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Freerunners is a parkour game, based on my own experiences. Here's what I learned during the development process.

James Rowbotham, Blogger

February 22, 2024

14 Min Read

I’ve been solo developing a game called Freerunners in my spare time for the last few years. Finding chunks of time to work on it in the evenings and weekends outside of my main job which is pretty time-consuming (also making video games, I’m a lead developer on Marauders).

Freerunners is a parkour game, based on my own experiences of doing parkour from a couple of years ago. I wanted to try and give the feeling I got of finding a flow and rhythm of moving through an environment. Vaulting, climbing, jumping, ducking, swinging, sliding, doing what it takes to complete a route as fast as possible.

PLAY THE FREE DEMO HERE

Let me know what you think and give the game a wishlist if you like it!

I’ve been making slow and steady progress over the years and am getting to a point where I feel more confident about being closer to launching the game. Now I am mainly refining the design of the levels, getting and acting on feedback from people as well as bug fixing, polishing and adding more juice. The core of the game is there, I have all the obstacles, the unlocks and all 50 levels are playable with art.

The next big milestone I had planned on the game’s journey was taking part in a Steam Next Fest. I had been holding off doing one before because you only get one Next Fest per game title. But now with the game being closer to launch I thought it would be a good chance to get some exposure, get more feedback on the game, and see if I could get wishlists (aka if people actually wanted to play the game). The only problem was I didn’t have a demo yet…

So last August (2023), I got to work on creating a demo. I tried taking an exciting section from the middle of the game, but it just didn’t work. The game is very much about learning and using the controls at the right time. Throwing people into the middle of the game just didn’t feel good or work. So I ended up giving people the first levels of the game, where you learn the controls and where it builds to more complex levels. With the last 2 levels being less tutorially and more representative of the games normal gameplay: Thinking about obstacles on the move and getting chased by the bad guys. The whole demo takes around 8-10 min to play and I think it gives a good feel of what the game is. I wrapped it up with some extra UI and blockers to tell people it was a demo and added a button to send players to the Steam page to wishlist the game.

I first uploaded the demo to Steam in September 2023. The plan was to get the demo up early and then keep refining it until the Next Fest, giving plenty of time to iron out bugs, get feedback and act on that feedback. For uploading a demo to Steam and linking it to my main store page this YouTube video was very helpful. Funnily enough, I missed the deadline for applying for the Feb 2024 Next Fest. However, I contacted Steam a few days after the deadline, letting them know I was interested and they let me join it still (thanks Steam). I think having my storepage and demo already up probably helped me out there. So then that was it, I was locked in!

I ended up being super busy in my day job over the months between Oct and the Feb Next Fest and marketing the game definitely suffered, but more on that later on. However, I managed to squeeze out 5 updates to the Demo in that time. These updates were a mix of general improvements that had come naturally while I continued developing the core game but also some things targeted specifically at improving the Demo. For example, I added localisation into 4 languages and the options to change keybindings and screen resolution. After receiving feedback (thanks r/parkour) I also decided to change the design/flow of some of the early levels to have a better rhythm to them. I’m glad I got these changes in as I think they created a more solid and accessible game.

Let’s get to the bit you probably came here to see, the cold hard numbers! I could do the marketing clickbait thing and tell you that I almost doubled my wishlists! But before you get too excited the truth is the numbers weren’t great ha. But it’s been a good learning experience and something I can work and build on, both for Freerunners and games I make in the future!

