Ludum Dare #30 is getting closer to finish line. I think it’s time to look back and try to analyze overall approach: what mistakes were made, what lessons I learned and how it can be improved for the next competitions. There are not only lessons learned, but also tip’n’tricks that can be useful for newcomers and for veterans of LD and game-jams. This post is not about the competition itself. If you’re interested in my project in details you can check “The Beginning – Postmortem”. This material based on my Ludum Dare experience, but is relevant for almost any game-jam. It’s gonna be wall of text, so be patient and let’s start…
Don’t waste your time, start thinking about theme as soon as possible.
Ludum Dare has voting system for pick a theme for upcoming competition. Voting contains several rounds. Final round contains 20 finalists and starts 2 days before the theme announcement and the official start of competition. One of these finalists becomes an official theme of the competition. So, you have 2 days to think about all of these 20 themes. It’s pretty enough to plot at least 2-3 possible variations of gameplay and setting for each theme. This approach will save you a couple hours during the competition timeframe. So, don’t waste your time, start thinking about theme as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to check Ludum Dare forum and Twitter (#LD48 hashtag) (UPD. now it has new hashtag #LDJAM) during these 2 days before competition and try to figure out what themes have higher chances to win the vote. So you can spend a bit more time on these themes.
Always keep in mind that within competition timeframe you must prepare promo materials to attract people’s attention. According to my experience you need at least 2-3 hours to make some basic promo assets like screenshots, description, etc.
Catchy cover image & screenshots
The main point of screenshots is to show players VALUE and OPPORTUNITY.
When other participants open the “Play+Rate” page they see 18 thumbnails. You must do everything to force them to click on YOUR thumbnail. Some people just put some screenshot of their game as a thumbnail. The problem is that when you scale down 1280×720 to 120×75 the image becomes a mess, especially UI elements. Players can check hi-res screenshots later on your page if they want, but first of all it’s better to show them something that will grab their attention even with 120×75 size. Compare these 2 thumbnails: left one is a screenshot, right one is a cover image.
Which one looks more interesting and appealing? I hope you’ve got the message. So, spend at least 20-30 minutes to craft cover image from scratch. You can use your game assets of course, but make it clear and readable. Make it interesting, so player will be hooked with this image.
Speaking about screenshots it worth to mention that main point of screenshots is to show players VALUE and OPPORTUNITY. You should tell a player something like “If you will play this game you will visit at least 3 different locations, fight against 4 enemies using 5 types of weapons!”. Show the best things that you have in your game (if it doesn’t contain spoilers). Don’t show the same content on several screenshots. It’s better to show less, than show the same content again and again. It’s just boring and a player will think that you don’t have a lot of content.
Intriguing name & description
It’s obvious, but the title of your game should be unique. Never name your game as game-jam’s theme. Never EVER! As the thumbnail, the title is the first thing that player will see. Some participants trying to explain gameplay in title of their game… Don’t do it. It’s boring. Make it interesting, force player to think “Why it’s called like this? What is behind of this name?”.
Description… Let’s be honest, we don’t like reading. When we come to game-jam page we don’t want to read, we want PLAY GAMES! Immediately! But if at some point I decided to read the description, I don’t want to read that this is your first entry, that you failed miserably, that you didn’t find proper application of theme, etc. Do you think it’s really going to help you earn higher rating? I don’t think so… Don’t complain, don’t excuse. I don’t want to read about you, I want to read about your game. Tell me the story! A brief introduction of the game. A couple sentences. Also there can be some important information e.g. critical bugs and how to avoid them or ask player turn on the sound if it affects user experience.
When we come to game-jam page we don’t want to read, we want PLAY GAMES!
Some people include controls explanation in description. It’s not so bad, but my opinion is that it’s much better to explain controls inside the game, not outside (we don’t want to read, we want to play, remember?). Make some simple tutorial in the beginning or at least “How to play” screen INSIDE the game.
I saw a lot of entries that contain Win/Linux/Mac builds, but not Web (sometimes even mobile only). I understand that not all frameworks allow you to build for web, but try to use those that can. It will significantly increase amount of people that will play and rate your game. The explanation is simple – the less steps player must perform to start playing the better.
- Download archive
- Launch the game
Sometimes it requires to install the game, so one more step. Mobile version requires at least one more step – copy to device.
