Defender's Quest Deployment Strategy

We just launched our new game, Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten, for PC/Mac/Linux, a few days ago, and have been pretty surprised at our initial success.  Only time will tell if that trend continues, but for now we've seen both brisk sales and some great critical reviews.



Today I'd like to talk about the underlying deployment strategy behind Defender's Quest.

Hi, I'm a PC. (and a Mac, and a Linux...)


It seems all the cool kids are developing for iOS/Android these days.  They are much braver souls than I, and I wish them the best, for to me those markets look like bloody red oceans*.  

*We might expand into them eventually if we do well on PC, of course. Just, not a great place to start.

People often talk about how "big" the iOS market is (100 million! 200 million!), and that's true, but it's also highly competitive, the discovery problems are well-documented, and choices are limited.  In contrast, there's about a billion personal computers in use throughout the world, and though discovery is still a challenge, you have the open toolset of the PC at your disposal.  

Where is someone likely to hear about your game? On a website. More than likely on a PC*.  The next thing I want that person to do is play our free demo and fall in love with our game. Then I want them to buy it.  I don't want them to read an article and think, "I'll have to remember that game next time I'm on the train or sign onto XBOX Live."  No.  I want them to read the article, and if they like what they hear, try it, and buy it.**

I can't tell you how many interesting games I've come across that I wanted to buy but couldn't because they were only for iOS, or for XBLA, or whatever.  I don't own any iOS devices, nor an XBOX.  Plenty of people have these, but I'm also willing to bet those cool cats also have access to a PC.  

*It's true more people are browsing on smartphones/tablets, etc, so this might change in the future, but the majority are PC-bound for the time-being, and I don't see PC's becoming obsolete anytime soon.

**To sweeten the deal, I usually send out a coupon code to any and all reviewers to post for their readers that's for a $1 off until the end of the month.

It may not be the easiest platform to develop for, but it certainly is the easiest way to get a game in someone's hands. 

I remember the first XNA game I made many years ago. After fiddling with a friend's computer for half an hour getting it to install, the title screen finally appeared in all its glory.  I stood back and triumphantly proclaimed, "Ta Da!"..... and then sheepishly asked, "Ummm... have you got an XBOX 360 controller?"

From then on I decided I would make it as easy as possible for people to play my games, because I wanted as many people as possible to play them.  

This seems so obvious as to be a tautology, but it wasn't always so clear.

Try it, you'll like it!



That's the old grocery store saying, at least.  I'm pretty surprised at how difficult it is to play a demo for most commercial games these days.  For most PC downloadable titles, you have to download a giant file, remember where it went, install it, and then find the desktop icon and run the program. That's four steps, with two big wait periods, and that's if the installer doesn't require a reboot, online activation, or a bunch of other dependencies.  Steam does a better job, but even then you have to download something and check back later.

Even for facebook games, I have to remember my facebook password, log in, click on the thing, relinquish a chunk of my privacy, and then start playing. That's slightly easier, but given how much I hate facebook, I personally find it even more annoying.


It should not be this hard to play a demo. 


When you arrive at www.defendersquest.com, right below the gameplay video is this:



This also happens to be on every page of the site, and is repeated at the bottom of longer pages.
Clicking on "TRY Free Demo" takes you here:



You're playing the demo! You don't have to download any files or install anything.  All you have to do is click once and you're there. One step, one short wait, and zero moments of "where-did-I-put-that-thing-ah-forget-it-who-cares!"  

I don't have a control setup to compare against, but I'm reasonably sure this has drastically improved our bounce rate. Our goal is to get as many people as possible to play the demo, and the entire page is designed to make that as easy as possible.

To that end, some people actually do prefer a downloadable installer, so they can get the full desktop experience with native fullscreen resolution switching, etc. For these folks, these links are just below the browser demo, as both torrents and direct links:



A Generous Demo

Once we get people to play the demo, we have to deliver the goods, and the manner in which we present the demo is just as important as the game's quality.

People have been commenting that our demo is quite long by most standards, about 1-2 hours. There's no time limit, and it includes the first 2 of 7 total acts, or about 20% of the total game (the later acts are longer).

One of the major reasons for not buying a game is not knowing what you're getting, and is a commonly cited reason for pirating a game*.  A generously long demo is our way of making it clear to players exactly what kind of experience they can expect.  Many developers are wary of giving long demos, fearing players will figure they've gotten enough milk for free, so why buy the cow?

*Not sure if that's just a rationalization, but making the demo easier to find and play then a pirated copy is a first step in testing that hypothesis.