THE STATS HIGHLIGHTS

  • I had 154,724 impressions (people “seeing” my capsule art)

  • 2,261 people visited my store page (or 2,430 not sure why the numbers are different)

  • Of the 2,261 store visits 564 were from external traffic (Roughly a 5th from external traffic the rest were from within Steam)

  • A click-through rate to view my store page of 1.5%

  • Wishlists went up from 420 to 755, an increase of 355

  • If 2,261 people visited my store and I got 355 wishlists, that means I had a wishlist rate to store visits of around 15.7%

  • Demo plays went up from 194 to 691, an increase of 497

  • If 2,261 people visited my store and I got 497 demo plays, that means I had a Demo play rate of around 21%

  • The median demo play time went down by 1 minute to 6 min. (The Demo itself takes about 8-10 min to play through fully)

  • In terms of countries visiting my store page it was: USA - 29% (714), Russia - 14% (344), Singapore - 11% (268), China - 5% (117), UK - 4% (102), then Hong Kong, Canada and Japan with 3% each, then Germany and France with 2% each

  • I got the most amount of visits and wishlists on the first day of the next fest, it then declined over the next 2 days and was kind of steady for the remaining days

  • My Followers increase from 26 to 40

Here are some screenshots of the actual data:

WHAT WENT WELL?

  • Increase in Wishlists & Follows: Before the Next Fest, I was getting very few wishlists on a daily basis, so although I was getting relatively small numbers during the Next Fest it was definitely a nice boost to everything.

  • Post Next Fest baseline Wishlist Increase: It’s only been a couple of days since Next Fest finished but I am seeing wishlist additions at a higher daily rate than I would normally get. For example yesterday I got 7 wishlists even though everything is over. Potentially this is people who downloaded the demo but are only playing it now or people are seeing let’s plays of the game that were recorded over Next Fest.

  • Having Localisation: I localised into Russian, Spanish, French and Simplified Chinese. It could be purely coincidence but Russian was my second largest player base with Singapore and China coming in 3rd and 4th respectively (Singapore also commonly speaking Mandarin). So my localisation either helped bring in more players or at the very least the players that played were able to enjoy the game in their own language so seems like a win-win either way.

  • Having a Demo build-up early: Getting demo builds up on Steam way before Next Fest was very beneficial. Both for refining the demo itself, making it solid and stable but also for getting more confident in putting out live builds to Steam. I saw one Next Fest game that had to take down their game after the first day because of crashing and other issues, in their own words “Frankly, we pushed this demo out in haste to meet the festival deadline”. I feel for them, it’s a real shame because you only get one chance with Next Fest.

  • Engaging with people on Twitter (X): I saw lots of accounts on Twitter (X) asking what games to play for Next Fest and I spent a chunk of time each evening, searching and replying to people’s tweets, letting them know about my game (with a link to the store page). I think this must have been doing something because around one-fifth of all storepage visits were from external traffic and this was a big chunk of the marketing I did actually do.

WHAT DIDN’T GO WELL?

  • Marketing, Marketing, Marketing: By far the biggest mistake I made was being a classic cliche of an indie game developer. Spending a long time making a game only to do very little marketing. I did have a rough plan for marketing and a whole Trello list of things to do but in truth I just didn’t get around to doing them. I could make excuses like I’m doing this solo and that I work very long hours in my main job on Marauders, but realistically with the time I had, I just focused too much on the development side of the game/demo and not enough on the marketing. I didn’t contact press or streamers, I didn't do the suggested Live Stream, I didn’t rework my Steam page assets (The GIFs, images and trailer on my store page are all from when I first launched my Steam page). Realistically, my marketing was a post on Linked in and Twitter engagement. At the end of the day, I’m not going to beat myself up about it, I’m just going to learn from it and do better in the future.

  • Conversion Rates: Looking at my conversion rates they don’t seem great: A 1.5% clickthrough to my store page and 15% for wishlisting. I’m not sure what good conversion rates are but from my wishlisting rate of 15% percent (which costs nothing for a person to do) I would imagine it probably means a very low purchase conversion rate.

  • No Explosion of Wishlists and Followers: Although I’m grateful for every wishlist and follow I got, I’m fully aware that the numbers I got are still small and I’m going to have to work hard to increase them.

  • Have Content / Assets Prepared: I was making the promotional assets (GIFs, images) the night before Next Fest, and during it. Things would have been so much easier if I had stuff prepared in advance. For example, having the images ready for a Steam announcement post would have made releasing the post a much smoother process.

