A month, or exactly 30 days have passed since the alpha version of Starsss was launched. Alpha funding was still new to me then and it is still a learning journey even as I am typing this. So here are a few important lessons I have learnt that I would like to share with you.
Give Yourself Time
It is important to estimate and give yourself some additional buffer time before your game's release date. In other words, if you think that you can finish this version of your game in 5 days, set its release date to be 7 or 8 (or even more) days later.
It is rather common that sometimes you will get stuck unexpectedly on a feature or bug in your game. And as a result you will spend more time than expected on them. This additional buffer time is a form of contingency plan that will help you out if you accidentally exceed the initial estimation of 5 days.
Announce Your Release Date Ahead
I have once read that once a game is released, its perceived hype by the game press media drops rather considerably. After having designed and created a few games, I have come to understand that point.
Every time a new game gets announced, or every time screenshots, previews or teaser trailers come out for an upcoming game, they create certain expectations in people. These expectations could create a sense of excitement and hype until the game is actually released. So why not captalize on that?
By announcing your release date ahead of time, you will essentially create something that people can look forward to. Let's say that you have a game that you have announced that will arrive on January 20th 2015. Since there is more than a month to go, people might want to put that on their calendar and have something to look forward to.
On the other hand, if you release a game and announced that it is released afterwards, as compared to a future release date, there is less to look forward to.
With Starsss, I created a countdown timer that countdowns to the release date when the first alpha version would be available on the game's site.
Having the countdown timer tells people how much time is left until the game is released. When you can see that there is a timer counting down, don't you have the feeling of wanting to see what happens when the time reaches 0?
Interaction is King
Think back to a moment when someone made a comment on your posts or tweeted to you about your game. Did you reply back to that person?
Interacting with people allows you to not only gather feedback, but also possibly provide people with the power to change things in your game. This creates a feeling in them that they have already invested in the game.
With Starsss, the game development process is streamed live on a regular schedule (9PM to 11PM EST every Monday, Thursday and Saturday) on TwitchTV.
This allows anyone viewing your live stream to directly interact with you and voice out their feedback or suggestions. In fact, one of the new special skills of a character in Starsss is the direct result of a suggestion provided by a follower of the channel.
Keep the Updates Coming
With alpha funding, anyone who has brought the game in its alpha state is someone who is possibly interested in how the game changes and improves along the journey. They are also taking a big risk by doing so.
Therefore, it is important that you keep updating and adding new game content to your game. In fact, since your game is still in alpha, that is a given right?
More importantly, anyone who has already brought the game should be your first priority to inform of the upcoming updates or new stuff to the game.
A good way to do so is through blogging. An active blog tells people that the developer is actively updating the game and is interested in informing them too. On the other hand, a blog that isn't regularly updated might give off the feeling that the game isn't being actively worked on.
With Starsss, I set out to blog about its progress twice per week on every Tuesdays and Fridays. This regular schedule of blogging creates the expectation in people of - "Oh since today's Tuesday, there's a new blog post coming!".
I hope that the sharing of my journey would have helped you in one way or another. It is the sharing of knowledge and experience that will allow us to become better (at making/designing games in this case).
Additionally, I know that you might also be interested in this so I have included the numbers from the alpha funding. With Starsss, I gave people the option to choose where their contribution would go towards. They could choose from a total of 3 predefined options - new playable characters, new worlds/enemies/bosses or local co-op.
As indicated by the graph above, for the past month around 1400 people in total have purchased Starsss and voted for where they would like their contribution to go towards. Of these 1400, most look forward to having local co-op mode added to Starsss while the least goes to adding more worlds, enemies or bosses.
Last but not least, have a great day and you can get Starsss now directly here.