Revisiting previous assumptions

A couple of weeks ago we moved to a new house and it has severely limited my ability to do much coding. The boss (my darling wife) has a list of jobs I need to do around the new place that is keeping me busy.
Whilst trying to keep up with the growing task list of jobs I have had a chance to reflect on a few items that have recently been bothering me.

Producing Android versions of my games

I first wrote Operation Typhoon specifically targeting Android. Main reason was I was more familiar with Java, I had just finished an online course on using LibGDX and also it seemed easier to actually get a game published to the Play Store compared to say iOS. I also knew that Joni Nuutinen was having some success publishing his wargames there. As an aside if you like wargames then you really should check out his games http://www.conflict-series.com/ – they don’t look fantastic but the AI is good and he has a great range. His games are a major reason I decided to try making my own games.
To date Operation Typhoon has had just over 10000 downloads and about once a month I get an email from a player of the game commenting on how much they enjoy it. That is always a great motivator!
The problem is price. Android gamers do not expect to pay much for games and indeed many expect them to be free. The average price for a premium (meaning you have to pay for it) game is around the $2.99 – $3.99 range.
Operation Typhoon is free but that is not the case for Kursk – Battle at Prochorovka which is a bigger game with more quality and depth. I tried various price ranges in the first week of publishing the game but even at $3.99 I had very few sales (Less than 20). Also I did not feel good as I was charging $9.99 for the iOS version and $12.99 for the PC version. Why should an Android user get it for so much less? At the moment the price is $9.99 on Google Play and I have had zero sales.
Therefore at the moment there is little incentive to support Android users aside from the good will it generates.

Producing iOS versions of my games

I had read that similar to my experience above with Android it was very much the same for iOS games. No one expects to pay much for mobile games anymore. This is the reason many of the big development studios now produce free to play mobile games but with in-app purchases or advertising. They know they cannot make money selling a game but they can make money with in-app purchases. I don’t believe that model would work with my games – what in-app purchases could there be (Maybe I could sell divisions!)? Also I don’t want advertising in my games. Can you imagine an advertisement popping up after every combat!
So with the above in mind I was not expecting much from an iOS version of my game but since LibGDX allows me to produce one with little extra development cost I published an iOS version and priced it at $9.99 which matched the prices that Slitherine Games generally sell their iOS games for.
I have been pleasantly surprised by how well the iOS version of the game is doing. At the present time iOS sales make up 20% of total sales. Now don’t get the wrong idea – right now my games just about cover the cost to make them. If I told the wife I was quitting the day job and we were going to live off money from my games she would have me committed to an mental asylum quicker than you could roll two six sided dice!

Using LibGDX

I really love LibGDX. It allows a lot of development control over how I do things whilst making it easy for me to write in Java and produce games that will work on Android, iOS, PC and Mac.
But since using it I have started to hit a couple of limitations – I cannot put my games into Microsoft store (Java based games don’t meet their submission criteria) and I cannot use it to produce games for many of the other game platforms (PS4, Xbox etc).
Also with the lack of success on Android do I really need to use Java as my main programming language?
Should I look at something like Unity to develop my games going forward? I had read that Unity was not great at supporting 2D type games and in addition I read that Slitherine had hit limitations on working with the platform (https://www.pcgamesn.com/catching-up-with-slitherine-what-a-difference-a-year-makes) – its one of the reasons they are working on an in house engine called Archon so they can have something better suited for wargame development.
I had previously looked at Unity but I didn’t particularly like the Development environment and it seemed like it was very heavily focused on 3D games.

In game help

In the recent review (http://www.wargamer.com/reviews/review-kursk-battle-at-prokhorovka/) of Kursk – Battle at Prochorovka by wargamer.com one of the comments was “Documentation is dispersed. Basic game controls are explained on the first screen; terrain effects, unit information, sequence of play, and other controls are detailed in an on-screen slide show. Further details are in a Dropbox download, Steam community guide and patch notes.”. I actually did write a complete PDF on how to play the game and published this to Steam. However I don’t think anyone knows it is there. It took me a while to figure out where it was!
I do provide some in game help but its not sufficient and actually hard for me to update due to the way I designed it.
My original intention was that I provide just enough help to get a player going. For that I think it works ok but its not enough for someone that likes to read a manual of instructions. In addition I want to provide support to non-english speakers and that means having the ability to localize the text.
I looked at the “Unity of Command” game to see how they provide help in game and actually they don’t – if you click on the main menu Manual option you get taken out of the game to a website where there is a PDF file to read.
Personally I would prefer a player does not need to leave my game to read the instructions. So I am coming to the conclusion I need to rewrite the help in my games and allow for it to be easily localized and editable. I can also provide a separate PDF version of the game either on my website or as part of the install of the game.

