• Ofer Zeevy

How feedback analysis assists Indies learn if their “hooks” will sell

Updated: Mar 28

Going the indie route is no different in many industries. Movies, music, theatre, news outlets, and of course gaming, all share the same market components of having giant-size majors on one hand and then many small-sized independent companies, or indies, on the other. Even with today’s technologies that made it possible for many individuals to close some of the commercial gaps from the established leaders in every industry, the advantages in resources and experience still side with the big names. The majors lead with strong management and marketing, are able to research and invest heavily in products and services, and usually hire experienced professionals to develop their next features.



And yet, indie production teams still thrive in today’s markets. Those who choose the independent way enjoy more freedom and time in developing their ideas, while also being able to move faster in every stage since they don’t have layers of management above them to approve every step. Many of those indies busy themselves with trying to find untapped niches. They look for interesting ideas, or “hooks”, that no one has ever touched upon, or stories that they want to tell in their own way. They can sometimes use elements that they have encountered elsewhere in the creative world, but their burning desire is to tell a story in their own unique way.


As is every company’s challenge to reduce risks and financial costs in every step of the way, indies are advised to test and receive player feedback for every stage of the development process. While their resources are limited, investing in analyzing player feedback can save time and money and increase their chances of success. There are no guarantees, but figuring out gamers’ sentiment and thoughts early, and continuing to follow their comments and conversations about the game after it entered the market, can result in higher player satisfaction and more sales.


Examples of what to investigate in the indie world development and marketing stages can be evaluated in the use-cases of three games. All of the three present original hooks in interesting game niches. All of these games already received high acclaim from reviewers in the last couple of years. But player feedback analysis can better tell their chances of success in today’s tough and crowded market.


Hook #1: “Therapy talk” from both humans and non-humans


Take Toge Productions’ Coffee talk for starters. In a fantasy version of Seattle, a barista prepares and serves drinks for various patrons in a coffee shop. Players get to listen to people’s problems and they help by serving them warm drinks that the place has in stock. The coffee place’s clientele features a mix of humans, mermaids, elves, and other fantasy characters. Anime and pixel art make up the game’s design and the background music to the characters’ conversations are in the lo-fi chill style.


The hook here is that both human and inhuman characters are having sort of “human” conversations over life problems. There is a former girl-band member who tries to start a solo career, but we hear her dad, a former music industry big-shot, trying to prevent her from going in that direction. Another duo, a succubus (a ghost-like female) and an elf (a male ghost) are conversing on how due to their racial differences, their families do not approve of their relationship.


It is like sitting in therapy but actually listening to other characters’ problems. The toned-down music and design, the slow pace and the way players help the characters by pouring them drinks, make up for an unusual mix. As one person commented: “Have no friends in real life to tell you their problems? This game is just for you!”.


Player feedback analysis for “Coffee talk” can include several topics that may hint at the game’s possible success. How do players feel about the “humans and non-humans” mix is important to know; How well the “conflict and problems conversations” are perceived, mainly for the “non-human who discusses human issues”, and is it all even interesting for players to follow; How does the drink choices and pouring blend with listening to the therapy conversations; And finally, for the sake of understanding if such niche is wide enough commercially, Toge Productions can inquire whether players would stick playing with such a unique story and design mix.


Hook #2: A murder mystery with a time-loop


A completely different niche and hook features in Annapurna Interactive’s 12 minutes. Featuring the voices of famous actors James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe, this thriller video game takes place almost entirely in a small apartment. Players receive a 10-minute cycle to repeatedly solve a mystery, with the events changing in each scenario.


Mystery lovers control the husband's role in this point-and-click adventure, as he is free to act and react. Within 10 minutes, if the husband doesn't change the course of action, he learns that his wife is pregnant. They are then visited by a policeman, who accuses the woman of murdering her father years ago. With no action from the man, the story ends with the policeman knocking him down and killing the woman and her unborn child.


As the game resets to the point where the husband enters the apartment, if he does not change something, the chain of events will repeat itself with the same outcome. He can try to figure out why the policeman suspects that his wife murdered her father or try to prevent her from being arrested. However, if the husband dies or leaves the apartment, time is reset and we are back at square one. Players of this game should figure out what the husband’s goal is. Also, he is the only one, out of the three characters, that has knowledge from the previous cycles, and it is up to the players to use such knowledge to plan their next husband's actions.


A murder mystery with a time-loop. A nice niche with an attractive hook, for those who love to solve such cases.


There are several issues to consider and this is where player feedback analysis comes into play. As with other indie games, this one also begs the question of whether this niche is wide enough for players. While in real-time every loop may take 10 minutes, figuring out the entire husband’s

possibilities can last a few hours. But when a player uses up all of the possibilities, will it be interesting enough for him to come back and play again?


Other factors to weigh in from player feedback may be the overall scope of the game, which includes only three characters operating in a small apartment; And trying to understand how some of the outcomes for the husband are physically possible and are interesting enough to figure out and operate.


Hook #3: Unpacking is fun, but there is also a lesson here


Witch Beam’s Unpacking, is, well, a video game about unpacking.


The hook of the game: well, it is unpacking. And also a learning experience.


Possibly trending on recent years’ popular trend of unpacking boxes that were delivered from online purchases, this game is all about pulling stuff out of boxes and fitting them into a new home. Serving as both a block-fitting puzzle and a home decoration experience, the player is invited to join in the 35 rooms, 8-stages adventure.


Things get interesting when players become aware that each stage represents a year in the life of a female. By unpacking and organizing her stuff, players are exposed to the lady’s significant life events. By fitting each unpacked item into the different spaces, players can pick up bits of information about her past and her character. With lots of sound effects and a hi-res pixel art style, the game’s simplicity, and the fact that many personal items unpacked tell the female’s story, players can get easily hooked.


Topics of interest to consider when evaluating player feedback and sentiment is just how well the process of unpacking holds and if the unpackers don’t get tired of it and quit. Also, although the game is beautifully designed and planned, doing the same action over and over again can become monotonous and sometimes even boring, so players’ sentiment on this issue can increase understanding of the whole concept holds.


Conclusion


Customers are looking for fresh and interesting ideas in gaming. In many cases, they can find their answers in the indie production market, where companies with smaller budgets and resources, can create fantastic video games which are entertaining and fun. Finding the niche means that you don’t, and can’t, compete with the big guns of the industry, but fulfillment and success can be found in developing games with great hooks in niche areas.


And that is where Affogata can help. In order to reduce the financial risks, indie gaming companies can learn a lot from collecting their players aggregate opinions. Analysis of such opinions’ collection can lead to feature improvements and give some indication as to the game's commercial future. Through Affogata’s platform, tracking and analyzing players’ sentiment and conversation can contribute lots of information, which would enable the indies to better figure out how their hooks are perceived and where there is still room for improvement.





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