Keybol is a one-man indie game developer company from the Philippines. Bari Silvestre has made a bunch of popular flash games, some of which were showcased at game conferences around the world. Bari is now venturing into mobile, and his first big release happened to be a hit in the form of Pretentious Game.
Contest Entry Becomes Viral
Pretentious Game started out as a small flash game created for Ludum Dare 23 accelerated game development contest. The setting is about a blue block who is in love with the pink block at the other end of the screen. He must reach her in any possible way, even if this means breaking the rules set for the game, or even introducing a new mechanic. The ending is also a bomb waiting for every unwitting player.
The game turned out to be a hit! It went viral and topped the Reddit gaming subtopic. I understood Pretentious Game was a hit not only among gamers, but also within the indie games industry, when it got showcased twice at Casual Connect and was featured at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and IndieGames. When the game was presented at the Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect San Francisco, it won the Director’s Choice award and was nominated for Best in Storytelling. Pretentious Game was also on the front page of big flash game sites such as Kongregate, ArmorGames, and Newgrounds.
The following chapters, Pretentious Game 2 and 3, were received positively as well, since the second one has a surprising ending, along with improved gameplay. The third part is interconnected and awes many players with how witty the whole story is.
I think the game gained popularity thanks to its story, but the gameplay wasn’t lagging behind too. Players liked the fun of solving new puzzles while discovering the whole story. They also found the title amusing, and some thought it was a sort of parody.
When Publishers Harbor at Forums
Since the reception for the franchise was overwhelming, I decided to port Pretentious Game to reach a wider audience. To promote the game, I needed a trailer to later post it to the TouchArcade forum. I found a very catchy tune at AudioJungle, and imagined a good trailer script with the positive reviews from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, JayIsGames, IndieGames and Mike Bithell himself – the creator of Thomas Was Alone. Rishikanth Somayaji, a developer I met at Casual Connect Asia, volunteered to make the trailer, and he did an awesome video with his own vision.
The trailer caused a brief discussion, and then Bulkypix, a French publisher, contacted me with an offer on that forum. They reminded me that mobile games need visibility to take off, and promised to help with that. Bulkypix was really giving me benefits, and I couldn’t reject their offer anymore. The most memorable thing in our discussion was when they told me what their Lead Programmer told them: “If we don’t take this one, we won’t take any game!”
After additional quality testing and 10 more languages later, the game was published on December 5, 2013.
The Friday When Bari Woke Up Successful
It was another Friday morning here in the Philippines, when I woke up and decided to check the Best New Games. Pretentious Game was one of them! I thought I was dreaming, I almost immediately thought of hitting the jackpot.
As for the reviews, they were great. I was overwhelmed to see my game in such prestigious sites as Touch Arcade, App Advice and Pocket Gamer. In a week, even more reviews followed. The players liked the game too: more than 1900 reviews averaging 4.6 on Google Play and mostly 4 and 5 stars in App Store.
Here are some reviews:
“I really like this game.” 4/5 stars — Touch Arcade
“I instantly fell in love with its challenging charm.”- App Advice
“Concealing a deeper meaning, Pretentious Game is an enjoyable platformer with a touching message.” – 148Apps
“I can say that it’s refreshing to see something like this come along.” – Arcade Sushi
“ Pretentious Game is one of those rare games on the App Store or Google Play Store full of originality.” – Pocket Gamer
I thought App Store’s feature rotation after a week of success would bring the number of downloads down, but instead we had entered the US App Store top charts!
I believe it’s because of the review from Touch Arcade and a video of 10 Fun Mobile Games by VSauce. It’s amazing how much this contributed to the number of downloads and sales. I can say I’m now more eager to move further through the US market. In fact, we reached 110,000 downloads in 10 days.
Promotion: Festivals, Contests, Press and Direct Suggestions
I’m now pursuing the game even more, since I’ve heard from other successful mobile developers that the first two months are the most critical, because what is being done now determines how long the tail of downloads to come will be.
I’ve met with directors from IGN Asia to tell them about the game, and reached out to local media to promote a Filipino-made game in my own country. Pretentious Game has also been suggested for a possible feature in Google Play, and is in process of being included in a mobile Humble Bundle – Bulkypix met with Google as part of their weekly roadmap, possibly pitching the games eligible for feature promotion.
I had also submitted the game to IGF 2014 before it was released, and hope they’ll choose it as one of the finalists.
Kickstarter-Style Monetization: Useful, but Unclear
We’ve tried a different approach to monetizing the game: a “Kickstarter-style” of purchasing the full game for a bigger price in exchange for more rewards like wallpapers and soundtrack. It was also meant for players to support the developer if they wanted to.
It worked, bringing some extra 30 percent to the earnings. But at one point after reading a comment from a player, I understood that it confuses other players. She said she can’t pay $4.99 to unlock the game, since she thinks it’s too much for a mobile game. I had to remind her that it will only cost her $0.99 to unlock the full game. The $4.99 is an option to support the developer and get an additional wallpaper and soundtrack. In the end, because we don’t have real stats to compare with (since, as far as I know, no other game has used this approach), we decided to leave it as is and focus on content instead.
Mistake in a Twitter URL May Have Cost Downloads
It’s a good thing that I manage the Facebook fan page of Pretentious Game, and can connect with the players to advise them what to do. Once there was a slight mistake in the URL of the link shared on Twitter, but that was easily fixed by the next week’s update. I am still wondering if it should have brought in extra downloads. I also noticed the Facebook sharing feature I put in the game did nothing! At least, that was the case when I checked for #pretentiousgame and saw a total of zero users having shared the message on Facebook.
Bari is now working on Circles with multiple personalities! He is planning to start a studio and gather a bunch of local talents in his provenance. If you want to check out more of his games, visit his Facebook Page.