Hey I'm Luke! For GameFeatured's first interview I spoke with Andreas Zecher about the careful marketing planning process of their game Future Unfolding. They spent the majority of their marketing budget on alternative forms of promotion, read more below to see how that worked out for them and their game's success.
Who Are You?
Our studio Spaces of Play is based in Berlin, Germany. Our small team consists of Mattias Ljungström, Marek Plichta and Andreas Zecher. We initially met in a design school in Potsdam. Future Unfolding is our forth project and our biggest and most ambitious one so far.
What’s your Game?
Future Unfolding (http://www.futureunfolding.com) is an action adventure that is all about exploration. It is set in a surreal, dream-like world that you’ll need to carefully observe and explore to learn its rules and secrets. For this game we developed our own tools and framework to create a very specific art style. The world is rendered from a birds-eye perspective with long shadows that create a sense of depth. Everything in the game reacts to your touch, making the world feel very alive. The world itself is hand-designed, but we’re using procedural generation to add variation to each player’s incarnation of the world. Each player will have a different experience playing the game.
How did you come up with the idea/concept for this game?
We wanted to make a game that lets players discover everything for themselves, including the things they can do in the game, the objects and creatures they can interact with. Many modern games rely on tutorials that undermine any sense of discovery. We tried to see how long we can go without explaining anything at all to players.
How long did it take to build? What was that process like?
It took almost 5 years to make the game from concept to release. Once we had the basic idea we started creating concept art which looks very close to the final game. The next step was to build a small vertical slice that would communicate the feeling of being in and exploring the world. You could maybe play for 20 minutes in that first version until you had seen everything. We kept working on the game over the next 4 years until we had enough content and puzzles that would provide for roughly 15 hours of playtime. We showed it at many festivals during those years to get constant feedback.
Have you released a game previously? If so, how did it go?
Before Future Unfolding, we released a puzzle game called Spirits (http://www.spacesofplay.com/spirits). It was released for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android and has done very well (http://www.spacesofplay.com/blog/spirits-by-the-numbers/).
Is this your full time job?
Mattias Ljungström and Marek Plichta have been working on the game full-time. I worked on Future Unfolding part-time. I also run Promoter (https://www.promoterapp.com), a web service for game developers to track press and distribute Steam Keys.
Have you used an external publisher before?
Did you have a marketing budget? If so, what was worth it? What was a waste?
Most of our marketing budget went to traveling costs for events and festivals. We tried exhibit at as many events as possible, and focusing on events were we could show the game for free or at a low cost. Our second biggest and maybe most important expense was to pay for two gameplay trailers. With a few exceptions it’s very hard to measure which parts of your marketing works, and which don’t. Customers need to see and hear about your game 5 or 6 times before they actually consider a purchase, especially if you’re charging more than a few bucks.
Do you rely solely on game purchases for profit?
Mostly, although we also do freelance work from time to time.
What advice did you take 5 years ago? Is it still true today?
Most specific business advice has a half-life of maybe 3-6 months before it stops being true. It’s risky to look back at what has worked for other people can trying to copy their strategy. The games landscape just evolves too quickly. I think it makes more sense trying to anticipate how the market is going to shift in the future and take that into account when making decisions.
What advice would you pass on to developers who are looking to launch their game?
Put as much time as you can into your marketing and PR, and start early. When you launch, you want to already have an existing fan base that can help you get the word out about your game. Build relationships with journalists and content creators early. Be aware of what other games or platforms are launching in the same month as yours. Don’t stop talking about your game after launch. Be aware that this advice might have become irrelevant by the time you’re reading it.
Do you have a dev log?
Where can people follow you?
What’s your favourite element of the game that everyone should know about?
The aspect that I like the most about Future Unfolding is its pacing. It has very relaxing parts, but also hectic ones, difficult puzzles, a world that keeps surprising you.
Where do you get inspiration to build games or come up with an idea?
We look a lot for inspiration outside of games. Many different things gave us inspiration for Future Unfolding: The art of Swedish illustrator John Bauer or Polish painter Jacek Malczewski, an old unfinished Amiga demo our coder Mattias Ljungström made in ’92, a poetry book where we found the game’s title, a SIGGRAPH paper on Shadow Art that helped us to add depth to the game’s birds-eye perspective and create the illusion of a 3d space.
What marketing information did you wish you knew before launching your game?
Try to make something original. Make the game that only you can make.