Author Topic: An open letter to Arcen  (Read 761 times)

Offline Peons

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An open letter to Arcen
« on: January 28, 2016, 09:07:53 AM »
An open letter to Arcen.

First off, I’d like to preface this entire post by saying a few things before anyone gets the wrong idea.
  • I’m a huge fan of Arcen games, and while I may not like all of their games I have a huge degree of respect for the support they give their titles post-launch, and the fact that their DLC expansions actually add a significant amount of content to their games. Very few game companies actually make meaningful DLC anymore (e.g. Tropico series, high priced DLC for minimal game flairs imo). It also helps that I like most of their games, even if I haven’t put a ton of hours into some of them, as I prefer playing multiplayer games with my friends and tend to only play singleplayer games as fallback games.
  • I’m not very politically correct and tend to speak my mind first and foremost.

That being said, I’ll also preface this with my experience in the gaming industry. I am an IT tech support monkey (For those who work in tech support industry, I’m basically the person your issue gets escalated to when a level 1 and level 2 phone tech can’t actually resolve the problem and it requires more direct intervention), and I also program as a hobby. Basically, I’m a computer nerd.

I’ve alpha/beta tested well over 100 games, and I do this also as a hobby as I enjoy computer gaming and like to see games get to a well-polished state. While I’ve only directly helped Arcen with SBR (And Mission with Starward rogue when he wanted an extra pair of eyes) their communication with beta testers far exceeds that of even other indie companies. Not only that, but the community itself that was helping with SBR was very clean and friendly. While I didn’t contribute as much to the written part of SBR I was given friendly offers for consultation by one of the more prominent writers but I backed off a bit from the writing stuff as I got busier in real life.

At any rate, this letter is mostly triggered by https://arcengames.com/great-work-on-starward-rogue-team-now-youre-all-laid-off/

Now my opinion along the lines of why is Starward Rogue sales so lacking while the game seems to be universally well liked, and that is because from my experience there was a massive failure in marketing pre-launch. If it weren’t for the fact that I follow Arcen or had did some beta/writing work on SBR I’d have zero idea that it was in development. It literally feels like from a gamer’s standpoint that it came completely out of left field.

So I’m going to start with a few things on this, they may be considered as barbs. Again, I am not trying to come off as insulting or any other kind of arrogant attitude simply more “matter of fact” and some solutions to try and help the game out. For the purposes of the following analysis we are lumping Starward Rogue in with other games flagged as “Bullet Hell, Rogue-like, Shoot ‘em Up” as these would be the games that would be competing with you directly.

For the purposes of this analysis I will be looking at these three tags and looking at the 5 most recent releases in this category (Exceptions: Some games still show up in the new releases even though they’ve been out for months, these will usually be ignored).

Let’s start off with the “Shoot em up” tag. As I have a few BH/RL/SEU tagged games in my library these actually show up fairly often in my steam store, but as far as competition goes these are some of the games that will be vying for gamer’s attention if their store page is configured for them.
  • Bit Blaster XL – Release 01/22/16 - $.99 core price / 279 reviews Very Positive
  • The Bug Butcher – Release 01/19/16 - $7.99 core price / 493 reviews Very Positive
  • Space Moth DX – Release 01/22/16 - $7.99 core price / 6(Insignificant amount) positive
  • Zamarian – Release 01/22/16 - $4.99 core price / 6(Insignificant amount) positive
  • Close Order – Release 01/21/16 - $4.99 core price / 51 reviews mostly negative

So, already in this category we can see some competition for Starward Rogue. Several of these games above are not only priced much cheaper than SR, but they are also running with that “drool inspiring” sale flag on Steam. Now, having not played these games and simply looking at their promotional material I would have to say that Bit Blaster, Bug Butcher, and Zamarian look like they would attract me if I was looking for a new “shump” game.

