After pouring so much of our love into Fragmental (that sounded better in my head), we’ve finally released it on Steam Early Access, and now as we continue to develop the game, we also have the small task of making the wider world aware of the fact it actually exists – and that it’s a lot of fun.
Now, I’m good at what I do. I mean really world leading. I’m also the one writing this, so nobody can
tell you the truth say otherwise! However, I’ll admit that I’m not a marketing guy. In fact, none of us at Ruffian are. We just want to make games, and leave the black art of sales & marketing to someone else. That probably comes from years of working with publishers who are prepared to put a sizeable marketing budget behind a game, and have the clout and name to be able to put a game in front of a worldwide audience. We’re doing this one on our own, on purpose, so that this game will be 100% our own blood sweat & tears. So, time to learn how to sell a game!
Steam had already been chosen as the platform of choice, as it is far and away the most visible and used platform for releasing independent games. Not much else to say on that. Bit of a no-brainer really. Previous blog posts have covered our experience of going through the Greenlight process on Steam, so no point retreading old ground there. With the platform of the game decided, now we need to find a way to guide people towards it.
Where to Advertise?
How people find information on games has changed drastically during the very short lifetime of the games industry, and will likely continue to develop in this inherently tech driven field.
Ever since Play Meter launched in the US in 1974, there have been physical printed games magazines.
The UK has always had a strong games magazine scene, and I remember as a teenager spending ages on a Saturday morning in WH Smiths or John Menzies scanning through the racks of different games magazines. Then buying most of them when I could have actually just bought the games instead. Depending on your games history (and affiliation during the great Sonic V Mario war of the 90’s), the magazines you remember most fondly will vary, but mine went something like this:
80’s : BBC Micro User (because a BBC is useful, not like that rubber keyed Spectrum thing. Yeah, cheers dad)
90’s : Sega Power, Sega Force, Mean Machines, C&VG, Megatech, Sega Pro, PC Zone, PC Gamer
00’s : N64 magazine, Play, Official Playstation magazine, Edge
10’s : Retro Gamer
Yes, I actually bought all of those, and plenty more I’ve forgotten. And that’s only a small subset from my upbringing of mostly Sega & Sony machines, with an N64 chucked in for good measure. Every platform had a pantheon of magazines dedicated to it, with classics like Super Play, Nintendo Magazine System, GamesTM, Famitsu, EGM, GamePro, GameInformer, and Amiga Format/ Sorry for all those I’ve not got round to name checking there. And finally a big doff of the cap to our CEO, Gaz Liddon, who worked on the much loved Crash & Zzap!64
Photo may not be current
In the mid 90’s, the first digital games magazines appeared. There is some debate over which actually came first, so to avoid taking sides, I’m simply not going to bother naming any of them. While a slow start, the move towards this new medium of games journalism gather pace, eventually leading to a growing number of traditional print media titles either being cancelled, or at least discontinuing in physical form while moving online. Print titles still exist, but in general, sales figures are down from the heyday of the 80’s.
The last few years have seen another major change in the way people find their games related information, but this time it’s more of a power shift than a medium change. While originally created as a simple way to share videos, YouTube has provided anyone with a webcam the ability to create their own channel, talking about whatever they want. Back in the 80’s & 90’s, the magazine reviewers gained a level of fame amongst those of us who avidly read everything they printed. These days, the most successful youtubers are achieving the same kind of celebrity in their field, but are also now crossing over due to their ubiquitous online presence, and are beginning to appear side by side with more traditional celebrities. Last year saw PewDiePie appear alongside politician John Kerry and actress Clare Danes on the Late Show.
With the subscription numbers of some of these guys and girls hitting well into the millions, it’s clear that they wield a huge amount of influence over the game buying public, and have the ability to directly impact potential sales. A quick scan of the most popular youtube streamers shows the clear correlation between Minecraft and youtube. Minecraft was always going to be a huge success, but going hand in hand with youtube streamers, there is now such a massive community for that game that it just continues to grow. At this point, I want to give a big congratulations to our neighbours (literally next door), 4J studios who are responsible for the Minecraft conversions to Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita and Wii U versions. Top work guys!
While YouTube requires videos to be created, then uploaded, the growth of Twitch makes it possible for real time delivery of content. Essentially what we are seeing is like a tv broadcast, but with an almost endless choice of what show to watch depending on who you like as a presenter.
So What Do We Do?
I’ll be totally honest here. Until recently I didn’t really understand the whole YouTube streaming thing. It just looked like very self-assured people overreacting to games. Since then I’ve had the chance to meet a few of them, and yeah, ok. I was wrong. These guys are massively passionate about what they do. And yes they overreact, but that’s good. If anyone’s watched our Twitch stream from the office of us playing the game, they’ll notice that when the camera’s go on, we go all quiet and reserved. There’s that damn British reserved nature coming through. Reserved doesn’t make for good viewing. So thanks to Lolrenaynay, ZeRoyalViking, GassyMexicanand EatMyDiction1 for opening my eyes.
With Fragmental, we have been reaching out to Youtube and Twitter games reviewers who have shown in the past that they play multiplayer games, especially couch play. Fragmental is at its best when played sitting next to your opponents, so we want that to be what people are first introduced to when playing the game – obviously this will change as the game evolves through future updates with AI Enemies and Online Play.
The point of this blog post (and every previous blog post on this site) is to give you an open, honest, warts and all insight into how we’ve gone about making this game. That same ethos will follow through into the marketing of the game. Once we’ve provided a Steam code to a reviewer, that’s it. We’ll be making no requests, restrictions or embargos into the content of the reviews. So far we’ve seen a few gameplay videos going up, and it seems to be getting the reaction we were hoping for, other than an unexpected aversion to using the right stick.
To this end, we’ve made a public information poster.
The other advantage of the YouTube route is that when they find a game they like, and that their subscribers take to, it’s not uncommon for an ongoing series of videos featuring that game to ensue. Fragmental is all about the gameplay the players create, and is in no way prescribed or narrative driven, so every game can produce unexpected moments of greatness or disaster. Ideal fodder for continued broadcast, especially as our plan is to deliver a continuous stream of updates over the next few months, both feature focussed and cosmetic.
Here are some of the videos we’ve seen so far:
The 2nd Wave
We don’t intend to be in Early Access for too long, our aim being to go to full release within the next few months. If we go through other media channels such as mainstream gaming websites, or print media too early, their review will be of a game missing features and it’s unlikely that they will return to publish an updated review later. While Fragmental is available to buy now, and is a fully playable game, there is still a lot of content we really want to deliver. The big 2 of AI enemies and Online play are still to come (though I saw an AI test today, and its already playing amazingly well), and we have a large collection of maps, weapons, modifiers, game modes, and customisation features still to reveal. Once most of this is complete, then we’ll approach the mainstream gaming press so that we can show it in the strongest light possible.
The Final Assault
By this stage we’d hope that Fragmental has gained a certain following and has made a name for itself. The final push would be to transition into more generic press, to expand the potential audience from just games players who read games related journalism, to anyone who reads anything.
After that, global domination.