Tim, one of the developers of Now Boarding game, showed quite interesting phenomena. Tim mentions that they created a web version of their game which you can play online (you’ll need to install Adobe AIR – which is fast & sweet to do – when you first launch the game). I’m going to ask a permission to share accurate numbers, but nevertheless it seems pretty decent tactic and has worked for them.
Take a look at the game and see how well they’ve done it.
By the way: the team is now having a special discount for limited time (don’t know how long), so if you want to get a discounted version, check out the purchase page.
Some time ago, I randomly picked a winner among those who participated in a survey. The winner got to pick any game from Big Fish Games. He selected one game and I said I would get him the game.
After browsing some time, I realized that I couldn’t find a “buy as a gift” option from their website. I decided to buy the game “normally” and proceeded. I thought I would use PayPal to make the payment… just to see Big Fish Games (BFG) wasn’t accepting it. I chose to use credit card, made the payment and created a customer account.
After making the order I got clear emails telling me what do I need to do in order to play the game. I wasn’t sure how to get the game to other person, so I tried emailing him the customized link. That didn’t work, and we exchanged some emails trying to find a solution.
Finally I gave up trying to get files to work at his end, and I simply gave him my BFG account details and let him try to install the game (Naturally I made sure that my credit card information would not be available, so that no harm could be done). That worked, and the guy got his game (and I changed my password after he was done) and in the end all was well.
What Big Fish Games could do to improve their system
The two tiny issues bugged me. First of all, why there’s no PayPal option to make the payments? (Or did I miss it?) PayPal is quite widely used and the money on PayPal account is just right for doing purchases like these: no need to give credit card information for example.
And secondly: BFG is has millions and millions visitors on their website. I bet *somebody* would be interested to buy games as gifts for their friends or family members. Why aren’t they accepting these type of orders (or again: did I somehow messed up and missed it?). It’s quite understandable that smaller studios selling games directly don’t accept gift orders, but from one of the biggest casual game portals – that seems like a missed business opportunity.
It boils down to the same old marketing wisdom: giving customer the option to buy the way he prefers.
Update: Scurvy Lobster notified me that I missed the gift certificates, which reminds me that the next time I shall use browser’s “Find” functionality to search for “gift”. My mistake. Maybe they still could learn from Amazon.com who even asks “is this purchase going to be a gift” (would be good for customers like me :)
The convince me to buy game contest got me thinking: how come so many games have so difficult payment systems? There were some room for some improvements in letting people buy the game. Here’s some things I noticed while I was browsing different game websites:
Put your buy button visible so that I can buy your product.
For some games, the buy button was missing. This actually happened to one of the winners as well. For some reason there was no buy button, or it was buried somewhere in a really hidden place. Hint for anybody selling any product: make sure your potential customer can see the buy button in some very visible place.
Please, provide accurate prices
In some cases, the price information was missing or was not accurate. This was not such a bad thing, but it’s bit stinky when the game price is not seen… or it’s not what was promised! Kudos game for example was said to cost $22.95, but I ended up paying $28.00 (after sales tax was added). I mean… I’m kind of “used” to this, and know that sales tax is added, but I still feel that eCommerce systems could do a better job providing prices. Amazon must be one of the worst examples: you have to give all your customer information and even credit card details before you can see the final price.
I wonder if anybody making those payment software ever considered customer in the process? (Okay, that was a bit exaggerated, there are places that show prices correctly – places like play.com). Until we get better eCommerce systems, there’s unfortunately much we can do. But if you can: please, provide as accurate prices as possible.
Provide the kind of payment solutions that your customers can use.
The last thing I noticed: in some occasions there was no chance to pay using your favorite payment system. Some systems offered only credit card options or phone orders but no PayPal (or wire transfer) for example. If you want customer to give you money, you gotta play by their rules: you have to provide them a way to purchase your game, even if it means squirrel skins.
The bottom line is: if you don’t give customer chance to give you money, he will be taking it somewhere else.
You have a good product. Good promotion. But almost zero sales. You might even feel frustrated after working really hard on your product. Some people complain, whine and go shouting how it’s impossible to generate revenue in gaming business. Soon, other complainers find him and then the “merry” group is ready to manifest the “truth”.
Meanwhile… somebody else has noticed that his game is not selling well, and he starts to ask encouraging questions. Rather than thinking “it won’t sell”, he starts to think “how can I make it sell?”. He might ask reasons behind the purchase from his customers. He might ask encouraging questions in discussion boards and really get to the bottom of the problem. Perhaps his game won’t sell in the future either, but he just might have found ingredients to produce a game that’s sells. It is up to him to reach his goal, and he can’t get there by complaining how the road is rough to walk.
You gotta have patience. Selling is a tough job. It’s probably one of the toughest jobs actually. It requires lots of work and patience to get others to buy something from you. It just won’t happen overnight. That’s why patience is needed. Some people complain and turn around and never see what’s behind the next corner. These people might not remember that you have to be patient, and sometimes it requires taking many steps… before seeing any sales.
That’s the secret.
As long as you keep polishing and promoting your product, and giving people something they want and need – the next sale just might be behind the corner.
Last weekend I saw two military officials discussing in a television show. They were asked what kind of leader they respect? What kind of qualities a good leader must possess?
Both responded: “They kind of leader who treats you as an individual and really listens to you.”
I bet you can see how efficient this piece of advice can be. It’s priceless for video game producers or leaders when dealing with others. It’s priceless for anyone dealing in customer service or in sales. The military officials continued by saying how motivating it is to work and carry out commands for someone who is listening to them.
