Content Delay - And why its bad

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So, we recently had a pre-review for our game miniQuest: Trials on FGL (which some of you watched). In the first 15 minutes, the reviewer was only able to get to level 8, and then got a quick peak by jumping ahead to level 14.

He made some comments that we now see as very interesting.

I also noticed that there was some pretty cool content in those later levels that certainly made the gameplay more interesting. That’s actually another thing that you will want to be very careful about in your games; hiding epic content. Sponsors have a very limited time to check out your games and will often spend < 2min playing (some base their bids solely on the titlescreen/icon/description), so you should always bring the most impressive stuff as close to the start as possible.

Of course, we knew that sponsors would be bidding based on early game play, but we didn’t realize what our early game play was missing compared to the rest of our game.

We had no mention of this ‘epic content’ that appears in later levels, in the first 10. How were the players and sponsors going to know that it ever got better.

Our solution: demo some of it on the tutorial menu. Give em just a peak at the content, with no interaction. For example, an epic fire spitting tile with dangerous fireballs locked off with tiles. Or maybe a walled off enemy that appears mid game. Hopefully we’ve made the right move.

 
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Hmm, does this mean that games with tutorials as “the first level” or so are in trouble?

 
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We had major trouble with that. Our main priority in the game was to get the player familiar with the controls and goals of the game. They are sort of weird currently (will be changed) but I’m glad that we got forced into doing this. So we ended up making a tutorial level which automatically loads up when the player starts. Think Fancy Pants World 3, where you start off in the tutorial.

After the tutorial, it goes to the main menu for the user to play the game. At this point they are familiar with the controls and know a general idea of what they are supposed to do. So, as I said in our first post, we got some content sneak peak in there ASAP.

If you don’t get the content in there, you’d better have an attractive game for at least a few levels without the need of this extra bonus content. For us, 10 levels is a LONG time. We’d need to introduce it at level 3 or 4, but then we’d end up with lots of ‘middle difficulty’ levels, which I think would be quite boring. As the reviewer said:

Sponsors have a very limited time to check out your games […], so you should always bring the most impressive stuff as close to the start as possible.

 
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I think those games which have a faded out version of the most action packed part of the game running as the background of the menu have a good thing going for this. The classic ‘N game’ springs to mind. Damn, I never got even 25% of that game finished…..sucky motor control :(

 
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Is there a rule/protocol that forbids having a special “distilled” version of the game for sponsors to try (with all the important game elements “compacted” together)?

For me, if I know everything I’m going to encounter from early in the game, it loses quite a bit: the element of surprise/discovery, a [greater] feeling of progression… The game has to be that much more engrossing to make up for it.

 
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Here is an interesting idea for showing your game to a “sponsor”.

Have your tutorial level then have the game “jump” to level (lets say 5, one of medium difficulty), then after that level have it “jump” again to something of a harder difficulty. Or instead of dificutly where in the game more of your “epic” stuff is opened up. This way they can get a broad view of what the game is about. Also if it is story driven you would need to put in something that say x, y and z happened in the previous level so they can understand why you are doing x thing in the current level.

For the actual released version you would have everything lined up properly without all the “jumping” around.

This is just an idea, instead of jamming all your cool stuff into 1 level.

Lord SilverStone

 
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Is there a rule/protocol that forbids having a special “distilled” version of the game for sponsors to try

I imagine the sponsors themselves typically wouldn’t like this, as they’re trying to judge the player experience, not a special experience you’re providing only them.

Trailers are one alternative to this, to some degree or another, by the way.

 
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It’s sad. After all, content is a reward for the players, and having to blow the whole of it early because some sponsors are too lazy to actually play the game is a waste.

Also, I don’t buy the “the sponsors [a]re trying to judge the player experience, not a special experience you’re providing only them.” argument. If the sponsor can’t be arsed to play the game with a fraction of the dedication you put in making it, if they’re not willing to inform themselves about the product they’re buying before they buy it, then they deserve whatever experience you see fit to create for them.

One possible way around it would be to have an extra game mode in the FGL version, so clicking ‘New Game’ would prompt the user to choose between ‘Quick Tour Mode (FGL Reviewers only, will not be in the final version)’ and ‘Regular game’, so they can experience all the content without having to invest a lot of time if they don’t want to. And if they like the QT mode they can always play the regular game afterward to get a better sense of the game. Call me old fashioned, but if I was going to drop a few grands on a product for the privilege of having my name associated with it I’d like to know as much as possible about it.

 
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Ace has a good point.

I would say the opening 5 mins has to have enough to say what the game is about.