Moving on to the Rogue-Like category, the top 5 in new releases for me are as follows…
  • Subterrain – Release 01/21/2016 - $11.99 core price / 179 reviews Very Positive
  • Darkest Dungeon – Release 01/19/2016 - $19.99 core price / 11k reviews Very Positive
  • Space Grunts – Release 01/12/2016 - $9.99 core price / 38 Reviews Positive
  • Dungeons are Random – Release 01/05/2016 - $5.99 core price, 15 reviews Mostly Negative
  • Nuclear Throne – Release 12/05/2015 - $11.99 core price, 5k reviews, overwhelmingly positive

For disclosure purposes, Towerfall also showed up in the new releases at #2, but with it having been released in September I’m not including it.

So here we see even more steep competition. Darkest Dungeon has technically been in early access for a while, but recently “officially” launched and got itself a new surge of sales/players due to the developer’s hard work at getting the game in proper working order, and balancing it to boot. You will note that prices in this category quickly conform to SBR’s core price point, and only one of these games is actually in sale mode.

Based again on promotional materials, if I were looking for a new game in this category Subterrain, Space Grunts would instantly stand out at me (I already own Darkest Dungeon, and like it. I also own Nuclear Throne, and while it is a good game it’s not really my full cup of tea at times).

Moving on to the “Bullet-Hell” category you now see one of the problems emerging, this is the only category Starward Rogue actually shows up in for me when you are simply looking for “top titles by tag”. This can affect how Steam displays titles to users that are browsing the store, as the more tags the player is “attuned” to the more tags your game typically needs to match for it to reliably show up.

For new releases in this category, we’ve already seen most of them, with the only new title coming into play Endica VII: The Dream King, released 01/13/2016 at $14.99 with 7 mostly positive reviews.
Now while SR doesn’t have the “Shoot ‘Em Up” tag yet officially applied, I did take a look at the other general tags but will not be doing an analysis on those tags as they are very broad tags. For definition purposes “Seeing the game” means does it show up on the top 10, because this is the default for many and most people won’t hunt beyond that unless splurging.
  • Action – Don’t even see SR on the new releases or top sellers. This is kind of to be expected with this tag.
  • Indie – Don’t even see SR on the new releases or top sellers.
  • Adventure – Same as above
  • Rogue-Lite – Shows up as #1 New Release, and #6 for Top Seller. Also since I didn’t actually analyze this tag, Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth currently has the top in this category and will likely draw people immediately since it’s been shown by many popular streamers.

So we are seeing the following recurring themes here.

  • Lack of Steam store presence in all but one category. While Shoot em up hasn’t been applied as much to the product I feel it’s an apt tag personally so I included it.
  • Direct Competition with recently released heavy hitters, I would still include Binding of Isaac in this particular part because of its current popularity among streamers.
  • Lack of Marketing / Awareness.

For further example, let’s also take a look at what I get when I google search some of your direct competitors. We will be excluding BoI from this as it’s more of an established franchise at this point.
  • Darkest Dungeon – I immediately get multiple frequented sites with reviews. I get the usual steam store page, I get their website, Wikipedia entries, the works pretty much.
  • Subterrain – I get a fair amount of information, not as much as Darkest Dungeon but I get videos, their website, reviews, and an obvious feel that the game wasn’t created by wizards summoning an evil demon into our world. :)
  • Nuclear Throne – Same as above two.

Starward Rogue – Now when I search for Starward Rogue, the thing that immediately catches my eye is this, with the exception of the very first result which is the steam store page all the other results are multiple hits on Arcen’s page. After a few of those it immediately jumps to a couple of reviews and a video by Scott Manley (Who’s video probably gave you a small surge in sales), and what catches my eye is all of these hits have shown up in the last few days. It also has conflicting hits with Star Wars: Rogue One.

In fact, in the first few pages of google results there’s only one pre-release video and that’s from Chris Park in December. It feels like even on a search engine that this game just popped into existence. Now, all this being said. I feel you have a good game, it has mod capability and expansion potential, but the marketing for this game might possibly be its bane.