FEEDBACK

I got a bunch of useful feedback from people during Next Fest but I wanted to highlight this piece from Johan Toresson on Twitter (Thanks@jtoresson) because it think it illustrates an interesting point. When you have been working on something for a long time you can easily become blind to things. It’s why fresh eyes and feedback are so important!

He mentions that “the GIF is choppy” but in the trailer, you can see it isn’t. I’d had similar feedback before in a Reddit comment: “the movement looks choppy” based on the GIF I was sharing. I didn’t think much about it at the time because I know the animation of the game isn’t choppy and it’s just the GIF compression that I had to do to shrink things under 3MB but… people viewing it for the first time don’t know that. So realising that what I’m putting on display marketing-wise isn’t matching up with what I want the game to be was very enlightening.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to work over the game and see if I can unify everything to build around what I wanted the game to be about: the feeling of flow and movement. Both on the marketing side: fixing up my Store page and the assets I share with people, as well as in the game itself by trying to make things seem like they flow more.

THINGS I LEARNT?

  • Needing A Second Steam Account To Test Your Demo: If you have the full version of your game in your Steam library then you can’t test the Demo. I had to create a second Steam account (without the full game in its library). Then use that account to test the demo whenever I did an update to it.

  • Wishlist Numbers Update Once A Day: It may seem silly but I didn’t realise that wishlist numbers are updated once per day. I was checking in on the first day of the Next Fest and was like ah crap I’m not getting any traction at all. But when I woke up the next day and checked I had some, so keep that in mind!

  • People Arn’t Signed Into Webrowser Steam: I have a button in my demo that prompts players to wishlist the game. When they press it, it launches the Freerunners Steam page in their browser. The problem with this is that very few people are actually logged into Steam on their browser, creating extra friction for getting those wishlists. After playing other people demos I realised that a far better way would have been to launch the Steam overlay with the Freerunners store page, allowing players to wishlist the game in far fewer steps.

  • Prepare More Content Ahead of Time: Before the Next Fest I should have prepared more content to share. I know I fell short on actual marketing but I should have at least prepped some new GIFS, some videos, had banners prepared for my Steam posts. I did this on the first / second day of Next Fest which ate up a bunch of time.

  • Working On The Game During Next Fest Wasn’t Realistic: Naively, I thought I would still have time to work on the core game while Next Fest was running. However, this wasn’t the case. A mixture of doing longer days at my day job, while also trying to promote the game in the evenings left me with little time to do any meaty development work over the week. If I had prepared more in advance maybe this wouldn’t have been less of an issue though.

MY NEXT STEPS

Clearly, I have lots to learn still, but that’s okay. Although I do want to get the game finished, I’m in no rush to launch the game as it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important to me. The purpose of solo-making games in my spare time is to have fun, but also to get better at the whole process of ideation to development to release. This Next Fest experience made me realise that marketing is such a big part of this process that I am missing and need to get better at to truly be a better gamedev. With that in mind here is what I’m planning for Freerunners going forward:

  • Push Back Freerunners Launch: I’m thinking to roughly August this year (I have a lot of work commitments in Q1 and Q2). Giving me time to unify the marketing and the game development direction, so everything feels aligned.

  • Concentrate on Marketing: There is so much to unpack here but broadly speaking: make a solid marketing plan, think about the audiences I want to hit and what the angle will be with them as well as most importantly acting on the marketing plan, both consistently as well as building to a launch day. I also want to see if I can increase my conversion rates (click-throughs and wishlists) via making incremental changes to my store page.

  • Refining the Gameplay: On the game development side of things, I’m going to playthrough my whole game and look for ways that I can reinforce the core concept of the game: Flow and rhythm and of movement. Alongside this I will continue to add polish, juice up the gameplay and fix bugs! With the goal of making the game a very solid product for launch!

GO CHECK OUT FREERUNNERS

If you enjoyed my Next Fest breakdown give it a wishlist if you like the look of it!

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