The proper website for an indie game launch

A friend of mine, Petteri Hannila, has pretty much finished a story game that's been developing for a couple of years. The game, called Tales of Entropy, is at the printers at this writing, and Petteri's putting the finishing touches the epub and pdf versions. The publishing affair is going to be mainly direct to customers, digital and POD, as Petteri's unlikely to go traipsing around the convention scene or to push his game at retailers.

(It's an exciting game that I've been playing a lot myself over the last few winters. You should try it as well if you're into Forgite blood opera games like Dust Devils, Legends of Alyria, How the World Ends and so on.)

So I've been helping Petteri here and there with the game development, and now I'm looking over his website for the game, and it occurs to me that we might as well seek some outside feedback on it. The website's going to be a major element in catching people's interest for the game in the long run, after all.

If you'd like to take a couple of minutes to help out, here's a handy questionnaire to start with.


The main site is at http://www.talesofentropy.com/. Please take a look, and by all means complain if there are any technical issues.

1) Does the site catch your interest at first glance? Any ideas on how one could improve on that?

2) Do you get all the information you should about the game there, or is something explained so vaguely or confusingly that it requires improvement? Any ideas for some more content that should be there?

The game is scenario-based, and there is a scenario database for it at http://www.talesofentropy.com/scenarios/doku.php?id=start. Please take a look there as well, and navigate to a scenario.

3) Is the database clear and usable? What would you suggest to improve on that?

4) Does the bilingual implementation confuse or bother a non-Finnish user?

The scenario database exists because writing scenarios for the game is both fun and useful. The playtest and development process has produced ~30 scenarios in Finnish, for instance, and who knows how many we'll have after publication.

5) Is there are specific subject matter or style that you would find important to be represented in the game's scenarios? Something that would grip your own imagination, or that of others, and help justify a generic game like this.

6) Any ideas for how one should go about fronting the fictive zeal of a generic scenario-based game in its marketing? This is basically the same as Fiasco as a marketing problem - any insights on how a person becomes interested and excited about a game that does not have a strong central fictional conceit?

Comments

  • Took a glance.

    1) It's not bad. It doesn't detract from my interest, but if I've managed to bumble my way over to the site already, I probably already know at least something about the game, and I might appreciate a more briskly navigable format, instead of being greeted by a logo and flavor text and having to scroll down to actual content. Part of me kinda wants the various buttons on the 2nd segment of the page to be underneath the logo that displays as the first "screen". I'm also honestly not super sure I like the "it's all just one long page that scrolls to where you click" instead of just being a more traditional collection of pages, but that may be personal preference.
    2) I'd kinda like a little something of an example of play in there somewhere. It's hard for me to intuit how the game really works from a description like that.
    3) Seems okay; didn't have time to explore it too heavily.
    4) The bilingual nature of the site is fine, since the one page in Finnish is clearly labelled as such, but the English is... to my discerning eye, clearly written by someone for whom it is not their first language. "ready to play out of the blue" is not really something a native speaker would say.
  • Thanks! I'll be telling Petteri to read up on feedback, in addition to giving him my own, so feel free to leave any feedback on the matter here.

    For what it's worth, I'm not enthusiastic about the page-scroll thing either, but apparently it was the simplest framework that came up for Petteri or something. It's a good point that the menu might as well come up first thing, with the "Introduction" after it.

    And yeah, Petteri's English can be a bit clunky (in a different way from e.g. my own). The game text itself is more thoroughly edited, fortunately.
  • If you're gonna go with a single-page sliding effect, please add "Next" buttons (or a simple clickable arrow pointing downward) to the bottom of each panel.

  • "You can play one of the many scenarios created by the other players, or write your own, it is easy and fun." This sentence in particular made me pause. It's GMless yeah? I wasn't sure if it's talking about a scenario created by the other players at the table (the "the other players" made me think a GM is the one being written to), but I think it means a scenario that is hosted on the website.
  • Yes, I see that now as well - it's ambiguous and could be phrased better. Good catch.
  • Did some redlines for you. You can see the text better here: imgur.com/a/jnrGW
    Regarding the Menu. See if you can add a fixed menu at the top of the site that follows the user as they scroll down. This way the user can either scroll and get the full "story" or click on a specific menu item. The menu also serves a bit as a table of contents which signals to the user how much stuff they have to go through.
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  • Regarding getting some punchier text (especially without having a strong fictional conceit.

    Fiasco has playsets, but the "style" of play that it encourages does have a very specific pitch: "What happens when you take a bunch of people with poor impulse control, high stakes, and the means to go after what they want?" A common trend is people say that Fiasco is like a Cohen brother's movie. My point is that there's still a central conceit even though there isn't a specific "setting" that it takes palace in.
  • Thanks Charlie, those are sensible and actionable points.

