EXO ONE is a momentum-based, exoplanetary exploration game being developed mostly by myself (Jay Weston) in Unity. Players pilot a strange, spherical alien craft that can manipulate the laws of gravity, on mankind’s first ill-fated mission outside the solar system. The gameplay mechanics are inspired by games like Tiny Wings (iOS), Journey (PS3), and Tribes Ascend (PC). Every aspect of the game is laser focussed towards delivering an entrancing, flowing and exhilarating feeling of movement across a range of alien exoplanets.
EXO ONE at EGX Rezzed
After being selected to show the game in the EGX Rezzed: Leftfield Collection in London, EXO ONE received praise from a range of media at the event, going on to be named among the events top games by Eurogamer and The Guardian (among others!).
This month, Edge magazine, in a 2-page preview, said, “Tiny Wings, Journey and Kubrick collide in this sci-fi delight”.
This is a real career highlight for me, I can’t say I ever expected to see my name or my game in its pages. And yes, it’ll be framed on my wall for alllll timmmeee! Now all I have to do is live up to the hype! Eep!
The New Reveal Trailer
You can watch the Reveal Trailer, launching today to coincide with the Kickstarter:
The trailer shows for the first time substantially more gameplay, as well as the future-historian narrator that features throughout the game.
So after over a year of development on the game, I decided to move forward with the Kickstarter launch to raise the quality bar, and help fund the remaining 8-9 months of development. Myself, along with Rhys Lindsay (our musician) and Tim Mcburnie (artist) will be looking for $35,000 AUD (or $26,000 USD) to complete all 12 planets, record music, develop concept art, record the voice overs and optimize the game. The campaign focuses on almost entirely digital rewards to keep overhead low when fulfilling rewards, with the sole physical reward being a limited run of one of Tim’s posters, signed by the team. The campaign will run until the end of the month.
Here’s the reward grid:
A week ago I began sending out preview builds to press in the hopes for some launch day coverage of the campaign. The preview build, which will be similar to the Backer Alpha build reward, contains a quick tutorial scene and 2 planets. I’ve also beamed out a press release, which you can check out here if you’re curious. And I’ll be all over the rest of the internet as well, on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc!
As you perhaps know, the first 48 hrs of a Kickstarter are super important, so if you’re thinking of backing EXO ONE, I’d love if you considered backing it on day one to help drive momentum and help the campaign become a success! Otherwise, I’d be super grateful if you could help out in the following ways!
Forward this email to someone who likes space/sci-fi games or games like Journey, Tiny Wings, Tribes Ascend, or Abzu.
Tell your friends!
After a long crunch period working up to EGX Rezzed, and then without much pause to get this campaign ready, I feel like I have done all I can to try and make the Kickstarter a success. With a little luck and your support, hopefully, the campaign will reach its goal!
Earlier this year I got a rather excellent email notifying me that I’d been selected to show EXO ONE in EGX Rezzed’s Leftfield collection, a curated selection of indie games. I had set my expectations and hopes for Rezzed to go something like this:
Have some fun at the event
Meet some cool new people
Hopefully appear in at least 1 or 2 articles
See old friends and family
All of those things happened + more!
The things as they happened
The day before Rezzed, things started off super rocky. As I arrived to set up and test the game, it was rendering with a pure black sky. I had backup builds, but this appeared to be more a bug or incompatibility with a graphics card. Luckily, I checked the build logs and pasted the error line into Google and one other person reported the same issue, solved by downloading the 2010 Direct X SDK.
The phew’ing was deafening. Almost paid $1500 for a ticket to Rezzed to look at some other people’s games! Hard to know if I should have brought the entire project over somehow, incase this was a problem I needed to fix in Unity, then rebuild. I’d of had to fix it on the PC that was running the game (remember I flew to London from Australia), download Unity, etc, then only have a few hours to get it working before the show.
Hard to know if I should have brought the entire project over somehow, incase this was a problem I needed to fix in Unity, then rebuild. It’d be awkward to fix it on the PC that was running the game (remember I flew to London from Australia), download Unity, etc, then only have a few hours to get it working before the show.
I put my poster up, chatted with a few people from Leftfield and grabbed food with Jai from FINIFUGU.
