There's still 17 hours to go, but this data probably isn't going to change that much:
For those new to the blog: once upon a time, I was technical director and designer on 2004's Spider-Man 2 game, where I invented a pretty cool swinging system that a lot of people liked. Now I'm bringing a mechanic like that back, making new grappling-and-swinging-and-wallrunning-and-tricks indie game Energy Hook for PC and Mac (and probably Linux) and I could really use your help, so I'm soon going to begin a Kickstarter campaign.
You can help by joining the community! Like Happion Labs on Facebook, where I'm giving away backer rewards and opportunities to play early builds of the game. To be notified when the Kickstarter campaign goes live, subscribe to our mailing list. To be notified at random times about whatever thought happens to be in my head, follow me on Twitter.
Jump and swing through the air ... run on walls (and ceilings!) ... zip-line and slide ... (and, if I meet my stretch goals, grind rails and glide) ... to amaze audiences and win races in the extreme sport of the future.
If you have any comments, questions, or ideas about how to raise awareness for this thing, let me know!
Continuing my thoughts on Purple Cow and making remarkable games...
The first time somebody does something ridiculous it's remarkable. That remarkability may help make them wildly succesful - the thing that made them remarkable may also just be a good idea. The problem is then when I look at that, and say, "Hey, if they can do it, so can I!"
But when I do it, it's not remarkable any more. Not just because it's already been done, but because a lot of other peopel jump in the same boat with me.
Here's a list of things in games that were remarkable once but aren't remarkable anymore:
Don't get me wrong, these things may all still be good ideas (Energy Hook is cel shaded and on Kickstarter because it's what we like) but they're not going to make a computer game stand out from the crowd.
What sorts of things might still be remarkable?
Art styles we've never or rarely seen before. Like the woodcut style art from Incredipede.
Bringing back looks and game genres that people think of as dead - though now that we've mined pixel art, vector graphics, adventure games, etc, I don't know if there are any left...
Going against trends. Some journalists were stoked that Field Runner 2 didn't have in app purchases, for example.
What if ... someone intentionally made a game that wasn't fun? That would be pretty remarkable.
Enter I Get This Call Every Day. Fun is not the point. It's art, yo. Chris Crawford once said something along these lines: Why do games have to be fun? Movies and books don't have to be fun - if they did have to be fun, a lot of the great movies and books would never have been made.
Instead of being fun, IGTCED immerses you in an experience. Borges once wrote a short story about torture where his unstructured prose was intended to make the reader feel tortured - the reader is immersed. Surely games are a better medium for such an endeavor - so we have the autobiographical I Get This Call Every Day, where the game is answering telephones and dealing with a particularly frustrating call. As an example of how it makes you feel David Galant's pain, in almost any other game, it would make sense to allow the player to skip the dialog. In IGTCED, that wouldn't make sense at all - the player has to experience the full torture, wait it out. There are other ways in which IGTCED makes you feel tortured, but I won't spoil it for you.
You might ask, "Why should I play it?" For the same reason you should watch Death of a Salesman or read Hamlet - tragedy gives catharsis. You'll be really glad you don't have a job answering phones, and that feeling will stay with you.
I have two incompatible beliefs. One is that we should make remarkable games. Another is we should just do it: write some code, lay out some assets, make some game, whether we feel we have a remarkable idea or not. Because perfectionism is an unhappiness habit. Because if we wait for that one perfect idea we might never make anything.
They're not that incompatible, actually. We can make a lot of games that we think aren't-that-remarkable, and maybe that's our insecurity talking. Maybe they're more remarkable than we think. They didn't expect Canabalt to be as huge as it was. Sage LaTorra just commented that he didn't think Dungeon World was particularly remarkable, but it is, in a variety of ways.
So how do we know? If our game is unremarkable or we're just being insecure?
If you're working on a game, you can get an idea how remarkable it is by sharing early. Post a youtube video. What percentage of likes do you get? How many views? You can compare that to other games. Put a link on reddit. How high does it get voted up? How much do you get retweeted on twitter? Etcetera. Far from an exact science. But it gives you an idea. Some say it's dangerous to show crap early, because people will think and say negative things about your game, but the real problem there is just that it hurts our feelings. It's not necessarily going to hurt our success down the road, and may even help as we fix and address those issues that they complain about.
And supposing our game is not that remarkable yet. Almost nobody Likes. Nobody comments. What do we do then?