 
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I agree with Ace, too. It seems to me though that a promotional gameplay video would be more effective, as well as a demo or tutorial with which the reviewer can both get used to the gameplay and mechanics. Show off some high-level stuff in the video, but don’t let the reviewer play it yet for themselves — try to peak their interest.

I’m a newbie at this though xD

 
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Originally posted by truefire:

Is there a rule/protocol that forbids having a special “distilled” version of the game for sponsors to try

I imagine the sponsors themselves typically wouldn’t like this, as they’re trying to judge the player experience, not a special experience you’re providing only them.

Trailers are one alternative to this, to some degree or another, by the way.

Exactly. This is a great way to get sponsors a quick overview of your game while its loading. Definitely make one and put it in the game description.

Originally posted by Ace_Blue:
If the sponsor can’t be arsed to play the game with a fraction of the dedication you put in making it, if they’re not willing to inform themselves about the product they’re buying before they buy it, then they deserve whatever experience you see fit to create for them.

Well, it doesn’t really matter about “is the sponsor not smart for only checking out the first few minutes of gameplay”. Many Most of them do. Are you going to risk a sponorship because you thought that was not a smart idea? They have a good reason to do this too. Have you checked looked at dropoff analytics for a game? A lot of your players are only going to be in your game for 3-7 minutes.

Originally posted by Ace_Blue:

One possible way around it would be to have an extra game mode in the FGL version, so clicking ‘New Game’ would prompt the user to choose between ‘Quick Tour Mode (FGL Reviewers only, will not be in the final version)’ and ‘Regular game’, so they can experience all the content without having to invest a lot of time if they don’t want to. And if they like the QT mode they can always play the regular game afterward to get a better sense of the game.

The question is, do you want to spend all that time making an FGL mode for your game? Or could you save time by making a trailer/graphics and only slightly tweaking things (e.g. unlocking all levels) for FGL. You should be trying to preserve as much of the original game as possible, so you are showing sponsors what the players are going to see.

 
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Originally posted by UnknownGuardian:
Originally posted by Ace_Blue:
If the sponsor can’t be arsed to play the game with a fraction of the dedication you put in making it, if they’re not willing to inform themselves about the product they’re buying before they buy it, then they deserve whatever experience you see fit to create for them.

Well, it doesn’t really matter about “is the sponsor not smart for only checking out the first few minutes of gameplay”. Many Most of them do. Are you going to risk a sponorship because you thought that was not a smart idea? They have a good reason to do this too. Have you checked looked at dropoff analytics for a game? A lot of your players are only going to be in your game for 3-7 minutes.

I never said ‘smart’ or anything that implied intelligence. The comment is purely about effort. Sponsors who do not make a modicum of effort to learn about the games they sponsor, if they even exist, deserve what they end up with is all I’m saying.

As for the ‘FGL mode’ yes, it could be as simple as unlocking all levels for the FGL version. Or starting an RPG at the highest level with the best equipment and with an extra teleporter in the starting room that takes you to the best parts, boss battles or whatever. Anything that allows a reviewer to quickly check the contents of your game, as long as you make it clear that it’s a favor you’re doing them because you value their time and attention. Frankly, I’d find making and editing a trailer to be a lot more cumbersome than simply tweaking my code slightly to accommodate a reviewer backdoor, but YMMV.

 
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The issue isn’t so much that sponsors aren’t putting in effort: The idea is that if an average player is only going to play for 5 minutes, and the sponsor doesn’t see anything he likes in 5 minutes, neither will the average player.

It really boils down to that sponsors want to get a game people will play. If you let them skip to the boss right away, they will only care about what they are shown if they think players will make it to the boss. You get the idea.

I’m not a fan of this either, and I don’t think any respectable developers really are. We’d all want sponsors to play our game to completion so they could see it in its full glory — but that’s simply not how it works.

Anyway, your idea is also a legit idea. It also has it’s flaws, as do all the other solutions

 
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Originally posted by truefire:

The issue isn’t so much that sponsors aren’t putting in effort: The idea is that if an average player is only going to play for 5 minutes, and the sponsor doesn’t see anything he likes in 5 minutes, neither will the average player.

That makes sense, although I do have some objections with this approach. The first one is actually a question. I haven’t seen the statistics you are talking about (I’d love a link!) but are they tracking players or playing sessions? In other words, can they tell whether two game plays of say, 5 and 7 minutes were performed by the same player or different ones? If they were different players, then neither got more than 7 minutes into the game, and any content beyond that was unseen. If they were the same user, and saved games are available, then that player could have seen up to 12 minutes worth of content. If your viewership tends to play in short bursts (while waiting for the bus, or for their meal at a restaurant, or during smoke breaks, for instance) then only tracking playing sessions could skew the statistics dramatically. So I believe the distinction is critical.

