On Thursday 25th we released the alpha version of our upcoming sandbox game of survival on procedurally generated alien planets through lego-style building. We had over 2000 Alpha backers from Kickstarter and Paypal preorders before alpha launch and got over 300 more over the course of the past 7 days. We are now wrapping up this milestone as the chance to get into alpha ends on Friday.
In this story, we will sum up our alpha launch experience, show some numbers and share our tips on launching your game.
First the Obvious "Don't Understimate Preparations"
If you are a small team like us, prepare what you can in advance and be ready to put in the extra hours post-launch.
The biggest nightmare for our launch was the distribution of Steam keys. Even though we had automated the distribution, about 10% of people fell through. That's some 200 people, that you need to help out.
Now in the hindsight, considering this was our biggest issue, we had a pretty smooth launch, but at the time it felt bad to invest time that could have been spent promoting the launch into making sure Alpha backers were happy. But our community comes first, so that's where we decided to put our resources. After all they are the ones who made Planet Nomads possible.
They are also the ones building these awesome things in our game.
With 200 Nomads in despair, every minute saved on each "ticket" counts. Fortunately we had each e-mail in a database together with the corresponding Steam key = copy-paste, send, next. Still it could have been handled better, especially because those are not the only e-mails coming in - you have additional Youtubers wanting a Steam key, people asking "What do I do with this code?", "The <insert issue> is screwing me, what do I do?", etc. So what can you do to be more effective? Here's what we learned:
TIP1: Have an automated self-service form on the game's website that resends the keys and point people there on all your channels.
TIP2:Be clear in your communication. We had dozens of people asking for alpha key who were at the Early Access tier and not elligible for Alpha. The more you can minimize these, the better.
TIP3: Be ready for all kinds of questions and try to prepare a FAQ section in ADVANCE. Do include the obvious ones too, such as "How do I activate my Alpha Steam key?" Add the recurring questions to this page DURING launch.
TIP3:Postpone your launch party a few days after the D-Day.
TIP4: For the love of god, do NOT order carpet cleaning in your office the next day, duh.
What Went Right and What You Should Do
1) Getting Youtubers an Early Copy
OK, this is obvious, but we all know how we all enjoy to make those last minute changes in our release builds, right? The additional pressure helps with that and best of all the Youtubers have videos ready to launch on release day and get the snowball rolling.
2) Have Your Steam Page Ready
Even though you are still months away from the actual launch, you can utilize the buzz around alpha to get more people to check your game and mostly hit that magical "Add to Your Wishlist" button (or better yet preorder alpha access!). People may forget about your game altogether before it gets released, but Steam will remind them for you on launch day.
We had the Steam page for Planet Nomads ready and got 48K impressions, 22K visits and most of all 4,391 clicks on that magical Wishlist button. Yay!
3) Give Power to Your Community (Also Ways to Be Helpful)
We come from a mobile development background, where people are not so heavily invested in games they play, so the Planet Nomads community keeps surprising us in all kinds of amazing ways. (We assume this is true for the PC gaming community in general.)
We had the bug report forum ready for them before launch and they delivered detailed bug reports and helped each other out (in turn helping you with the workload). Linux players even provided ready-made technical solutions to us, how bloody cool is that?
4) Keep Your Players Informed
Again, the PC community is very mature. They understand hiccups happen and will tolerate them (to a point), but they will not tolerate being kept in the dark! Acknowledge your problems, assure your players you are doing all you can to fix them. Then fix them. It works every single time.
5) Keep Your Cool
During this trying period you have to keep it professional. At all cost. Every additional "stupid" question makes you angry, every display of attitude will make you want to "repay" with the same coin, but don't. People are people, and these are the people who are into your game!
We had one player who's e-mail slipped through for more than 24 hours. He was steaming on our forum and Steam discussion boards, and in his next e-mail you could see the frustration... it was also titled REFUND. That he really wanted to play, but being ignored is not the treatment he's going to tolerate.
Clearly it was the (understandable) anger talking. What did we do? We apologized, sent him his Steam key anyway, but assured him we respected his decision to refund and would do it (and revoke the key), if that's what he really wanted. And what happend? Yeah, you guessed it.
"You keep talking about community, but how did you build one for Planet Nomads?"
A very good question. But it's getting late here. We'll tell you this part of the Planet Nomads story in our next MWU update.
For now, I hope some of these tips will help you have a successful (alpha) launch of your upcoming game. Good luck with it and remember, keep it cool!
If you are intrigued by Planet Nomads as much as our growing community of Nomads, head over to Planet Nomads website and treat yourself with alpha access.