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Our campaign to help awesome games reach the audiences they deserve.

There is a lot going on with Unsung Heroes right now. Our campaign to help awesome mobile games find the audiences they deserve has entered a new phase as we focus on the player experience. But at the same time, we have announced the winner of our Unsung Heroes Competition and we’re helping a game called A Day In The Woods really build momentum.

It all started back in February 2015. We’d become aware of a problem peculiar to mobile games. You develop them. You launch them. They briefly appear in the app store what’s new list and then, for many, everything stops. No-one can find your game, no-one plays your game. People had started referring to the app stores as black holes — they suck in your talent and your energy but nothing comes back out.

We staged an event at Casual Connect Amsterdam to find out why mobile developers were struggling. Five developers pitched games that deserved a better chance of being played. All five were awesome games but none had found the scale of audience they really needed.

Shailesh Prabhu told us about his puzzle game Socioball. “People like the game,” he said. “And we’ve received some great reviews but we don’t have enough users.”

Benoît Freslon felt that getting the monetization right the first time would have made the difference for his game Rolling Jump. Vadim Starygin’s medieval army game Royal Offense got poor reviews from users on a platform the game hadn’t been tested on.

“Things are very different in America and in Europe,” said Neil Lai, the Taiwanese developer of Number Game. “That’s the hardest part for us. We need to find ways to connect with the whole world.”

For Hernan Lopez, who created Big Bang Dust, selling a game on mobile was like throwing a stone into a lake — it sank without a trace. Mobile is complex and marketing know-how is a must.

The black hole problem

We wanted to offer ideas that might help developers overcome some of these problems. The first thing we wanted to tackle was the issue that everything centers on the app stores. People don’t play your game unless it has reviews and people don’t review your game unless they play it. So let’s find ways of promoting games outside the app stores and getting people to give them a chance.

Our response was the Unsung Heroes Competition. Our theory: the very fact of being involved in a competition would improve the profile of the games entered. And as we promoted the competition to the public and pushed the idea they should try a wider variety of games, we’d also be helping to promote the individual games in the competition.

 

A Day In The Woods wins the Unsung Heroes Competition by creating an amazing atmosphere

A Day In The Woods wins the Unsung Heroes Competition by creating an amazing atmosphere

We underestimated the scale of the black hole problem. We’d anticipated getting maybe 30 entries. We received 330. There are a lot of developers out there struggling to find an audience for their games.

We played them. And most had merit and many deserved a much wider audience than they had received thus far. We promoted them all on the Unsung Heroes Facebook page.

We achieved more public awareness as the 22 semifinalists were entered in a vote on PocketGamer.co.uk. Over 6000 votes were cast and comments left by the game players confirmed we were on the right track. They loved the games, they just hadn’t heard of them.

The public’s top 5 became our finalists and judges at Spil Games selected A Day In The Woods as the winner of a $50k publishing contract.

The game was developed by RetroEpic Software in Cape Town, South Africa. It is a traditional sliding tile puzzle game but re imagined around the theme of Red Riding Hood.

“The game is incredibly absorbing,” says Tung Nguyen-Khac, CEO of Spil Games and chair of the board of judges, “which won it plaudits from the judges. But the the look and feel of the game, and the attention to detail and atmosphere are what gives it that award-winning edge.”

The players

But even as the competition was reaching its exciting conclusion, Unsung Heroes was developing a new strand. The players. The players are key to any game’s success and we wanted to help developers understand them better.

So we put a developer, a player and a publisher round a table and got them talking. The results were fascinating. We discovered how addictive  gaming elements feel from a user’s point of view. We found out how gaming fits into a player’s everyday life and therefore which games get played and which get dropped. We learned that gamers discover and play new games as much through word-of-mouth and social pressures as they do through what the app stores recommend.

The first of these stories, player Kristen Rutherford’s take on Japan Life, is already on this blog and more will follow soon.

Unsung Heroes Players was a round table discussion at Casual Connect San Francisco. From the left Jake Sones from Shovelware Games, Kristen Rutherford, Scott Johnston of Spil Games and Jan-Michel Saaksmeier of Spil Games.

 

As we take stock, what has emerged from the Unsung Heroes campaign is that it is tough to get noticed in the app stores and it seems to be getting tougher. Developers are still seeing truly great games disappear into black holes.

There is no single answer to the problem, but it is clear that creating an awesome game is no longer enough.

Its app store description has to be pitch perfect. Icons need to communicate a reason to play a game, text needs to draw people in.

Game play needs to be intuitive and absorbing right from launch. It’s the early reviews that get you where you’re going.  And, of course getting featured is hugely important.

Marketing needs to stand out and go way beyond the app stores. You can reach players on social media, on YouTube, through gaming blogs.