    Regarding the central conceit, Entropy does have an unique thematic viewpoint that could perhaps be pushed more explicitly. It may be the case (I'm guessing here) that Petteri feels that trying to explain it simultaneously with the genericness of the game meshes badly. An extensive description of play would probably do a better job of selling it than a technical explanation, simply because it's probably much more fun for most people in practice than as an exegesis of dramatic theory.

    To be explicit, the most unique bit in the game is that the player characters (the central characters in the dramatic scenario) are judged by the group at the end of each scene in terms of their Flame (protagonist impact) and Shadow (subhuman drive). These stats are used to supplement conflict resolution, of course, and to figure out character epilogues, but in truth their big impact is in the way they pull the players into a discourse over the meaning of protagonism and villainy. The end result is that the players emote their characters much more clearly, and understand each other's characters better due to the regular voting. The game's drama has a very postmodern feel to it due to the way the Shadow stat particularly breaks down the idea of villainy; there is a darkness in every one of us and so on. Very Jekyll & Hyde.
  • Great job, kilocharliekilo! I'd say ditch both the follow-along menu and the button though. People can scroll. Those things get in the way of the text
  • Eero,

    That bit you just wrote about the Shadow and Flame makes the game far more interesting to me than anything else I've heard so far!
  • Well yes, obviously, because you're a hardcore storygamer. The list of "things I personally find interesting in Petteri's game" is very different from what I imagine the common customer to be interested by.

    This is a pretty common problem for marketing this stuff, because people in general often seem to buy games on the basis of an attractive fictional conceit, such as a book cover or literary genre that is relevant to them emotionally - but that sort of thing is a finite resource, and this kind of game is going to be precisely as good in that regard as the group playing it is, anyway, so the experienced hardcore doesn't really care - I've got plenty of good fiction in my head already, thanks. What matters to me whether your game has dwarves and elves, when I want to hear about the clever mechanical implementation that presumably does something noteworthy with that fictional material...

    I imagine that if Petteri was writing ad copy stricly for the hardcore, it might look something like this - check it out Petteri, perhaps you can pull some points out of this:

    It's like Dust Devils or Legends of Alyria: a scenario-based blood opera where every player makes their own character in the context of a tightly-wound relationship map, and then afterwards the players play a number of dramatic scenes akin to a movie, where their characters blow each other's heads off for better or worse reasons. The game ends when the initial issues bringing the characters into dramatic conflict have been resolved, which usually means that half or more of the cast is dead.

    The first unique bit is that the game's scenarios are modular and carefully considered in advance, but the players still get plenty of freedom to interpret and focus things; the balance between prep vs. improvisation is somewhat similar to Fiasco with its modular playsets. No advance prep is needed aside from one player learning the rules. Play of the game starts with a calm read-through of the scenario, usually written in some sort of a literary style, so as to bring the players to the same page regarding setting and theme; it's often a moment of focus and excitement, the opening of a new story.

    The scenario includes a single "pivot character", a potential protagonist or antagonist of the coming story. This character belongs by default to the Operator, the player facilitating play - there's no GM, but it's useful to have a single player who manages the rules for the group. The other players define their characters, one by one, in adversial relationship to the characters that have already been established, which forms a "nemesis map", a map of conflicting relationships.

    In practice this is pretty unique, because your character creation constraint depends on what establishing moves the other players have already done: the first player to create their character has to create a bold antagonist for the pivot character, while the next player gets to pick between the two (or choose to be a nemesis to both), and so on. The last player may either create one more character, or simply steal the character off the Operator, leaving them to play without one, if they deem the scenario complete enough without adding another potentially meaningless character into the mix. The result of this character prep can take the initial scenario to some completely unexpected places, and the relationship map can easily range between "everybody are enemies with each other, and for good reasons" and "let's all gang up on the mad king together".

    The rest of the game has what one would expect of a Forgite story game - scene framing, universal conflict rules, means to give arbitrary mechanical weight to themes, NPCs and such as desired, endgame rules, and so on. Unique ideas abound. For instance:
    * Winning conflicts causes mechanical burden that acts as a karmic dept, causing the proud to fall later on. Unmanageable burdens are avoided by kinder and softer play, while winning early and big all but guarantees a big fall later.
    * Characters gain your typical hero points, called "Flame", but they also gain "Shadow", a score that measures the depths of darkness within their soul. The player gets to set the initial value, but later on the other players decide if your actions merit the strengthening of your Shadow - and it can only ever go up. Shadow makes you stronger in the moment, should you choose to rely on it, but it also makes it likelier for your character to fold out of the game. Being able to collect both Flame and Shadow tends the game towards psychologically complex drama where it takes difficult choices to be a pure hero or villain.
    * Players frame scenes in turn, but whom they frame for depends on which character has seen the least story presence so far, moment to moment. This means that the starting player may frame for their own character, but later in the game players all frame for each other in various combinations. The variety works great to knit a GM-less group together in terms of story responsibility; everybody needs to pay attention to each other's characters to be able to frame intelligibly.

