Finnish game studio, 10tons, has published 32 games on a dozen platforms over the last decade. The studio has monetized its games in part because of its rich, compelling content, its multi-platform approach, and its solid marketing strategy. Its latest game – Trouserheart, developed by Dicework Games, earned the studio first prize ($30,000 cash) in the Windows 8 contest for Unity developers. Here, Jaakko Maaniemi, a producer at 10tons, talks about the game and the strategies that have yielded success on Windows and other platforms.
Trouserheart, the quirky, fantasy action game, “is simple to learn and fun to play.”
When Dicework Games first contacted 10tons six months ago about publishing Trouserheart, Maaniemi and his team were receptive. “Dicework approached us with an engaging game and a solid team. When we learned that it was using Unity, we signed quickly. We thought the game was a good fit for 10tons’ line-up, and with Unity’s extensive multi-platform support, the new game would have a broad reach,” said Maaniemi.
“Making Trouserheart for both Windows Phone and Windows Store was an easy decision, as a lot of the code for both platforms is the same, including the very effective try-and-buy implementation.”
10tons distributes its games on many platforms by using in-house C++ technology. “When Microsoft added C++ support to Windows Phone 8, we immediately brought ten of our existing titles to the platform in rapid succession. So when Dicework Games approached us shortly after Microsoft and Unity announced their collaboration, the only logical step was to port Trouserheart to the Windows platform too,” Maaniemi said.
Dicework developers moved into 10tons’s office and became another internal development team. Their skills and vision enabled them to work under light supervision. The two teams collaborated: 10tons hadn’t developed with Unity, and Dicework hadn’t published to the Windows Phone platform. “The team anticipated challenges since Unity’s Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 support was still very new,” said Maaniemi. “Unity addressed many of the obstacles we faced in its 4.3 update.”
“We used bright colors and clear shapes to enhance visual appeal on small mobile screens.”
Visually, 10tons and Dicework Games wanted Trouserheart to look instantly familiar but still be quirky. “We aimed for a blocky look that would work well with the gameplay and used bright colors and clear shapes to enhance visual appeal on small mobile screens,” said Maaniemi.
Anyone even vaguely interested in the genre will appreciate this instantly-accessible action game with great visuals. “The casual difficulty setting enables a lot of people to play and finish the game, even if it’s their first action adventure,” said Maaniemi. “More seasoned gamers will find a harder setting and can raise the stakes even in perma-death mode, which gives the player no second chances.”
“The try-and-buy model lowers barriers to entry”
“Trouserheart is a great example of a classic pay-per-download game with a trial component. The game is visually appealing, and its structure and controls make it instantly accessible. We think many players will want to try the game, and once they have, they will pay for the whole experience,” said Maaniemi.
‘Try-and-buy’ has worked well for 10tons, especially on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, which default to this model. “If you have a quality product, including a trial can only increase sales. 10tons’s free-trial games have sold five to ten times the volume of premium games with no trial,” he said. On Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, games such as Heroes of Kalevala and Dragon Portals have no free trial option, and they have sold about 10-20% of the volume of other games with a free trial. “Both of the games are easily as high quality and fun as all of our games, so the difference really is in the lack of free trial.”
“Connecting with fans is important; their support keeps spirits up, complaints alert us about technical issues, and some of them are powerful evangelists.”
10tons has a decade’s worth of experience marketing pay-per-download games, so it has a lot of contacts and has established best practices. “The studio alerts media contacts and fans in the weeks leading up to a release and provides tons of review copies to media. Social media helps us stay connected with both these important audiences,” said Maaniemi.
“We also regularly launch games at a discounted price to reward our fans and raise awareness,” he said. According to 10tons, “Three days is the optimal time period for a discount, and if we offer the discount any longer, we will start to lose money. We also derive value from the resulting awareness and good will.”
“Planning game launch promotions has been a helpful strategy”
Microsoft and Nokia have helped 10tons promote its games. “When we first published to the Windows Phone and Windows 8 platforms in early 2013, Microsoft and Nokia both contacted the studio, and now, they provide Store feature slots for all our games on launch. It makes a big difference, and it makes us feel that Microsoft and Nokia really want to see us succeed on Windows Phone and will actively support us,” said Maaniemi. 10tons was also in the very first Red Stripe Deals with King Oddball, and the studio has participated with Tennis in the Face and Boom Brigade 2 as well. “The Red Stripe Deals always spike sales and raise awareness,” he said.
“It’s satisfying to see our efforts payoff”
Maaniemi’s response to winning the Unity contest is hardly surprising: he’s happy, of course. “We expected to do well, but winning the first prize is a pleasant surprise. I believe that our strong technical team, artistic style, and attention to making the game fun, humorous, and engaging all contributed to making Trouserheart a winner,” he said.
Based on early numbers, Trouserheart is performing according to Maaniemi’s expectations. When the game launched, Microsoft helped raise visibility in the Windows Store, and the game’s conversion ratio is aligned with 10tons’s other Windows Phone 8 games. “Windows compares very well to other platforms,” said Maaniemi. “Business-wise, all our games’ conversion ratio from trial customer to paid customer is about 8%, which is high.”
Even without the kind of network 10tons has curated, there are so many games on the market that Maaniemi feels the most important thing developers can remember is that “quality rules.” Maaniemi recommends developers take a multiplatform approach, “If you don’t make a super hit, succeeding on any single platform will be challenging,” he said. “If you have planned ahead and made your games easy to port, emerging platforms can become significant revenue sources.”
“Finally,” he said, “put yourself out there. Participate in competitions. If you have a reasonably good product with some distinct features, sign it up for everything you can. Someone always wins, and it really can be you!”