Monday, March 03, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #96: A Long Haul

Several of you guys have asked for more information about what's happening after the game shipped--more, that is, outside of development.

I'd really like to have information to share, but I don't have much.

I thought I shipped a content-complete product. I had a list for a free expansion pack, but it was mostly flavor. I quickly realized after getting a few weeks of excellent feedback in the forums, though, that the game wasn't content complete. There were several ways to significantly improve the game, but it was going to take plenty more work.

That part is hard.

Here's the most important thing I learned after I shipped the game: your game is not finished. Even if you think it's complete, it most likely isn't.

In one way, that's pretty painful. You put so much work in, then realize that there's still quite a lot to do. In another way, though, it's a huge opportunity. The game has a chance to be even better than you thought it could be, and who doesn't want that opportunity?

So my original vision was "single stream". I would complete development, then switch to marketing/support. In reality, though, once you've shipped a product, single stream doesn't exist. There are multiple streams.

What happens when the streams get crossed? You don't want to find out.

So you have to make a decision. I looked at sales (under 2,000), looked at the new long-term road map for the game, and decided that it was inefficient to try to expand distribution right now. I've been approached by bundlers (including one I like very much), and I'm sure GS will be in several bundles at some point, as well as being on the Humble Store, but it makes much more sense to get to version "2.0", then push hard for all this additional distribution.

Work hard, get the features added and tested/balanced, then push marketing as hard as I can in July/August/September.

I don't really have a marketing "plan". I didn't have one when the game launched, either. This was a mistake, but it's not terminal. One of the advantages of putting out a card game like this is that it can have a long lifespan. It's not going to be obsolete tomorrow, or even five years from now. So I have more than one chance here, and I can learn from my mistakes.

Oh, and here's one more important thing I've learned, and this might even be useful. It's very, very easy to structure your schedule so that you're only working on your favorite things. For me, it's development. Once I learned how to program (to some degree, at least), it feels like a soft, warm blanket. It's unbelievably comforting to be at my desk, working on the game.

Marketing, on the other hand, isn't comforting at all. It's doubleplus unfun. So it's very tempting to come up with rationales that let me continue to develop and ignore marketing.

Wait, you might be thinking, isn't that exactly what I'm doing?

Well, not exactly. Everything I'm adding to the game was discussed during the original development cycle, but I wasn't convinced the new features would add to the game without slowing it down. Since then, though, I've figured out ways to incorporate new elements without slowing the game down (well, by more than a minute or so in a single game). That's a good trade-off for more dynamic, varied gameplay.

I've also realized that people don't look at games from a blank slate. They don't start at ground zero and go "Wow, there's a lot here!" Instead, they look for what's missing first, and if they want something and it's not there, everything else can get passed by.

That's one more thing I've learned. Absence is the first thing people notice. So I need to remove those absences (I know what they are), then start promoting the game.

That's the lesson I've learned above all others: this is a long haul. Shipping the game isn't the 90% moment. It might only be the 30% moment. There's so much more that's still going to happen.

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