My name is Maciej Biedrzycki and I'm the chief game architect at Thing Trunk, a pretty small game development studio from Poland.
Exactly 11 days ago we announced a game we have been developing for the last 4 years - it's called Book of Demons and it's a deck-building hack and slash, where it's the player who decides the length of quests.
The announcement was an emotional rollercoaster for our whole team, so I decided to share some of my thoughts on what went good and what went bad with the most important announcement in the history of our studio. One that would decide our company’s fate, if we could stay indie or not. I hope you'll find it interesting and my article will allow some of you to avoid the mistakes we made.
The pressure was enormous
Imagine for a moment that one day in your life you had an idea. The greatest idea of your life. You got with your friends and colleagues and started working, thinking that nothing is more important than bringing it to life. You even scrapped your earlier companies and formed a new one so that you can have an absolute focus on what you are trying to achieve.
Then you pushed hard, but the project opposed. It turned out to be hard, difficult and complex. Nothing like anything you did before. Each step of the way proved to be a small mountain you needed to climb. But you didn’t let it discourage you. Challenge by challenge, you tackled them all. But it took a lot of time. Much more than you initially planned. It took a lot of money. Much more than you initially planned. It tested your patience and devotion, erected every roadblock in the book. You had to make sacrifices, even admit some parts of the path were not accessible to you.
It was the whole of the journey that mattered, and the peak you were climbing onto. The goal.
And then suddenly, after a few years, you realize that you are quite close and you gain confidence in yourself. There’s just one problem – the last obstacle in your way is something different from the ones you tackled. Something you dreaded for all these years and foolishly hoped it wouldn’t come. It’s just like an almost impossible-to-beat end boss in a game and you just have one heart left…
We knew absolutely nothing
We didn’t do a lot of marketing before now. We had some experiences from our earlier companies, but back then we worked on casual games, and casual games didn’t need any promotion. Seriously, you just had to make a great game (and we did make some great casual games at Codeminion), send it to a bunch of distributors, and they would do the rest. Your job was done, you could sit comfortably and count sales pouring in.
But now we’re doing an indie game, not a casual title, so we didn’t really know what to expect and we didn’t know how catchy our game was. What we knew, was that the reveal event would be a big turning point. If we couldn’t make any hype we would probably have to look for a publisher to help us out. And that’s a thought that can put dread in the heart of any indie dev .
Early experiences were lukewarm
Last year, we did a smaller reveal event when we unveiled Return 2 Games, the series that will bind all our games together. We prepared a good looking teaser trailer, a teaser website and pushed some press releases to the media.
It was just a slightly convoluted announcement from an unknown indie studio that didn’t reveal anything really specific. So our expectations were low at this point. The main goal was to come out of hiding and make sure that there was any kind of news backlog about us when we would be doing the real marketing push, revealing the first game several months later.
The coverage was very limited (not to say abysmal), but after doing some soul searching we realized it wasn't very newsworthy.
People liked the trailer, some even got excited. We just didn’t get the clicks and the media didn’t open or answer our emails. But we quickly forgot about it and the marketing team went into slumber (meaning we changed our hats and jumped back into coding).
The big one was still ahead of us
Fast forward a few months, to about 6 weeks before now. At this point, the game was 95% feature complete. It was still a very long way before it would be done, and we still have a lot to do before we’ll eventually start testing it with outside gamers. We still got tutorials to do, balance and optimize the game, a lot of sounds are missing. We also need to integrate our back-end with Steam, which is tricky in our case.
Anyway, according to our rough marketing plan it was high time to announce the project and start building a community around it. It was time for another marketing event, but this time nothing could go wrong. It was to be our live or die moment, in a sense, and the level of anticipation in the team was extreme.
We planned for success
We had a rough marketing plan since about a year ago, so we knew what we wanted to do. We needed a website, a gameplay trailer, good PR and a press kit. We also did learn some do’s and don’ts with the previous event, and we wanted to make all kinds of improvements to our PR methods.
