Third Time's A Charm

The final period of any project is a uniquely stressful time. The pressure of working to a deadline - whether arbitrary or financial - can really take its toll on your health, both physical and mental.

Glyph Quest Chronicles is no different.


Physical

Game dev family
The physical issues revolve mainly around a lack of sleep. Late nights - I can't recall the last time I went to bed before 3:30am - and long days. Those days are pretty full too. Most of our time is spent working but there's a lot of stuff to do with Willow too. I can't stress enough how lucky we've been with her - she's pretty self-sufficient and very good at entertaining herself*. All other things have fallen by the wayside.

Our house is a mess. We're waiting for the kitchen to develop its own sentience and feeling of self-worth so that it might decide that it needs to do the washing up. We dare not move the sofa for fear of what creatures might dwell underneath. A navigable path between discarded toys, abandoned foodstuff and other assorted detritus is what passes for our living room floor. A shelf in our wardrobe has decided to end it all, taking the one below it along for the ride and yet we carry on as normal - the floordrobe is in full effect.

Mental

When I do go to bed, I find it very hard to switch off. Despite being very tired, the brain just keeps going. What about this thing? Did you actually fix that? Oh, don't forget that you haven't written this bit yet! Hey, I've got a great idea for a game! This, in turn, feeds back into the physical resulting in more tiredness and being run down. None of this has been helped by a bout of illness that has gone through the three of us and is just starting its second lap now...

He's back! Everyone's favourite small hog.

Submission


But we're here now. The build has been built. Some minor XCode** and iTunesConnect*** quibbles aside, it has been uploaded and is currently Waiting For Review. With what happened with the first one, I'm quietly confident that I've actually done it right this time.

Now we wait.

Thing is, this isn't even the proper launch. We've elected to go for a 'soft' launch. To those not in the know, that means launching in a select group of territories rather than worldwide so that you can test the water. Consider it a bit of a shakedown - like a beta test but instead of picking up on bugs, you're using it to pick up on player habits and see if the monetisation works and so on.

We've chosen four territories for this - Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The trick to a soft launch appears to be picking a territory that will give you representative data without torpedoing your actual launch. That is, you only get one chance at the launch and that window is the most important time in the game's lifespan, so you'd better get it right. One way of looking at it is that we're sacrificing these territories for data. Another is that we're saying "Hey friends! You get our game early! Send us Smash!".

Plenty of positive feedback about the Warhamsters
The beta, BTW, was very successful. Our loyal bunch of bug hounds gave us plenty of feedback and have ensured that, whatever happens, this will be our most polished and bug-free release yet. Oh, I'm not saying they found everything - I'll never assume that every bug has been quashed - but it's an order of magnitude better off for it. Either way, big props to the TouchArcade forums.

As well as the general public, we were also very lucky to be able to call on people like Nick and Mike - people with bonefide design skills that I trust to bring the serious design critique. With game design, I believe you should be able to justify any and each decision you've made. That means you need people to ask the tough questions and point out the flaws so you can address them properly. If you've ever met me in person, you'll know that there's nothing I love more than a good argument about how a particular game could and should work...

But, to return to the mental problem, my new bag is "What if the game doesn't sell at all?".

As I see it, we face several problems.

Discoverabilty

This is not really news. There are plenty of new games out there, so expecting people to stumble on to ours is a big ask. Whilst a lot rides on being featured, we're not particularly worried on that front -
they've featured our other games before, this one is even better and we've got a good relationship / dialogue with Apple. We should, therefore, be in a good position to be featured. It's by no means a certainty, but I think we've done all we can so there's no sense worrying about it now.

Discoverability is only a part of it though. All that does is place your game in front of eyeballs. The owner of said eyeballs still has to download the game - something obviously made easier by the fact that it doesn't cost them anything to do so, so hopefully we'll pick up on a bunch of people who are prepared to give it a punt.

See? It's got Match-3 written all over it

Preconceptions

Our next problem is the fact that it just looks like a match-3 game. Sure, it's got a great art style and some amazing characters, but then again, so do an awful lot of other puzzle games out there. Without actually playing the game, it's very hard for people to get a sense of just how deep and compelling it is. How the underlying mechanics play off each other and allow for plenty of player authorship and skill.

Monetisation

Finally, we have the biggie - how well the game monetises. It may seem obvious, but we need this game to be a financial success. Not for our own benefit, but in order to repay the trust of our publisher and ensure that they are not left out of pocket for this enterprise. Chorus have taken a big risk with us and, as a close friend, we don't want to let them down. If I'm honest, I think this is what is contributing to the mental stress more than anything.

This is really what the soft-launch is really about - to hoover up a bunch of analytics that will show us how people are playing the game and where they're spending the money. Before we get that data though, I have a couple of worrying thoughts.

The way we monetise is fairly standard: The game features two currencies - one standard and one premium or 'hard'. Standard currency is accumulated through gameplay and is used to buy in-game items or goes towards upgrading equipment. Hard currency is drip-fed through achievements and filling the loyalty card as well as being purchasable with real money. It is used to upgrade spells and refill the energy gauge.

Our feeling - from nothing other than experience in playing these sorts of games and other, purely anecdotal evidence - is that people don't pay for stamina. That has been largely proved correct with the limited sample data from the beta where the analytics are telling me that, when prompted with the option to exchange hard currency for stamina so they could carry on playing, 100% of the people refused.

The other thing is that as achievements are generally front-loaded to reward players early, there's no real reason to spend on hard currency early in the game. By the time they reach a point where they've used up all of their initial currency, they're quite far into the game and, although they'll have a lot to spend it on, the big problem is that the game will need exceptional retention for people to get that far. Thankfully, more than anything, that's something that relies on quality, compelling gameplay, which we think we've got covered, but it's still a major worry. 

My feeling is that the majority of our revenue will come from the non-consumable Alchemist (coin doubler) and Loyalty Card purchases. That and the Starter Pack bundle which combines the pair of them as well as some currency and crafting materials at a bargain price.

Also, in what will doubtless have traditional F2P evangelists head-desking with aplomb, we've got Patron Mode. Spend enough money in the game and we bin off the energy model. You're then free to play as much as you like. From a traditional F2P standpoint, this is suicide as it removes whales. For gamers, it is, in theory, what they've been asking for even if there is compelling evidence to suggest that one-time payments for things just don't really work in the mobile space. Of course, there's another argument that states that, since no-one pays for stamina anyway, there's nothing to lose by trying this and surely it'll get us some goodwill?

So there you have it. In theory, Glyph Quest Chronicles should be out this week in Scandinavia. That doesn't mean to say we're done - there's still plenty of work that has to happen before the worldwide launch. We're still waiting on localisation to come back - then it'll have to go back again for extras and the odd tweak here and there. Then there's Facebook integration. And that's before we even get to the monetisation and balancing tweaks we have to make based on the feedback.

Leanne did not enjoy making this guy at all
But for today, at least, I think I might take a bit of a break.

*Although at the time of writing, she was having a big ol' strop and has had to be put down for a nap...
** There are always XCode and iTunesConnect quibbles. Big points to young Parker who is somehow able to debug my code through Facebook when all I do is cut and paste error logs.
*** Top tip: Does it say there's a problem with your localisation? What it actually means is that you're missing a couple of screenshots. Very helpful...

Comments

  1. Great read if a little scary

    When do you publish in the UK?

    (Fobstaa)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. An interesting question. We really need to push the button before the end of this month. It seems... attainable.

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