It hurts me to say this but... I didn't actually go to Freeplay 2011. There are reasons for this. One of them being that airfares from the Gold Coast were over $200 one way. The other being that I had no time. The trailer that you could see at the event had its final edit around 4:00am in the morning and was uploaded to google docs because our server was down. (The result can be found here).
Then there was my wife. She works six days and so couldn't come with me but didn't want me to go as the time we can spend together is so minimal these days. Apparently when you work for a start up game company, 12 - 16 hour days are pretty standard. You forget what you used to do outside of work and the nights are spent staring at the computer screen. So Sunday's are hugely important around here.
Due to this, I pushed the responsibility on to my boss to write about it (because he went) but he's busy. Remember those 12 - 16 hour days? Yep, he has those too.
But I want to do something on Freeplay because it was important for our company and because it's a pretty major event for the independent Australian gaming world. So I'm going to write about the after effects for our company and what they meant for us. I'm going to focus on the positive effects of the conference first (credit's due where credit's due) and then briefly touch on what I thought was a little disappointing for us.
A few months ago we met Tony from GDAA when we first started up and he gave us lots of great advice, including (paraphrased) "Get your game playtested. You must playtest.". We'd been doing our internal play testing with friends and family and they'd really like it. But development time was tight so when we took it to Freeplay it was our first public test. For our game design, this was the best thing we could have ever done.
Benefits for Game Development
I spent all day bouncing around the house waiting for the call to tell me how it went. I waited, waited and then waited until 7:00pm when the phone finally rang and the news was.... positive.Well, 80% positive. You see, we didn't want to waste this opportunity to find out if our game held up to public scrutiny or to find out what people thought could be improved so we brought a comments sheet for players to fill out. Best idea ever.
My boss probably talked to over 200 people in the course of those days but probably remembered 10 or 20 comments. Worse, he remembered the comments that made an impact to him. So some things were highlighted and other important factors were forgotten until we sat down and preformed an analysis on the comments sheet. We got 65 comments over all, which is pretty good. (Not a lot of people want to write comments down apparently). And they were on the whole, really, really good. People loved our art style, they loved the gameplay mechanic, they liked the idea. A few people wanted to buy it.
More importantly, however, we were able to isolate issues with the game that were of the most concern to players. We were able to tweak the controls just a little bit better, stop the screen rotating and adjust the difficulty of the levels. Also, we figured out how to create an engaging tutorial for the player because the comments (and observation) reflected players generally didn't read tutorials at all. At all. It had to be an in-game action or you can kiss it goodbye.
I talk about isolation because that's important. Through analysis of what we had (not what we imagined) we could avoid focussing on the comments stuck in our mind. For example, a player commented on it being too adult for children yet we had children play it (with their parents in tow) and wrote down that they "Liked it.". (Always trust a kid over an adult's perception of what kids should play any day). We had one who said the girlfriend was "childlike" and the hero "too old". It stuck in my boss' mind and he wanted to change some artwork but when we did an analysis, it was an extremity.
If we had not taken the comments nor done the analysis then we would have spent time re-working the art instead of the gameplay. We would have wasted all those people's opinions because of our own filter. Strangely I was told that we were the only ones with a comments sheet. Here's hoping that wasn't the case.
Benefits for Game Marketing
The comments sheet provided us with additional subsidiary benefits:
- Confidence in our product
We liked our product going into the conference but we needed to know if it had a broad appeal. If it was fun. If our trailer held up. We wanted people to like it. We believed they would like it but we did not know. Coming out of the show, we knew they would. We had hard evidence that this was a truth. Most people liked the artwork, most people enjoyed the game when they played it. We could be confident in our product when marketing it. That's a great feeling.
We also got a slew of great testimonials. All through the play testing phase I had my family give the game several play overs, I never received the ringing endorsements everyone says family gives. They were our harshest critics, yanking the product in every direction. However, the perception of reviewers is that family do not count as independent voices. So you need a public opinion. An unbiased (and sometimes completely biased competitor's opinion) to woo them. Obtaining these comments really helped. I could prove to a third party that people, random people, really liked our game and it was at a recognized event in Australia. That was really good.
We also got tweeted about by @lisadempster. (Thanks!) That's very encouraging.
Benefits for Networking
In addition my boss meet Stephen Heller from MMGN at the event. He is an excellent a game journalist / reviewer and has really got behind our company with coverage and support. (We're still waiting on tender hooks for the final review but it should be out this week , fingers crossed it's positive) :).
The boss also meet with Chris Watts from Play-Bit Entertainment, and talked with some passionate game developers and colleges / professors really trying to build the game industry such as Hellen from RMIT and Labtrobe. I hope that we'll get to know them more and more over the upcoming years because they sound like great people and I'm really keen to meet them.
The Dark Tunnel of Psychological Spectacles
Removed due to editorial control
Freeplay 2011 was great. We meet wonderful people and were really able to network with some amazing individuals. We were able to put our game through the fires of public testing, get some additional marketing material and make our product even better. Really looking forward to it next year and I hope to be able to actually attend and hawk our product on the stand. :)
Oh, by the way, if you'd like to have a look at the finished product, our game can be found here. It's only $0.99 (AUD) So, we'd love it if you supported us and brought it. Cause y'know, the Freeplay attendees thought it was pretty rad. :)