An Explorer’s Guide to Publishing on Facebook and Other Digital Platforms

by danhon

An Explorer’s Guide to Publishing on Facebook and Other Digital Platforms
Patrick O’Luanaigh, nDreams

What the ?!@* is publishing?
What we’ve done
Facebook, Home and other platforms
Money
Spreading the word
The joy of spreadsheets
The explorer’s rulebook

Also: innovative revenue streams

So what’s publishing?
Everyone has a different definition. It’s a group of functions.
* Commercial assessment – a demographic, the rival products, looking at it harshly as well as creatively
* Funding development
* Legal, QA, Localisation, Platform-holder
* Marketing, PR, launch plans
* Post-launch support, games as a service. Dropping prices in stores, etc. Pricing.

So, nDreams
Formed in 2006, based in Farnborough. 25 internal staff, at any one time, 10-30 external. We want to make innovative games and models. Work on the edges of games industries. Brands, TV companies, directors. One of our first projects was a console-based ARG. Also social storytelling, narrative in games. Story-based stuff.

60% of our revenue is work from hire. We use that to publish. We can’t do 100% publishing, we’re self-funded, we have no VC backing. We think this works well. You can take work for hire and use the money to slowly build up publishing. We’re up to 60/40. It’s a nice comfort blanket.

Quick video.

Some are published, some not.

Facebook: StreetDance 3D movie. 3D facebook game. Did the motion capture. Sits on Facebook, people can play it.

Crunchie Friday Town. Happy, smiley-face. Puzzles and minigames. Week by week new games, levels. Work for hire project.

Musicality – apartment we created and published in Home. Own a big gig venue, play music with other people online and jam.

Moonbase for GAME in Home.

Home TV for Sony Home, voiced by Robert Llwellyn.

Pirate Galleon for Sony Home.

Couple of ARGs. Lewis Hamilton: Secret Life. Secret second life outside racing, meets people, 9 languages including Korean.

Xi, an ARG inside PlayStation Home. Really fascinating, and fun. They run live. Story, etc. Really loved doing it.

Games coming out on the App Store. Spirit of Adventure on Facebook. Interactive story. New chapters every week. Professor Layton-style. Great story written by ex-BBC writer. Follow progress of character all the way through. Good fun. 20-40 year old women. Taking it to iPad.

iPhone test title, yoga.

Finally, working on PSN/XBLA title. That’s a very quick summary.

Engines
We use Unity 3D. Cross=platform, in-browser. Using it on Facebook. Also used HDK for Home and our own Home libraries. Unity’s great. Issues with any middleware. By and large really pleased with Unity.

5 Key Elements of Digital Platforms
* Potential number of demographic match players
* Scarcity of quality content or gap in market?
* Ease of marketing/PR/promotion – this can be hugely different on different platforms. Really easy on Home, but hard on Facebook, but virality.
* Virality. Different strengths and weaknesses. Facebook was fantastic, struggling now.
* Ease of payment and %ge of people used to payment. Big difference between app store and something like online/browser game/Facebook. Either PayPal, credit card details, can be a barrier to entry.

Facebook
* Very big.
* Sucks commercially now. Really difficult to make money. Only 3% of people pay for stuff. Need huge numbers. Such big companies in there – Zynga – £75m spent on advertising in Facebook every year. Really hard to get people to notice you.
* Credits and payment mechanisms not as nice as app store, PSN.
* Tweak monetization until advertising makes money. This is almost impossible. Really tough. Not impossible. Only been doing it 3-4 months.
* Need partners, licences or huge marketing budget
* Buggy, documentation is appalling
* Web coding is fiddly, and Facebook is constantly changing
* Used Unity, but you will lose 30% or more players, particularly at the casual market. That’s something Unity are working on. For us we don’t think it’s a big enough negative.
* Flash is the way most games are done. We might go with Flash for casual, Unity for core.
* Don’t forget social. You really need to design it in from the beginning, right from the start.

Facebook Tips
* Host large files on S3
* Web files on Rackspace Cloud
* Optimise FB and database calls, Facebook can take ages to get data back
* Think about ‘social proof’ – show friends friends are playing
* Constantly analyse and tweak
* Perfect for A/B testing
* Advertising works and is nicesly targeted, but can be an expensive way to lose money – CPC is 80p to £1

Facebook stats
* 100k uniques
* 3% pay for stuff
* Adding the word “play” doubled the number of clicks

PlayStation Home
* It’s growing and it’s a great commercial environment
* HDK has huge potential, home as a games platform
* Essentially a great MMO platform. Now global publishers for Sony in Home. We got in first, a great advantage.
* If you think something can be big, get in first.
* High-end, graphics need to be world-class
* It’s getting more competitive, 14m people in Home now.
* Easier to get noticed in there compared to Facebook, probably XBLA and PSN
* There’s a lot of average stuff in there, clothing, etc. A good game, etc. can really stand out.
* The team are great to work with, but focussing on one platform is a risk. It’s hard to do cross-platform development work.

Apple
* About to launch first iPhone/iPad title.
* Love the payment system.
* HUGE number of games ont he store, but convinced that you’re starting to need partners/licenses/large marketing budget or be featured by Apple.

Web
* Web with Facebook Connect and hooks to other social sites is the way to go. Build your own community, and marketing and PR hugely important.

Money
* Lots of ways to make money. We’re doing:
* Work-for-hire funding publishing.
* Project-based finance. Proving quite successful at this – film financing companies – they can get funding for one film, one game or a slate. Difficult, but happening, we’re making it work.
* Equity-based is getting investment.
* Or, Acorn to Oak tree – finding the right partners. We don’t think a tiny game without marketing or partners can be big anymore. It’s really really hard to do. You don’t have to do everything. Find someone who can help you to promote it.

Revenue models
* Demo, then one-off payment
* Freemium
* Microtransactions – cart rider
* Subcriptions, but people won’t have that many on the go
* Advertising and sponsorship
* Merchandising, but it’s never going to be huge

A combination of the above can work. No reason why you can’t combine.

Spreading the Word
PR – the razor ‘X’. The PR hook. The lift pitch. A one-line pitch. Hit-man. The razor X. Just from saying that, understanding that. Something you can say in a line. If you have that, then guerilla PR can work. Clever ways that don’t involve money or much money.

Press and wire services, we’ve used these. They can work OK. But you need a unique release, something that can grab attention. It has to have something interesting.

If you have magazine editors and journalists – then send stuff to them. That can help. And also a Twitter community – or community areas on our website. Where people can come. Encourage the people who like our games to do more.

Marketing
Our single biggest challenge. Facebook advertising works, with a good ad, you can buy players. It’s expensive, but working with partners or marketing money. Work with someone who can bring it you, or raise money yourself. We’ll look at getting a marketing director.

The joy of spreadsheets – very, very important
Capture lots of data. Any digital platform – capture all the data you can. Heat maps, sales data, behaviour, social data, ask the community. Make time to analyse data. The biggest advantage – you can capture live data and analyse it and make instant changes. A-B tesing is hugely powerful. Sometimes it’s not obvious. Heatmaps in levels show you where people are going.

To wrap up, the explorer’s rulebook. Eight rules.

1. Always think cross-platform. Focussing purely on iPhone, Facebook, Home, etc. is not the way to go.
2. Do full passion-free commercial assesments.
3. Don’t try to do everything, work with partners. If you need marketing, tv production, etc.
4. Get onto new platforms early.
5. Think ‘service’ not ‘launch’
6. Spend half your dev budget after launch.