Kyle Comet and the Toxic Laboratory

A quick update to say that a new game is on the Apple iOS AppStore.
Kyle Comet is a young space hero that I once wrote a story about and self published. You can find it on Amazon here. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Planet-X-Mark-Wilcox/dp/1326413090)

I always wanted to create a series of games featuring a young space cadet type hero.

The premise of the game is pretty straight forward; shoot, jump and collect the goodies. I guess it’s an endless runner in that there is no structure to the game other than throwing obstacles down in front of you as you run.

This is deliberate. Akari took a lot of work in developing the level structures and writing the tools to craft all of that. I wanted a break from that style of development.

Jetpack Joyride provided a little inspiration for Kyle. It’s a game I’d played and enjoyed for some time. Even down to the cute and cartoony visuals. But my visual style is more of a pixel art style.

With The Toxic Laboratory I wanted every element to be fun.

The jump > shoot dynamic was something I’d used before and enjoyed. It allows for the game being operated with a single tap to the screen. As you tap the character jumps and shoots simultaneously. The first tap is a tiny jump but if you follow it up quickly with a second tap the character effectively takes off.

Having mastered that dynamic I drew a jetpack onto the character’s back and added smoke puffs to help illustrate the action.

Once Kyle’s character is off the ground you can ‘fly him’ for quite a stretch. Which is pretty cool as there’s plenty of floating goodies to collect.

A follow up to The Toxic Laboratory is in development just now; Kyle Comet and the Lost Moon. The Lost Moon adds platforms and more of a platformer mentality to the action.

Kyle Comet and the Toxic Laboratory is available now on the iOS AppStore.

 

Further adventures in marketing arcade games on the App Store

It’s always easier to make decisions when you’re armed with data.
This morning we pulled down some stats from Apple’s reporting site to pore over the numbers.
(We don’t currently publish to Google Play, though that will come soon)

To Charge or Not to Charge

We released an arcade game (Chaos Grid) to the App Store two weeks ago and initially offered it for free.
In a short space of time we’d had just over 800 installs. 95% of those came from Japan.

It’s easy to assume that this is an indication that the game would be successful if we charged for it.
So we did and opted for the lowest tier of pricing – 99p.

7 days later and we’ve had an additional 12 installs.
Less Apple’s cut that comes in at $8.06 (£6.40)

Our assumption was wrong.
There’s work to be done before we  can consider charging for the game.

There are other ways to monetise the game.
In-app Purchasing and advertising being the obvious choices. But we reject these as they aren’t true to our ‘promise’ to the customer.

We’re doing this to ‘relive the thrills of the video game arcade’.
It’s our ‘Why?’, if you like.

So we gave it about 4 seconds worth of thought and switched it back to free of charge.
Overnight the installs are back into double figures.

I guess it’s far better to have the game installed on numerous iPhones and iPads than sat there on the app store gathering dust.
A number of things happen when the game is installed:

  • It gets played
  • Our brand is all over the game’s splash screen
  • It (potentially) gets talked about and shared

But there was something else that occurred to us; the Japanese market was up for these games.
When we uploaded the game to the store we selected to have it available in every territory but we have no control over the exposure in each territory. So that came as a pleasant surprise.

Localisation and Culture

The screenshots that we provided for the game’s entry on the app store contain text. English text (above).
Words such as ‘RETRO ACTION’ and ‘ARCADE THRILLS’.
I’d guess that these ‘calls to action’ are wasted on the Japanese audience. They are probably far more interested in the screenshots than any blurb we wrap around it.
iTunes Connect (the developer’s gateway to the app store) offers the ability to provide localised content. We could go to the trouble of translating any words into multiple languages. But is it worth it? Would those words significantly influence the viewer to become a buyer?
I doubt it.

Far better to offer something more culturally relevant.
In the west we appear to use the screenshot as the key persuader in the buying process for an unknown title.
It’s a lot like picking up an X-Box game in the store and immediately flipping it over to see a screenshot of the game on the back cover.
But in Japan consumers warm to specific imagery. Anime style imagery. It’s relevant to them and makes the game feel less ‘alien’. The Japanese are proud of their culture and appear to warm to any attempts to embrace it.

Here’s a useful link that forms part of our on-going research into marketing on the app stores: https://moz.com/blog/app-store-rankings-formula-deconstructed-in-5-mad-science-experiments

Targets and thinking like a casual mobile gamer

I have a number of targets for this year with Space Monster Games but crucially I have one goal that stands out above all others; grow traffic to Playstar.

Playstar logo

The current visitor count stands at around 250,000 a month. I’m happy with that but I want to double it by January 1st 2015. What’s more I want to double it organically. i.e. not spend money promoting the site.

I noted a few points down relating to my targets that I thought might be worth sharing here.

Get a better spread of traffic sources

Just now I take regular traffic from a few sites. Referral figures run at anywhere between 40% and 60% daily. I have always assumed that the remainder have the arcade bookmarked but I suppose that Google’s Analytics script simply doesn’t have enough information to determine a source. This could be for a number of reasons.
I’ve often wondered, for example, what the effect of launching the site from within an embedded browser inside an app might return. I’m guessing that it would be returned as direct or not set since there’s no referring URL.
Either way it won’t do any harm to promote the arcade organically and be visible on a broader range and number of related sites.
Which leads me nicely on to…

Improved Page Rank

Playstar is a new site. It’s been actively maintained for less than 6 months. In that time I’ve used all the expected methods of communicating its existence via social media including Facebook and Twitter. But predictably its ranking within Google is low. Around 1/10.

