It’s been a few moths since the Xbox 360 release of Hideout! on the Indie Games channel of Xbox Live. The sales were very low, but I was expecting that from this type of game. Regardless, with over 1200 trial downloads and only 45 sales, it would be good to look at why this game was not a blockbuster…
1) Content, content, content!
Paraphrasing Antonio of Artech Studios, “It’s all about content nowadays.” If the player is able to experience the entire game in 5 minutes, then why would they put their money into buying it? Most players of modern video games expect a series of new experiences encapsulated in a single game, rather than just one experience per game like in the days of the Game and Watches.
This was the first problem with Hideout! – Once you’ve tried it, you know there won’t be any new and different experiences in the full version. To resolve this issue, a more refined version of the game would include new environments to unlock with new powerups, different enemies, and maybe even a variety of completely different gameplay mechanics.
This concept actually ties in a bit with the next point…
2) The trial game did not entice players to buy
The unique challenge that exists in designing games for Xbox Live and other similar platforms revolves around creating a trial game that will make the player want more. As described in the last point, it’s important to make sure that there actually is more, but that’s not enough on its own: the player needs to know about it and they need to want it.
So we need to think up a way to let the player know about the extra features and experiences while also triggering a desire to buy them. The method that should be used depends heavily on the features of the game – I would not be able to say exactly what the best implementation would be for Hideout! without strictly defining what the new features would be… Regardless, here are some methods that I’ve seen other games on similar marketplaces use:
Probably the most commonly used method is designing the trial to emphasize inaccessible features by displaying them in the game, but preventing the player from experiencing them. This works great with level-based games because it shows the player there is more and gives them a taste that will hopefully make them want more. Story-based games can simply be cut off at cliff-hangers, after the player has become involved in the story and has began to develop a relationship with the characters.
A strategy common to Xbox Live games is including notices of achievements that would have been unlocked if the player had purchased the full game. Sadly, this ability is not available to Indie Games like Hideout!… but it would not be impossible to implement something else that would use this basic concept without having access to the Xbox Live API.
3) No strong reward for the player
This one is tricky. For some players, the reward of getting a higher score and moving to the next level is enough. But for others, they really need to see that they’re making a difference in the game world or be given something in return for their efforts. Hideout! did some of this right by giving the player a rewarding sound when saving another kid from the UFO invasion, but it was obvious during playtests that this was not enough for all players.
4) Lack of polish and “oops, I forgot.”
I could make up lots of excuses, and most of them would probably be valid, but when it comes down to sales, excuses don’t matter. Hideout! was definitely lacking in polish on the visual and performance elements. Spending extra time and effort on these elements can have an impact on sales, especially those derived from reviews, which I expect hold a large percent of total sales on this platform. On a similar note, I totally forgot to make use of the force feedback in the Xbox controller! Oops!
5) Accidental key presses in menus
This one was counterintuitive to me: I realized after making Hideout! that it is quite essential to have a slight pause between in-game menus to prevent the input intended for gameplay to be picked up by the menu system. Most major games do this nowadays with fancy animations or transitions between menus, but even a simple pause before accepting button presses in menus would have resolve this problem for Hideout!
6) Don’t distract me when I’m playing!
I’ll be honest and say that it was a bit of a surprise when I found that players were clueless about gameplay mechanics that were clearly being explained to them through in-game text. After seeing this, I learned the true power of well-constructed tutorial levels. Hideout! failed to introduce the player to the details of how to play in a safe, stress-free environment. Instead, without pausing the gameplay, the player was expected to read text while running away from UFOs and busily figuring out everything else about the game.
In fact, a similar problem extended outside the gameplay: some players simply don’t read any text at all! Even though the reason for the game over was clearly stated at the end of the level, some players would just skip past it to continue the same mistakes over and over again in gameplay. I expect that the best solution for Hideout! would be a tutorial level that pauses the gameplay at different events, giving the player a chance to read the explanation and instructions.
7) Lack of support for player’s input preferences
I’ve played a number of 3D adventure games from Nintendo where it is convention to control the camera by rotating around the player: moving the joystick to the right rotates the the camera to the right relative to the player. This works great for Nintendo, as the majority of their platform’s games follow this convention… But a large majority of Xbox players are first-person and third-person shooter players who expect the camera to move in the reverse direction: moving the joystick to the right moves the camera left relative to the player causing the view to show what is to the right of the player’s character. This seems backwards to me, but after much playtesting, it has become obvious that on the Xbox it is critical to have invert-rotation options, even though it may not actually be necessary on Nintendo’s platforms.
That’s about all that comes to mind for now. I hope this has been a helpful insight to everyone. I’m always looking for feedback, either on my games or on these blog posts, so feel free to leave some comments!