Used my London coffee app to find ONLY THE BEST coffee, in this case, the closest was LMNH Kitchen (look mum no hands). Truly an important step that cannot be overlooked!
Bumped into Andreas of Promoter app fame, who thought I was the event organizer, David Hayward (this seemed to happen to numerous, different people throughout the event, which was odd). Andreas was also showing his game, Future Unfolding. I had some really amazing moments after playing it for just 10 minutes. His description goes like, “Future Unfolding is an action adventure that is all about exploration. Your goal is to unfold the mysteries and solve the puzzles hidden in the beautiful landscapes around you. There are no tutorials, and no one is telling you what to do.” I definitely advise not to look at trailers or anything before playing.
We had breakfast/coffee here on all three days and I really enjoyed chatting game dev, promoter app/biz stuff and events in general. It was nice to start each day at Rezzed with such great food, coffee and company! Andreas is a real dude, and his app looks quite good too, I’ll probably try it on the lead up to EXO ONE’s release.
This was just one of many real-dude encounters I had during the show. I’m not sure what it was about all the people in Leftfield, but I seemed to get along really well with everyone. In particular, since they shared my wall/opposite wall, I got to chat a lot with Jai, the guys from Alpixels (A Place for the Unwilling) , Joe from Four Last Things, Richard Boeser from Chalo Chalo , the PjamaLlamians who are making Flotsam, and the girls from Oniri Islands. Some of these peeps I felt an instant connection with, and it makes me kinda sad they’re now on the opposite side of the world.
This first day was kinda quiet, and there was occasionally some down time, but it was nice to be able to ease into things.
I had one press meeting that went well and resulted in me appearing in this:
After the first day I went and met an old Londonian friend for drinks, but I was so dead from not taking a break all day that I had to return to home base and eat, immediately followed by sleep. Didn’t seem to get much in the way of jet lag, luckily.
This was a little busier than Day 1, got lots of good feedback, ideas, etc, all of which I wrote down during the day. Had another press meet up today which resulted in EXO ONE being included in this article, which painted the game in quite a glowing light!
This is the Outside Xtra trio who came and hooked up their gear to do a bit of an impromptu Let’s Play of the game. The video isn’t out yet (and there was some sound technical issues) but I can’t wait to see it. Outside Xtra have quite a fan following, and during a ‘meet’ event at Rezzed I heard they had a line that stretched half of the building.
After the day was over, there was the The Rock Paper Shotgun drinks night, and a bunch of the Leftfieldians went out for dinner beforehand, which was at an old pub overlooking the Thames. Then I met and hung out with another old friend from when I used to live in London, who introduced me to some cool people. I didn’t do much in the way of networking with press, though. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’m trying to befriend them partly to improve my chances of them writing about my game. Maybe a missed opportunity, I dunno. I seemed to do fine regardless.
This was the busiest day, and I’d often be standing a couple rows deep behind my game. I’m still told Rezzed is a pretty quiet event in the scheme of things. Again, nice to just ease into my first big event instead of DIVE in the deep end.
Met up with and hung out with a couple more friends and contacts on this day as well. Despite the larger numbers of people, I possibly talked to players less because I was just pushed back (or wanted to get out the way so others could watch). So it wasn’t manic or anything.
Had dinner after with some Leftfielders again then I was convinced to attend the after party, which was good fun with yet more games in every room. Checked out some of the retro games and played a bit of Joe Bain’s new game, Yucatan, which was super madness fun! There was some crowd based game in another room I think, but didn’t get to see it!
I think my press strategy was pretty ‘normal’. I suppose I often thought I needed to be doing some secret tricks or ‘know people’ or something special to really get noticed and stand out, etc. But now that the event is over and I got basically the best response I could have ever hoped for, I guess the basics worked pretty well.
Before the event, I made the following Rezzed trailer that I pinned to my Twitter, saying I’d be at Rezzed, along with my email address (no it wasn’t even spammed):
I emailed around 20 writers/game sites/YouTubers with somewhat personalized emails (more so if I knew more about them) saying essentially, “come play EXO ONE at Rezzed Leftfield”, and included the above, very short video. Got 2 solid meeting times, maybe 2-3 “I’ll come over at some point, whenevzies” and a bunch of ignores. Some ignores ended up turning up regardless, but I don’t know whether that was from my email or just because they happened to be in Leftfield. I talked to a handful of other developers in Leftfield about their press outreach efforts, and most did nothing at all, so if that was common within Leftfield or Rezzed in general, then contacting the press potentially puts you a step ahead just by pressing send.
