Welcome to the Holey Suit Game Dev Blog – first post of the year! I wanted to post a quick update on my project Holey Suit, specifically around GameJolt, converting views into downloads and Indie Dev PR in general. Holey Suit is a physics based space survival action game, available for free on itch.io and gamejolt! For more info on how the game came together, check out the many previous posts on this website!
Looking back at Holey Suit on GameJolt, and the hard reality of PR!
Looking back at the Gamejolt figures, I thought I’d run a quick guess-analysis on how well Holey Suit did on there so far, and write some take aways on Indie Dev PR in general. Originally released in September, I now have a few months worth of data and experience with Holey Suit that I think can be learned from, or at least from my interpretation!
– Getting featured is the single most important thing to boost your visibility
– Pushing your game to “Released” status pushes it up to the top of the “New” list, which can help being noticed (again, if you pre-released first!)
– Make sure to put your game in the right category, as it can impact how well it is received
– Screenshots & thumbnails matter to get views and downloads, but only a little. Don’t overdo it
– Managing to stay on the front page will boosts your game’s lifeline
– PR… Might not matter that much after all!
Bear in mind the above is my interpretation of my situation and data. My game, being a retro/physics based space shooter, is particularly niche and has a narrow audience. This is also a free hobby project so things are most likely different in the “real world”!
Feature Spot – No 1
I was lucky enough to get featured twice on Gamejolt. The first time happened somewhat unplanned – I wrote this previous article & published it on reddit, where by chance it was red by the man behind Gamejolt. The article itself was a comparison on how Holey Suit did on Gamejolt vs Itch.io. My stance towards Gamejolt was a bit critical due to the game not being spotted by the moderators on the site, which I found was lacking a place to self promote. Despite the critic, the game was kindly propelled on the main page and directly saw a spike in attention, hitting a 1500 views less than a week afterwards!
I took a break on the project afterwards, wanting to see how it would do after this initial boost. I do not collect statistics on the game so have little feedback from the player base; the only data available to me are views/downloads stats, as well as comments and ratings. My last devblog on GameJolt was a request to the game 70+ followers to rate the game. This unfortunately didn’t have much impact and left me somewhat disheartened. One player even scored me an average three, which I guess is what you get actively begging for ratings!
I decided it was time to close the loop. My original intent was to build a Story Mode for the game, which I had started with a three level long first chapter. Building scripted missions is just very time consuming, so I was put off from adding more. Luckily these levels made for a pretty enticing tutorial! So I took the decision to scrap the story mode altogether, and keep the levels as the entry point to the game mechanics. The game was nearly complete after all, with just a few things missing: some polishing up and coding up the last few unlockable characters… I worked on these and hit that “Release” button once more.
Feature Spot, No 2!
As it turns out, flagging your game from early release to completed on GameJolt pushes you to the top of the “New” front page! From there Holey Suit must have got spotted by a moderator and was featured again. I didn’t realise this at first, and initially attributed the spikes in downloads to the top position in the New page. I chanced on the GameJolt front page a few days later and discovered the spike was actually due to another feature spot on the “Hot” page!
Within a month of the initial feature, the second time did not result in as much of a spike. The boost is still visible, but impact was about half as much as the first feature. I attribute this to the fact a lot of GameJolt users would have seen the game first time round, and therefore did not visit the page again either because they had tried it already, or simply are not interested. It still prompted a subset of new players to check it out.
Nevertheless – numbers within a week of the feature spots account for over two thirds of the overall visits and downloads. Getting a feature is an integral part of gaining visibility, although to get there the road is windy and full of surprises. Obviously you need a decent game, a good page & thumbnail, but also a bit of luck. It is all about a moderator stumbling across your page in the first place!
Converting Views into Downloads…
Got featured? Great, so the game passed the first hurdle! Now comes the difficult part: converting these views into downloads. For this let’s take a look a the small bit of data available to me.
Sept 17: 515 views, 83 downloads. Conversion rate: 13.5%
Oct 17: 286 views, 118 downloads. Conversion rate: 42.1%
Nov 17: 2,118 views, 559 downloads. Conversion rate: 28.4%
Dec 17: 1,340 views, 423 downloads. Conversion rate: 32.5%
Jan 18: 465 views, 157 downloads. Conversion rate: 33.5%
It’s apparent Holey Suit was off to a rocky start! My previous post explains the difficulties I encountered. A big obstacle was picking the correct category and finding the niche combination of category and hashtags for the game. Originally Holey Suit was in the action category which I believe is either saturated or a very bad fit for the game. My guess is players look for 3D FPS or heavy action platformers in that category, so a niche physics based space game doesn’t quite cut it for them.
Surprisingly, the game hit its mark during the quiet month of October! The game had little visibility, but its new found shooter category (more suited for a top down space game where shooting is the main mechanic) certainly resonated with players stumbling onto the page. Nearly half of them appeared to have clicked with intent to play the game, which I attribute partly to the game thumbnail I had put online: a GIF showing a game character shoving pieces of debris aside. What you see is what you get!
