And share the shortened link with your friends: bit.ly/WSS-iOS
If you’re not sure what “pre-ordering” means, read on…
What Is A Pre-Order?
When a game is available for pre-order, it’s very close to launching on the App Store. So close in fact, that you can tell Apple you want to download the game the instant it becomes available on the App Store! Because Apple knows our game is launching so soon, they may place Where Shadows Slumber on a special “Coming Soon” section of the App Store to advertise it to their customers.
You can’t play it until the game is really available on September 20th, but you can share it with all of your friends! If you pre-order the game, you’ll be charged $4.99 USD on September 20th and the game will load on your device that day.
Tired of waiting for the game to launch? Sorry… we couldn’t pass up this marketing opportunity. Getting the game on App Store’s “Coming Soon” list is a huge boost for a small studio like ours! Besides, it ensures that we can spend the next two weeks marketing and talking to journalists before players get their hands on the game. When people start playing, I’m sure I’ll have to be glued to Twitter and Gmail answering people’s questions and giving them cryptic hints. It’s nice to have a reprieve… this is the calm before the storm.
Do I Have To Buy The Game Right Now?
Yes, you do.
Ok, not really. You can wait until the game launches for real on September 20th before committing to a purchase. Some people like to wait until reviews come out from other customers or game journalists – that’s fine with us. (I do that, too) Chances are that if you follow this blog, you’ve already decided that you’re buying the game. If that’s not the case, just wait a few weeks! We’re confident that Where Shadows Slumber will be a critical success. We’ve put years of work into this game, and we know you’ll be impressed with the final product.
Now that the development phase of our product life cycle is behind us, the Where Shadows Slumber team is putting all of its focus behind advertising the game in anticipation of our upcoming launch. Last night, I met with Alba, Noah, and Caroline at Buzzfeed’s NY headquarters to discuss our strategy. (Jack is knee deep in wedding preparation this week, but we sent him our notes afterward) Shout out to Caroline for hosting us and giving us a tour! The Buzzfeed offices are awesome. I made sure to line my pockets with free candy every time I said I was “going to the bathroom.”
We’ve been pretty transparent about our process these past two years. Though I won’t reveal our planned iOS release date in this post, I can share with you everything we discussed at our marketing meeting last night. I hope this give you a sense of how small indie teams try to spread the word about their products. You’ll notice we’re leaning heavily on free / earned advertising, with a smaller focus on paid advertising. You may also notice that this is a ton of work. As we say all the time, marketing is really a full time job! If you can get someone on your team who does that around the clock, go for it. Wearing multiple hats is pretty stressful.
OK, enough whining! Let’s dive into the details…
Teasing With Teasers
The standard formula for movie promotion these days seems to be:
Release a tiny teaser video that builds anticipation for a new product
Release a short video that announces the movie’s release date and builds anticipation for the next trailer
Release a trailer video that hypes up the final product once consumers can take some kind of market action (e.g. buying a movie ticket)
We decided to do something similar with Where Shadows Slumber. Over the next few weeks, you’ll see a few different videos go up on YouTube to announce the launch of the game. Alba composed different musical tracks for each video, and I’m going to film portions of the game to line up with them. (Play the audio file above to hear the rough cut – don’t worry, there isn’t supposed to be a video with it yet!)
Apple has a button on iTunes Connect that allows us to make the game available for pre-order. This wasn’t what we originally planned, but it seems like games that are available for pre-order are featured on a special part of the App Store. (Now that I have a bunch of iPhones lying around, I check the App Store constantly) If we can get on that pre-order list, we may be placed directly in front of a few million people each week. That would be awesome!
I’m not a big fan of pre-ordering games, personally. I tend to wait until games have been out for years before buying them. But I understand there are a lot of fans out there who don’t want to miss our game and want to play it the second it comes out. Also, any chance to get the game in a premium spot on the App Store is one we can’t afford to pass up. Stay tuned to this blog for more information! Teasers, trailers and announcements will all go up here as well as the Game Revenant Facebook Page, Twitter feed, and Instagram feed.
Journalists and Children First!
There’s another standard industry practice we decided to go with: emailing codes to reviewers ahead of time. Apple will give you 100 free promotional codes that allow iPhone users to download your game even if it’s not released to the public. As long as the build is in the iTunes Connect system and has been approved by Apple, they can use the code to get the game for 28 days.
Journalists will get the game ahead of time, and we’re going to insist that they don’t release their reviews before a certain date. (This date will be prior to the full release of the game, but will likely be after pre-orders have begun.) This is usually referred to as an embargo. I used to think it was a dirty word, but my feelings have changed now that I’m a publisher instead of a consumer. The purpose of an embargo is to make sure that smaller outlets don’t get left in the dust by big sites like IGN. You also want to ensure that people play your game thoroughly instead of rushing out a review. By telling people that their review can’t go live before a certain date, you’re giving everyone else time to catch up with the big boys.