I ordered 3 t-shirts online which I could have spent too much time on, but ended up just using my EXO ONE logo on the front and back, with “developer” written on the back, so if anyone was looking to chat with the developer, they could easily spot me.
Press Stealth Abilities
Something I noticed about press at the event was that almost all of them (unless I’d set up a meeting) liked to fly in under the radar and play without me spotting/recognizing them. That worked for a few people who I saw write/tweet about the game afterward, but otherwise, if I recognized someone I just said so. Otherwise, I’d risk being weird (sorry, person I was totally weird to!). I imagine this is done so the developer doesn’t bug them too much or affect their play experience any more than it should. Generally, I just said something like, “the tutorial is kinda bad right now, so if you need any help lemme know”, then I left them to it.
I definitely felt that fan-boy factor a little with some people I met, but I had some great chats with press, gamers and devs alike. For the most part, with press, they’d come play the game, ask between 0 and a dozen questions then take off pretty quickly. Wasn’t overly hard, and while I practiced a bunch of practice answers to questions, many never came up.
After the event, I wrote and thanked anyone who wrote about EXO ONE, if I had their email address/Twitter.
Tweets ‘n Articles
Here’s most of the press/tweets I got during the event and after:
Rezzed people. If you've not seen Exo One, go see Exo One.
Damn it, I didn’t meet Terry! Terry is one of these darned people who don’t use a photo on their Twitter profile, I didn’t recognise him! I do recall seeing he was showing his game before flying over, but slipped my mind once I was there. I may have met him or Ruari as I recall one of the State Machine (his game) devs chatting to me. Tried to go play before open one day but someone was on it. Huge fan of Super Hexagon, so would have liked to have gone and been a weird fanboy/say hi briefly :P
Ordered about 500 and used a quarter of them, mostly taken by gamers. I put a screenshot on the front and some words (game name, my name, contact details) on the back.
One small error perhaps I could have improved would have been some way to sign people up to the newsletter at the event. The Flotsam guys had some kinda small iPad with a sign-up form on it, others went for the handwritten method. I guess the handwritten way stands out as being a mailing list quite obviously due to the email addresses on it, while the iPad kinda requires prompting (“hey you, sign up for our newsletter?”).
I’m not sure how many people went home then signed up for the EXO ONE mailing list, but over the entire event I added about 80 people to my list. Really don’t know if this is “good” or not.
Before the event, I asked everyone I knew for advice, including some people I didn’t know. This resulted in a couple of meetings that might not have otherwise happened, various tips/tricks for events, who to look out for (I hadn’t heard of OutsideXtra for example), introductions to press, how to keep my expectations realistic for a single, small-ish event and more.
What did I learn about EXO ONE?
The biggest stand out problem with the game was the first tutorial level, which is going to be getting some major love and redesigning soon. The camera I’m using hates the kinds of movement you can do in the starting level, and I throw a bunch of controls at the player and pray they remember (they never do). So this resulted in many players not ‘getting’ the game as they were missing pieces of the puzzle. Most people that I helped out ended up getting the hang of it, and luckily all press did too.
I got mixed feedback on the story, but I’d say fairly overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the story as-is, but also some very convincing “you should make it less literal” arguments.
Also received a handful of comments that there were too many controls. Mentioned this to some other Leftfielders and of course heard the opposite, “I had no problem with the controls”. Simpler is definitely better, but I feel like I might be able to remove at least one control combo (like holding two things to glide up for example).
Thankfully most of the feedback hit exactly the mark I was going for, with comments like:
That was super relaxing
It was mesmerizing
The sense of speed and feeling you get when you reach the clouds is amazing
I could just watch it all day
Like the Adelaide games event before (AVCON), people sat to play and didn’t want to get off. I should have forced an end timer on the demo as people had to wait ages to play in some cases. I was lucky the musician, Rhys, told me to shorten the first level, since even after doing so, people sometimes asked me if they could ever reach the transport structures in the distance. A classic example of the game developer being too good (fast) at their own game.
Quick Notes on Other Games
Since this post is getting long… Quick bullets on other games (I mentioned Future Unfolding above) that were near me and I played in Leftfield.
