Almar Joling


Timing your advertising / promotion of your game


So you're working on a killer game and are ready to distribute a small alpha/beta version? Be careful, here you might start losing players already! When done properly you can increase your number of dedicated players aswell!

I made this mistake with my own game Quadrant Wars once, and I'm not going to let this happen another time. While you're programming your game only put a downloadable version when your game is close to completion. Sure you can put up "Tech demo's", but don't let the whole world know that it's available, only release it within our VB community, for example. If other people start your program and cannot do anything but walk around a bit and do nothing else they will decide the game sucks and will probably not come back. And yes, it really works this way

Now for Quadrant Wars, it's a multiplayer only game, so before I upload the game and make it public I need to be sure that the masterserver is online, and atleast one gameserver is online. If there is not, people cannot do anything, except messing around in the main menu (although they could setup their own server, and play then). They won't download the game another time, especially if it's 10mb. So timing is here again crucial. It practically works for any game type. In a RPG.. no other (human) players, only NPC's online? Playing an offline RPG would be the same. No players in a FPS server, it will become boring. Funny thing is that if one player enters the game, more will follow. And it will almost increase exponentially. It's like:

"Nobody enters a restaurant, but if there are people inside eating, and you can see it from outside, more people will enter the restaurant" -Never thought about that? It certainly is true though.

When you're ready to let your game be played by others make sure they can do something... or you'll lose a potential player. They aren't programmers, they won't look at how cool the framerate is. They want playability. When you get some players together you can widespread your news more, so that slowly everybody will try to play your game. Make sure the server where the files are located can handle a certain amount of downloads. If the server collapses while you're just expecting your peak downloads, then you're not coming over to the players in a positive way. They'll forget your site if the news site has been updated pretty fast, so that the news about your game is somewhere below, and you'll lose another potential player.

Updating your site often with news helps a lot to get some dedicated visitors. currently my average visitor base is 40/day. My peak was 265, April 2000... when I released a new version and posted it on every news site I thought of. So lots of the people that visited my site then don't do it anymore.

Image: How updates (downloads) affect your visitors. Guess when I released the QW Deathmatch demo... (I wonder what I put for download on Juni/2000)

Before releasing your game be sure to have it tested by the VB community... lots of guys are willing to download your program and report any bugs they might have found. This way there's a bigger chance that the game works on other player's machine. eg: Not every card supports 2 textures blended together. so if you have a GeForce2 where it's a piece of cake, my Voodoo3 could just draw something black. Another reason for a player for not trying the game anymore (till it hears from other people that it has become a cool game, and might try it once more)

Conclusion: Make sure you time your game's (Alpha/Beta/Final) release correctly and have a backup of some things like webspace (mirrors) if anything might go down. Players do not forgive you for wasting their time on a download. They want something in return like a playable game. Like somone once said:

"You never get a second chance for your first impression" -And that's completely correct.

'Till next time,

Previous Columns
VB vs C++
Original Games Development

Almar Joling is:
A very talented VB programmer. His main project is the massively multiplayer Quadrant Wars