Our Release Plan for Kahoots™

i’ve been talking and posting a LOT lately about Flash microtransactions. i’m at the point now where if i had just spent the same amount of time developing that i’ve spent flapping my gumholes, i’d have published some solid content by now.

But i’m hoping that all of this research and planning and thinking and fretting will pay off for our company. One of our bidness goals this year is to release at least two products that will earn us some residual income. “Some” residual income is our barest minimum goal, with “lots” as a preferable target. (All estimates are approximated.)

Half a pile of money

This, i believe, is roughly half a pile.

If you’ve been with us all year, you’ll know that we’ve been working sporadically on a fun crime-themed puzzle game called Kahoots™, which we’ve modelled entirely in clay. After a lot of reading, attending conferences, and talking to you, our awesome readership, we’ve developed an ambitious publishing plan for Kahoots™ that is both revolutionary AND awesomepants. As many of the readers here are game developers themselves, i encourage and entreat you all to comment on this release strategy, give us your feedback and input, and help us handle the launch of Kahoots™ later this year with the utmost amazingosity.

Kahoots Title Screen

Our Three-fold Release Strategy

With Kahoots™, we’re attempting something that i think no one’s ever done before. If i’m wrong, please correct me. i’m not trying to get into Guiness or anything – i’m just trying to maximize our ability to profit from the game. We’re going to try to make Kahoots™ available in three forms at launch:

  1. On casual downloadable portals
  2. On free-to-play Flash portals
  3. Via direct sales on the Untold Entertainment website

Casual What-Now?

A casual downloadable portal is one where players download a time-limited trial version of the game – usually an executable (exe) file. At the end of the hour-long trial, the player can opt to purchase a license to play the remaining x hours. The big players in the casual downloadable space include Big Fish Games, iWin, WildTangent and RealArcade.

The big fish in that pond is definitely Big Fish. After a recent price war with Amazon Games, Big Fish has tuned its pricing down to $6.99 for all of the titles it distributes. (BFG also has a free-to-play section on the site, but let’s keep this simple.)

Since BFG has such enormous distribution, they should be a major factor in any release strategy in the casual downloadable space. When i heard the gents from 2D Boy (World of Goo) speak at the Game Developers’ Conference 2009, they strongly advocated a worldwide simultaneous launch with a consistent price tag. Since BFG are rock-solid on their pricing, that means that for better or for worse, the full version of Kahoots™ will cost $6.99 USD, everywhere.

Felix the fish

Shut up, fish.

(Naturally, we’ll have to develop a different release strategy when Kahoots™ is published to the iPhone, as gamers there refuse to pay more than seven cents per title)

(Formerly) Free-to-Play

Why not have our cake and eat it, too? Since companies like GamerSafe, MochiMedia and HeyZap have released virtual payment platforms specifically for Flash games, we can also monetize Kahoots through the free-to-play networks.

The process on free-to-play portals will look identical to the casual downloadable portals, except without the exe download: play a limited version of the game, and pay a one-time fee of $6.99 for the full version of the game using a Flash virtual currency transaction. i cooked up this plan when it dawned on me that microtransactions didn’t actually have to be micro.

One of our readers, Paolo (AKA GameDevigner), gave me the idea of building a downloadable AIR app to better mirror the experience players would have on the casual downloadable portals. Pay your seven bucks, and you can “have” the game. This is certainly something worth considering.

Direct Sales

Kahoots™ will be available on UntoldEntertainment.com for $6.99 USD. i’m still not sure how to pull this off. The trouble is with DRM (digital rights management). i can very easily just provide the exe link and put the game behind a PayPal wall, but that does nothing for me if people want to share that exe around.

So there are a number of companies who offer “wrappers”, which are like digital soft taco shells that you roll around your content, and they take care of the whole serial number/version lock/DRM thing for you. The trouble is that these wrappers are either

  • hella expensive in the short run, requiring large up-front fees
  • hella expensive in the long run, taking a 6-10% cut of profits (in addition to the payment provider’s fee)
  • both. Some products charge the fee AND take the cut. Then they slap your mama in the face.

Another intriguing and inflammatory thing the 2D Boy guys said was that you should not worry about DRMing your game. They said you shouldn’t waste precious time and money cooking up a protection scheme, because every game in the history of foreverville has been pirated, and once the protection layer is cracked, it’s like having your unprotected exe floating around out there anyway, so why waste your time?

