Pokémon has a collectible compendium of creatures. Spellirium has a collectible Dictionary of words. Every original Pokémon teevee show ended with the Pokémon Rap. And what’s better than the Pokémon Rap? Practically everything.
Robby “the Doogs” Duguay is responsible for the bang-on musical homage, while you can thank Jon Remedios for the chorus that’ll stay in your brain far, far longer than you’ll want it to.
When i say that Spellirium is a cross between Loom and Boggle, i ain’t just whistling Dixie. Brian Moriarty’s adventure game masterpiece, which was so classy with its use of a Tchaikovsky soundtrack, remains one of my favourite games of all time.
It turns out, as i reveal in the video, that i didn’t rip off Loom as badly as i’d thought. And Lloyd Alexander, who looks in person every bit like Quentin Blake’s drawing of Roald Dahl’s The BFG (due to his other-worldly schnozz), liberally borrowed from Welsh mythology for his Prydain Chronicles.
Barring our earlier Oculus Rift shenanigans, this is the first “official” Spellirium Minute video. This one takes us back – waaaaay back – to five years ago, when we were applying for funding to get this weird little game off the ground. We were reticent to just go ahead and start building the game, because our prospective funder would not come in on a project that was already in full swing.
To scratch our game dev itch, we dipped our toes in the water and chipped away at various prototypes for Spellirium, slowly developing and iterating on the game’s letter-swapping mechanic, its collectible word concept, and it innovative (and HOT) puzzle-on-puzzle action. In this first Spellirium Minute video, we explore the very first Spellirium prototype, and totally make fun of it.
The first in our series of development vlogs (or “video blogs”, if you’re like me and are uncomfortable with “v” and “l” appearing in such unnaturally close proximity) is an exploration of the very, very two-dimensional Spellirium on the very, very three-dimensional Oculus Rift.
The Oculus Rift is a Kickstarter-supported pair of shielded goggles that beams two slightly offset images of a video game directly into your eyeholes, and tracks your head movement to make it appear as though you’re actually looking around in 3D space. Following on the heels of sensational reaction videos like grandma tripping balls on the Oculus Rift, this one was intended to be a parody video, but judging by our YouTube and Kotaku comments, some viewers don’t quite get the joke.
A Few More Minutes
This is the first in a series of dev diary videos, the majority of which Robby “the Doogs” Duguay and i screencapped during one wild Thursday session, the outtakes of which will surely be released as B-sides when they’re trying to milk posthumous Christmas albums out of us. i’ve written a LOT of content on Spellirium over the past five years; these videos highlight the most interesting content from those five years, except video, so better.
The Spellirium Pre-Order campaign has been running for a week and a half now, so i thought it would be a good time to check in with stats and reportage.
Although we don’t have a fundraising target posted, a dream scenario would have us raising $50000, so that we can cover off voice-over comfortably (at ~$20k), and then have enough left over to hire storyboarders and animators to clean up existing cut-scenes, and animate new ones for the third act (~$20k), leaving $10k for the balancing, gameplay testing and polish that the alpha requires.
Here’s how the first ten days of the campaign look, sales-wise:
The campaign launched on a Tuesday, and all kinds of magical, marvellous things happened. The little spike on the following Sunday was courtesy of Tim Schafer, who has generously helped out many crowdfunding campaigns since his own record-shattering Kickstarter campaign last year. Big thanks to Tim for his generosity!
When i “ran the numbers” for the campaign, this is what i thought: at a dream target of $50k, and an assumed (and extremely conservative) conversion rate of only 1%, we would “only” need to drive five hundred thousand pairs of eyeballs to the campaign site in order to raise that kind of money. No problem, right? With a good mix of press attention and word of mouth, it was no small feat, but we were up to the task.
Reality paints a different picture. Our actual conversion rate is astronomical, at 62.6%. That means that most people who hear about Spellirium come to the site with wallets in-hand. That’s great news.
The glum news is that if we maintain a daily average of $192.30 (which will only decrease the farther we get from that large Day One sum), it will take almost three quarters of a year to raise the dough. We’ve only budgeted one month to drive the campaign really hard, so a dramatic fall-off is imminent if we don’t do something to increase traffic.