- Click link to start playing
Feel the difference…
Another advantage is that web build is platform independent. Win, Linux and Mac users can play the same game in their web-browser. So, if you want increase your audience, provide web version of your game.
I don’t want to read about you, I want to read about your game. Tell me the story!
Walkthrough video is not necessary, but nice to have feature. It can be helpful if your game is appeared to be hardcore and difficult to beat. In my case problem was even worse because I had a story-based game and the best part of the game is ending. Since game appeared to be really hard, not so many players were able to finish it. It means that they wouldn’t see the ending and wouldn’t figure out what this game is about. Is this case walkthrough video really helps. Players can check all the levels and features of the game and also watch the ending.
If you think that you finished since you’d made awesome game, prepared cool promo materials, record walkthrough video and submitted everything to competition website…. then you’re sooo wrong. It’s just a beginning. What’s the point to make a game if nobody plays it? Now it’s time for players acquisition. The more players will play your game, the more rating and feedbacks you’ll receive.
When I entered this competition I didn’t have a lot of friends who could participate and rate my game. I didn’t have any community ready to support my game neither. But… 2 weeks after deadline “most coolness” list looked like this:
You can see my entry “The Beginning” at #1 position (top-left corner). Entry has 200 ratings at that moment, most other entries have less than 100 ratings. Now I tell you how I did it. There is no rocket-science, just simple tools that everyone can use. Here we go!
Play, Rate, COMMENT!
At the competition page you can find this sign:
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you want to place in the final results, you NEED votes. The easiest way to get votes is by rating other games. Judging lasts for 3 weeks following the end of Ludum Dare. For best effect, rate 20 games as soon as possible. Rating more games is encouraged.
If you want significantly increase visibility of your entry, you must rate about 100 entries. But there is another very important thing – when you rate an entry ALWAYS LEAVE A COMMENT! Even if you have nothing to say. Just throw the line like “Nice entry! Good job!”. People love comments, they’re waiting for comments. If they see your comment they will gladly play, rate and comment your entry. It’s like to say “Thank you for you comment, here is mine”. So, I repeat, when you play other entries always leave a comment. Always.
Another important thing you should keep in mind – first 2 days after deadline are the most important for self-promotion! There is a highest activity during these days. People still engaged, they visit competition website often to check if everything alright, if there some problems with their entry, etc. If you can reach coolness=100 (amount of entries you’ve rated) during first 2 days – excellent!
When you play other entries always leave a comment. Always.
If you can afford to play and rate entries all 3 weeks – do it. Activity is pretty low after 1st week, but you can still earn some ratings. At the moment when this post has been written I had coolness=342.
Don’t wait untill players come to you, go to players and give them your game! People want to play games. You can use Twitter to find this kind of people. Check #LD48 hashtag (UPD. now it has new hashtag #LDJAM) regularly. You also can find #LD48 feed on main compo page. I’m pretty sure you will see something like this:
And of course, send me links of any you think I should check out! (Don't be afraid to self-promote ;) #LD48
— rogueNoodle (@rogueNoodle) August 29, 2014
LD'ers, THROW YOUR GAMES AT US! #LD48
— Cake&Code (@cakencode) September 2, 2014
Don’t be shy. They want to play your game. Just give it to them. Don’t forget to thank the person which responded and played your game. This is also a good way to grow your Twitter community.
First 2 days after deadline are the most important for self-promotion!
Another good source of traffic for your game is Reddit. There is special Ludum Dare subreddit where you can post all stuff related to your entry – link to competition page, walkthrough video, postmortem, etc. You can also find some people who will play and stream your game on YouTube or Twitch.
Twitch & YouTube
Don’t forget about streamers! Some of them have YouTube channels, some of them prefer Twitch. Guys from Button Masher Bros have awesome YouTube series about Ludum Dare. You can send them your game through Twitter, Reddit and YouTube.
The best thing about streams is that you can see how players actually play your game. It’s much better and much useful than just text comments. On Twitch you can communicate with them live – answer some questions, help them to solve puzzles and just have a fun :)
Ok, I think it’s enough for my “Ultimate manual – how to participate in game-jams”. Hope you found it interesting and useful. If you have your own “Secret Weapon” and ready to share it – welcome to comments! Good luck with upcoming game-jams!