Mommy's Best Games, Inc. is an independent game developer founded in 2007. Our seventh game, currently in development, is Pig Eat Ball on which we started working in 2013. This is behind the scenes thoughts about game development and marketing.

Nathan

Friday, October 30, 2015

Action Pack New Features

We recently released our classic action games to Steam in the Mommy's Best Action Pack. The games are available individually or in this handy bundle: http://store.steampowered.com/sub/76770/
 But these aren't just straight ports--they're new, improved, and super high quality PC entertainment!
Assuming you already know about the original releases, I'll detail what's new in the Steam versions.

Weapon of Choice

Store link:  http://store.steampowered.com/app/373600

All New Achievements

This game never had Achievements, as such, everything in it is new! Of course, there are some easy ones (such as saving an operative) and some very tough ones. A few of the most difficult Achievements involve getting really skilled at using Xerxes and his Jet Engine gun. Those are 'Snappy Start' which is a speed run of the first level, and 'Airtime' which requires you to float through level 1 to the boss, without touching the ground!

Airtime will take some serious practice!

The most involved Achievement, which really changes the game, is 'Tasty'. This requires you to find 13 hidden MBG pies scattered throughout all the levels. Don't worry, it's not impossible, as there is a list that is shown on the title screen, once you find your first pie, to help you know where to look. "Out of reach places" are a good place to start!
The pie list
This one's a gimmie! Go get it!
Here's a list of more features added to the Steam version of Weapon of Choice:
  • Increased player run speed
  • Increased resolution in new, widescreen view
  • Keyboard controls (in addition to the original Xbox controller option)
  • Fully remappable buttons and inputs  
  • Steam features: Achievements, Trading Cards, and Steam Cloud for saves
Speaking of which, the Trading Cards and backgrounds are awesome! Enjoy!

Moses Longhorn, taking care of business


Explosionade

Store link:  http://store.steampowered.com/app/373620

New Enemies and Level Layouts

The main issue I had with Explosionade was it was a little easy and didn't have enough unique monsters. I made sure to address that in this new version! There are now nearly double the basic enemy types from the original release! The levels, especially in Serious mode, have all been re-tuned to feature some of the new creatures and bump up the difficulty a bit. The nastiest ones are Horronym Bruisers with the laser cannon. They are relentless and require some real strategy to knock them out of their foxholes.
That laser Bruiser will take you down a notch!
The new Jellies tend to take over you if you don't keep their numbers in check.

Practice Mode

There is now a rich Practice menu system, that let's you select any level, in any difficulty you've already reached, so that you can practice your strategy for the highest score. Whether you want to go for all kills, or go for fastest time, this is the way to climb the leaderboards.

More features added now to the Steam version of Explosionade:
  • Improved grenades for better control (you can hold them longer, letting them bounce even further if you want.) 
  • Color adjustment to player 2 for better visibility;  laser sight on the mech to improve aiming
  • Keyboard controls (in addition to the original Xbox controller option)
  • Fully remappable buttons and inputs  
  • Steam features: Leaderboards per difficulty, Achievements, Trading Cards, and Steam Cloud for saves


Shoot 1UP 

Store link:  http://store.steampowered.com/app/373610

New Accessibility Modes

Since it's launch Shoot 1UP has been considered by the accessibility world (from One Switch to Able Gamers) as a great shmup with wonderful accessibility features for disabled gamers. We've continued to extend the reach, with new "Goof Off Mode". This changes the game, so it spawns 1UPs at a more frequent rate, making it easier to get to 30 or even 60 ships.
This new mode is perfect for young kids, playing when you're tired, or playing with a casual (non-gamer) friend. The Leaderboards won't register your score, since you're sort of cheating, but it's a lot of fun, and a good way to practice later levels.

There is also the new "Turn-Based Mode", which pauses the game when no input is given. This allows novice or disabled gamers a break, to take it all in first, then make their move (which resumes the action). If you're moving or shooting, the game plays as normal, but as soon as you let off of either, the game pauses for you to start again.


New selection options
With Goof Off mode, it's easy and fun to get to max ships fast.


Additional Shoot 1UP features for the Steam version
  • Improved 'score drop' art
  • Warning prompts for enemies coming from the sides or bottom.
  • Option to *add* more clothing to the robo-girls in Hao.
  • Keyboard controls (in addition to the original Xbox controller option)
  • Fully remappable buttons and inputs  
  • Steam features: Leaderboards per difficulty, Achievements, Trading Cards, and Steam Cloud for saves

Game Type

Store link:  http://store.steampowered.com/app/373630

New Boss

There is now an actual boss to fight in Game Type, and it is of course, the cat from Cat Chat. He hides behind a desk, throwing out different paw, and hairball attacks, along with calling for his tiny, cat minions. The Cat Chat boss shows up at the end of every 3rd loop.
Cat fight!