Well, we could abandon it and start over. Try another idea. Shoot our baby in the crib. That's probably the right choice - stop trying to polish the turd, stop throwing good resources after bad. We've learned a lot and hopefully enjoyed the process and we'll probably just have to accept that's all we're getting out of it, this time.
Or we could keep working on it, trying to make it remarkable.
Nobody can help us with that decision - even if we write a long list of pros and cons, assigning point values at each one, we're still going by our gut at some level.
One thing we shouldn't do is keep shilling our unremarkable game. Let's not bother the press and our friends anymore until we've made some kind of significant improvement.
So here's my question: can you make an unremarkable game remarkable? How would you do it? And let's hear stories about games that were or seemed unremarkable at first but turned a corner.
Continuing my thoughts on Purple Cow as applied to games.
Just to reiterate, you've got to stand out, be a purple cow, to get noticed in this cluttered world. "Be remarkable," is one of Godin's key phrases.
You might get the idea from my last post that game-jam-sized games can't be purple cows. Of course they can. Schizoid was one. Schizoid actually was pretty remarkable - not only was it aggressively about the co-op, it was weird. Hard-to-describe weird. There was no good elevator pitch for it. There was no shooting! It was kind of like Pac Man in the way you'd eat dots, but analog - you could move any direction, and then there was the whole color coded thing on top of that.
But to this day, when I talk about Schizoid to people, if they've heard of it, they say, "Oh yeah, wasn't that a twin-stick shooter?"
To which I usually say, trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice, "Well, I guess, but you couldn't shoot."
But this isn't their bad; this is human nature. We see something and we immediately want to put it in a category and feel like we understand it. If your game even looks slightly like another game in its screenshots and trailers, people are going to assume it's more-or-less a clone, lump it in the category, and move on. People looked at our screenshots and said 'glowy bloomy saturated colors with spaceships - must be another twin-stick shooter.'
So it's not enough to be remarkable, you still need to get the message out why it's remarkable, and overkill is probably the order of the day there. Maybe we should have named the game something like "Co-operate!" (looking at Loadout! and Incredipede as examples there - some of what makes those games stand out is right in their titles) and maybe our look should have been something like this:
Something like that anyway. Something that would clearly show the homage to Pac-Man, clearly show it's a two-player game and color-coded, and not remind anyone of Geometry Wars or Flow, the games du jour.
And maybe our trailer should have explicitly said, in big letters, "Red can eat red. Red cannot eat blue." and vice versa, so people who weren't paying that close attention would notice it.
How is your game remarkable and how are you making that clear?
I read Seth Godin's Purple Cow last year and it was a revelation: it made me realize I had lost my way as a game maker and artist.
The main thrust of the book - in a sea of white cows, a purple cow will stand out. Don't try to be like everyone else, do something remarkable. Literally "remarkable" - as in, people will make remarks about it. News about your product will go at least a little bit viral.
When I read it, I had been making game-jam-sized games like We're No Angels and sixty second shooter, and wondering if there was anything I could do to make sixty second shooter more succesful, but I had to be honest with myself: sixty second shooter is fairly unremarkable. It's just a mash-up of a couple other genres with programmer art. Sure, there are a few remarks one could make about it:
Which is a big part of why I'm stepping up and making Energy Hook. It's the most remarkable project I can think of that we can do with almost no funding.
Also, Purple Cow has given me a lens with which to look at other people's games. I often will give people feedback on their games and almost always the first thing the games have me asking is, "What is remarkable about this? Why should I play it, and talk about it, when there's a thousand other games out there?"
Because, wow, the game market isn't a sea of white cows. It's a technicolor ocean of all shapes and colors. To stand out, your cow has to be a frickin' ultraviolet light.
So - here's something we can do. Put a link to the website for the game you're working on in the comments, and, in just a few sentences, tell us why it's remarkable. What makes it purple? Go!
I think I may have missed the most important thing with my last post on hubris. It's not just the feedback on your product you have to listen to. It's any kind of advice whatsoever. And you have to really listen.
Going from corporate to indie is a completely different sport, and what works for corporate game development doesn't necessarily work for indie and may even be harmful. Overlarge teams, stealth mode, and overly rigorous coding practices are just a few things that pop to mind immediately. So the overarching thing is it's valuable to listen to other indies and learn the rules of this strange new sport. You're practically starting over.