Something to Increase Traffic
So how do you get a whopping truckload of eyeballs to your website? Common sense says that you go where the eyeballs are: in this case, press sites that have the attention of a large number of people. But dig this: the media focus that so many indies strive for may not bring the boom that they expect.
Here is a list of the significant press attention the campaign has received to date:
Now take a look at the traffic sources for the website:
The three t.co links are Twitter traffic. @UntoldEnt has 3600 followers on the social networking site. That network, with considerable help from the likes of Tim Schafer and Tycho from Penny Arcade, accounts for the bulk of our visitors.
The second-biggest referrer is Mojang.com, the studio that created Minecraft (with their own legendarily successful alpha campaign). On Day One, Mojang’s Marc Watson tweeted about the project. The Mojang website features a sidebar where employee tweets roll by.
Marc’s tweet couldn’t have appeared in that sidebar for more than a few hours, but players clicking on his link have accounted for the second-highest amount of traffic to the campaign. That’s the kind of attention 10 million unit sales of Minecraft gets you!
Press sources that you would expect to have driven more traffic are suspiciously absent from the Traffic Sources list. Have you ever dreamed of seeing your game in lights on a site like Joystiq.com? Their Spellirium article, posted in the apparent traffic Dead Zone last Sunday night, brought a whole 8 visitors to the campaign. JayIsGames who, six years ago, brought two thousand people to Untold Entertainment in a single day, has only pulled in a tenth of that traffic in a week and a half!
Bizarrely, in other instances the posts i’m putting out seem to be completely traffic repellent. Look at this weirdness from a post i wrote on the Oculus Rift message boards:
The Skydive post, which went up around noon, has had 230 views. A mere 3 hours later, the Spellirium post has only drawn 14 people. Bizarre! (Although in retrospect, i should have just titled the post “Spellirium” … it looks like any mention of 2D is like a garlic-infused crucifix to the 3D-loving Oculus Rift vampires.)
Big Game Hunting
Now, please don’t misunderstand: i am very grateful for all the stories press people have been writing about Spellirium so far. It’s just an interesting cautionary note that the “big score” you’re chasing may not pan out.
Help! i’m being attacked by bad graphics!
Just this week, i heard an anecdote about someone who busted hump chasing an IGN story which, when it finally dropped, sent only a few dozen people to his website. i’m placing a lot more hope in the mid-size sites who perhaps post less frequently, have a more intimate relationship with their readers, and can talk about Spellirium through a number of different avenues available to them, including Twitter, Facebook, and their email list. And in certain cases, maybe a trashpunk adventure game just doesn’t interest the readership of certain sites?
Will You Give Me a Minute?
Search loves video, or so i hear. The vlog strategy backfired on me a few years ago when i paid five-dollar increments to have the crazies over at Fiverr.com shoot ZombieGameWorld.com testimonials for me. This time, i’m taking the vlogs into my own hands. Robby Duguay (AKA “the Doogs”), composer and campaign contributor, helped me bang out no fewer than eighteen developer diary videos, which we kicked off today with the immensely silly Spellirium Minute Episode #0: Tripping the Oculus Rift. We have enough segments to release one a day for the next two and a half weeks. And so we shall!
If you want to catch ’em all, subscribe to the Untold Entertainment YouTube channel. The videos will appear in our “Spellirium Minute” playlist. The first six vids talk about the different prototypes we built on our way to finding a fun mechanic for the game.
Pimpin’ Comes Easy
Having an entire month to devote to grassroots PR makes me wonder if i’ve missed my calling? It’s very, very difficult, and it means humbling myself and shaming myself and extolling myself all at the same time. It’s frenetic and exhausting and it sometimes feels like i’m in the middle of a Rube Goldberg machine, and have been tasked with making sure it runs properly. But because of its intricate and challenging network of interconnected puzzles, promoting Spellirium is one of the most fun and exciting adventure games i’ve ever played!
If you have any hints for how i can achieve a complete score of 50000 by the time i finish the game, leave them below in the comments section. Spoilers are encouraged.