Operation Typhoon

As i have mentioned in previous blogs, I wrote Operational Typhoon to test the market for my style of wargames and to prove to myself I could write and publish a game. The game proved to be a success with these two objectives in mind but it has also now become the Poster Child for my games. Players of the game have told me they have brought Kursk – Battle at Prochorovka based on their enjoying Operation Typhoon.
This causes a problem for me. Operation Typhoon, whilst good as a free game, is not at the same polished quality as Kursk and could really benefit from an update to bring it more inline with the way my games look and feel. Its also free so any work on it does not directly generate income to cover development costs (such as graphics). However indirectly it leads to income as I know that some players of the game go on to buy Kursk – Battle at Prochorovka.
So at the very least I need to provide it with the same menu system I have for Kursk – Battle at Prochorovka, the ability to auto save games and a small tidy up of the map edges (remove the black hexagon edges). At a later date I should provide some AI (the most requested feature).

In Summary

Looking at what I have written above I am going to action the following:
  • Drop support for initial releases of my games on Android. Its just not economical to support the platform. Maybe after a couple of years of a game being available on other platforms I will feel more comfortable with releasing them at a cheaper price on Android
  • Improve in-game help
  • Investigate if Unity is now at a level where it can support my type of games and move to that as my development engine.
  • During some downtime (I am thinking Christmas) update Operation Typhoon

Experiments in Marketing

This weekend I decided to try out Googles Adwords and Facebook’s advertising. I did very little reading up on how to do this and took my normal approach of diving right in.

First up was Googles Adwords with the aim of driving people to my kursk.yobowargames.com page. After 10 minutes of clicking and form filling I had a quick advert put together. After two days I was disappointed with the results and quickly came to the conclusion it was an expensive way (Over a $1 per click) to get people coming to my website.

What was useful through was the keywords that people search on. These were all pre-selected by google when I set up the advert. I can use this information to my advantage in later marketing.

Facebook was next. This time I took the approach of advertising my Steam page. Again after about 10 minutes of clicks and text entering I was up and running.

However the next day when I looked at the results I realized this was not going to be effective. Over 99% of people that looked at the advert were on a mobile device! How could I expect them to instantly buy a PC game this way?

So I changed the advert and pointed to the iOS version of my game.  I feel that Facebook is giving me better value in that more users clicked on the advert for just a few cents per click.

I didn’t see any real change in people buying the game or a large spike in web views but this may be due to my massive marketing budget of $20.

admin@yobowargames.com

If I had a Marketing/PR Manager I am sure they would have resigned by now.

Every now and then I ponder whether I should do something about the mismatch of developer accounts I have and get them all nicely assigned to yobowargames.com.

Right now if you buy my game from Steam and post a comment you get a reply from some dude call “Hunter” (More like “Easy Prey” if you find me in any multiplayer game).

If you buy my game from Apple or Google stores you get another dude called “Lance Craner” (As a side note Apple made me give the game a 17+ rating because the splash screen shows two soldiers holding guns. There are no Suggestive Themes in my game I promise you!).

If you email me here you get a reply from “admin@yobowargames.com” (Original intent here was this email address would just be for … well admin type things).

When I was setting up the store page I was was thinking whether I should have emails coming from sales@yobowargames.com.

This of course then leads to other possible email addresses:

  • complaints@yobowargames.com
  • marketing@yobowargames.com
  • press@yobowargames.com
  • etc etc etc

So why not go ahead and set up everything under yobowargames ?

Well (prepares excuses).