All New Achievements

Like Weapon of Choice, Game Type never had Achievements for it's Xbox 360 release. Now it has plenty of extra challenges! There's several points-based goals of course, but there's also some fun to be had snooping around the faux Xbox 360 dashboard.
The New Achievements Menu

Rebalanced

The entire game is much more interesting, and playable for the long term as I worked with playtesters from the hardcore shmup community. They really pushed on it, looking for spots where the game was too unpredictable to feel like you could improve at it, or areas that were slow, or boring, or needed clarity. We've improved many of the sprites for the bullets and enemies to make sure everything is easily visible, because when the game starts to *really* speed up around loop 6, you need all the clarity and focus you can muster.


More improvements for Game Type on Steam:
  • Keyboard controls (in addition to the original Xbox controller option)
  • Fully remappable buttons and inputs  
  • Steam features: Leaderboards for All Time and WEEKLY(!), Achievements, Trading Cards, and Steam Cloud for saves

Mommy's Best Action Pack

And that was just the enhanced features!
Make sure to check out the Steam pages for all the original features in each game. Happy shooting!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Case Study: One Game's Amazing Click-Rate on Steam

(Vagueness: The take-away points of this will be intact, but if I act vague about exact numbers or certain practices, it's because I don't want to violate the non-disclosure agreement we (and other developers) have with Valve regarding their store.)

TL:DR

That little, tiny strip of your game logo on Steam is really, really useful. Take a second look at it, and try to improve it to grab more eyes. Also, consider tweaking your Tags.
Unless you've released on Steam before, you probably don't know how extremely powerful that slot is.

We had 4 games released in one day, and we compare and contrast why one game got a lot more clicks than others.

The Steam Front Page

This article is about examining a tiny sliver of art which very much influences how much traffic ends up on your game's Steam page. As we can see by visiting the main page on Steam, there are several categories where games are shown.
Front page on Steam, September 29th, 2015

We can see the large, top part--currently it shows 80 Days--which cycles through many games and the lower, smaller section that reads "New On Steam" just above.

The valuable, New On Steam section.

This "New On Steam" part is where we'll focus on our time and thoughts, but let's first look at a few points.

Front Page Flow

Now, without running afoul of any agreements we have with Steam, we can still determine and talk about some interesting points. Anyone that spends some time analyzing the front page for a few days can see a pattern. If you keep track of games that show up on the Upcoming tab near the bottom, and then compare them to games in the New On Steam section above, you can see that it seems that games that went through the Upcoming section get some time in the New On Steam section.

The Upcoming Games reasonably seem to show up in the New On Steam section.
So we have the idea that, 'Upcoming Games' move to 'New On Steam'.

Lots of Eyes

Without saying how many potential times gamers could be shown your game banner, let me just assure you it's a substantial amount, that any developer would be happy to have.
It's a very nice setup, since independent of your marketing budget the New On Steam section affords (apparently?) every game an opportunity for a lot of people to see it.
So, let's accept the assumption that the New On Steam section is very valuable and powerful.

High Traffic Analytics

Once you have your game on Steam, you get access to some nice traffic analytics, breaking down how many people saw your game banner in the New On Steam section but also how many clicked on it. You get to see total views and total clicks.

I'm personally in an uncommon situation, in that we recently ported 4 of our popular XBLIG games to Steam, and released them all on the same day. From that, I now have 4 data points from the same time period. While anyone could simply watch the Steam front page for a while and track how long games show up in the New On Steam section, I'll tell you, for us all 4 games stayed on there about 10 hours each.

Mommy's Best Action Pack promo
Steam also shares with you the *average click-through rate of other games*.
One of our games matched this average.
Two of our games were nearly twice the average.
And our final game had over *three and half* times the average number of clicks.

The Click-Through Puzzle

All of our games in the "Mommy's Best Action Pack" were critically praised over the years. The popularity of the games goes in this order: Shoot 1UP, Weapon of Choice, Explosionade, and then Game Type. Game Type is a fun but very strange game, plus it's an extremely niche 'caravan' style shoot 'em up. It never sold well, but it was respected.

Of course one has to factor in 'brand awareness' when considering why someone would click on your game banner, after they see it. Maybe they've heard of it before and are interested! (That's of course exactly how brand awareness is supposed to work!)
Instead, in this case, the click-through breakdown went like this: Game Type had 3.5x the average number of click-throughs. Shoot 1UP and Weapon of Choice both were over the average at about 1.8x times. And Explosionade simply had an average number of click-throughs.

