This is my daily update for the GDC 2021 virtual conference. I will be doing this every day this week to try and bring you marketing-focused updates. I don’t have time to watch more than 3 talks per day so if you don’t see one here it was because I didn’t have time to watch it.

Community Management Summit: Expanding Single-Player Games to a Multiplayer Experience with Discord

This talk was lead by Adam Kula, community marketing specialist for Schell Games. This was a great talk outlining some very creative community engagement activities they ran on their discord for their games I Expect You To Die and Until You Fall.

They also outlined their system for evaluating whether a campaign was successful or not.

How to test marketing activities. Basically the scientific method. But named after a dog: JADE

An example of him coming up with interesting campaigns are for the first person vr puzzle game I Expect You To Die.

  • So Adam Kuta was marketing the game and had an idea to use secret morse code puzzles hidden in a series of tweets to get people to unlock a secret URL to their discord server. You can see some of the tweets here: This one, This one and This one
  • See those dashes and dots? Here is a Morse code chart if you want to decipher the secret message hidden in the tweet.
    :
  • I Expect You to die is a puzzle game – so the audience is expecting something like this. 
  • The Schell Games community gathered on another Discord to plot and strategize about these mysterious tweets. 

Later Adam created in-game-challenges for another game made by Schell Games called Until You Fall. 

  • They used the game’s corresponding Discord that would specifically get players to work together on special challenges despite Until You Fall being a single player game. 
  • One example of this Discord-based coop was in Feb 2021 when the challenge was to team up and have 2 people play separate runs of Until You Fall but coordinate matching weapon sets. Scoring on the server was based on the combined scores of these 2 player teams (cz note: it was kind of like a virtual three-legged-race)
  • Other challenges were based on scores or teaming up in voice chat so they would play together in “puppet-master” mode.
  • What was really smart was these challenges were just self reported. There were no complicated APIs to implement or work into the game. Adam just asked challenge participants to post screenshots of their victories. This is a great “lean startup” style approach. This could have easily turned into a complicated engineering problem of syncing the game to a discord server when the easier approach is to get people just to self-report. This is SMART.

If you want to see their discords check here:

Another interesting point from Adam’s talk was that just because something fails early in a community building campaign doesn’t mean it will fail forever.

  • For Until you Fall early in the game’s development they held a fan art competition. Only a handful of die-hard fans from the community participated. (CZ Note: I have heard this before, often community generated fan art and content is very very hard to organize. Nobody wants to make fan art for a game until they play it. So you can’t do this pre-release)
  • However, the team later launched the game on Quest which brought in a new fanbase. Many new fans found out about the old art contest and demanded they bring it back again. 
  • So they did! They ran another art contest and the new fans liked it.(CZ Note: See let your community say they want a fan contest, I don’t think you can do it the other way around. So your fan art contest will only be successful if you see your fans asking for it.)
  • So don’t be afraid to bring back old campaigns if you are relaunching a game on a different platform. There is a whole new audience.

Other tips:

  • Utilize active listening to your community: Give surveys, implement feedback based on what they say.. 
  • Ask what they liked about a challenge or didn’t. 

CZ Analysis:

  • This was a great talk with great actionable steps for campaigns that you can implement.
  • However, before you go off implementing a few of these secret encoded messages, hidden in tweets that lead to secret discords, remember that this is being done by Schell games which is a decades-old company with several releases, a big fan base, a multi-person full-time marketing staff. 
  • Remember that getting Twitter followers to join your Discord is a MID-funnel activity. It will not find you more fans it just makes people who are already interested in your game even MORE interested.
  • I have seen and helped run viral campaigns like this and more often than not they are a lot of work and don’t generate much interest. As mentioned in their art contest campaign, usually you are doing a lot of leg work for a handful of die hard fans. 
  • If you are making your first game and are a small team, these super-clever campaigns can be a bit too time consuming. It is hard enough to get someone to click on your perfectly laid out twitter link much less solve a mysterious message hidden in it.
  • What I really like about Adam’s approach is the rapid implementation of the marketing campaigns. For instance he didn’t spend a lot of time building an API to connect their games to the discord, instead he just asked the community to post their screenshots. Easier and faster is better than perfect and slow. Plus it saves engineering time for the game itself.

