Preloaded at Develop 2012

Last week, Team Preloaded headed down for our annual seaside trip to Brighton for the 2012 Develop Conference. It was a particularly big year for us this time round as we were very proudly to be featured on the agenda quite heavily!

Preloaded Highlights

Session: "Wellcome Trust Workshop: How Do You Make Science, Play?" 
Danny Birchall, Iain Dodgeon and Martha Henson (Wellcome Trust), Phil Stuart (Preloaded), Tom Rawlings (Auroch Digital)

We were very excited to be asked by the Wellcome Trust to help run a number of game design workshops, explaining how close collaboration between games makers and content specialists can produce great games, such as our recent Wellcome collaboration - Axon.

Session: "More Than Just Fun. Designing Games With Purpose" 
Phil Stuart (Preloaded)
Phil's session covered some of the key principals we use when creating games around specific content goals. If you didn't make it to his session or would like to a refresher on some of his insights, you can watch a similar presentation he gave at this year's GDC here

Preloaded nominated for Best Independent Studio 
We were pleased as punch to be considered amongst some of the industries finest in this year's 'Best Independent' category. Other studios nominated included Bossa Studios (Monstermind), Crytek (Crysis), Frontier (Lost Winds and Kinnectimals), Mediatonic (Robot Unicorn) and Angry Bird's Rovio. 

The award went to the very deserving CCP and resulted in one of the best acceptance speeches of the night - the contents of which are a bit too blue to include here!


Most Useful Session

"Good to Great: Why is One Game Better Than Another?" 
Graham McAllister, Founder (Player Research)

Graham's talk was both insightful and packed with content. He expertly reminded us of all those player-focused considerations we should be thinking about when making games but don't always prioritise - and most importantly, the difference that bit of effort can make to the final product.

Graham walked us through a fantastic example of how incremental design improvements can make the difference between success and failure.

Castle Clout (one of the original 'sling shot' games)

Angry Birds (amazing the difference a few UI improvements can make!)

Graham's top tips:

  • Test early - waiting until the QA phase is too late. The point of play testing is to refine your game design, so there's no point in leaving it until all those decisions are already set in stone.
  • Be kind - don't punish players by making their first try a failure. If the player has even a minor success in their first 30 seconds, they feel satisfaction and want to keep playing. If they fail, you're telling them 'you're not clever enough to play this game'. That's not very welcoming!
  • Surprise and delight - a fun unexpected event holds the player's interest and makes them want more. Be it an animation, visual feedback or sound - a little goes a long way.
  • Choice isn't always a good thing - if you offer multiple control systems, its likely that someone will pick the one that's the worst option and then tell everyone how rubbish your game is. Aim to give everyone the optimum experience.

Most Candid Session

"Jenga Postmortem: Meet The Game That Beat OMGPOP's Draw Something" 
Nick Bhardwaj (NaturalMotion Games)

NaturalMotion's proven success with the surprise iPhone hit 'My Horse' was followed up by the release of the extremely popular 'Jenga'. Released in early 2010, the game was consistently in the top 100 paid app charts and was critically successful. However, they felt that a game of this quality and high profile IP had more commercial potential.

They took the (perhaps brave) decision to experiment with a temporary price slash, taking the app from the tier 1  price bracket (99¢ / 69p) to free. A bold move, which appears to have paid off.

The Strategy
The primary goal of the experiment was to explore whether increasing Jenga's user base, could have a tangle impact on overall revenues from the game. This also included exploring the impact on affiliate promotions for their other games, such as 'My Horse'.

The Approach

  • 0% Marketing budget: No paid-for adverting was placed at any point during the experiment. 
  • Free-App networks: Instead of paid-for placements, NaturalMotion crafted a hit-list of free app networks (including Free App Party, FAAD and Magic Solver), journalists and bloggers to promote the impending price drop. Although many of those networks do offer paid-for promotions (e.g. revenue share in exchange for promotion), wherever possible they strove to focus on free placement structures. They also promoted the price drop on their Jenga Facebook page, which has over a million fans.
  • Cross-Promoting: They added full screen ads to the existing 'My Horse' app to promote the Jenga price drop. These ads were also carefully A/B tested to review effectiveness of various wording and art combinations.

The Results
Pretty dang amazing!

  • 4m downloads in 4 days
  • DAU peaked at 1m
  • Reached Top 10 paid app worldwide when returned back to full price
  • Increased 'My Horse' user base
  • Jenga's overall revenue increased when the price returned to normal

The Learnings

  • It's all in the timing. The price drop was intentionally planned around the 2011 Game Developer's Conference to piggyback the incredible exposure given to them by Steve Jobs (who used Jenga's unique gameplay in his Apple keynote to demonstrate the potential of the iPhone's new gyroscope). 

    They also launched on a Monday. For the free-app networks this is amongst the hardest inventory to fill, as when selling promotional spaces people tend to target Friday afternoons (to capture peak weekend sales). This often leaves Monday's as a bit of a 'dead' zone. Although they did have the high profile IP on their side, this strategy did appear to work as they were picked up by 15 different free app networks.
  • Make it easy for promoters. They created an easy to use press kit, including Jenga art, quotes, company info and links to any high profile reviews. This meant that once assets were created, contacting people was super efficient (removing the need to create lots of bespoke assets on the request of each network) and the networks had everything they needed to be sold on the story.

    One failing was not giving networks and journalists enough lead time (most were contacted on the Friday before they launched on the next Monday).
  • Affiliate advertising is a no brainer. In day 1, 'My Horse' provided 20k installs for the free Jenga app. 

    The A/B testing also gave invaluable learnings for quite a minimal effort. Nick shard a couple of interesting insights into what worked best in their case:
    a) Make sure you use the word 'FREE' (this doubled CTR)
    b) Stating a time limit (e.g. a clock countdown) increases clicks

Most Entertaining Session

"30 Apps in 45 Minutes" 
Stuart Dredge, Freelance Journalist (Guardian, Sunday Times, The Appside)

You can see the full list of app Stuart covered here, however some of my top picks, which were downloaded immediately were:

  • Makego (Cowly Owl) - Turn your iPhone into a car. Simple concept, effectively executed.
  • Move the Turtle (Next is Great) - Teaching kids how to program. Genius introduction to coding.
  • Numberly (Moonboot Studios) - Education game for teaching kids the alphabet. Beautifully crafted.
  • Toca Train (Toca Boca) - Play with your own virtual train set. Another gem from the Toco Boca bank.

Best in Show

Aside from our studio award nomination, our absolute top highlight has to the opening credits on award night - featuring some of the industries finest in their acting debut.

OOooo and also we have to include in joint 1st place for Best in Show, development legend Dave Perry. It was a tough call on whether to include his very moving and humble acceptance speech but this incredible montage ode to his career is a fantastic summary as to why we love games.

Long live Games and see you next year Brighton!