What does this mean? For me it shows what I'd expect, that Shoot 1UP and Weapon of Choice had some brand recognition, and brought some people through to their game pages. This is good.

But the puzzle for you to consider is: What happened to Explosionade (average click-through) and Game Type (amazing click through)?

Compare and Contrast Clicks

Obviously we all work hard to create the game logo and the title treatment. But the wide, small game banner used in the New On Steam section is tough. It's horizontal and it's small. You don't have a lot of space to show off your game... or do you?
I took this as an opportunity to consider the art used for each of my 4 games and you should look at yours as well.

Here's what the banners for each game looked like at launch, during the traffic period in question.
Original versions
Here are my notes from looking at the art.
The Explosionade title takes up more room than any other game art here. Game Type text takes up the least space. Weapon of Choice and Shoot 1UP are very colorful by comparison, and bright. Game Type has an identifiable human girl, kicking, which is strange. You can kind of make out a cat in Game Type. For Explosionade, I can make out two bullets sort of, but I can't tell what's happening on the lower left, it's mostly a wasted opportunity. The monster on the bottom right of Explosionade shows his eye, but loses a lot of context, which could mean for some people that the coolness of seeing the glowering monster is lost. The Weapon of Choice 'font' is weird and non-standard and has strange organic shapes all over it. Shoot 1UP has a girl who is peaking over the edge, this is titillating.

Here is the new version of the game art.
New versions (only Game Type and Explosionade were changed)
The main changes to Explosionade are to give things more context, and reduce the text size. Keep in mind players will see your game name, just to the right, in plain text. They will know the game's name, so can reduce your title art somewhat if you have more interesting things to show. I've increased the space the mech on the lower left takes up, and increased the space the monster on the right takes up to indicate the cool fighting in the game. Game Type was made brighter and the other two games were not changed.

Let Tags Do Their Thing

The other thing to consider is that I labelled all my games "Action", and "Indie". There is a *broad* selection of  games on Steam that fall into those categories. I wasted my chance by not labeling Shoot 1UP and Game Type as "shoot 'em up" (much fewer games) and I wasted my chance to label Explosionade as "Mech" (very few games).
Players could have quickly seen those words just to the right and had another reason to click!

What's the Point Now? The Moment Is Not Gone!

Why improve the art, after the games are out of the New On Steam part? Because that same art is used all over Steam, in the 'More Like This' section and the 'Recently Updated'. You get more chances to catch player's eyes!
Redemption! If your game had a poor performing click-through rate on launch, you can do better it!

If you have not released your game consider:
As I said, if I could do it over, I should have added more useful tags to my games (the "User-Defined tags", not the search words, which are also important). Adding custom tags that make sense to your game, but some that are also specific.

In any case, take another look at your game banner, especially the small one, and make sure you're making most of it. There are a lot of eyes on that tiny piece of art and you can get more clicks with it!

----

(And since we're sort of talking about designing box art (but smaller, and wider) I found this to be an inspiring article on how others made some very nice art: http://www.polygon.com/features/2015/8/27/9207581/video-game-box-art)

(And finally, please chime in as to why you think Game Type scored so well and Explosionade only scored 'average'. I'd love to hear different points of view, thank you!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Shoot 1UP and More on Steam Today


The Mommy's Best Action Pack is available now on Steam!
Store Page: http://store.steampowered.com/sub/76770/
The price is a handsome $7.99 and you get 4 of the weirdest, wildest 2D action games around!

All games have been enhanced for Steam with Achievements, Trading Cards, Leaderboards and more. 
And each game has been remastered and improved for the perfect PC experience!

Shoot 1UP and the stage 2 boss!

Shoot 1UP and the Trundle Fisher from stage 3!

Alien-stomping in Explosionade

Moses and his laser satellite gun in Weapon of Choice

Hoodie Girl battling the ads in Game Type
If you've enjoyed our games over the years, be sure to tell your PC friends to check 'em out. It's a big help to us, thank you!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mommy's Best Action Pack


All our award-winning action games we made for the Xbox 360 are now coming to Steam!
The games are Weapon of Choice, Shoot 1UP, Explosionade, and Game Type.



Each game has been re-tuned, improved, and enhanced using all the feedback over the years to make these version the ultimate experience!
They are also enhanced with Steam Leaderboards, Achievements, Trading Cards, remappable keyboard controls (and of course Xbox 360 controller support), and more!

The Mommy's Best Action Pack is out on Steam on September 23rd for $7.99!