By the end of 2014 I’d like to see that up at around 4/10.

How will I do that? This is of course the million dollar question. How on earth do you increase your Google Page Ranking for a mobile web gaming site?

Well I’ve pondered this question over and over and ultimately I arrive right back at the beginning. There is no magic solution specific to promoting a mobile web gaming site. It is after all just a web site. So to succeed I simply promote it as I would any other web site.

Demographics

Where and how I promote it warrants a little more thought.
I sometimes try and visualise my audience. Right down to the person.

  • What do they look like?
  • Where do they live?
  • What is their employment / education status?
  • How old are they?
  • What budget do they have?
  • What are their interests?

In an attempt to flesh this out a bit I’ve attempted to become my target audience!

What does a mobile gamer (never mind the web bit for now) do to find games to play?
Well this really does depend upon an array of things (including but not at all limited to):

  • Handset used
  • Budget
  • Internet connection / reliability
  • Demographic

The analytics collected from Playstar thus far inform me that the majority (60%) of visitors are male and aged somewhere between 16 and 36.
They are also casual / hardcore gamers, savvy parents, photography enthusiasts and petrol heads!
OK, so good luck targetting that audience with a single strategy. Google’s assumptions based algorithms for determining this data are simply not reliable enough.

To get inside the head of a typical mobile gamer it’s probably more reliable to collect a few handsets and go looking for games. Free games. The word FREE is key here.

Freemium

Annoyingly In App Purchasing (the freemium model) has taken off in a big way. This essentially renders games free at the point of download and in many cases the gamer gets a satisfactory experience without spending any cash. This of course means that a gamer looking for a free game can simply head to an app store and sniff out a freemium game. Their first port of call being the app store means that they are potentially less inclined to use a search engine to find a free game.

Competing with the countless millions of app store games is not for me. Besides I want to crush the app stores and drive everyone toward browser gaming!

But am I missing a trick here? Why not use the app stores? Why not submit my games to the app store as a means of promoting the arcade. The “footfall” through the app stores is huge. Even 0.01% of daily app store traffic at least seeing a screenshot of my games might warrant further investigation.
I could offer the games for free such they they stand a better chance of download and then splash my branding all over them in the hope that the gamer will take the next step and go visit the arcade.

Why visit the arcade when they can just launch the app I hear you ask?
It’s a good point but the arcade is more than just a bunch of games. Its feature set is growing and is largely based around high scores and achievements. This functionality wouldn’t extend to the app store. It would be important to stress that point.

As positive as this sounds it still seems like fishing with a crude wooden stick and a piece of string in a lake the size of Australia.

I’m brought back to search engines; where the same analogy could of course be applied. I just feel there is a little more control with the search engines.

Search Engine Optimisation

Encouragingly there is obviously a hunger for free games.

Surely these gamers are willing to play anything. And that must include mobile web games.
Naturally therefore there must be a significant volume of gamers using Google to search for “free mobile games” or “free online games”. Not necessarily “free mobile web games” but that will change with time.
The challenge here is in making my “free mobile web game” site stand up alongside the “free mobile game” options returned in Google.

SEO best practices essentially point to a couple of strategies:

  • Keep talking about your site (via all means)
  • Share your site with as many people as you can

It’s certainly not going to do any harm and to this end I have a blog and social media accounts. I’m less inclined to litter forums and blog comments with drivel purely to get links as I think it devalues the brand. But is this the right approach?

If I were a gamer looking for free games what would drive me toward a mobile web gaming site? Who might I be?

  • A disillusioned iOS gamer used to Flash gaming in my PC’s browser?
  • The frustrated owner of a cheap handset with an assumption that nothing will run because it’s so terrible?
  • A novice who simply taps “free games” in to the Google box that sits on the home screen of Android devices?

This kind of thing intrigues me. To properly reach out to a potential mobile web gaming audience I need to think and behave like a mobile gamer.

Education

There is of course another approach.
Rather than waiting for the world to catch up with the notion of mobile web gaming, tell them about it.
Stand out from the crowd as somebody who is an authority on mobile web gaming. Not just a gaming portal but an innovator. A designer, developer and arcade owner.
There’s some merit in this but what would concern me is that it places a direct relationship between the developer and the arcade; the technology and the fun.

I would really want the arcade to stand out as a pure means of escape without linking it directly to the nuts and bolts that go in to its production. As a boy playing Space Invaders et al I couldn’t have cared less about who designed the games and how they made it in to the arcade.
But in this age of maximising web exposure it’s important to play to your strengths. This blog is as much of a weapon in that sense as the arcade and its games.

Conclusion

Drawing conclusions from all of this is tough but one thing has emerged that I will take on board.
I need to be the gamer. I need to actually become the audience.
To this end I need to ditch using an iPhone 5s as my daily phone and walk around with a Samsung Galaxy model for a week or so. Samsung devices are by far the most popular handsets visiting the arcade.
I’d probably pick a low to mid-range Galaxy phone running a minimum of Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0). An SII perhaps.
I’ll treat it as my main phone and source of all mobile gaming. I’ll set my budget to zero and at every point I want to play a game of some kind I’ll shun the iOS devices in favour of the Samsung.
It will be hugely frustrating initially I’m sure but hopefully will yield some interesting results.

All comments, suggestions and opinions welcomed.

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