game on Steamgifts netted me at least 117 views of my Steam Store page and onto 19 extra wishlists for a cost between 0 - US$30. Other marketing opportunities available to indiedevs are: self-promotion on social media; asking web magazines and YouTubers for coverage; or paying hard cash for advertising. Given this, I would consider using Steamgifts giveaways again - just to increase awareness of the game. Although in small numbers (1 at a time), spaced with larger time gaps between them (at least a week), and only until awareness of the game reaches some as yet undefined level.

It is left as an exercise for a reader to measure the marketing effectiveness of giving away 50+ copies at once. I am not brave enough to try it with my game (at least not yet).

I am very interested to hear other people’s experiences or comments.

Update: I linked this post in the Steamgifts forum and an interesting discussion ensued over the value of 50+ giveaways or restricting entry to more engaged members. Here it is, worth a read if you found this interesting.

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