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The Spilt Milk Live Post-Mortem: Week 4 – The Name of the Game

By on May 27, 2011
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Howdy howdy howdy. Andrew J Smith here (again!), MD of Spilt Milk Studios – hopefully you recognise me by now. I’ll cut to the chase, this week we’re looking at the beginnings of the PR effort for Project #2, the preview event we ran in London (plus the competition we had there) and finally, for anyone not keeping up to date on twitter, a bit of a surprise!

As any aspiring iOS developer – or in fact any independent developer – knows PR is a huge part of making a successful game. Without a publisher to help with all the marketing and trailers and courting of journalists and key websites, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of you, the developer. In this case, my shoulders were deemed broad enough to take the weight.

Time will tell if I was up to the task, but here’s a bit of insight in the meantime.

Twitter, Twitter, Twitter

My main weapon of choice has been Twitter (via Tweetdeck), supplemented with email. The first thing I did, and indeed have been doing since I started up, is keeping an eye out for websites that cover iPhone games. I’ve been keeping them in my favourites folder for the time they’d come in handy, and also trying to keep them in some kind of order. The ones with the busiest user forums and seemingly most consistently updated/relevant are at the top and make up my main focus, while sites that cover mobile gaming as well as other things fit in the middle, and then at the bottom are the user blogs and seemingly less popular sites.

That’s not to say they’re in order of ultimate usefulness, just potential. Who is to say that the tiny blog run by one passionate guy won’t be the place a seed of interest is planted that builds into a sprawling oak of buzz about our game? If you’ll excuse the laboured metaphor, you’ll see my point.

So after cataloguing and ordering the sites, I then scoured for the main points of contact, adding them to my email address book so they’ll be easy to reach come the time. The more interesting people I searched for on Twitter, and tried to strike up dialogues. It’s not hard, as Twitter is an echo-chamber at the best of times. People of similar interests and beliefs congregate, so a game developer chiming in on a discussion between two journalists about a bit of news is often welcomed.

And that’s exactly why Twitter is my PR tool of choice. The personal touch, manifested through pictures of who you’re talking to, plus the odd bit of insight into their personal lives as well as their professional ones, means you can forge a pretty good relationship with someone via Twitter, if only one that should be reinforced in real life. The games industry is a tight-knit one so this sort of thing occurs naturally and doesn’t need to be forced.

PR needs a purpose

So what was the point of all this contact gathering and research? Well, of course to email all the wonderful people about our game, and get them really excited! UDID’s were harvested, preview builds were sent out via Dropbox, and we even set up a Preview Event and invited all the journalists and people we thought were most excited about the game.

The Beta Players (not a band!) all got an invite too, though spread out as they were this was obviously more an act to acknowledge their input and value than an honest hope they’d be able to turn up. We picked a venue: the Southbank in London, during a lovely sunny weekend while the Festival of Britain was running. We were excited, and announced it on twitter too – basically anyone who wanted to could come, and if they brought their iWhatever they’d get the latest build for free.

So the day came, and we had 8 or 9 people turn up. Not bad, to be honest, though a tiny piece of me wanted it to be a surprising success. We got tons of great feedback, had a great time, made new friends and generally lived on a praise-fuelled high for a few days afterwards. We also got some genuinely useful feedback about the game (particularly the rules for spawning the Invincibility powerup in Deadline mode, now tied to the clock) and recorded the whole thing for posterity (and also for inclusion in our upcoming trailer. More on that in another diary.)

One of the key things we did was run a competition during the afternoon, sadly after about 50% of the attendees had to leave, so that’s a lesson learned – don’t have a game event on a Saturday, people have better things to do… unless it’s a public-facing one of course. Using Deadline mode we had a ‘best of 3’ with the 4 participants competing for the highest score. The winner, one Joe Shepherd, was awarded a hug and a glass of champagne. That’s how we roll.

And now we have a story

Of use in this though was a bit of a story to tell the press. It made us a tad more official, and set expectations for the future. Not just that, but the game sustained itself over the whole day as a fun piece of entertainment, even outside the short bursts it was designed to be played for. Clearly we’re onto something. But, as I said at the start of this article, a great game is nothing if you are unable to spread the word about it effectively.

We’re planning to release unedited footage of the event at some point soon, and of course a trailer built from aspects of it intertwined with gameplay footage (embedded below) ‘Doing A Nintendo’ I think we’ve christened it – people pulling faces (hopefully joyful ones!) as much the focus as the game itself.

So, what of that surprise I promised you? Well, the game finally has a name! this comes a tiny bit out-of-synch timeline wise, but is worth mentioning. It’s a pretty big day when you name your baby, and we settled on something that its short, sweet, and sums up the game pretty well: Hard Lines.

It’s the only name we hadn’t suggested that one of us didn’t really hate, and the more we’ve used it the more we like it. So from now on you’ll see Project #2 referred to as Hard Lines (rather than Line Em Up of Angry Lines, as had been the case in the past). This is a momentous occasion as it also means we’ve got a focus for the coverage we’re trying to generate. No longer will forum posts be riddled with ‘codename this’ and ‘prototype that’, and when we start seeing previews and news about the game (which we will!) we’ll have it all tied to a single consistent name. Not to be underestimated.

Next week, I’ll be delving into the efforts behind wrapping up the project, submitting the game and touching more on the PR efforts.

More Fun Facts!

  • Journalists invited to preview event – 10
  • No. of Tweets since starting – 5,000+
  • Journalists who responded (at all) – 4
  • Number of names discussed before settling on Hard Lines – 44
  • Journalists who showed up – 0

About Andrew Smith