Tim, from Gabob, talks about developing the time management/sim game
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Interviewer: I’m here at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Tim: Tim Fowers, I’m with Gabob and we made a game called Now Boarding.
Interviewer: What’s the game about?
Tim: It’s kind of a tycoon game and time management game, in an airport getting people where they want to go before they freak out.
Interviewer: How did you come up with the theme of an airport, and what was the audience that you intended it for?
Tim: The thing is I actually came up with it flying on standby on an airline, and I realized that when you’re flying standby they just try to get you where you want to go on any flight because you’re standby and you can go on any flight. It was just an interesting way of trying to get people to where they want to go.
I thought it would be an interesting problem for a game, for people to try to solve in the midst of a game.
Interviewer: Did you play any of the other casual gaming Sims before?
Tim: Yeah, I think like Chocolatier was a big inspiration because it has these tycoon elements where you’re building over time, but it also is accessible and casual and, generally, it’s time management where you’re spinning different plates at the same time.
You have to manage loading the plane, sending the plane, telling the plane where to go, keeping people happy. They give a person several different tasks and they have to try to stand up with all of it.
Interviewer: So, you did the first iteration in flash or how was that?
Tim: Yes. We basically started in flash and continued from there, but the real trick was getting it from a flash version to a download version. We went through several obstacles trying to get it to a downloadable state.
We tried different flash DXE things and finally ended up going with Adobe Air, but Adobe Air didn’t have any way to encrypt itself. So we had to write around encryption and then we wrote our own sales portal just using PayPal and some PHP pages and our own little serial number entering thing and it worked.
Because it was flash, we could take the first episode and release that for free on all the flash sites, and that drove tons of traffic back to our site where we could just sell it directly to people.
Interviewer: Can you talk about – so you used flash to promote it, to make it easily accessible to people. Why not just sell the full version in flash? What was the issue with that? Why not sell the full version or just allow people to literally buy the full version and just access it off of a website instead of downloading it?
Tim: Well, because in the market people generally don’t want to pay for something and then have to go to a website to play it for offline play. Another reason, also, for the sense of ownership. People, when they buy something they want, at least, a download is the general market consensus. It is moving toward other things with virtual items and others, but generally to get people to get out their wallets, they have to feel like they are getting something.
So, we felt download was important and it was because other models that had tried to sell something that you just play on a web page like the full version but still on a web page didn’t really do very well because people, I don’t think, understood what they were getting. And they didn’t understand the value in it.
Interviewer: Once you did switch to downloadable, then sales did improve or raise or…?
Tim: We pretty much started with it. Unfortunately, we had some hiccups the first two weeks, some more bugs. That’s when we came up with this whole air solution. But, initially it sold pretty well and it kind of spikes, based on which flash site we’re on at a given time.
But, we’ve actually done two demos for the game and we have a spike with every site that picks it up because it’s the new game on that site. It’s on the front page. It gets a lot of eyeballs, and it grabs a lot of sales.
Interviewer: How do you get this game on flash sites, and how do you keep your difference from all the other flash games on that site?
Tim: Well, that’s hard to differentiate yourself, but generally most of them they kind of have an open submission policy. Some of them, when you’re talking big numbers, when you’re talking about some of the big sites, you have to make a deal with them. You have to say, OK I’ll give you a third of the profit because we can track – we have a tracking system to see where the sale is coming from. And so it’s like, we’ll cut you a check for a third for whatever sales come from people playing from your site, like addicting games. But, they’ve got millions and millions of players so that’s fine. It’s not like a casual portal where they are taking 75 percent. They are much more equitable deals.
The numbers for these free flash sites just keep going up. I mean, they just keep getting more and more traffic, especially in a bad economy. Also, there’s lots of international. We set it up so PayPal, you can send payments from anywhere. For a long time half of our sales were international until we got picked up on some big U. S. sites, and now we’re swinging more towards stateside sales.
Interviewer: Can you talk about – have you done any localization for your game or anything else like that to cater to the international audience?
Tim: We’d really like to. We’re just not sure which one to address. Our top seller countries are Norway and Denmark. I don’t know if we want to do it quite in that language. We would like to localize, but the trick is if we put the effort into localization, could we get it on flash sites that address that language really well? Could we get it to that market more effectively than we do now?
And the other thing is try to design your game to be more language independent. Like Sims, the guys talk in symbols and stuff and you can make a game easy to navigate even just by making things more symbolic. That is a good strategy for internationalization.
Interviewer: Any other challenges that you ran into while you were promoting or selling your game?
Tim: We did a fun promo thing recently. We came up with this idea. It’s like, OK so people play this flash demo on a flash site and they get through it one time. They get to the end, and I’m like, OK well do you want to go buy it, or do you not want to buy it? And so, we looked at that.
We also looked at – we had a lot of fifteen year olds that did not have a credit card but they really liked the game, so we figured out a way to harness that. We made this promo page. What happens is you play the game once, everything is normal. But, if you play through the demo a second time you actually get a different set of upsell ads, and at every level we say, oh go get the full version.
But, now we say, click here to figure out how to get a free copy of the full version because obviously these people don’t really want to pay but they really want the game because they’re playing it again.
Tim: And so, they go to another webpage that says, OK here’s the deal. You give us your email and we’ll give you a link, a link that has a code on it. This is linked to our site, but that code tracks with a cookie, tracks that person. And so, share this with your friends, put it in your blog, whatever you want to do. If anybody clicks on that link, if any of those people end up buying the game, we’ll immediately email you a free copy of the game.
We haven’t given away a ton of free copies because it’s just a slow building thing, but people get out there. You get these fifteen year olds without money, but they know their aunt would like the game.
And so, our link is getting out in all of these locations that they wouldn’t normally. It’s getting on forums. It’s getting on blogs. Over time, that actually builds slowly. It starts at two hits here, three hits here. It starts to become hundreds of hits when you’re talking about all of these places that your URL has been seen by other people, and they’re vouching for it. I really like this game. I think you’d like this game.
For us, we’re fine giving away a copy if that’s going to help get another copy. That’s no problem, but the long term is still out there, and people still run into it. It’s like a permanent presence somewhere on the web and so it’s worked. It’s kind of a new idea and we liked it, and feel free to use it if you want to.
Interviewer: Are there any other innovative marketing techniques that you guys are looking at? Have you put a video on YouTube or any of the other sites?
Tim: Well, we have a game play video on our site. I don’t think I put anything on YouTube. We wanted to make a Facebook version to kind of do it with that stuff, but no, mostly it’s been through flash sites. They have a pretty good exposure and a really long tale. It’s like, you know, you stay in their catalogue of games even though it’s like 300 games. Our strategy is to just get in a lot of little places instead of trying to get on big portals because a lot of little places add up.
Interviewer: What about mokey ads?
Tim: Yeah, we used that basically, so we put ads in front of the game. Even for the demo we put an ad in front of the game just so we can go to a flash portal and say, OK we do like an ad-free version for a little fee. So, we do have mokey ads but mokey ads do not pay.
We even had it really efficient because we had mokey ads in between levels, and we were dispensing 10 times the number of ads because it wasn