Boy, I've been working really hard on porting the games, and improving them over the summer--it's really fun to get to talk about it finally!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Two Weeks and Two Big Shows

Derby City Comic Con

For the next two weekends Mommy's Best Games is excited be demoing and sharing our games locally at some very fun Comic Cons!

June 20th and 21st, come out to the Derby City Comic Con here in Louisville, KY.
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/derby-city-comic-con-tickets-15591463487
Tickets for both days are only $20 and kids 10 and under get in free!


We'll have Finger Derpy and Pig Eat Ball on display there, some come by and challenge us to a game!
Find BOOTH 48 to play this weekend!

Indy PopCon


And then the weekend after, we'll be up in Indianapolis for the Indy PopCon! It runs June 26, 27, and 28th for three big days of comics and games!
https://indypopcon.com/buy-tickets/#/cart/choose
Three-day admission is $45 for the whole weekend, or $20 a day, and kids 10 and under are free!

See you soon!



Friday, April 24, 2015

Finger Derpy is Released!


We just released a new game, and it's called Finger Derpy!
You can play it now! It's out for iPhones/iPads:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/finger-derpy/id977473798?mt=8
And it's on Android phones and tablets on Google Play:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.MommysBestGames.FingerDerpy


The game answers the age-old question--what if horses controlled like canoes and they had rubber necks?
The game's control system is unique. Instead of automatically running, you have to control your horses front hooves, with your two fingers to get the horse to run. Tapping left, turns your horse forward and to the right. Tapping right, turns him left. It feels backwards, but you can get the hang of it after a bit of practice.

The game takes place in a stylized version of nearby Louisville KY, and we even partnered with local, iconic businesses to lend more authenticity to the experience. Places like Muhammad Ali Center, KY Science Center, Louisville Stoneware, CenterStage at the JCC, Louisville Orchestra and more are *in* the game!

The player dodges the Foucault pendulum from the Kentucky Science Center on Main St.
How? Well each business has a unique gameplay element. For instance the Orchestra has timpani drums, the sound from which can knock the player's horse around. Stoneware has floating teapots that the player can dodge or crash through!

A group of teapots from Louisville Stoneware circle in the tobacco fields.

The Solo mode let's you upgrade your horse, and unlock new horse breeds with new special powers, so there's considerable depth, even though it's a mobile game.
The Party mode is very unique in that it allows up to 4 players to race each other, all on the same device! Yes, this works best on a larger device like a tablet, but we've done plenty of races as well on a phone.


Finger Derpy is our first, broadly released mobile game, and it's extremely satisfying to share the game in a simple way. I can talk to someone about making games, and tell them the name of our game, and they can play it within minutes. Before, explaining the Xbox 360 and it's special download stores, and expecting them to be able to find the game later was a definite hurdle.

Make sure you download Finger Derpy from the appropriate store, and tell your friends and family about it. It's a big help and support. Thank you!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

GDC and Arcade Expo 2015



The Louisville Arcade Expo will be March 6th-8th and will feature tons of classic arcade games and pinball machines! It's really a great show and well worth taking the whole family too. There's even lots of classic console games set up for play in different rooms around the convention.


Also we'll be there, showing off the new and improved changes to Pig Eat Ball! And we'll be debuting our secret, brand new mobile game at the show! 


What is this crazy, 4-player mess they're playing?

Get your tickets before the show for a good discount. Kids 10 and under are free with an adult!
http://www.arcaderx.com/


GDC 2015

I'll be at the Game Developers Conference next week for a few days, catching up with other developers, and listening to some talks. If you see me around and wanna chat, come up and say 'hi'!
I look something like this:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tampon Run is Good Art


Tampon Run is a game designed by two young women who met at a 'Girls Who Code' workshop. The game is good art because it challenges the player to reconsider a normally taboo topic, and because it reflects real events for the viewer to ponder anew.
The gameplay has players running and throwing tampons at people coming at them. The tampons are used as weapons. This may seem silly or forced, but it was motivated by real-life political events. 

In 2013, during a vote for an anti-abortion bill, women that were allowed into the Texas State Capitol were having their tampons and maxi-pads confiscated, for fear of them being used as weapons, that is, being thrown. Ironically guns were still allowed into the Capitol.
Let's think about that--actual weapons were allowed in, but tampons were not. The tampons were confiscated so as not to have them thrown and maintain the 'rules of decorum' but it sends a mixed message, that in a way, the tampons are more dangerous.


Tampon Run plays with that concept, by having the player throwing the tampons as real weapons and stopping people coming at the player. It's also funny to consider the title as a 'tampon run' (going to get tampons from the store) and a play on title 'Temple Run' the hugely popular, infinite runner series.