When i see the business models for a lot of these sharky wrapper companies, i’m tempted to follow 2D Boys’ advice.

Wrapper

Yo yo yo – ima take my twelve percent now, boyeeeeee.

i’ll Buy THAT for $1.00 (plus $5.99 USD)

So the other part of the direct sales equation is payment provision. There are a great many payment providers out there who will hook you up, enabling you to offer a myriad more payment options to your site beyond your standard PayPal offering (and those of you who aren’t in North America can attest to the fact that PayPal is not an international phenomenon). The trick with these payment providers is, again, money. The percentage they take on each purchase starts high, and goes down as you sell lots of stuff, but between the wrapper sharks and the payment sharks, you can wind up giving away a good chunk of your gross income before the money even hits your account.

If you don’t go with a payment provider, the other option is to roll your own service by getting an Authorize.net account and an SSL certificate. But the problem there, again, is money. i know i want players to be able to buy Kahoots™ right off my site, but i’m obviously struggling with the logistics. If you want to chime in on this, now is the time!

Two Cents

Two cents – give yours! (plus $6.97 USD)

Value Add

Big Fish rules state that your game has to exist within their “walled garden” – that means no injected ads, and no server calls. And no server calls means local (same computer) high scores only.

If i play my cards right, people who buy Kahoots™ from our site will be funnelling more money directly to us. So there’s an incentive to make a direct sale worthwhile for our customers. Since it’s our site, and we can do as we please, we can offer a version of the game with high scores in it. Come to it, we can offer the same to customers on the free-to-play sites as well.

Ads

There’s no reason why the demo version on the free-to-play sites shouldn’t be prefaced with CPMStar or MochiMedia ads. It’s not going to pay any big bills for us, but it makes sense to include ads.

Boner Pills

Online ads: because people love buying boner pills.

True Microtransactions

As long as we’re implementing one or more microtransaction services into Kahoots™, we may as well add a few more ways for players to pay. As it plays out, it appears that games that make the most money on microtransactions are the ones that a) offer multiple items at varying price points and b) sell items transparently, and at the moment when engagement and investment are at their highest.

Munnypence

The currency in Kahoots™ is called munnypence. You earn munnypence by playing levels, and you can spend munnypence on items in the Curio Shop. These items are essentially cheats that help you get through the more difficult levels (if you need the help). A lousy player won’t be able to beat the more difficult levels, so he’ll be forced to grind earlier levels for more munnypence to buy cheats.

OR ….

He can buy munnypence.

And dig this: Kahoots™ also has “QuickPlay” modes, which are the same game types that you find in Story Mode, except the rules are tweaked slightly and the games are tied to high scores. i want prospective players to experience all the relevant content in the game, so i don’t want to lock them out of QuickPlay. So i’ll make QuickPlay cost munnypence. And each time you play a QuickPlay mode, it gets exponentially more expensive to play next time. So the non-purchasing players (or “hobos“, as i like to call them) can either

  • grind the early levels in the demo to earn munnypence to play QuickPlay modes
  • pay their $6.99 USD to unlock the whole game and play the QuickPlay modes for free
  • buy munnypence with real-world dollars so that they can keep playing the QuickPlay modes

Multiple Languages

Kahoots™ was designed from Day One to support EFIGS languages – English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. (No Southeast Asian languages, because they frighten and confuse me). This will enable us to get a much wider reach for the game than an English-only version.

Esperanto

(yes, i’m still seriously considering releasing the game in Esperanto)

Multiple Platforms

Since Kahoots™ is being developed in Flash, we can produce Mac and Linux downloadable versions fairly easily (he said, never having done it before). Multiple platforms and multiple languages will hopefully translate to multiple money.

Super Mario Platforms

Being on multiple platforms never hurt Mario. (Oh … wait. Now i’m confused on multiple levels.)

Charity

i want to donate 10% of the profits on the game to charity. It’s partly because customers may be more likely to buy a game if some of the cash goes to charity, and partly because i’m a Christian and i want to help the helpless. But to that end, i don’t really know how to handle the charity-choosing … i don’t want to offend or scare people off by choosing a Christian charity, but i’m also uncomfortable sending the money to DonorsChoose.org, where the it could go God-knows-where. (For example, i’m far more sympathetic to charitable causes that benefit humans rather than animals. Sorry, puppies and kitties.) i would likely want to send money to an organization like Compassion International, a child sponsorship program.