Just one example - Torpex's PR guy told us we should make a MySpace page. (Yeah, this was a while ago.) He may have been wrong on the details but he was right on the idea - we should have started doing our own social marketing / networking, whether it was MySpace or Facebook or what. Our excuses for ignoring his advice were twofold - neither one of us wanted to take on the extra work, and it's hard to get started. When you first put up a page like that you're going to start with an unimpressive number of likes and fans, and the worry is that creates a sort of unimpressive social proof. "They only have fifty likes? Pffft." But you've got to start somewhere, and the sooner you start the better. Who knows how much of a community Torpex could have built up over the years.
This is something I've learned from playing story games and reading Keith Johnstone: real listening means allowing yourself to be changed. It's not enough just to hear someone.
Even without the hubris of being succesful in the world, most people have a nearly instinctive tendency to react negatively to new information. Some management science calls it 'reactance'; child psychologists call it 'bad first reaction.' We tend to shoot down others ideas. We don't want to be changed. When I was told to not launch the Kickstarter yet, my first reaction was, "But! Out of money out of time!" But that was just an excuse. I just didn't want to be changed.
If you can recognize that tendency in yourself, you can get past it.
And, speaking of social proof on social networks, please help me build some up by liking the Happion Labs / Energy Hook facebook page.
Here's what I've come up with for the description of sixty second shooter Deluxe for the Playstation Store:
You only have sixty seconds to destroy as many targets as possible in this new-and-improved version of sixty second shooter, the only dual-stick shooter you can play in the time it takes to microwave a frozen burrito.
At Happion Laboratories, our scientists have worked tirelessly to bring you a dual-stick shooter that will stimulate production of the highest possible levels of adrenaline and dopamine in your central nervous system - for maximum euphoria and excitement. Warning, side-effects may include: dry eyes, dry mouth, increased heart rate, increased perspiration, and twitchy fingers.
Will you press your luck and fly to the deep levels where the truly treacherous enemies await? Will you shoot your enemies on sight or wait until you've racked up a higher multiplier? Will you use your missiles to build a large chain bonus - or to secure an area - or to save yourself at the last second? Will you detonate the bombs immediately or lure your foes to them first? Will you unlock the death blossom? Although the game is very short, its strategies are very deep.
“This game is a hidden gem. It's worth getting into.”
- Tomo Moriwaki, producer of Medal of Honor and creative director of Spider-Man 2
Created by Jamie Fristrom, the game developer behind the critically acclaimed and award-winning games Spider-Man 2 and Schizoid.
Well? What do you think? If you had a PSM device, would you buy it (I'm thinking ~$3 USD)? Why not?
While I was making Schizoid I was fairly quiet on the blog. People have asked me why and I never got around to answering. I just recently read Inbound Marketing - which is a decent book, though it's mostly common sense. (Here's how to make a Twitter account. Here's how to make a Facebook page.) It reminded me of the Schizoid days and made me wonder, "Yeah, why didn't I do much inbound stuff back then?"
You might think it was because I was busy coding, but the main reason was actually different. We had a PR guy and his strategy, a strategy somewhat left over from selling-in-retail days, was to offer exclusives to various print and web magazines. And he had the contacts where he could make that happen.
Which meant that on the blog I had to stay pretty quiet about what we were doing. I couldn't show off a new screenshot every couple weeks or anything like that - those screenshots were potential magazine exclusives.
And, on the whole, it seemed like his methods worked. We got plenty of exposure in various websites and magazines. And we had a whole lot of downloads in the early days of the launch. We might like to grouse about how we were still in Soul Caliber's blast radius, releasing just a week after it did, or complain that Microsoft could have promoted us more, but honestly, we had no business complaining.
Our conversion rate, though, was poor. And mostly that's our bad. The game wasn't as catchy as we thought it was. We also didn't spam people with an upsell screen after every level, which is commonplace now (and studies have shown that it works.) The game was too hard and even the demo was too hard.
But I wonder - if we had done inbound marketing instead - if we had tried building relationships with our future players via the blog, twitter, facebook, etcetera - might more people have given us the benefit of the doubt, gotten over the difficulty curve, found a friend to play with, because they want us to succeed, because, hey, that Jamie dude is following me on Twitter!
Eh, probably not. But it's fun to think about. Anyhow, I don't have the PR guy anymore or many contacts with the big websites, so at this point inbound marketing is all I've got. So I've been stepping up my efforts there, as maybe some of you can tell:
Part of me feels a little squicky about the whole thing. I've been blogging for eight years here - and this is my third blog (before gamedevleague I had one on editthispage.com, RIP) - I've been blogging at least for a decade. And I always did it just because I liked it. It was fun; I liked the attention; and some people found it useful. Having an ulterior motive (above and beyond liking attention) is a bit weird. Not stopping me, though!