  • I have to get new developer certificates from Apple and Google that are used to sign my games. It was a pain trying to set them up in the first place.
  • I have to pay Apple for the privilege of being a developer again (And then pay them again every year!)
  • I have to fill out a whole load of forms
  • I lose the history of everything I have done to date

Whenever I ponder the above I soon discount changing anything because:

  • I like people seeing me as an individual
  • I like the surprise of wondering what the email addressed to admin@yobowargames.com might contain
  • I am very fond of my “Hunter” alias on steam
  • I am also very fond of my real name!
  • I feel there is a benefit to people knowing there is one guy (and his small team of supporters) behind the games

I started this post with “If I had a Marketing Manager…”. Actually I am the Marketing/PR Manager and we like things just as they are.

This post was written by Hunter, Lance and the Admin of yobowargames.com

 

 

Store now open for business

With the help from Erman Calis (Recruited using Upwork) I now have the store up and running!

I am not expecting a sudden rush of sales but hope that gradually this will build into something. As some of you may know the app stores and steam have revenue sharing schemes – meaning that I have to share a certain amount with them for every sale. By operating my own store I am the only one that I have to share with. This also means I can offer my games for a little cheaper. Everyone wins!

I have also refreshed kursk.yobowargames.com. Nothing fancy but a lot better than before – I just didn’t have the time to do anything too fancy.

Check out http://www.yobowargames.com/shop/ to see my first two games on sale – although one, Operation Typhoon, is actually free.

Moving Home and Building a team around you

The last ten days have not been very productive for me due to moving to a new home. However it didn’t totally stop game development and it gave me a chance to reflect on how far things have come since I started developing wargames.

One thing I realized was that I am gradually building a team around me consisting of contractors (from upwork or fiverr) and some really great enthusiastic volunteers. Between them they cover Graphics, Quality Assurance , Web Designer and translators.

So while I have done nothing they have continued to produce work for me. First up is my Graphics designer who has been working on some graphics for Kampfgruppe and also Maps for a Sci-fi game I am working on (More to come on that in a later article!).

I think these look pretty impressive!

I also have a webmaster helping me out setting up the ability for me to sell my games on this website. I am not expecting to generate much sales from this initially but hope to build this up.

Back to unpacking now… More next time.

Retreat!

This week I have been working on improving my code dealing with retreat. Since this is a common feature of war games I thought I had better make it work better than I presently have.

There are several problems I am battling (no pun intended!) with at the moment.

Take a look at the below scenario

Here the Russian 167 Rifle Division (Center of screen)  is required to retreat 3 hexes. Possible final retreat hexes are marked with the yellow outlines.

So the problems I am wrestling with:

  • Do I let a human player choose the hex they can retreat to? This of course would be the norm in a board game. Not so common in PC war games.
  • What about the AI? How can I replicate how a human would choose the final retreat hex?
  • If I really can’t replicate how a human player would choose then is it fair in the game to give the human player a possible advantage over the AI?
  • Do game players even want this level of control?
  • Should a 2 player game allow players to choose retreat hexes but not when playing against the computer?
  • What about PBEM? I cannot expect the players to email every battle when there is a retreat decision needed by the opposing play.

With Kursk – Battle at Prochorovka I let the computer decide on a random retreat hex with little real thought on how it decided which one to pick.

My current thinking is I will let the computer control the final retreat location but I will try to give more reasoning to the final location by for example looking at things like:

  • Does the final retreat hex help maintain the front line
  • Is it a hex with defensive benefits
  • Is the retreat hex in supply
  • Are other friendly units nearby

So I will give each Hex a value and then the one with the highest score becomes the choice.

I will also back port these improvements into Kursk – Battle at Prochorovka so that players of that game benefit from the things I learn/improve as I develop more games.

Publishing games is hard

For the last week I have not written a line of code. Any free time I have has been taken up with preparing my game for its final release. I have also decided to launch it on Google Play and Apple Store. I was going to hold off from releasing it to these two stores but decided there was no real reason for this.

The mobile version is actually exactly the same as the PC version – So best suited for Tablets but I am sure people will also download it to play on their tiny mobile screens!

I am unsure what pricing strategy I should take with the mobile versions so have priced them a little higher than other available games. I figure I can always reduce the price later if there are no sales but not increase it. Not expecting much from Android or iOS sales – more a case of testing the waters and seeing if there is still an audience out there that will pay for a mobile game.

