Lessons learned from releasing the Fist into the wild

I wanted to spend some words talking about some things I feel we did right, and some things we did wrong surrounding the release of Unstoppable Fist.  Fist is only our second release, and we are far from what I would consider ‘skilled’ at releasing games, so take what you read with a grain of salt.  We are learning a lot though, and we wanted to share what we’ve learned with you.

Unstoppable Fist is a game that was darn close to two years in the making.  I won’t go into the reasons why it took so long, but it was long overdue.  Needless to say, by the time it was ready, we were super anxious to get it out the door.  Though patience isn’t a strength of mine, we realized it was important to take a deep breath, think things through, and give Fist a proper release.

For us, this meant allowing a week of time between the day the game was approved by Apple, and when we chose to release it to the appstore.  A week of time solely devoted to preparing everything we needed for its release.  We needed time to send emails to the media, and ideally allow them time to play the game with the hope of receiving some press on the day the game was to be released.  There was both good and bad, leading up to, and during that chunk of time.

What we did right.

Make a kick-ass trailer.  Man how this makes things easier!  Matt did a hell of a job on the trailer.  We gave it to Touch Arcade as an exclusive, and they had it up on the front page within hours of receiving our email.  From there, it was picked up by most of the major iOS gaming sites, and even was grabbed and branded by IGN.  We couldn’t have been happier with the reception of the trailer, and it undoubtedly opened a lot of doors for us.

Ask those that have gone before you for advice.  It may sound obvious, but when you have your nose to the grindstone for so long, sometimes you can forget how important it is to establish and maintain strong social connections within your industry.  No man is an island and all that.  We made a couple of very important relationships, just before, and because of the release of Fist, that proved to be incredibly valuable.  One helped educate us on how to properly engage the media, and the other gave us great access to the media.

Properly engage the media.  This has proven to be critically important to us, and its something I think we did very well.  We agonized for weeks on how to word our email to the press.  After advice from our new friend, reading numerous articles, and lots of back and forth between Matt and I, we came up with a good game plan.

There were more things to consider than we initially realized.  While it was important to us to get the word out about Fist, we decided it was even more important to think long term.  We needed to establish a relationship with the media, to start Ragtag off with a favorable impression in the minds of anyone we came in contact with.  The best way to do that, is to release a good game.  We knew we had a good game, but we were concerned that the trailer had set expectations quite high.

So in addition to properly introducing ourselves, and properly introducing the game, we also decided it was important to manage expectations.  We did so by clearly explaining what the game was about, and by making it clear that Fist isn’t intended to be a BIG game.  Its a little game, that does very specific things, but it does those things very well.  The majority of the reviewers seemed to really get what it is Fist was going for, and reviews have been largely positive, so I feel we did a good job with that.

As a bonus, a couple of the people we emailed our press kit to, replied with blush-inducing complements on the email itself.  We were beaming with pride.

Release on Thursday.  The day you choose to release your game may vary depending on your goals, but our goal was to get featured on the appstore.  I would imagine that’s the goal of just about everyone that releases a game.  Anyway, we received some last minute Intel that games that are released on a Thursday are infinitely more likely to make an appearance in the New and Noteworthy section, because Thursday is the day they update it.  To verify this, I looked at the release dates of the games that were currently in the N&N section, and sure enough, most of them were released the previous Thursday.

So we bumped up our release by a day to release on Thursday.  And while we didn’t make the front page, we did make New and Noteworthy on the Games page.  So I see that as a positive thing.

What we did so very wrong.

Failed coordinated assets attack.  From what those that have gone before us have told us, the release of a game on the appstore is most effective when its a very tightly choreographed attack on all fronts.  The goal is to have as many different opportunities for news surrounding the release of your game as possible.  This can be a variety of different things, but for us it meant releasing the game, getting positive press surrounding the release from as many outlets as possible, and making our other iOS title, Puppy Panic, free for three days to celebrate the release.

Which brings me to our first mistake.  That list should have included the announcement of our game a couple of days prior to its release.  What ended up being about three weeks prior to the release of our game, we submitted our trailer to Touch Arcade, giving them the exclusive on it.  They literally had it up on their front page within two hours of receiving our email.  We were thrilled at the time, as the trailer went over very well and generated quite a lot of buzz.  And that buzz would have served us much better had it been fully in place when the game was actually available to buy.

Premature release date announcement.  Yeah we KNEW better and we still did it.  We announced a release date before the game was done.  We thought it would serve to motivate and make everyone involved damn sure that the game would be done in time.  But life happens and we didn’t make our release date.

This really just serves as an exclamation point on the trailer issue above.  The appstore doesn’t lend itself to having users with a long attention span.  Games are cheap and disposable, allowing the customer to inexpensively and frequently move onto the next thing.  Asking someone to wait three weeks for your game will likely result in your game being nothing more than a faded memory by the time its released.

Free Soundtrack.  Matt may disagree with me for putting this in the what went wrong section, but that’s how I feel, he can debate it in a future blog post if he likes.  Its not a major wrong, just something I wish we would have taken back.

I really really love the soundtrack for this game, and I think its worth money.  We were hoping that releasing a good soundtrack for free would get a lot of attention on its own, and drive lots of people to the game.  We also thought that a fair number of people that downloaded the soundtrack would also willingly kick in a bit of cash for it, but to date that’s only been about 7 people, a couple of which were friends of ours.

Its impossible to put into numbers how many of the sales of the game were a direct result of a free soundtrack, but I don’t feel like its many.  Its also hard to say how many of the people that downloaded the soundtrack, would have downloaded it, if they were forced to pay for it.

Neither of those things keep me up at night.  But what I do think we could have done, if we had charged for the soundtrack, is use it for other methods of promotion.  For example, the possibility of including it in a future Indie Game Music Bundle would have been exciting.  Or, we could have used it for giveaways and contests.  Many websites still ask us for promocodes for contests, but we are long out of those.

At any rate, we didn’t clearly do something wrong with it, I just feel like its a great asset that could have been better utilized.

Closing

No doubt that we have leveled up our game release skills quite a lot with Fist.  It was featured on iTunes, given largely very flattering reviews by nearly every major mobile site.  We had requests pouring in from all over the world asking for review copies, and offers from publishers overseas to publish the game locally.

Most importantly, we have a great list of contacts from the media that we will continue to nurture, and have earned enough respect from them that they are anxious to hear about what we have coming in the future.

In that respect, Unstoppable Fist has been a great success for us.

1 comment for “Lessons learned from releasing the Fist into the wild

  1. July 19, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I would like to point out is that we were in fact on target to release the game on the date that we had announced. It wasn’t until after we released the trailer and realized that we had to do some last minute work on the game that we had to push the ship date. I think that the game is much better due to the extra effort but it probably did cost us some sales because of the timing issues Chris mentioned.

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