<RANT-O-RAMA>

And let me just say this: if folks are so hung up despising Christianity that they’d rather see a child starve to death than see him clothed, fed, and taught Bible lessons once a week, it’s all up for humanity. Many opponents of Christianity themselves were clothed, fed, and taught Bible lessons once a week, and they somehow managed to escape the seductive power of a faith that demands a difficult, disciplined lifestyle. Don’t worry: sponsored children in Haiti have all their lives to reject Christianity just like you have. Let’s please make sure they survive to see that day. Buy them some rice, for God’s sake.

</RANT-O-RAMA>

Please note, lest i be accused of shady dealings, that i’m committing 10% of profits on Kahoots™ to charity. The game has to break even first. 10% of any money we receive after that point will go towards charity. If we break even, we live to code another day, and can pull in more money for charity with our next game.

The Game is Afoot

How the Money Flows

This is a chart of how the money (roughly) flows.

So that’s the publishing plan in a nutshell. i’ve kept my cards close to my chest regarding numbers, because as it turns out, Kahoots™ really was a rather expensive game to build. i don’t want people to see the budget and to say “for what??” Suffice it to say that our Art Director was very fond of gold-dipped fruit, and that i would commute two blocks to work every day in my private jet because city sidewalks make my feet itchy.

But when Kahoots™ is released, i am committed to maintaining a thermometer on the site to keep you abreast of how close the game has come to hitting the break-even point.

A simultaneous release across casual downloadable and free-to-play portals, with an identical price tag attached to both streams. Has that ever been done before? If it has, please clue me in! i’d love to know whether it was a good idea or a bad idea, and whether we’re marching to meet our doom.

And if you have anything to say about or plan, for good or for ill, please speak up! Now’s the time for you lurkers who have their Masters degrees in finance to come out of the woodwork and post.

To read more about Kahoots™, be sure to check out the Kahoots™ Designer Diary.

31 thoughts on “Our Release Plan for Kahoots™

  1. Brennon Williams

    Great plan, really. I like the idea of giving 10% to charity (seeing as that’s hardly a popular choice among Flash devs). Seems like a great game, the original games go the farthest (that, and zombie games). Good luck!

    Reply
  2. David Williams

    Regarding Charities, firstly.

    Why leave it in your hands who the money goes to? When a customer makes a purchase of your game, present them with a form saying 10% of this sale goes to charity. Give them a selection of 4 or 5 options, and make sure that ONE of the options is Child’s Play (For two reasons: 1 – childs play is awesome, 2 – If the guys at PA see it, you might be featured in a news post, instant recognition.) Make sure there is a ‘I don’t care’ option, and have that option funnel 2% to each (if offering 5 charities.)

    This will be a real suprise to gamers that buy your game not knowing that there is a charity aspect, because you are making it so transparent. And instantly, you throwing a christian charity into the mix won’t be offensive in the slightest.

    In regards to your website version, if it’s in flash, have the user make an account here. (or at the kahoots website) once they do that, they are ‘your’ customers. rather than giving the player a offline executable, keep them on your website. What this gives you is:

    Seamless intergration of patches: Most offline games NEVER get patched unless they have a multiplayer element. Players don’t want to waste precious resources downloading fixes for a game that in their mind isn’t broken. With an online web-player, you can patch serverside, and the client never see’s a patch update.

    Of course, this all depends on the size of Kahoots for its viability. If it’s 30+ mb – people might have issues whenever you patch/whenever their cache expires. That might be seen as a negative experience for the customer. One way of fixing this of course, is to store things that should never need a patch on the clients machine. ‘Most’ people only use the one machine (or two) so when they load the game, if the art and music assets (usually the ‘beef’ of the size issues) were to appear on their machine, you don’t need to make the game load them ever again.

    I’m hypothesising, forgive me.

    About the only way of getting rid of hacks that my brain has thought up of is that if you have an online component, such as scoreboards or such, and each of your executables has a different ID # attached to it (so the first game ever downloaded is game #0000001 for instance) you can tell when a large amount of multiple IP’s log into your board, or nonsensical game #’s (you’ve sold 1000 copies, for instance, yet four different IP’s have the game ID of #3141592) whilst you might applaud them for their originality, you know that the game must be a hacked version, and you can…well, that’s as far as my thinking has gone :D (set up something in the high scores to lock them out of their game? That’s nasty – and will eventually be worked around by the EXE hackers, so that your game simply never communicates with the high score server…which…is exactly what you want!)