So for the last 2 days I have been battling with the development tools to get my game in review with the people at Apple. Its a fairly simple process once you know how to do it. However the last time I published a game in the App store was 8 months ago so I have forgotten everything and had to look up how to do many of the needed actions.

Getting a game ready for actual launch takes a lot of time and its something I need to plan out and prepare for better next time. You need screenshots, icons, text, instructions, translations and so on. I have not done my best with preparing the assets needed this time. I really think I will engage my graphics guy next time to help me prepare some professional looking screenshots and icons. This time I did it myself – unfortunately cost is a consideration at this time until I know games I write will at least sell enough to cover off my costs to produce (The development hours are a labour of love…).

For my next game – Battle for Korsun – I am going to try to localize for the Asian market. China, Korea and Japan are getting to be big markets on steam and it will be interesting to see if there is a market for a traditional hex based wargame. I have had a couple people from China and Korea buy Kursk in the Early Access store – so I know there is a level of interest there.

I have also been fairly heavily engaged with my graphics artist this week on my various projects. He is not a WW2 buff so I need to guide him on what I want to achieve. I really like his work so the effort needed to help him get things right is worth it to me. Plus his work really motivates me to finish projects and see everything come together to produce a game.

My motivating this week is the new splash screen for Battle for Korsun. I think it looks great. I am really enjoying working on this game.

Tread carefully when advertising game

I have a very specific target audience in mind for my games. They are either wargamers that like PC based war games or they are board wargamers who occasionally dabble in PC war games.

The problem for me is they are also a very scattered group. There is really not one go to place to reach out to them. Many of them are part of small online groups with words in the title such as PBEM,  HEX Based Wargames, Avalon Hill, Historical and so on.

I need to be careful when telling them about my game as some don’t like the idea of being advertised to in their group. I fully understand and respect this – so how do I get them engaged and at least aware I exist and am trying to produce games they may like to play.?

I have started to build up a list of these groups, researching what is allowed in their forums, asking permission if I cannot see that someone has announced a game previously. It takes time and patience. I do not want to offend any one of these groups.

But it has been useful. I have found a small PBEM group and I think they would be ideal to reach out to and ask them to test my next game which will include PBEM. They get a free game I get valuable feedback – I am hoping it will be a win win situation.

Of course these groups want their members to be active in their forums. I have a genuine interest in everything they talk about but not enough time to be as engaged as I should be. Its tough for me to spread my time around all the things I need to do to get a game published (and remember I have a full time day job too!).

For my next game, Battle for Korsun, I am going to try and get some interest in the game from some of the big review sites that cover off war games. I am a little wary about this as I don’t have a lot of time to produce slick videos or fancy marketing – and yet I want them to know I am serious and passionate about what I am doing.

So far I have not upset anyone. Fingers crossed it stays that way!

Unit Stacks – The pain of every Wargamer

I am sure a majority of wargamers would agree that dealing with stacks is a pain in the ass. In a printed game you have to keep checking them to see what units you have in there and possibly their state. They get knocked over when trying to move nearby units. You have to be careful when moving them on a crowded map board.

Stacks!

You would think with a computer game dealing with stacks would be a whole lot easier. But I believe the reality is quite the opposite. When dealing with stacks I have to check the following when deciding why the player selected the stack:

  • They want to move it
  • They want to see the terrain the stack is in
  • They want to look through the stack
  • They want to Re-order it
  • They want to pick one or combination of units to perform some action (likely move or combat)
  • They want to add a unit/s to the stack

Most players expect to use a mouse to point, click and execute an action. So I have to take the limited actions available from a mouse and translate to the above.

I don’t believe there is a universally accepted standard for what to do in each circumstance so I have to train the game player how they can perform all the above actions.

So how have I implemented the multitude of possible actions?

  • If they left click on stack I assume they wanted to select the whole stack
  • If they left click on the stack while pressing the shift key I select the top unit
  • If they click on the stack again while still pressing the shift key I rotate through the stack bringing a new unit to the top with each click
  • If they right click on the stack I expand the stack out to show all units in the stack

  • If its movement turn I highlight allowable hexes to move to based on whether we have a stack or unit selected
  • I can add up the combat values of the stack
  • If it’s a combat turn I can add a stack to the combat