First, we started preparing much earlier – a month before the event, which we thought would be more than enough. Second, this time we wanted some outside help, a professional to be involved in the announcement. At first we wanted to hire an established American PR company specializing in games, but it turned out to be a bad idea. We reached out to two larger companies that had a good track record, but it turns out those people are seriously busy (we just got a very positive reply from one of those companies, sadly a week after the event) and that we generally can’t afford them. They had some ultra-cheap, indie-friendly packages, but after doing some research we decided we could spend this money better. Everyone advices against taking a free PR agency, and they are probably right.
So instead we started talking with two smaller PR companies, basically PR freelancers with some level of experience – one from Poland, and from the US. Each of them had a big list of media emails and bragged about personal contacts with certain members of the biggest press outlets. We had a hard time deciding who to go with, so we went with both . We wanted to maximize our reach and didn’t want to risk making a bad choice. It’s very hard to say if it was a good decision, but one thing is sure. It made a week of our life a real marketing roller-coaster .
Everything crumbled in the last minute
First, the part that shouldn’t be surprising. One month of preparation turned out to be not enough. We had to make last minute changes to the website and drop entire sections because they weren’t ready. We were still changing the trailer and the final version was ready just one day prior to the announcement.
Initially we planned to simultaneously reveal the second game in the series, but it was controversial and many of our friends from the industry told us that it was a bad idea and that instead we should immediately start taking pre-orders (something that we planned a month after the reveal event). It wasn’t helping that we were getting entirely opposing views from the two PR reps we hired.
We decided to follow this advice and it meant more changes like making shop integration a week before the event. We also suddenly had to talk with Steam and Humble Store, so that we could promise Steam keys. So it was a wild ride, but as you know thanks to the help from the great folks of Valve and Humble we managed to get everything set-up and we even skipped Greenlight because the game looks so promising.
We’re not new to facing challenges, so it was intense but manageable. But the worst part was to come…
A day before the announcement one of the PR reps told us we need to change the date of the announcement, otherwise our reveal would clash with the reviews of the new Hitman game going live.
This is not something you want to hear a day before the announcement you were preparing for months. We had already teased the date, scheduled some interviews and contacted many press contacts in advance. Also, no one could guarantee that another date would be entirely safe (you never know when someone notable decides to reveal something extraordinary any day). So we made the only possible choice – we decided to stay with the original date and see what fate had in store for us.
The calm horror of day zero
The day zero came. The atmosphere was very calm at Thing Trunk. Somehow we got everything prepared at the last minute and we were ready to execute. We had a big list of checkpoints on our wall that we would follow:
- At noon Polish time, we launched the website and the trailer and started testing it. It was safe as the US was still sleeping.
- At 2 pm (Polish time) we started sending our Press Releases (we used GamesPress.com, GameRelease.net, RobotSaid.com, PRLog.org) and we also emailed our personal list of press contacts.
- We posted stuff on social channels and announced the game on our blog.
- We posted the announcement on N4G, IndieDB and all the gaming forums we frequently visit.
- We posted the announcement on Reddit - it drowned immediately, but fortunately someone else did a better job (we got 96 upvotes on r/gaming).
And we waited…
The first good news came from Poland. The biggest Polish gaming websites have covered the game and we made the front page news. Here is a list of most notable publications:
- Polygamia.pl: Tęsknicie za pierwszym Diablo? To koniecznie sprawdźcie polskie Book of Demons
- Gram.pl: Stań do walki z demonami w papierowych lochach Book of Demons – gry polskiego studia Thing Trunk
- CDAction.pl: Book of Demons: Polacy pracują nad parodią Diablo
This was great, but we knew Polish websites take a special interest in Polish studios, so it wouldn’t necessarily translate to worldwide coverage. And it didn’t...
At first, everything looked very quiet and gloomy. The PR reps we worked with didn’t help to alleviate our fears. One of the reps reported sending the announcement to PR contacts and said that if we don’t get any coverage today than it’s over, no one will write about us. It also turned out the reps could have prepared better – one of them turned out not to know how to handle Twitter properly, the other one failed to send the announcement on time, due to a problem with an untested mailing platform (it was delayed one day).