    But you also there, have a way of letting the authorities know who has pirated your game. chances of them doing anything about it are extremely extremely slim, however, It’s certainly a start.

    These are just some ideas which popped into my head whilst thinking about your game. hopefully some/one of them sounds good :D

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Thanks so much for your input, David. Very good idea re: choice of charities and Child’s Play. At first, i thought “Child’s Play? Why the Hell would i do that?” when i read your comment … frankly, between a kid who doesn’t have any toys and a kid who doesn’t have any food, hungry kid wins. But i read the rest of your comment and it makes sense.

      In fact, i wonder if the charity thing should only be available in the direct sale version? i could still donate 10% of profits to charity, but if you buy the game through other portals, i choose. If you buy the game on the site, you choose. i want to find a way to encourage direct sales because, obviously, more money gets to us through that route.

      The nice thing about Adobe AIR is that you can set it up to auto-patch, so that when the player runs the app, it checks online for a new version and prompts the player to update. That’s worth looking into.

      i definitely agree with you that players should log in so that we retain them as customers. Our High Scores System is entirely membership-based. You can’t post a high score unless you’re logged in.

      We’ve done exactly what you’ve described with a unique number per executable … it’s just a standard key generation thingy. The phrase that comes in handy here is “locks keep the honest people out.”

      i’d LOVE to hear any stories of individuals being busted for pirating games – hahaha!

      Roger on the Facebook thing … definitely something we have to investigify.

      – Ryan

      Reply
  3. David Williams

    And, if you are doing a free to play microtransaction release, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY – make a facebook version. It’s all flash (I’m sure there are some API’s to look into) but 90% of facebook microtransaction stories I’ve read online have only ended in $$$$

    Reply
  4. wazoo

    Nice plan, and I think it’s more or less where I’m heading as well.

    I think it’s pretty much the “evolution” of being a startup / Indie company.

    http://www.galcon.com is another Indie effort that is spanning multiple platforms in the same manner. Maybe it’s worth a quick email over to phil hassey??

    apart from that, stop reading and press on with Kahoots for release! good luck!

    Reply
  5. Brennon Williams

    Hey, I’d love to learn more about using Facebook with Flash games. Any links?

    As far as zombies go, I like that Untold Entertainment is moral and kid friendly. Of course, its up to you, but I think you guys would do best keeping your morals and sticking with original games. Just a thought. :)

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Brennon – i really appreciate that you … appreciate us! But when you think of zombie games, you’re probably thinking of standard run-around-with-a-shotgun-killing-zombies games. (And why wouldn’t you?) You’re probably NOT picturing an Untold Entertainment zombie game which, in classic Untold Entertainment style, will be original, unexpected, and completely ridonculous. If you keep the faith, i think we can release a zombie game and still stick to our moral code. If we misstep, by all means, please call us out.

      Who’s with me?

      – Ryan

      Reply
  6. axcho

    I just have to say, that munnypence piece looks delicious. And the name, as well, sounds delicious. I desire one. I desire many, in fact.

    I like the charity idea. And it’s an interesting idea to let players choose the charity if they want, in order to make it obvious that 10% does indeed go to charity.

    And good luck with the no-DRM thing. Who knows, maybe you’ll save more money than you lose that way. :)

    *typo “QuikcPlay”

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      axcho – Oh, you shall have your munnypence. You shall have it indeed.

      Re: DRM – yeah, that’s the whole idea … save more money than we lose. It’ll remain to be seen … and it’s a hard thing to track, because how can you get accurate stats on game usage once your product has been pirated?

      – Ryan

      Reply
    1. Ryan

      James – for the life of me, i can’t understand the Esperanto thing. But when we posted our Kahoots in Esperanto April Fool’s Day joke, it became clear that there might be a tiny market for it. i can’t imagine there are many games in Esperanto out there, so if you read/write Esperanto, it may be an automatic purchase for you? That’s the hope, anyway.

      Thanks for the link!

      – Ryan

      Reply
  7. Andy Smith

    Ryan, can you please sell/give away/raffle some of the physical assets for Kahoots? Heck remake that jazz in Fimo and you’ve got a secondary revenue model.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Andy – we’re in the midst of buying shelving to proudly display our sets from the game in the office. But i was at a conference this year and i spoke to a toy company, because i think it would be very viable to have little Mr. Potato Head-style toys made of the characters, where you can swap out the hats and moustaches.