Since we're a Tower Defense / RPG hybrid, there's several reasons to buy - first, the player wants to know what happens next in the story, second, we've given the player a tiny taste of the mechanics while suggesting that there's plenty more to come, and third, the player can see that they've only scratched the surface of filling out their party's roster and skill trees, knowing that things will get good in the next five acts.

Another reason for an easily playable demo is to let parents determine if the game is safe for their kids*. We provide a prominent "is it safe for my kids" link with a detailed content rundown, and along with a browser-based demo, there should be plenty of information to make a judgment. 

*I'm pretty surprised that more games don't offer something like this - the ESRB ratings don't really tell you much by themselves.  I mean, there's "Halo M", and "Gears of War M", after all.

Finally, we offer an option to export your save file from the demo, which you can import into the full version. We mention this prominently both in the demo itself as well as on the landing page to buy the game if you came from the link in the demo.  We want the player to know her time spent playing the demo wasn't wasted.


PC Goodness

This is a PC game.  To that end, we included a lot of little touches that take advantage of that specific platform and make it as enjoyable as possible.

1) Native full-screen resolution switching
2) Button that shows you where all your data files are stored
3) A ridiculously detailed options menu
4) All the configurable controls and hotkeys you can eat
5) A 100% tab-navigable interface on all screens
6) Accessibility options for the disabled, etc.
7) Experience multiplier to speed up/slow down the game's pace
8) Cutscenes you can skip, pause, and re-watch at any time
9) Turn dialogue and tutorials on/off
10) Layered challenges to make the game as hard/easy as you want
11) Play the game at any speed ranging from 1/4x to 4x
12) Make decisions even when the game is paused
13) Dead easy Import/Export of save files

So, those are some things we did with Defender's Quest.  There's buckets more I could write on this subject and probably will, but that's a good start for now.  Hope someone finds this useful!

Oh, by the way, you can try our free demo and buy the game right here: www.defendersquest.com, and the coupon code GAMA is good for a $1 off* throughout the month of January :) 

*You have to input the coupon code AFTER you enter payment info, but before the sale is finalized. Yes, I know it's stupid, but that's how the store sets it up. 



17 comments:

Claudio Marcelo Basckeira said...

Did you consider also putting the game on steam? You did mention the demo would not be as easy to play on steam as it is on your website, but even so I've been hearing a some good stories about people getting decent sales for their indie games on steam. How much does steam charge from the developer's?

Also, about the article, I really loved the ability to export your demo save to continue in the full game. Very thoughtful.

Ryan said...

Great game! I just bought it after playing through the demo, and I too appreciate the ability to import my save from the demo. Those two hours were not wasted. :D

I know this article is about how you're developing for PC and specifically not mobile devices, but have you considered the BlackBerry Playbook? You mentioned somewhere that the game is written using Adobe AIR. Well, the Playbook supports Adobe AIR, so it probably wouldn't be too difficult to port. Also, there is much less competition, and the Blackberry AppWorld is said to be more profitable than Apple's or Android's.

http://news.mobileroundup.com/2011/09/blackberry-app-world-more-profitable-than-apples-app-store-or-the-android-market/

Lars Doucet said...

Hey guys!

1) We've applied to Steam, we're waiting to hear back. EVERYONE wants to be on Steam, so it's very competitive and not everyone gets on, and even some very, very, excellent titles much better than our own don't make the cut. That being said we're still hoping :)

2) We're definitely open to expanding to other platforms, especially the ones that support Adobe AIR. We're just starting on the PC for now, and as soon as we figure that out we'll look to these other devices. Anthony and I need to talk about our future deployment strategy before we can promise anything, though.

James said...

It's a testament to how much I liked your game the first time I played it that I just spent over an hour wrestling with Adobe AIR crash logs and Adobe's horrible support docs and forums when your game kept crashing.

It turns our that I needed to disable automatic graphic switching (goodbye battery life). Yet for some reason, I didn't the first time. I'm a software engineer and it took me an hour. Imagine the less tech savvy.

I understand what you are saying in this post. The ability to play the demo in the browser with one click certainly helped drive my sale. The problem is that Adobe AIR is a junk show and you've turned someone who would have been a big evangelist into a detractor. I really loved the design of your game.

Your number one priority should be to make sure that your paying customers have a great experience. No other priority, including customer acquisition should trump that.

I should have a great little lean game to play on my laptop when I'm traveling. No way I can do that now.

I should have been able to install you app by simply dragging a .app into my applications folder, like every other simple mac app. Nope, I had to suffer a big Adobe installer. Your download should have been like 25% of the size it was too.

