Lessons learned

Flee was released on the Android Market on the 31st of October. These are some thoughts on what happened since.

 

Unthinkable problems

So the game was finished and uploaded to the market, the website finished and online and everything was flowing right. Everything? No! Apparently, Telefonica customers from Spain cannot access the game's website (and this blog), and get a DNS timeout. And we become aware of this error days after sending mails to lots of spanish blogs and magazines. The domains were bought months before the game release, precisely to avoid DNS propagation delays. After submitting three support tickets to my hosting, HostGator, they finally admitted, a couple days ago, that there was a problem and started fixing it. Now they say that Telefonica is not responding to their queries, which, knowing Telefonica, doesn't surprise me at all. Twenty two days after launch, the website still cannot be accessed by a lot of people from my country, and I know that we never received some mails and at least two times someone refused to cover Flee because the website was not working and we looked completely unprofessional. This is very, very frustrating, and we feel helpless. I still don't know to which extent this has affected the game, so if you couldn't see the website or sent an email that was never replied: Please accept our apologies, we are very sorry! Contact us again, leave a comment here or find us on Twitter.

 

Player Feedback on the Market

Player feedback, overall, was moderately good. But I really regret that people use app comments in the Android Market as a one-sided support method; they write 'DOES NOT WORK ON PHONE XXYY' and stamp a 1-star rating. Only one person, so far, mailed us to say that the game was looking really bad on her Dell Streak, even attaching a screenshot. The next day, an update was issued, the problem fixed and the player happy. I wish it could have been the same with all the other people with similar problems. However, I think final users are not to blame in this case, because they don't have be aware that:

 

a) there's more than 100 Android devices,

b) we are a tiny, no-budget development studio and this is in fact our first game,

and c) we can possibly afford (or even be able to buy in our country) all those devices

 

So this leads me to think that this is (yet another) Android Market problem, of concept, usability and (lack of) user education. I think that only users who have used an app or game for at least a full 5 or 10 minute period should be able to rate it. If the app looks broken on their device or even fails to start, then what both user and developer need is not a rating, but

 

  1. an market protocol so the user to communicate easily the problem to the developer, automatically including device brand, model and OS version, and an optional commentary, and

  2. an mean for the developer to reply to this with the market as a middle man, because I totally understand that people refuse to write support queries from their personal mails, scared of spam and whatnot, and they should have a mean to preserve their privacy

 

So, while the Market doesn't get better, if you happen to download an app or game from there and you have problems with it, please contact the developer before rating it. We rely on feedback! We love to make our works better!

 

Social Gaming

I regret discovering so late (1 month before publishing) the social gaming SDKs available for Android. By the time, there were two options: OpenFeint and Scoreloop, and both were quite recent in the platform, meaning that none of them had the same array of features as similar libraries for the iPhone. Having no time, I decided to implement some very lightweight social gaming capabilities: the scoreboards we all know and love, but in a global fashion, not just a reminder of the player's own records. And I wanted to have a different scoreboard for each game mode, plus some statistics (total accumulated score, total time playing, etc.). Despite seeming to be more popular, I rejected OpenFeint straightaway: the library was bigger (in kb), and it needed far more lines of code to be inserted for just sending a score to the server, plus having to define several constants...it seemed dirty. Probably they fixed that after v.1.0 But what I liked more of Scoreloop is their support service. The Scoreloop developers themselves reply to developer questions, to the point of writing you personally; I've never seen that before. It made me feel very comfortable and safe, knowing that I wouldn't have to tear up my hair when problems arose. Setting up the scoreboards and the actual score sending was a breeze, and voilá, 'social gaming' (sort of) enabled in a matter of hours. I'm also not proud at all of the look and feel of the scoreboard screens in Flee, they really deserved more polish, and customizing them is as straightforward as designing any Android layout.

In my next Android game I will try to make use of the features offered by Scoreloop, namely the player challenges, use of game currency, publishing scores to social networks, etc., and above all, taking these features into account during the initial game design, and not on the last stage of development.

 

Marketing and Press Feedback

Collecting addresses and sending press releases was much more exhausting than designing or even programming, but well worth. Press response was overwhelming: Flee has been featured or mentioned, so far, in Engadget, Game TrailersJoystiq, Jay Is Games, Digital Tools, DIY Gamer, Red Wave, The Awesomer, The Guardian or Android Guys, to name a few. In Spain, Flee was also covered by PixFans, Fase Extra, Desconsolados, Androidsis, Akihabara Blues and several more, and we even got our first interview ever in El Blog de Manu. Add some spontaneous coverage in Australia, France and Germany. There's also another interview for Siglo 21, a well-know spanish indie radio show, still to be aired. All this coverage for a first and very-small game is far beyond our expectations, and wildly encouraging and stimulating, along with all those "first time"s. After this marketing effort, we can at last concentrate strictly on games, start designing ours' and, YES!, play other's again.

 

Piracy

Oh, the Piracy. Not that this was unexpected. I have always thought that in life, if you want or need something, asking for it politely it's probably the best way to achieve it. At first I tried it, registering in some 'underground' sites and asking moderators to remove the download links, with mixed results - I felt stupid explaining that we are not millionares developing games while lying on our yatchs, but anyway I was curious at the response (if any). I stopped bothering soon, when the pirated version was far too spreaded on many international websites. After the initial shock, I don't think I'll worry much about this issue in the future. Piracy exists, get over it.

 

 

Ads in Games

Flee Lite (the free version) has been downloaded, to date, almost 11000 times, and that has netted us 7.14$. I know it's soon, but I'd say (100% guesswork) that ads, as a revenue source, only start being effective when you have at least 75000 downloads and show ads during play (and players play it regularly, of course). Yes, it's ugly, it breaks immersion, people dislike it...we all know all the reasons for not doing it. So we didn't and tried to be respectful to the game and to the players, and Flee Lite does not show ads while playing, only on startup and after each game over. How to address the issue of getting revenue while being respectful? We'll see in the next frugal game...