Independent Games Summit: ‘Monster Train’ Postmortem

Mark Cook is the CEO of Shiny Shoe games that created the wildly successful Monster Train (over 12,000 reviews.) 

He gave a lot of great actionable tips behind the making of the game. 

Side note, there was a lot of game design and production scheduling in this talk. I edited those out of this recap because I usually focus on the Marketing side of stuff.

  • First, Shiny Shoe games has been making games for over 8 years.(CZ note: Hit games rarely come from your first release. It takes time to build expertise and connections in this industry. You must survive past your first game no matter how it does)
  • The team made a really quick, low-fi prototype to test the game. They used Oryx sprites (which I have use in some of my own games)
  • After they made the prototype Mark started shopping the game around to publishers. He created a pitch matrix to track who they pitched to and what their response was. They heard a lot of “NOs.” (This is common don’t give up. Also Monster train is a HUGE hit! Imagine what all those publishers who passed think now.)
  • The team ran Alpha and beta tests for Monster Train. 
  • One of the most important lessons from the testing was to embed a feedback tool into the alpha/beta versions of the game that could be called up by hitting F8. This prompted players for a quick description of what they saw and automatically embedded quick telemetry data about what was happening and posted it to the team Slack channel. This was great for troubleshooting
  • Launched a demo – they repackaged the improved beta and set it as the demo.
  • Mark was in chat during the talk and was really open to answering questions. I asked him if he feared having a demo available cannibalized sales. He said: “Our demo was planned to be up for 3 weeks but we extended it to 5 weeks because of the pandemic and the useful player feedback.” 
  • Originally the game was just going to be a premium release. However with the sudden success of Monster Train they did several free updates and then a paid DLC. Mark in chat said “ultimately we released a number of free updates in the first 10 months after release to keep momentum going and then eventually a paid DLC”
  • In chat Mark said about DLC “I don’t think The Last Divinity [DLC] brought in a huge amount of new players but it has done well with a high attach rate. It also helped increase the floor price of new purchases because we can promote a bundle now” CZ note: this matches what Simon Carless has written about DLC here
  • Regarding the free updates after launch, I asked Mark what he thought about when it is time to quit updating a launched game and start working on their next one. Mark said “Yeah, that can definitely be a tough balance. I do believe our early free updates did make a difference – both pulling existing players back in and creating some marketing beats for announcements to increase reach”

CZ Note about this talk

  • Remember that big hits come after several long years as a studio. Your first game will most likely not be a hit.
  • You must get used to hearing “NO!”
  • Get feedback on your game and iterate. 
  • Monster Train launched after a 5 month campaign (steam page was created in January and game launched in May).
  • Estimated wishlist launch was ~40,000 (based on my estimation of Steam DB follower count and assuming a 10-1 W/L to Follower ratio – I don’t know for sure though).
  • To be honest that isn’t a ton of wishlists considering the later success. My take is that the 40K wishlists were enough to get it the necessary minimum visibility from Steam. Then the well tested game design propelled this game into much higher popularity. Then regular updates and Steam featuring brought it to the ultimate success it found. (That is just my hunch by reading between the lines of this talk.)

Independent Games Summit: Don’t Be a Copycat: Personalized Marketing for Your Game

Talk given by Dana Trebella and Derek Lieu.

Great actionable tips here

  • Always have a call to action (!) with what you want people to do after seeing your media
  • Give the press easy to find information like screenshots and trailers
  • Marketing Timeline: Everyone skips making one of these. You really should make one. Here is Dana’s tips for making one. Start with when you think you will launch.
  • To build a good marketing strategy you should pick things that work with your team. DONT DO EVERYTHING. Here is a good list of various marketing activities and how much time they take to keep up.

Then you should also do things based on what you are trying to do.

If you are starting out, just start with one marketing tactic and get experience with the platform.

Independent Games Summit: What to Expect With Your Launch? Sharing Concrete Data on Various Marketing Activities When Releasing Your Indie Game

This was my talk. I will have a way for you to get this information SOON. Hang tight, I will give you a very detailed summary of what is in it…

Also I saw a bunch of folks from the HTMAG discord in the QA chat. I was soooo happy to see you all.