I should be telling my gamer friends about the great little indie discovery I just made. Not now. Not as long as you're deploying on AIR.

Every tech decision has a trade-off. The "magic" of AIR is not without a cost.

Lars Doucet said...

Hey, terrible sorry you had a poor experience with AIR. In the future we'll definitely be using HaXe to develop, which should let us get an in-browser demo, and deploy native binaries for each platform.

If there's anything else we can do for you, please let us know.

Ryan said...

Why not offer a Flash version of the full game as a download option? Or maybe host it with a username/password to access it. That way the whiny Mac users can play in their browsers. :P

James, your comment stopped being useful after the second paragraph. There's no need to rip into the developers because you don't like their choice of programming environment.

Lars Doucet said...

@Ryan:

That's a good idea! We can compile a version of the game that works as standalone executable without any AIR dependencies.

That would come with the disadvantage that you won't be able to switch resolutions (though fullscreening is probably still doable), and your save files will be limited to flash cookies (which are a bit flimsy for my taste), though you could still import/export them.

We could provide this either as a standalone swf/html package, or as executables for each platform. If there's enough demand we'll roll these out soon.

Claudio Marcelo Basckeira said...

About resolutions I believe it is possible with a standalone flash app. Have you played The Binding of Isaac? It's standalone flash and has some decent configuration options, including window size.

Beezer said...

Get it going for Android and iOS :) If I can play this on my 2nd gen iTouch, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

Derek said...

Super fun game! When will you guys release a version for iOS and android?

Lars Doucet said...

www.defendersquest.com/faq.html

:)

meganite said...

One of the things I have noticed about iOS purchasing vs. PC purchasing is that iOS does all the things to make it easy just like you did here. Lots of times there's a demo version for free linked (or close by in the search results) to the cost version. And if you hear of an app from your friends, there's no "I'll try to remember that when I have my game box running" but instead "ooh really, let me find it here, oh there it is. So let's install and..." BAM anywhere between a few seconds and a few minutes later is a nice little icon sitting on your screen that you just tap to start up. Then, as you're talking to your friend who suggested the app, you've installed it, and you can try it out yourself to see how useful or fun it is. Makes word of mouth marketing a LOT easier. On top of that, you can see user reviews and ratings on the purchase screen, so it helps you see beyond the marketing fluff to tell if the app is really high quality or not. Making a free version sure is a good way to get your foot in the door, and I think iOS has a lot of "throughput" since they seem to make it super easy to upgrade most apps to the paid version too.

After reading the comments, I agree that a Flash .exe may be the way to go for future deployment if AIR really is that annoying.

xdthxht said...

Just wanted to say that I like the thought process that went into this strategy, and to mention that I, for one, am a testament to it working. I randomly came across your game demo on Kongregate (where I often browse for fun little games), tried the demo, and it got me hooked. When the "Get the FULL GAME" screen came up, I impulsively clicked on it, bought the game, and proceeded to play the whole thing, twice (I like to feel my way around the first time through, then power play the second time). And I was not disappointed. I found the quantity and quality of content satisfactory for the price.

On a side note, I'm using Mac OS X (10.7.3) and although I found the Adobe installation slightly unusual, it was no big deal and caused no problems for me.

Cheers.

Wirrit said...

Even before I read this blog entry, I knew you were trying to do a demo in a white-hat sort of fashion. I know this, because when I found out I was playing a demo, I ran Defenders Quest through every demo politeness test I have -- what does the demo forbid you from doing, how long is it, how abrupt is the ending, how interesting and good is the game concept itself...

It is the first game to pass in a decade, and the first game I have bought because of a demo since the Exile / Avernum series.

Good show, sir. Please start as many trends as possible with this behavior. I look forward to seeing what else you come out with!

Edit : The only thing I'm not so fond of is this blog format, which won't let me scroll down to view / do the captcha without pressing Tab. Weird.

xdthxht said...

@Wirrit:

I had the some problem with the catcha weirdness. Thought it was just some glitch on my end. I managed to bring/scroll the captcha box into view by click empty white space above it and dragging down. I didn't think of hitting Tab; guess that works too then.
I'm using Safari if it makes any difference.

Lars Doucet said...

@Wirrit:

Sorry about the blog annoyances! I'm pretty amateur with web-stuff, so this is just an off-the-shelf google blogger thing.

Ryan said...

Hey Lars,
I mentioned before that you should consider porting to the Playbook. I now present to you... incentive!

http://devblog.blackberry.com/2012/02/playbook-offer-extension/

Apparently, they will give a free Playbook to you if you bring your app to their App World. Something to think about. ;)

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