The second objection is related to life expectancy at birth. When you take a large amount of statistical data and average it, you lose all information about the distribution of those data. I’m going to quote Wikipedia here because I like the way they formulated the caveat:

“It is important to note that life expectancy is an average. In many cultures, particularly before modern medicine was widely available, the combination of high infant mortality and deaths in young adulthood from accidents, wars, and childbirth, significantly lowers the overall life expectancy. But for someone who survived past these early hazards, living into their sixties or seventies would not be uncommon. For example, a society with a life expectancy of 40 may have very few people dying at age 40, most will die before 30 or after 55.”

What I’m getting at is: I worry that average playing time would be skewed down by players who load up the game, play for a couple of seconds, decide the game is not for them, and quit. The player equivalent of infant mortality, if you will. Of course, you could object that the sponsor’s goal is to advertise their site, and that they don’t care how long the player stays as long as it’s long enough to see their splash screen and possibly click on it. In fact, they likely prefer that players don’t play the actual sponsored game, since while they’re playing they’re not clicking on the sponsor banner! I have no good retort for that, except to say that I expect such tactics to be self-destructive in the long run: A sponsor who has mostly such games on their site will not retain a player base for very long. Eventually, the player wants to find a game they’ll play, and if they don’t find it on the sponsor’s site there’s plenty of other sites to look through. But I have no proof for this reasoning, it’s intuition. And of course, modern economic thinking is all about the short term, so even if I’m right about this point most people wouldn’t care.

Bottom line is: I know you’re right, I just don’t like it.

 
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I wonder if making a special sponsor edition is a good idea. Where you pretty much list every feature in a fast way. (making a version of the game that takes less time to round and pretty much covers it all)

 
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Read the discussion. ;)

It pretty much can be summed up with: “Don’t [do much changes]”. Make a trailer instead.

 
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Originally posted by UnknownGuardian:

Read the discussion. ;)

It pretty much can be summed up with: “Don’t [do much changes]”. Make a trailer instead.

I’m not sure what the system for sponsoring is. Can we give them a trailer as well as the game? Or what do you mean with trailer?

 
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Well, on FGL you have the option of linking a trailer (and game screenshots) with the game you upload.

 
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What about a mini-gauntlet? Add in a couple of levels which show everything in the game, as well as some of the hardest levels in the game? (Exclusive to the preview version of the game, of course. Unless sponsors want to keep the mini-gauntlet.)

 
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although I do have some objections with this approach.

Join the club.

I haven’t seen the statistics you are talking about (I’d love a link!) but are they tracking players or playing sessions?

I don’t have any large scale statistics — this is simply what I’ve heard. But you can take a look at these stats from the views I’ve had so far on FGL (And these are other developers! If anything they should be able to finish a game that takes 45 minutes to complete). Note that the one who played more then 20 minutes was a friend of mine. He was playing more to help me out then to play a game. He’s also the only one to complete the game. Only 3-4 of them are repeat views (people who did 0:00 usually repeat. I Think that means the game failed to load for whatever reason.)

What I’m getting at is: I worry that average playing time would be skewed down by players who load up the game, play for a couple of seconds, decide the game is not for them, and quit. The player equivalent of infant mortality, if you will.

Unfortunately, the infant mortality rate is ridiculously high among flash gamers.

I have no good retort for that, except to say that I expect such tactics to be self-destructive in the long run

The sponsors understand this as well. The key word to flash game marketing is ‘viral’ — essentially, sponsors want a game that people like enough to tell other people about. Those other people like it, and tell others about it. The game’s popularity spreads like a virus, thus ‘viral’. If sponsors weren’t aware of this logic, and simply believed that they needed a person to see their banner, then the ideal ‘flash game’ would just be an infinite repeat of the sponsor banner. Obviously that doesn’t work. Tricking people will only take you so far on its own.

 
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I want to reward the good player….like offering better graphics as the player advances in the game. Better explosions, better streamers behind the projectiles, more sophisticated background, etc. Especially after all the time I spent in Blender creating some decent graphics.

My current game is modeled after a Military school. And the player plays the game on a simulator. Only after he graduates from school is he assigned to command a real installation and that is when my “good graphics” kick in.

I also have player-made levels in my game, but I don’t allow them to make any levels until they have achieved some success in the game. My Beta testers confirm this is a good idea because they say, “I want to use the level editor!” I consider it a carrot.

E: But I do have a button ( in the FGL version ) on my main menu that allows any prospective sponsor to play the game as if he has already graduated from the school. He can use the level editor and play the level he creates.