The joy when we got noticed
Yes, the starting point wasn’t very good. We didn’t make the same mistakes as earlier, we made new ones. The PR reps helped, but their work also wasn’t perfect. The real question was if what we together did was enough for someone to notice us, to notice the great game we are bringing to life.
Fortunately, the answer is yes, it was enough. Slowly, the news started coming in. The game was getting traction on Reddit, people were starting to tweet. More and more websites started noticing the game and finally a few bigger places noticed us. The two most important places that covered our announcement were Game Informer and Rock Paper Shotgun:
|Game Informer: Book of Demons is a Combination Of Diablo And Paper Mario|
|Rock Paper Shotgun: Hack & Paper Cut: Book Of Demons Is A Diablo Tribute|
There were also many more smaller websites that made in-depth first looks about the game:
- Niche Gamer: Paper Mario Meets Diablo In New Action RPG Book Of Demons
- Gameranx: Thing Trunk Unveils Their Latest Game Book of Demons
- Gamesear: Book Of Demons Is An Upcoming ARPG With A Unique Paper Aesthetic
- Just Game Au: First Look: Book of Demons
Our trailer just passed 21K views on Youtube. There’s even an interview with Filip, our producer, on VGCharts, and more interviews are coming up as we’re getting many requests .
Will this be enough?
The event could certainly have gone better, but we’ve reached our minimum goal – to get at least one mainstream website to cover our announcement. Of course, we’d love to reach a broader audience and it seems we will have to put a good fight for it. But the first small step was done in the right direction and it’s a good place to start.
We still hope to get more attention as we strongly believe the project we’re working on deserves much more attention. We’re especially disappointed by Polygon not responding to our announcement since about a year back they visited our office had an exclusive first look at the game. We even prepared a funny video to hype them up, one day we might even show it .
So, what did we learn?
That’s a tough one. We knew a lot of the stuff we prepared could be better even before the announcement but we didn’t want to postpone the reveal, tweaking everything indefinitely. Most of the improvements will be coming along in the coming weeks (mostly tweaks to the website, etc.) and what we didn’t get the chance to reveal will be included in the next announcements.
If I would have to name three things we learned, I would say:
- There’s never enough time to prepare. If you think you need a month to prepare, it’s probably two or more.
- Don’t get others to walk over you. You will be in stress, focused on tasks at hand and everyone will have better advice. Don’t trust them immediately. Trust the decisions you’ve made when you were calm and provident. We’re happy we didn’t jump ship and delayed the event on the first sign of trouble.
- Don’t be scared if things don’t work immediately. Give it time. Marketing has a fair bit of latency and sometimes it just doesn’t click immediately.
As for the PR reps, our work with them could certainly have gone better. But if we got to repeat the event, we certainly wouldn’t risk not taking their help.
We have good news. We have bad news.
There’s a lot of exciting stuff coming up ahead about Return 2 Games and Book of Demons. The initial reception was good, but we need to press harder and reveal more interesting stuff in the coming weeks. The good news is we still have a lot to show as we only scratched the surface. We just can’t wait to share all the exciting stuff with you guys.
The bad news is that marketing is taking a big toll on game production. We’re only a six person team and doing PR work even with outside help totally destroys our workflow. This is something we will have to sort out shortly. I wrote that a month ago we had about 95% of the game’s features implemented. Well, today it looks almost the same.
The next marketing events will have to be carried out differently if we want to keep the release dates we promised. The pre-orders are slowly selling – nothing exciting yet to report as the traffic to our website is very small, but we have a strong conversion rate (almost 1% for pre-orders is very good) and the Full Supporters Bundle is our best-seller – so we are looking into expanding our team with a dedicated PR person.
Ok, it’s time to wrap up. Hope the post wasn’t too long and that you found it interesting. If you have any questions or words of advice, please let us know in the comments below or contact us on Twitter, and Facebook! Thanks for the read!