Jeff Hangartner – Revealing the Path Less Travelled in Video Game Industry

Jeff HangartnerJeff Hangartner, the founder of the gaming start-up, Bulletproof Outlaws has been a professional developer of games over the last half a decade. Creator of Pixelation, the 1st Pixel Art Forum and also originator of the Pixel tutorials which have been published in the form of a book. Jeff has always been a pioneer of the gaming industry.

CG Today is proud to present Jeff’s exploration as he shares the whole process of creating a start-up right from day 1. With the belief that gaming development is coming back to its original “one programmer in the basement roots” idea, Bulletproof Outlaws is chronicling every step of its start-up process from strategies, to marketing, setting goals and outsourcing, successes and failures. The aim is to help other developers who have ideas but are intimidated by the whole start-up process and are not sure how to go about it.

You can visit his website Bulletproof Outlaws to know more about him or send an email to get connected.

Promote Your Sales

If you’re planning a solid sale, make sure to send out notice about it. Twitter, free Press Release services, any Press contacts you have, etc. The more coverage you get about it, the better.

Free Game Of The Day

There are a handful of services for this, where you hook up with them and they publicize your Free Game event. I haven’t experimented with this yet, but I do know that some places charge money for this service. Paying to give your game away seems kind of silly to me, especially with limited marketing funds. Plus you have to consider the dangers involved:

Dangers of “Free”

So you’ve just put out a $2.99 game. It’s got a bunch of 4-star reviews and a few 5-star reviews. Overall it looks pretty solid, and new users who check your game out tend to buy it. But then you drop the price to Free for a few days. All of a sudden you’ve got thousands more downloads, awesome! Except you’ve also picked up a ton of 1-star reviews. “There shoul d be a rockt loncher!!!!! 1-STAR. will 5-star when u add it.” What the hell? Where’d this come from??

Well, when you switched to Free you attracted a TON of people who would never have played your game, and who, since they didn’t invest any money in the game, don’t really care about giving decent feedback or feel any need to spend more than a minute or two playing your game. I liken it to back in the videogame rental days, when kids would spend their allowance to rent some random NES game for the weekend. A lot of those games were objectively TERRIBLE, but you spent your money to rent it, you have it for the whole weekend and damnit, you’re going to FIND something to like about it to justify spending that money! …and often you DID end up liking the game, when you would have ditched it if you had only played it for a couple minutes for free.

Someone advised that if you drop your game’s price down to Free, expect to go down at least 1-Star in your rating and I think that’s a good rule of thumb to consider.

Free VS Rank

I don’t know if this is still true, but from what I read it sounds like if your game is Free, any downloads you get are awesome but your game is now in a Free ranking list, so your game’s normal Pay rank isn’t affected by all these new users…ie – you could be ranked at 180 on the App Store’s Paid games chart, make your game Free, get 50 million downloads and be number 1 on the Free games chart, but still be ranked at 180 on the Paid games chart when you go back to the normal price.

But does all this mean that Free is ALWAYS terrible? Well that all depends on your goal:

Know Your Goal

Essentially it comes down to a choice you’ll have to make over and over as you market your game: Do you want to get a ton of publicity, exposure, and attention…or do you want to make money?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Depending on where you are as a studio, or where your game is at in terms of success, or what you’re hoping to accomplish, your goal may change. If your game has just Launched, you probably want a lot of exposure, so a Launch Sale makes sense. After that as sales die off and your rank starts to drop, you want to re-coup your development costs so going back to a normal price and running contests and such instead makes sense. Then one day you wake up and find out you’re getting Featured by Apple and know you’re about to get a ton of attention…so here you decide “Do I want to make a bunch of money?” or “Do I want to shoot for getting in the Top 20?” If you want to make money, you leave your price where it is for the Feature. If you want to raise your rank, you can drop your price and try to lure in a ton of extra users on top of the Feature and hope that propels you up in the ranks to where you can go back to your original price and be making way more money.

If your game was cheap to develop, you might want to give it away for Free just to get your studio some exposure. If your game has a ton of publicity built up and you know you have a jillion people lined up to buy it, you might want to price it at $3.99 to maximize your profits. If your game took 2 years to develop, you might not be able to price it under $3.99 and still recoup the development costs.

Every time you come to a marketing fork-in-the-road, you’ll have to re-evaluate your goal at that stage.

Freemium And In-App Purchases

I honestly don’t know much about these things yet. The potential for profit is huge through these methods, but as a solo Developer who contracts out programmers over the Internet, I don’t really want to mess with this kind of stuff when I don’t have an in-house programmer on demand in-case things are broken and Gamers are banging on my door complaining about money issues haha Down the road I’d like to get into this area just because there’s a lot of potential money in it, though the world of designing In-App purchases that make sense, don’t piss off Gamers, don’t seem unfair or like a money-grab, etc. is a whole ‘nother can of worms to study.

Social Media Sharing

I grabbed the AddThis Add-On for Firefox which puts a little icon at the top of my browser that I can click and get a dropdown list of Social Media sites (Digg, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, etc.) and instantly post sites to those places. I use this for when I get new reviews or put out Press Releases, etc. Haven’t seen anything epic out of this, but someone recommended doing it and it’s quick so I give it a go. I’m sure there’s an optimal way to get a post bumped up on a site like Digg but I’ve never used many of these services till now so I’m not familiar enough with them to say too much.

Skype

If you don’t have a Skype account, grab one. You’ll find a lot of business-types want to talk to you over the phone to make their sales pitch for their services or to interview you, etc. so a Skype account is handy.

CONCLUSION

Bulletproof Outlaws - Elusive Ninja

That brings us to a close on this look at some of the most popular methods of marketing using Social Media. It’s all pretty inexpensive or free, so as an Indie Developer you’re probably going to be using a lot of these. Stay tuned for Article II – Traditional Advertising, where I’ll be covering more traditional methods of marketing that tend to cost money, like paying for banner ad space and using marketing agencies. I’ll also go in-depth into the “seedy underbelly” of the industry, like buying downloads, paying for reviews, etc. which was all pretty mind-blowing to me when I started running into it and saw just how widespread it is!

Email: Jeff Hangartner | Web: iPhone Game - Elusive Ninja: The Shadowy Thief



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