[This is excerpted from the third issue of my new TinyLetter email newsletter, dealing with ‘musings on games, tech and life’ – go ahead and sign up if you dig it!]
There’s one blog post I’ve been meaning to write for a while now (talking of ‘regular newsletter forcing me to write things!) It’s about the things I’ve learned while grabbing info on 500+ indie games for the Games We Care About Twitter account.
For anyone who’s unaware of Games We Care About, as I explain in a recent blog post: “I was very excited about this concept when I launched it back in June, and it’s actually worked out fairly well. The Twitter account for daily discovery of playable games that I (and others!) ‘care about’ has almost 3,500 followers, and most individual game picks have a total of at least 10 Retweets or Favorites. And c’mon, ‘The Illogical Journey Of The Zambonis’? Yesss.”
So, after devs/other recommenders give me a name and a URL for a indie game, I have to compile the rest to complete/schedule a Twitter post. This is generally comprised of the following steps: ‘Is it paid or free?’, ‘What platforms is it released for?’, ‘What’s the best URL to link for it?’, and finally ‘Where do I get a clean screenshot to upload alongside the Tweet?’ Simples?
But looking for these things – and not always finding them easily (?!) has led me to the following ‘Top 5!’ conclusions. Independent game developers – and anyone promoting things online, actually – should probably think about these when displaying info about their product. Most of these relate to any ‘official game website’ you have, but you probably also have a Steam page, an App Store page. So they all inter-related, and you need to have a strategy for updating all of them – please extrapolate from there!
So, here goes:
1. Make official screenshots and YouTube videos easily grabbable.
You’d think this would be fairly obvious, but I’ve found a couple of gotchas. Firstly, a number of people have fancy screenshot galleries where you can’t easily right click on the picture and ‘Save As’. If this happens, I tend to ‘tsk, tsk’ for a couple of seconds and then go straight to Google Image Search (where you may or may not like the results :P)
Secondly, some people seem to have custom videos or walkthroughs or various other mutant things in their videos section. Sometimes they’re not even hosted on YouTube. You always want (imho!) an official trailer that gets to the gameplay footage quickly, and explains the essential idea and features simply. Being able to play the video, click on the YouTube link and then grab the URL is just the easiest way to embed/rehost nowadays. Easy is good. (Feel free to have alternative, non-YouTube versions as well if you desire.)
2. Watch the (old) age of your game assets!Games change quickly, especially in always-evolving ‘Early Access’ versions. Sometimes developers can be embarrassed when an ancient screenshot turns up, for example, on a ‘Games We Care About’ Tweet. On that front, you should probably check out Google Image Search for your game’s name, just to see what’s coming up and if any of it is, shall we say, ‘unfortunate’.
If it is, make _sure_ you have brand new screenshots you’re happy with prominently on your official site or Steam page. (How many people update their Steam page screenshots regularly through Early Access, I wonder?) I’ve also seen official indie game websites with screenshots that are as much as 3 or 4 years old (!). If you’re making a fast-evolving game, you might want to include dated captions on your screenshots if you want to show evolution – or just nix the old ones.
3. Issues with iOS screenshots with text/features included in them
When grabbing info and screenshots on iOS games, one major issue I’ve found is that Apple allows you to insert a bunch of extra info into your ‘official’ screenshots on the App Store. This is good for marketing the game on the store – you can add text, game features, calls to action and so on.
But if you’re a third party looking for a clean screenshot, it’s tricky. This is true not least because a lot of iOS-only games don’t have official standalone websites, cos the App Store public URL does a good (enough) job of it. So be careful. (If you’re fine with whatever pops up on Google Image Search, maybe it’s all good. But again, that can be your friend _or_ your foe.)
4. New platforms – updating your central info repository!
Probably one of the trickiest areas I’ve found is when a game starts on one platform, and gradually expands to three or four (or more!) My first question to you – when you added that new platform, did you remember to update the official website _fully_? I’ve often found non-updated sites, months after the new version debuted.
This is particularly difficult if you want one URL to sum up all the PC, iOS, _and_ Android (Google and Amazon store!) versions of the game – and when you get on enough platforms, you probably want your official website, which links to all of them, being people’s first port of call. So make sure you go back and clean things up for maximum discoverability.
5. Always have a backup ‘one URL to explain it all’
My final tip is sorta a fix for ALL of the above, since smart independent developers have already been thinking about these issues for a long time. You may want to keep your fancy official website with arty Flash effects. If so, fair enough, but for Klingon’s sake have a link to a presskit() for your game in the top corner of the site, then.
For those who’ve missed out on it, presskit() is a free ‘press-centric info about your video game’ website toolkit created by Rami Ismail of Vlambeer, and as the intro explains: “Developers only have to spend an hour or so creating well-laid out press pages with everything the press needs to write to their hearts desire. Everybody wins.”
I can’t recommend this enough – almost every time I’ve been to a presskit() page it’s got me the info I’m looking for quickly and easily. It’s well organized and easy to find the relevant info. And everyone should be running one, even if just as a header or footer link.