Don’t you agree with this? Isn’t it true that those it’s easier to respect those who treat you with respect? Wouldn’t you agree that whenever you have been purchasing something and got somebody to deal with you personally, it has been easier for you to make the buying decision. You can do the same to others: you can motivate others to do what you want, by treating them as they want. Whether it’s leading the team or dealing with a customer, you can consider really listening to others and concentrating on solving their problem.
Could you use this style in your own work?
Virtual Villagers is one of the hit games in the gaming portals at the moment. The game graphics are pretty good, the user interface is pretty good, and the game atmosphere is nice. The game mechanism is (technically speaking) simple: you drag & drop and click some buttons, and game continues. Behind the mechanism is hidden a huge database of elements: your villagers can do lots of different stuff, learn new things and so on. When I first tried the game I asked “where’s the actual game” – but I suppose that’s one of the key factors for people playing simulation games. To get to “play God” in games is pleasing in itself, even though there would be missions or even levels in the game. Lesson: having a really fun game is much more important than just having a really great graphics – at least for casual games.
Virtual Villagers – The Lost Children
What happens if you make a hit game? You naturally publish a sequel: the developers continued with Virtual Villagers – The Lost Children. Now they made another Virtual Villagers game, but this time with added elements that continue the epic story. If you try the second part of the game (that’s being sold at full price) you might see that the game mechanism is pretty much the same as in the first game, but they’ve added lots of new elements. This is exactly the way how brands can be used to leverage sales: when people are addicted to your product, you give them more to purchase.
Your sales won’t get any better by complaining about them
Couple of days ago I saw some guys discussing about “how bad their business is” and asking others “I’ve lost lots of money on useless ads, ebook, programs, etc. How much you have lost online?” My first thought was: “Why this guys is asking these negative questions?” The japanese proverb “egg plants do not grow on melon vines” carries just the opposite message: if you want to concentrate on selling your product, then concentrating on past losses won’t help you in the future. I’m afraid that the guy who started the discussion won’t be heading anywhere good, unless he really learns something about the mistakes he made.
If you want to get sales, don’t concentrate on what you’ve lost – concentrate on what you can get
I cannot remember where I first heard the sentence “don’t focus on what you can lose, concentrate on what you can gain” but the meaning of that sentence really hit me today. Some of those people were concentrating on how badly they were doing and how they lacked sales, forgetting completely what they could learn from their mistakes. Talking about losses is useless if you don’t use it as an opportunity to learn and improve. It’s waste of energy, and only brings negativity to other people involved in the conversation.
Ask encouraging questions
I’m not saying you should pretend or forget your mistakes or losses. Not at all. I want to point out that this a discussion with a topic “How much you’ve lost?” Will not go anywhere. If the topic would have been: “What was your biggest loss and what did you learn about it?” – then there could be something valuable in it. If the discussion and questions are encouraging and lead to growth, then they have a good purpose.
Rather than asking “How much you’ve lost?” you could say “My product is not selling. What is the reason for that? What have I learned from the past? What do I need to make it sell?”
When you present a game it’s okay to tell about the game, show images and video clips but nothing beats letting user experience and evaluate the game by themselves.
Yesterday I talked with Edoiki game artist after he had read my idea for a new game mode. I had explained the game mode idea in our forums, but before artist had a chance to say anything I asked him if he would like to test the demo. “Sure”, he said.
The gameplay was made roughly in just few hours and all the unit graphics on the screen were placeholders, and even the user interface code was far from being polished. Before we could start, I needed to explain some rules and meanings like “blue color means dead unit”, “red is for civilians” and so on. In this alpha prototype there was nothing expect the core game mechanics made for two players.
We took couple of quick matches that took a few minutes each. Here’s the comment he wrote to our project’s discussion forum:
“hum-hum, game description text seemed a bit vague for a description and i was just about to complain on the down sides of it (as usual)…but once we got playing with the actual game, it all were clear and obvious, and it was a whole bunch of fun and excitement too…seriously, it ROCK’S AND KICKS (bottom)! Brilliant!!! “
While I was pleased to see his reaction, I must say that this lesson about letting user experience the product really hit me. Design documents are okay, but before players can fully understand what the game is all about you need to have a demo.
Some marketing specialists might recommend “showing instead of telling” but I really think “experiencing instead of showing” beats that. Rather than just giving a sales speech, let the customer experience your product.
Many developers think that reducing the game price will increase the sales. While this might be true sometimes, I generally believe that people won’t buy your game because it’s cheap – they are looking for fun, and when looking for something fun price is only one element. If people say that your product price is too high, do this.
There’s a rule I’d like you to ponder when you are thinking about reducing the price of your game: If people are pouring money into buying beer, they must have money to buy my game even if it costs bit more. Think about that. A bar night might cost $30-50 (or whatever) and with $20 you can get couple of cases of beer. People have no problem buying that stuff, so why would they have problems buying your $20 game if it really is a good one?
Think about it. How many beers is your game worth?
Retail stores like WalMart or Toys’R’us can sell your game, and it’s not impossible to get your game in sale through retail stores. There is a risk of getting ripped off (I personally haven’t dealt with retail stores, so I cannot give any personal recommendations in any direction) so that you actually don’t see any money after the first advance payment. I’m not saying that retail stores are out of question – just wanted to remind that they carry a risk.
Nevertheless, if you want to get your game to retail stores, I’ve compiled bunch of resources here. These companies can help you get your game to retail stores.
Big list of retailers:
List of companies / publishers that can help you to get your game to retailers (in alphabetical order):
Browse and see what could work for you. I’ve heard some good stories about Mumbo Jumbo and Meridian 4, but for further info – feel free to contact these publishers and ask yourself.