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The imperfect science of Falcon Age's baby bird-based social media marketing

Outerloop Games co-founder Chandana "Eka" Ekanayake talks about the baby bird that won Twitter's heart, and also a bit about Disneyland-like level design in Falcon Age.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

April 19, 2019

6 Min Read

Outerloop Games' Falcon Age has made waves on Twitter not just for its unique gameplay tailored for both PSVR and non-VR players, but also because it's a game that's just so dang pleasant to look at.

A couple of weeks ago on the GDC Twitch channel, Chandana "Eka" Ekanayake took the time to break down the creative decisions on Falcon Age. As Ekanayake put it, a lot of choices for Falcon Age were made in order to help the game stand out in a sea of heavyweight competitors. 

Here are our (lightly edited) choice cuts from our chat with Ekanayake.

Standing out in a sea of great games

Ekanayake: We’re a small studio. I think we’ve got about nine people on this game, at one point or another. Seven to nine people. So when we make a game we always think about: “How does this game stand out against the Ubisofts, the Bethesdas of the world?”

You know, players have a choice of what kind of games they can play -- and there’s a lot of choices, right? There are games released every week and tons of choices, so...one of our design decisions early on was “how do we stand out?” And also, the bird mechanic worked out well, so having the bird as really the main mechanic, the main hook, in our game which we could do at the scale we are, was an important thing...

...I mean for me every project’s very different, right? And like, some things will hit, and I’m pretty active on Twitter, and I follow a lot of indie devs and it’s funny. Something I’ve realized, I guess in the last couple years, is there’s one way to test the market right?

I mean the most common way is to put a game out and see if it sells -- which is a pretty risky way of testing the market. But there are free ways to test the market, which is social media. So, like I’ve taken part in #ScreenshotSaturdays for multiple projects, or just throw a gif out there and see what hits.

And certainly, the social feedback has changed the design of it. To the imprint mode, to adding more baby [bird] stuff...I’ll do a gif every week at different times of the day to test it out. And the things that’ve hit have always been the baby bird related things. Based on that I’ll generate other things, outfits...every project's different. Not everything’s gonna hit.

But for us, the baby bird thing kind of blew up after PAX and we’ve been trying other things that are related to that on social media. So I think for us, marketing on social media has been super, super super big. We just happen to have a thing that is interesting for Twitter.

How does that translate to sales? I have no idea. Maybe I’ll talk about it next GDC.

I used to think that maybe I’m tweeting too much about this game, and now I think certainly not enough, because there’s so much content depending on your Twitter circle on what you follow. 

Every time you tweet something, someone new will be like “hey, is this a game? Is this VR or not VR?” But that’s the other thing we had to kind of figure out because we’re doing both, people just assumed it would be just VR or not VR because some of the gifs showed that -- that’s always a constant thing to reinforce.  

I’ve done side-by-side gifs where we show what the bird looks like in VR and non-VR, things like that. In terms of times of day, man...I don’t know. Sometimes it hits big in Europe, sometimes it hits big in Asia. 

I just did something the other night at midnight and it just blew up because somebody happened to see it and then they shared with their followers, and that kept going, so I don’t know. The data tells me that if people are interested, they’ll share it.

In the beginning of the game, we have sort of these debug motivational posters in the colonizer prison. So one of the posters is “go off-world, earn a pet” as a way to like be part of the outer ring company, being a worker for the company. And we put some friends and family pet photos on it and it’s like an airport ad, it cycles through pet photos.

We got a handful of them, and then I was like “why don’t I just tweet about it, see if people on Twitter want to submit images.” We had like five or six, Twitter sent us like 350 photos. People love their pets.  
 Again, that’s not some great marketing plan right? It’s just like “hey, this would be nice to throw out to Twitter and see what happens."

Making Falcon Age a pleasant playground

The world [of Falcon Age] is the scale of Disneyland. I know there’s been GDC talks about this. The design and layout of Disneyland is like the best thing for a level designer to study.  

There’s always a point of interest, like the castle in the middle. When you’re in an area, it's all-encompassing. And as you transition between areas, it’s really really satisfying. So in our Disneyland, there are areas like this where it’s completely chill, you have NPCs, you can go hunting, do this -- and then there’s more aggressive areas where you know that when you walk into them, the colors change and the music changes and those are the refineries. 

So there are areas of high conflict, areas of low conflict...There're enough things, hopefully, to do; things to find, [in places] where you don’t have to engage with the enemies.  

And for me, it’s like a six to eight-hour experience, depending. If you play non-combat it’s probably shorter because you can just breeze through areas, but we wanted an area where you can just hang out here. I watch streamers and they just want to go hunting, go hang out, go make snacks.  

We certainly didn’t design it for streamers, but it’s more of like, how I, as a designer, would like to enjoy this game and the world. Watching people playtest at Pax East recently, GDC and Pax West and Day of the Devs, they just wanted to hang out with the bird. I think having areas where you could do that. The design of this came out of having these elements.  

You had a bird, and you have a player-character and you need spaces for them to explore and do things together, which also means “oh hey, what if we buff up the bird with these snacks?” which is very similar to Zelda's cooking, right? 

So if you’re going to have a cooking area, you can’t have enemies attack you while you’re cooking. I guess you could, but we didn’t want to, so when you start combining those elements in designing, it kind of feeds into itself and ends up having these chill areas and not chill areas.  

It’s kind of a natural progression of the design.  

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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