We have no way of enforcing this. If Polygon decides to scoop everyone else, there’s nothing we can do against a media giant. I guess I just hold a grudge forever, and don’t send them a code next time? It’s a bit weird. Anyway, if you think an embargo is something only shady game developers do, I think you’re mistaken. If we insisted on a Day 1 embargo, though… that would be a different story. Reviews for the game will definitely come out before the game is playable by the public, have no fear!
The Where Shadows Slumber World Tour!
Ok, not really.
But at our meeting, we tried to list as many local educational institutions we could possibly think of, so we can go on tour giving lectures about the game. That probably doesn’t seem like something that would attract a massive audience, but I think it’s important. First of all, we’re all dying to talk about our game! We’d love to do a talk at the NYU Game Center, Stevens, some NY high schools, and any podcasts that would have us. We have so much knowledge to share!
More importantly though, we need content to post on our various social media channels to keep people engaged. We can’t just post GIFs of the game, or we’ll eventually give every one of our secrets away. So even if Jack and I talk about the game to a small room of 25 high school students, that video can then get posted to Facebook and reach 4,000 people. There’s really no speaking engagement too small or insignificant for us: everything can be spun into a good social media post.
Our list wasn’t very long, sadly. A lot of these institutions would rather see us become a success before booking us, rather than helping us attain success. No problem – I totally understand. We’ll see how the game does at launch, and try to jump from one talk to another. Hopefully we get to the point where people are dying to book us!
Do you have a classroom, podcast, or event that requires a speaker? Email me at contact@GameRevenant.com with details! We’re doing this pro-bono, so there’s no need for speaker fees or anything.
There aren’t too many conventions happening during the remainder of 2018, other than some Playcrafting stuff. So we’re definitely going to whatever Dan Butchko is throwing at the end of September / mid-October! If we put together an actual “tour,” I’ll put some kind of cool map graphic in a future blog post for you to all see. We might try for PAX East 2019, too. Man, it feels weird typing that. Remember PAX East 2017?
A Website Overhaul
Caroline mentioned last night that our current website could use an overhaul – it’s basically just a splash page right now, because that’s all we really needed. Fairly soon, we’ll be ready for the professional website to go live with screenshots from the final game and a few new features. I’m really excited about that! Web design was never my specialty, but it’s so important for putting on a good first impression.
Most people will experience our game for the first and only time through the App Store. But, for those fans who find out about our game via social media or some kind of ad, they’ll probably get sent to the website. What we have up right now is kind of like a demo website – it shows off the team, some awards we won, and our demo screenshots. We’ve also had a presskit up for a year or two, but I don’t know how many journalists availed themselves of that resource.
The new website should hopefully have a separate section for the team (so it doesn’t clog up the main stretch) as well as some sweet parallax effects. We checked out the Firewatch website and got a little jealous. Don’t be surprised if you see us do something similar in the future…
Wait – Are We Spending Any Money?
So far, everything we’ve mentioned has been free advertising. Since we don’t have any paid conventions planned, and the cost of train tickets to Brooklyn doesn’t really count, none of the above counts as “paid advertising.” That’s a good thing, because our tiny indie coffers are a bit empty these days.
However, we’ll be making use of a few sources of paid advertising. These ad networks let you dip your toe in the water with a little bit of money first before going crazy, so we’ll run some test ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Google Search. If you’ve ever wondered how these companies make money, this is how – from us! I also won a contest last year and was awarded $1,000 in credit for advertising on PocketGamer.com, so we may pick up one of their indie bundles.
Our budget is pretty low here: we’re talking less than $3,000 across ALL of these platforms, for the weeks leading up to launch and then a few weeks afterward. Personally, I would love to see the game make a ton of money before doubling down on these ads. I also need to check the stats on the ads themselves to see if people are really clicking through them to the App Store. If you aren’t careful, internet advertising becomes a dopamine game: put money in, see some orange bars fill up, get happy, and repeat. I want results! We may do an entire blog post about our ads if we get some interesting findings. Stay tuned…
Now that we have this plan in place, we have to actually do all of it! There’s still a few things left to plan, however. I want the team to have a spreadsheet listing every action item we need to do on launch day, with labels for who is responsible and the time this needs to go live. (This is stuff like “when do we post an announcement blog?” and “when do we all change our Facebook header to an advertisement for the game?”)
