As you might know, Psyon Games is a small team – less than 10 full time staff members split roughly 1:1 between development and business roles – so this perspective on launching a game is very likely different to the process in different teams. That said, let’s look at our launch process in retrospective.
Antidote: The product
The most important and challenging part of the release was without doubt the development of Antidote. A game we’ve been working on nearly 2 years, suddenly “getting out there”. So, the question you all want answered… did we crunch? Keep reading to find out!
We started off with a crude prototype in early 2016, to see how well game elements worked in reality. Both the viruses and bacteria received their initial behaviors, as did several of the defensive structures. There was a fair amount of bug related activity – in both removing and (sadly) creating them – and plenty of time spent on testing out different UIs and layouts.
Over the next two years, a lot of thought, meetings and tweaking saw improvements in the game’s logic, background and the smallest of details, right down to the way buttons react when tapped. Plenty of art was made and scrapped, then remade and reworked until it matched the concept. With the addition of sound and arranging for game servers and other, often ignored parts of making a game, time passed and the game reached “working prototype” status.
Following a fruitful closed beta, the information gathered through testing was tested even further and feedback was acted on. At this point the team was short some members, which pushed back the start line for the open beta – but in April 2017, the game was ready for global open beta and early-access through Google Play, after much sweat and tears (we’ll skip the blood, since that stuff is important and should stay inside your body).
So, the answer to did we crunch : not really, no. We had a couple of tight moments fixing bugs – but that’s all. Two bugs, both “really quite powerful” but neither a so-called show stopper. The long steady development meant we identified most issues early and that the actual launch of the game was surprisingly calm – since most of the issues and problems had been worked out during the two beta phases, most of what remained was simple work and small bugs. Translations for most of the game dialogue in Finnish were written and cleaned up, and critical overtime and crunching was avoided, much to the relief of the whole team.
The release process
We were shocked by this step. It was just so easy. Publishing an app on Google Play and iOS when you development environment is Unity is child’s play. With the effort we’d put in to testing and developing the game, the launch process was just a case of ticking the boxes for countries we were “launched in” (all available!) and clicking OK. The review process was not more than 2 days on either Android or iOS, and often much faster. So far, we’ve had no crash reports, and very few “glitch” or “problem” reports.
On the downside, this ease of publishing brings us to our biggest problem : with it being so easy to launch a new application or game, how can you “get seen” in the ocean of content? And if, by any chance, you get seen, how do you get enough attention to get installed?
The hardest part of launching a game is without doubt this part : getting seen among all the other offerings. The simplest solution is to “buy users”, but it’s also a solution which is out of our reach (for the most part). So, we’ve had to come up with nefarious ways to get seen. Ok, they’re not very nefarious, but we’re trying.
First and foremost has been nurturing our small but amazing community of players. We’ve done a few things to help this : we’ve pushed for the creation of a wiki on gamepedia, which we’re going to contribute to with tips and some additional info on all the in game units. Secondly, we’ve set up a public changemap, where you can make suggestions and vote on features you want to see in the game. Finally, we’ve been chatting with all of you who have been in touch on social media or by email (hello!)
Media and partners
Perhaps our most innovative and important approach to getting seen is by way of the mainstream media. Because Antidote is so much more than just a game, we were praised by The Vaccine Board of the Parliament of Finland and were mentioned in this article by the WHO.
In addition to the general message about vaccines, we’ve been working with several awesome partners, including KOKOA, who validate the educational value of games, and TeacherGaming, who offer lesson plans and solutions for education institutions to license a broad library of educational games – including some very awesome, none traditional games like Democracy 3 and Universe Sandbox 2.
As mentioned above, the simplest way to get players to know about Antidote is advertising : paying someone to show our game to potential players. We’ve used a combination of Facebook, Twitter and Google adverts to show off the game, but the “cost per install” – especially for a non-segmented audience – is way higher than the “lifetime value” of an install. There’s basically no point advertising as long as this is the case, so we’re using only a trickle of money for adverts, in the hope it increases the chance of Antidote drifting across the bows of a so called “influencer”.
What next for Antidote?
Our next update will be what we’re calling the “much needed” update, which will bring some of our first achievements, probably a few new levels (no promises!) and definitely some “standard” features, like cross platform cloud save and account login. We’ll dive into more detail on this in a future dev blog, so stay tuned and be sure to subscribe if you want to be the first to read it!
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