    It's a very considerate game design, in many ways reminiscent of late Forgite stuff from a decade back, before everybody started playing exclusively Apocalypse World. Sharp rules, full group responsibility for creating a great story, and full of dynamic potential for an intellectually curious and dramatically entertaining group of friends.


    However, I don't know if that sort of insular, technical exposition is relevant to a large enough audience to be worth it. Presumably we're capable of telling each other right here in the community that hey, this game is the legit shit (as opposed to some poser newb thing), so whether that same type of communication should also be in the website is an interesting question. Perhaps that space is better spent in attracting the more casual sort of audience to whom "blood opera" and "freely formed traits" say nothing?
  • edited June 2017
    Steven Trustrum of Misfit Studios gave a talk on marketing RPGs yesterday on FB: https://www.facebook.com/MisfitStudiosRPG/

    The first half of the talk is of interest here, as he breaks down the differences between, and practical applications of, "Features" versus "Benefits" and "Messaging." He admits that for RPGs this is a particularly tricky area to negotiate but his talking points are worth considering nonetheless.

    The second half of the video talks about online marketing and SEO. If you're not already familiar with standard SEO that part is worth listening to as well, but it's really the first part that had me taking notes.

  • That's a fascinating summary, Eero! Thanks. I'll be checking out this game now.

    (Not helpful, I know... but I can't be the only one, either!)
  • There is no "common customer", market to hc story gamers and let cred spread outward. Make the game itself beginner friendly and hc interesting and hc players will start recommending it. Cf the success of DW
  • That may make sense, yes. I would have recommended it unhesitatingly ten years ago. Now, we have people asking whether a story game scene even exists anymore.

    Good perspectives all, nevertheless. Petteri's got some pretty serious experience in indie fiction, so I trust implicitly that he'll make some sensible choices about how to market the game. Sensible within the constraints of "family" and "career" and such, anyway. Maybe he'll just make a website and leaves it at that [grin].

    Paul: in case you didn't realize, Petteri's the same guy I've been playing S/lay w/ Me with at our blog. Just sayin'. I'll probably do some actual advertising of this game here later, when it's available, on the principle that a few of you guys may wish to take a look. Write about one of our numerous playtest stories or something.
  • I'm very much looking forward to reading more adventure fiction from you two! The second game of S/lay w/Me is on my reading list...
  • In practice this is pretty unique, because your character creation constraint depends on what establishing moves the other players have already done: the first player to create their character has to create a bold antagonist for the pivot character, while the next player gets to pick between the two (or choose to be a nemesis to both), and so on.
    If I understand everything correctly, Hillfolk does something similar.
    Without the "shooting each other" part (I houseruled that back in).
    Presumably we're capable of telling each other right here in the community that hey, this game is the legit shit (as opposed to some poser newb thing), so whether that same type of communication should also be in the website is an interesting question.
    Great point!
  • edited June 2017
    At some point, more polished imagery would help to communicate that this is a project being handled with expertise and attention to detail. With the illustrations, that might be a concern for further down the road, but I do think it's never too early to refine the identity imagery that provides a user's first impression -- in this case, the logo.

    As is, the title is readable, but not comfortably so.

    I suspect something like this would be better (I don't know the font, so couldn't demo that part, but hopefully the rough idea comes through):
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  • edited June 2017
    I'd say ditch both the follow-along menu and the button though. People can scroll. Those things get in the way of the text
    When I've run UAT testing in the past, I've found that users like to 1) have an idea of what's all there to see/what their options are, and 2) quickly get to the things they want if they come back (specifically to download resources or to get to the scenario database.)

    That's why I suggested adding the menu, but considering the site itself is relatively sparse (to be clear that's not a criticism; less is more) you may be right that the menu isn't necessary.

    @Eero_Tuovinen, I had two more thoughts for how Petteri might address the "how to pull someone in" challenge. I don't think Petteri needs to break down exactly how it all works (although having an "Example of Play" video would be awesome and a GREAT addition.) I don't have time to dig into it at this exact moment; I'll try find some time next week.
  • Please do. I'm interested in this question in general, and I imagine others are as well.

    Petteri tells me that he'll look into improving the website once he gets the book to the printer. He thanks you all for the crowdsources commentary. I'll see if I might attract him to come here himself for some sort of a Q &A at some point.
  • kilocharliekilo: what happens is that I can only read one line at a time on such sites, b/c I read so many web pages on my phone sideways. That's not a slight against UAT as a practice, just a pet peeve
  • I wish to thank everyone for your insights.

    Currently I am fighting with the POD-press (it always seems a Herculean task to get everything through) but as soon as I have finished the game itself I will get down to business improving the www-pages.
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