And of course, I need to plan out a whole series of teaser posts for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Our Instagram in particular could use some love… I’m just learning how to use that app, and we barely have any followers. I haven’t really spammed those channels over the past few years, but now is the time to let people know something is coming down the pipe. I always hear that you need to see something about 20 times before you’ll buy it. I’ve heard that at least 20 times, so it finally makes sense to me!
Recently, a friend of ours asked us to provide him some footage of Where Shadows Slumber in action for a highlight reel he’s making. That made me realize we never blogged about the topic of recording your game. I’ve gotten pretty good at recording images and footage of the game over the past few years, so why not share my tricks? It’s just one more thing I never thought I would have to do before I started doing game development, but our experience with SkyRunner taught us a lot.
So this blog post will save you some time if you’re looking for tips: here are the programs I recommend for recording images, GIFs, and video of your game!
Saad Khawaja’s Instant Screenshot
During the process of marketing your game, people will often ask you for a full-resolution screenshot of the game in action. To fulfill this request, you need to get the dimensions of the screen exactly right. For example, our game is made for phones in Portrait resolution. If we give someone an image that is in Landscape resolution, they’ll think the game is made for computers or game consoles instead. Getting the resolution right was really important to me, and I recognized quickly that the Microsoft Snipping Tool (more on that below) wasn’t going to give me the high quality screenshots I wanted.
After trying out a few plug-ins on the Unity Asset Store, this is the one I came away with: Saad Khawaja’s Instant Screenshot. It’s free and very easy to use. You can adjust the size of the final image, or set it to the current screen size which is super useful. You can take low quality images or blast the pixels up to an insane level. (I could probably make a banner-sized image with this tool!) Once it’s in your project, you’ll see it in the “Tools” window and after you click that it comes up like any other Unity window. Trust me, you will not regret making this tool part of your routine.
This one is just for Windows users, but there’s a program installed on every Windows machine called “Snipping Tool” – have you ever used it? Find it in your Search bar and save the shortcut. I keep Snipping Tool on my hotbar! That’s how useful it is.
Above, we discussed how sometimes you really need high-resolution screenshots at the exact size of the screen. However, often I need to record segments of the game for internal use. In these situations, like if I’m logging a bug in GitHub, it’s not helpful to have such a large image. My philosophy is that the image should be short and wide with the bug in the center of the picture. This way it will fit in nicely with the text of the bug report. I generally include some kind of note where I circle the problem, or draw a funny confused face. (This probably annoys Jack, but I’m sort of hoping it softens the blow of finding another bug in some far off corner of the game)
Fortunately, you can do all of this with Snipping Tool and you don’t even need to download it! Simply click the snip button, drag across a corner of your screen, draw on it with your mouse, and copy/paste the image where desired. You don’t even need to save the image to your computer if you like to live dangerously. Make Snipping Tool your go-to for capturing bug report images, and include as many images in your bug reports as you can. It will really help your team!
The image above is a GIF, and it was recorded using ScreenToGIF. The best way to explain the GIF file format is that it’s basically a digital flipbook. I may be dating myself here, but did you ever have those little Disney flipbooks as a kid where you could flip through them with your thumb and see the animation play out across a hundred tiny pages? That’s a GIF. They are all over the place, they’re great for advertising your game in motion, and the Internet loves them.
Before ScreenToGIF, I found it really difficult to make my own GIFs. I forgot what program I was using – who cares, it didn’t get the job done! Download this program for free here, and I promise you that you will not regret it. There’s a ton of settings you can tweak to get the image size, file size, and quality you want. It’s extremely user friendly. You can delete frames after you’re done recording too, which is such a nice feature. I’ve never had a problem posting these animated images to Facebook or Twitter. I’m not being paid off to say this: use ScreenToGIF!
Open Broadcaster Software
I wish I had a better option for recording video of our game, to be frank with you. (Note: I am always Frank with you, dear reader.) This program Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) was the main way I streamed on Twitch a while back when I used to do that. I then realized that it didn’t just stream your image to the Internet – you could also just record footage and save it to your computer. Neat!
Download OBS for free here. It’s not bad, but it’s not perfect either. It can record footage and capture audio too, which is helpful for progress updates like the image above. However, getting the screen resolution just right is pretty difficult. According to Alba and Noah’s finely trained ears, it does not do a good job recording sound from the computer either. But I’m willing to admit that could just be my fault… there are a ton of settings to configure, and I have no idea what I’m doing!
It doesn’t do your editing for you either: I recommend Adobe Premiere or Final Cut. Sadly, I know of no good free editing tools! You’re on your own, I’m afraid.
That’s all for now, folks. I hope this saves you a few days of frantic searching, downloading, and deleting. Thanks for reading, and happy recording!