Results in November and December are a bit more mixed. Obviously the wider the audience, the more individuals and taste you are facing. I’m cool with that – Holey Suit is niche. These days the game industry is rich with AAA games à la Uncharted, exciting tech like VR, so stakes are high for any games out there. I do not expect a little quirky space game to generate a huge following, but it is still a reassuring metric to see that some of the players that clicked on the thumbnail proceeded and downloaded the game.
Views vs Downloads from September to January
Do screenshots matter!?
Overall, I felt the conversion rate post feature was average – and maybe I could do something about it? December was all about updating the game page, and most importantly the screenshots that accompany them. Until then, the screenshots were still showing the “pixelated” version of the game (I had done some work on the graphics and released a HD version by that point). Although I think they showcased the game well, they were not particularly polished.
A screenshot style I really like is when you have inserts of the game characters with some sort of text bubble describing the game. I think it looks fun and sets the tone for the game, so I set to create exactly that for holey suit. You can see the before & after below:
Did this have an impact? Well… Maybe. Obviously the only true way to figure this out would be A/B testing, which I do not think is available on GameJolt. Comparing statistics that occur over different period of times isn’t exactly accurate. My overall data set is also rather narrow by all accounts. The numbers I am using for analysis are based on a few hundreds observations, rather than thousands or millions. So although I can interpret the data, any conclusions should be taken with a pinch of salt!
If I compare the November, December and January data above, the conversion is going up slightly. Now, the table above is missing granularity: I uploaded the new screenshots for the game mid-December. So a better analysis is to compare the numbers before and after that date.
Pre-screenshots (1st feature to new screenshots): 2989 views, 818 downloads = 29% conversion rate
Post-screenshots (new screenshots to today): 934 views, 321 downloads = 34% conversion rate
That’s a 5% jump. So with a pinch of salt, yes, spending an extra bit of effort on these screenshots does seem to pay off a little bit. But I guess at this point, this is more about optimising than ground-breaking improvements. However I have no doubt that rubbish screenshots (or none) would weight negatively. My game was also featured on Itch.io on the basis the screenshots I posted announcing my game were fun. So yes, you need to give these screenshots some love, make the game look fun & appealing, but don’t dwell on it.
How about Indie Dev PR?
Looking back, I feel I had my priorities wrong working on the game. I guess my situation is a bit tricky as a solo developer, since I had to both work on the game and promote it. Overall, I probably spent as much time on marketing as I spent working on the game. Did all that Indie Dev PR pay off? Not sure!
My original strategy was to get the word out with Let’s Players on Youtube, be active on the forums, have a decent website, write devblogs, promote on Reddit, and try and gain a following on Twitter. All of this is of course pretty time consuming! Twitter might not seem like much in particular, but producing content on a regular basis (#screenshotsaturday, #indiedevhour..) all sums up in the end.
I wasn’t expecting any press coverage for a free game on Itch.io and GameJolt, but was lucky enough to appear in PC Gamer (on their free games of the week page) and also a Czech magazine. These brought probably 50 downloads. Some other referrals come from my dev blog (my previous post Itch.io vs GameJolt was quite successful on Reddit and still brings in some views) amount for some traffic. But overall, impact was rather insignificant.
To sum it all up, the above doesn’t take into account the hard reality: as an indie developer publishing games on Itch.io or GameJolt, your audience is primarily reached… on the Itch.io & GameJolt front page! Most of your game downloads will come directly from there. Meaning than PR-wise, building a great page with fun, enticing screenshots is more important than any devblog or tweets you can post. A fun, flashy thumbnail will help your game getting noticed & clicked on. Good page and screenshots entice players to try the game, but more importantly: they can catch the moderator’s attention and up your chances getting featured. Indie Dev PR may not matter so much after all, at least from my experience so far!
Take and Takeaways!
So what are my takeaways on this? I probably spent too much time on PR throughout my work on Holey Suit. Most of my content (twitter, devblogs) is mostly targeted at fellow indie devs, or people with an interest in game dev. This is a tiny subset of the overall player base.
Although I really enjoy writing devblogs and building a name for the studio, I am now very aware this is disproportionate effort in terms of return. Spending hours pushing content on twitter/website/Reddit does not translate in downloads. The reality is that most of the player base will only find the game by stumbling on it on GameJolt or Itch.io’s front page. And as sad as it sounds, seldom few players will ever click on the website or twitter link to find out more about the game and who built it.
To finish on a happier note, my plan moving forward is to keep on the GameJolt + Itch.io momentum that I have built. Between both sites, I have nearly 150 followers. This is more than my twitter following! I can also reach out to then directly via devblogs, since these will appear on their feeds. So my plan for the next game will be: spend more time coding, less time on PR, and announce the project directly on GameJolt/Itch.io where I have an player audience!
Until then.. As usual, feel free to comment, reach out