Solutions, not whining – That’s what we need. (Clarification: This is directed towards me, not Chris Park/Arcen, as this post so far basically sounds like someone just throwing a bunch of problems they've seen at someone and not giving them anything to work with but whining :))

  • Engage your more active gaming forums such as reddit and Something Awful. Your subreddit for Arcen games is a prime example of even your own lack of marketing. If you look on your subreddit you can see multiple dev diaries of SBR but literally only 3 entries for Starward Rogue. This makes it feel like a throwaway quick game or something.
  • Engage the more popular streamers who play this type of game, my research indicates that Northernlion and Cobaltstreak are people who would play this type of game. This might require some capital or something, or maybe even offer to go on the stream with them, etc.
  • You’ve already got some videos made by a popular youtuber, while I haven’t watched the full thing I’m assuming that someone at Arcen has watched the full Scott Manley video, if it was a good review you should probably add it to your page/subreddit.
  • I’m assuming other Arcen community members already do this, but I’m posting it anyway. TELL YOUR FRIENDS TO BUY THE BLOODY GAME ;).

Now I actually was going to keep writing at this point, and I wanted to actually write about SBR but this thing is already pushing nearly/at 2k words, and IT'S FREAKING WORDY... so I'm going to actually wait and see what people think / have input before continuing.

Offline Misery

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Re: An open letter to Arcen
« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2016, 10:02:43 AM »
Firstly, dont worry at all about seeming negative or whatever with stuff like this.  Really, dont.  Feedback needs to be honest, or it's worthless, is my view.  My thoughts are, and I think the others would agree with me, that I'd rather see absolutely honest feedback rather than people trying to say something nice just to be polite or make someone feel better.  Ya cant LEARN anything from that sort of feedback.

I guess the question about it that hits me now is... what can be done at this point?  Is it already too late?  Chris is probably the only one that could answer that question but I'm saying it in this topic anyway.  That's the thing that bugs me, is the possibility that this is already at the point of no return.

I dont want to see this group fall apart.  If the game itself was an absolute total failure in all possible aspects.... well, that'd be disappointing as all heck, but I'd take that over seeing Arcen as a whole just come to an end, that's for sure.

Unfortunately there's nothing that I personally can do about any of this.  Which just makes it all that much more irritating.  I've already rambled on like crazy about the game wherever I can, but.... none of my friends, and none of the communities I'm a part of, are at all the sorts to pay ANY attention to anything that isnt a AAA game filled with blasted cutscenes and all of that crap that I've come to hate so much.  So that, so far, has amounted to exactly nothing.  Very... frustrating.

Offline KingIsaacLinksr

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Re: An open letter to Arcen
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2016, 02:02:46 AM »
I'll come back to this by my thoughts on your solutions:
Reddit:
As mentioned before by Erik, engaging Reddit was basically a worthless investment. And that doesn't surprise me. Most developers ignore their own subreddits because they're basically a giant time sink that invites the worst of the internet to create stupid dramas at the drop of a hat. The only developers I've ever seen use a subreddit dedicated to their game/company are Free-to-Play or MMO companies. And even they heavily encourage their own forums because they can actually regulate them better than Reddit. So, no, that isn't a solution in my opinion.

Streamer angle: I...don't know actually.

4) Friends

We have. It doesn't seem to work as well as it should.

Casual reviewer with a sense of justice.
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Offline x4000

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Re: An open letter to Arcen
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2016, 02:39:17 AM »
Cheers.  Some brief responses.  I would write more, but I'm tired and a lot of it I covered in responses to the many many comments on the direct blog article you linked.

1. Yes I know the marketing pre-awareness stunk.  No this was not avoidable.  We knew this was going to be the case going back to October, and so we made contingency plans to try and offset that (the stuff with Humble).  The contingency plans were clever, but failed.  We went into this knowing we'd have a handicap.

2. We don't get to control the tags we are in in the steam store.  Customers do.  We control the genres only.

3. The shoot em up category is not one I consider overly relevant, as those tend to be much lower priced and a very different game.  As you basically noticed.

4. Yes the competition is steep in the roguelite genre.  However, it is not as steep as competition in some other genres at some other times when we have done well.  We also launched at a very competitive price with all of them; lower than most of them.

5. We are indeed beating the bushes with twitch and youtube and such (and have reached out to those you mentioned as well as many more), but reddit and facebook and so on are pretty useless for this sort of awareness.  We've done this dance many, many times; and we've talked to many other developers for advice as well, both prior to launch and now.  Overall we keep in touch with the other indies in our general weight class, so to speak.

6. Good point on the Scott Manley review, I'll have to ask Erik about that.
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