Putting a game on the AppStore that talks about menstruation and tampons is a bold move, because, while there are tampon timer apps for women, this puts the game in front of a bigger audience. It has the potential to help younger men and women consider the topic of menstruation and hopefully demystify it (through explanations at the start of the game) and remove some of the stigma.



Friday, January 23, 2015

Reward Systems in Crossy Road, Skyward, and Jetpack Joyride

Our next game, Pig Eat Ball, is a grand adventure in the vein of the Mario Galaxy series. But we are also making a new, secret mobile game about which we're very excited! With that in mind, we examine some other mobile game design choices.

A new game called Skyward was released a few days ago. It heavily borrows its aesthetics and Escher-like geometry from another game, Monument Valley, but the gameplay is different. It's an infinite-runner style design, in which you have to climb as high as possible. You control two dots, and each step is scored.


Similarly, Crossy Road is another infinite-runner game in which each forward step is scored as well. And an older, auto-scrolling runner game Jetpack Joyride has you trying to fly as far as possible for the best score.


These games all have different reward systems and I've been considering their differences to look for things I liked.
And while we're at it, Flappy Bird will come up too. It is another infinite-runner. Its score system is based on distance too, but it has no content reward system.

Content Unlocks

Jetpack Joyride is on the content-heavy end of the spectrum. In the game you can collect small coins which you continue to accrue across plays. These are stored and you are able to spend them to  unlock many different pieces of content including: new head art, new body art, new jetpack gameplay, new one-time powerups, and more.

Crossy Road features a coin system also, and you accrue coins across plays. However, there is only one type of content to unlock, which is new characters to use. There are dozens of characters, such as a wizard, a dog, a basketball player and more. While none of the characters modify gameplay, some make different sounds, and some do ancillary things while you progress (for instance the wizard can zap and burn trees and cars around him). For every 100 coins, you get the chance to possibly unlock a new character.


Skwyard measures steps to unlock new content, but the steps do not accrue across plays. Once you hit a new high score, such as 20 steps, 30, 40, etc, a new pattern of gameplay is unlocked. This new pattern will then show up in the gameplay.



Scrolling Content Release System

All of the games use systems in which level/environment content is randomized with each play. The patterns unlocked in Skwyard begin to show up randomly as you play. Crossy Road has a few segments that it interchanges: grass and trees, roads and rails, and water and logs. Jetpack Joyride has a system in which large environment chunks may possibly show up as you play. Players always start out in the lab, but eventually they can encounter a warehouse, a greenhouse, and even an underwater tube. Players do not control this type of content, except through repeated plays.

Additionally, the coins and enemies in Jetpack Joyride have different patterns in which they can appear, and these patterns are randomized during plays, and intermixed with the different environments. Crossy Road randomizes where it places coins, but since they are singular coins there's no new patterns to notice, though the difficulty of coin placement can change. For instance, sometimes a coin can show up on a log, or around a corner.


Monetization

Because it does impact their structures, let's look at monetization briefly.
For Jetpack Joyride, their current system is only through in-app purchases (IAP) of more in-game coins. Players can spend real money to buy coins or grind to get more coins. In either case, they'll spend their in-game coins on new content.

Crossy Road is a blend of IAP and full-screen ads. The ads however are only shown when the player decides to watch them. Players are rewarded with in-game coins. Players can unlock the new characters with real money (directly) or with in-game coins.
Skyward only uses ads. There are fullscreen ads and banner ads. The banner ads run during gameplay and the fullscreen ads run after you die (though not necessarily after every death).
Suggestion: I'd move the banner ads to the top of the screen, not the bottom as it's possible to accidentally click them.


The Player's Mind

Jetpack Joyride is a very content heavy game, with a large store in which to spend in-game coins. 

Skyward and Crossy Road unlock system are similar but also different.  Both have a single content type to unlock (patterns and characters). The important distinction is in Skyward there is only one thing to consider. How far did the player get? The high score is exactly the goal *and* the path to unlock content.

In Crossy Road, the high score is the assumed goal, but the player also gets to consider in the back of their minds, that if they keep collecting coins, they'll get to unlock a new character. The goal to get the high score is open--players are not required to grind to achieve a high score. The grinding is purely player-driven to get a new character, and fortunately the grinding meshes nicely with trying to get further in the game.

Similar to Flappy Bird, in Skyward the singular goal of getting further can be compelling, but I personally find having some other thing on my mind more interesting. By fusing the presumed goal (get high score) and the reward system (high scores unlock content with no carry-over between games), there is only one thing on the player's mind. Get the high score. Whether this is compelling enough for extended play is a matter of personal taste.