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  • Postmortem: Project Lake Ridden

    - Sara Casen

  • 4. Game Testing With Real Life Players.

    We spent a great deal of time and money on testing the game on real people. We did this in two ways; on players at conferences and players that came into the office to play Lake Ridden. We closely watched people while exhibiting it on trade shows like EGX, asking them about things like what they felt about the suggested price (19,99€) to what games they usually played. That was complemented with user testing where we invited around 40 puzzle gamers (most of which we didn't know personally) to the studio.

    There we watched them play and asked them follow-up questions from a prepared protocol. We always had predefined hypotheses that we worked with during these game tests, like how long the ideal playtime for a level was, how many tries a player should make before solving a problem etc. If something deviated too much from the desired outcomes we compiled this feedback in an actionable way to the development team. This testing was absolutely invaluable to make sure Lake Ridden got such a good reception from puzzle gamers. In the late stages of the development, we also worked with the fantastic QA company Testology to find and squash traditional bugs as well.

     concept art from Lake Ridden, back from 2016. The game was first announced as a horror game but changed direction after one year of development, none the less landing on a 96% positive Steam score during its first month available for purchase on Steam, GOG and Humble.

    5. Rapid Reaction To Change.

    As mentioned before we pivoted the development after one year. One of our core ideas of Midnight Hub has been to be able to react to change if needed since few industries are so unpredictable and volatile as the games industry. Changing from a horror game to a puzzle game was a very difficult move to pull off none the less. Pivoting is a very scary and stressful thing to do, and most game projects or teams do not survive such a move. It forced us to do major reworks to the story, the game design, and the music. We still consider it a successful move since it was necessary and we survived to release a 96% positive game after making the switch.

    6. Marketing, PR and Open Development.

    When founding Midnight Hub in late 2015 we knew that the games market was getting more and more crowded with each month. Between 2004-2015 a total of 7 000 games had been released on Steam, with almost 3 000 alone in 2015! So we knew we needed to work with marketing and visibility from day #1 to even have a chance to break through the noise. The first way we tackled this was to have one co-founder with a background in community management and marketing (me). We then formulated a marketing strategy to follow the development to maximize the chances that Lake Ridden would land a top spot on the Steam front page when released (our best bet to set off a snowball of sales). Here are just some of the marketing efforts we pushed along our two-year development (on an extremely frugal indie budget).

    - Visited and exhibited the game at EGX17 Birmingham, GDC17, NGC17, EGX18 London and GDC18. We hired booths and took advantage of the fact that shows like EGX have PR firms contracted to help indies market their presence to journalist.

    - Johan's Twitter has 360 000 followers after his time at Minecraft. He continuously tweeted about the development.

    - We contacted the press ourselves and managed to secure coverage on sites like Polygon, PC Gamer and tons of minor game news sites.

    - We hired a professional trailer company to make a great story trailer for the game which was featured front page on IGN.

    - Regular high-quality GIFs, one of which went viral with over 200 000 views.

    - We worked with Facebook marketing to spread the word about the game prior to big shows where we would exhibit the game.

    - Contracting two really good PR firms to help us secure reviews and coverage around release, both in USA and UK.

    - Paying for influencers like Yogscast to play the game on their channel.

    - Reaching out to Steam Curators and advertising on Keymailer.

    - Competitions at conferences where people could sign up on our email list to win a free game.

    - Open development where we often tweeted, facebooked and blogged about the development. We wrote several well-shared pieces about project management, portfolio building and studio culture that mentioned our game.

     WIP shots from the process of establishing the art direction for the game. Our goal was to make nature a huge part of Lake Ridden's identity.

    7. The Launch of Lake Ridden.

    If you have followed the news you know Lake Ridden has not (yet) sold enough copies to support the studio Midnight Hub. We had to let everyone go in August of 2018. So you might be wondering how we could list the launch as something we're proud of? Let's look at what we managed to achieve during the launch of the game:

    - Lake Ridden launched on May the 10th 2018. It rose the top of Steam's front page chart "New & Trending", and stayed there for five days, in countries like USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Finland, and Norway.

    - The game secured major organic non-sponsored coverage when both Lirik and Forzen streamed an hour each on Twitch in front of an audience of almost 35 000 viewers.

    - Lake Ridden was covered and reviewed by a lot of sites, included Gamereactor and Fandom. The overall reception was positive.

    - We got over 2 500 requests for keys on Keymailer and ended up sending out 1 200 keys to credited streamers.

    - Big name Twitter accounts like much of the original Mojang gang with over 500 000 followers and Rami Ismail tweeting about the game.

    - Front page feature of Humble Bundle and GOG upon release.

    - Release trailer coverage on Polygon and many other news sites.

    We managed to do all of this without a publisher pushing our game. The only kind of coverage we did not manage to secure was release-day reviews on sites like PC Gamer, IGN etc and we were never shown at E3. After the release, we quickly fixed bugs, implemented controller support, monitoring social media for mentions of the game, answered all questions on our Steam page and handed out guides on how to tag the game with proper tags to players that enjoyed the game. The release in itself was something we're extremely proud of, both in terms of coverage and the technical aspect (extremely few crashes ever reported).

     Ridden had a very successful launch supported by two PR firms, influencer videos, major review coverage and a continuous presence on multiple consumer events. The game ended up on Steam's front page for five days, featured on the "New and Trending" Chart in USA, UK, Germany, and many more countries.

    Overall, Lake Ridden is a great game, it had an absolutely fantastic launch and the team learned invaluable lessons while making it. Let's have a look at what we struggled with, what we could have done differently. Please keep in mind it's always easy to look back in hindsight.


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