      If you have any leads on someone i could partner with to do this, let me know!

      – Ryan

      Reply
  8. Johano

    Esperanto devus esti unu el la lingvoj de la ludo. Kompreneble oni havebligu ?in!
    Esperanto should be one of the languages of the game. Of course should one make it available!

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Thanks, Johano! Being one of the memebers of the Esperanto community, do you think the game would sell? Do you buy things that are in Esperanto just because they’re in Esperanto?

      – Ryan

      Reply
  9. Michael

    I’m very happy to hear you say you’re going for a simultaneous world-wide launch, and charging the same in each country. It really bugs me when I have to wait a few weeks for something to come over to the UK, and then pay more for it because £0.99 looks enough like $0.99.

    From your point of view I think it makes sense as well; you don’t have to keep working up launch day excitement over and over again.

    On the other hand it could be worth staggering the release across the various “free” portals to stay in the “What’s New” sections for longer. Sneaky?

    For direct selling, how about aMember? You can let people who’ve bought the game sign in and play it online, or generate one-time download links for an AIR version (though this doesn’t solve the “floating cracked EXE” problem). It also integrates with WordPress and phpBB so you could really tie it in to the community you’re building.

    The idea of selling munnypence is neat, though I’d be irritated if I felt the game was making me pay real cash for cheats just because it was too hard for me. It doesn’t sound like this is the approach you’re taking though. I’ll be fascinated to see how this works out :)

    Reply
  10. Andres F.

    DRM has the awful side effect of irking your legal customers, and for that alone it’s a bad choice. I’m with 2DBoy – don’t even bother.

    On another note…Big Fish takes 70% of the cut? Am I getting that right? That’s outrageous!

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Andres F. – Yeah, it’s somewhere between 65-70%, depending on whether your negotiating skills are horrendous, or merely terrible. i suppose that’s how you do business when you’re the online games equivalent of Wal Mart. But Big Fish is having its territory encroached from all different sides – it remains to be seen whether they maintain their current (but waning) dominance.

      – Ryan

      Reply
  11. Colm

    I would recommend looking at the Esperanto translation as a PR stunt only. I’m going to predict you’d sell 0 Esperanto copies right now, but doing it is quirky and interesting enough to maybe garner some extra press.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Colm – agreed. But at a cost of next-to-nothing, it’s an interesting experiment. i’d get the community to translate it for free, as James suggested. All of the in-game copy just links to an external xml file, so there wouldn’t be much to it. For extra credit, i could even do a Klingon version, but i fear the kind of clientele that would attract ;)

      – Ryan

      Reply
  12. Tetsuo

    Admittedly I’m relatively new to the Esperanto community myself, but they’re an amazingly enthusiastic and tight-knit group, and if something supports Esperanto, Esperantists are very likely to reciprocate. It might not do huge numbers because of it, but it will almost definitely sell a few extra copies it wouldn’t have otherwise. Hell, if it hadn’t have been for that comment that you’re considering offering Esperanto as an option, I would likely never have even heard of the game, so take that for what you will.

    Reply
  13. Tetsuo

    Oh, and depending when you get on to the Esperanto translation, I might be up for lending a hand. I’ve done some game fan translation work (Japanese>English) before, and am also a professional freelance translator (Chinese>English); assuming by that time my Esperanto is up to scratch and my schedule is sufficiently open, I’ll be happy to help however I can.

    Reply
  14. Hellogoodbye

    Hi,

    I’d just like to echo the comments that people have been giving about releasing the game in Esperanto.

    It would make the game an instant buy for me, simply because I enjoy supporting people that support the language, and many other Esperantists feel the same. I wouldn’t have even heard of this game if you hadn’t done the april fool’s joke :) Plus, it will drum up some publicity, and you’ll be able to get it done for free. It’s a win-win, no?

    Reply
  15. Chris Hennebery

    I might suggest that there are better deals out there. In your “Game is Afoot” post you mention that each of the wrapper and ecommerce services range from 6-12%. Thats a bit high as GameShield itself ranges from only 4-8%. More importantly, companies like Plimus (ecommerce/cart providers) are OEM’ing GameShield and they deliver their ecommerce/cart/wrapper package for 12.5% (total). I’m pretty sure there is no set up fees and even the SDK for OEM’d GameShield is included in that 12.5% rev share.

    Reply

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