Those rolling quadrupeds… I saw some really, really weird stuff happen in this game during the event! I jumped on for 2 minutes, but think I need to have a proper go and hear the narration/music to really get into it.
…to David Hayward for organizing the event, it went off without a hitch! And thanks to SEGA for sponsoring Leftfield.
It really was an amazing event, surrounded by awesome people and great games! With any luck, I’ll bump into some of my new friends again at another games event… *sniff*!
I’ve left the best till last! I’m wildly excited to announce that next month (May) EXO ONE is getting a 2-page preview in Edge magazine! So pumped! I’m not a huge games magazine reader, but whenever I do pick one up, it’s always Edge!
Next – Kickstarter
I’ve increasingly gone from ‘maybe doing a Kickstarter’ to ‘probably doing one’ to ‘doing one’ to ‘most likely doing one in May’. It takes time to build up the courage, you see. I’m going to get some advice on exact dates, but that’s my current thoughts. I’ll be announcing an exact date soon, so if this is something you’re interested in, you can sign up to my newsletter below:
So the big completed tasks last week were the story (for Rezzed anyway), voice acting, wormhole art, flights booked for Rezzed and accommodation sorted. Inserting the narration should be pretty straightforward, my biggest task will just be getting the wormholes integrated properly. This might take a couple hours or a couple days!
Planned Tasks This Week
Wormhole transitions ~1 day
PR leading up to Rezzed ~2 days
Integrating new voice over narration ~ 1 day
Submit game to some upcoming game events/competitions
More tweaks to second planet ~ 1 day
Engage crunch mode for 30th March event submissions :/
Wormhole transitions completed ~3 hrs
Wormhole narration based on current progression, complete ~30 mins
New demo end point complete ~30 mins
Testing latest build ~30 mins
shared with musician, Rhys Lindsay for second planet music score
Planet 2 ~ 2hrs
New music added
New narration in ~2 hrs
Build testing ~1hr
Pretty great day!
Final push before submission to Amaze and Momocon
Changed music from endless looping to play, then silence, then play once more 2 minutes later. Also removed music from tutorial.
Tweaks to planet 2 as it was somewhat repetitive and flat
Shortened both levels for Rezzed and event submissions. Unsure how long to have each planet go for! I think ‘good’ players will knock off a level in 5 minutes, while maybe new players will take 2x that.
Testing ~2 hrs
Various other tweaks… all day :P
Submitted to both events
Boring tax hell ~3 hrs
PR stuff ~4 hrs
In gross hot weather. Worst day ever!
More PR stuff!
Some poster planning for Rezzed
Redoing higher rez logo
PR… …. stuff! (not my favorite week ever) ~2 hrs
New, short trailer for Rezzed ~3 hrs (just gotta think about when to time release on this)
Returning to work on the Rezzed build ~2 hrs
Kinda boring week in general with so much time spent just emailing people, organising Rezzed, tax, etc. And the Amaze/Monocon applications kinda killed me as I stayed up really late finishing them. Would have been nice to have a new screenshot or gif to share at least! Hopefully next week I’ll have that poster or trailer or new music to share.
Some news – I’m flying to Rezzed in London, boom! With some help from a very gracious family member, I’ll be heading over for the event and will be making the most of it while I’m there, and hope to meet some new friends, players, developers and press. I lived in London for a year (a few years back) and kinda only made a couple of contacts, but it’s amazing how much help just a couple of people can be. Especially when they have some experience under their belt.
Well, after a slow one last week, my weekly task list isn’t dissimilar to last!
Schedule out Rezzed, buy flights, book accommodation, contact people I’ll be meeting over there. 1 day.
Finishing touches to story. Might actually add a day to this to get some final feedback. 1 day.
Send story off to voice actor.
Wormhole transitions. This will take as long as I kinda want it to… So far there’s just a super simple wormhole effect, and for time’s sake I might keep it this way for now and just make sure it works 100%. Currently it is quite janky. 1 day.
Contacting some games press pre-Rezzed.
If all goes well, finishing Planet 2 (art/level design) 2 days.
T-Shirt time wasting I mean design (I did some stuff I didn’t like then just went with the EXO ONE logo…) ~1.5hrs
More wormhole sounds ~30mins
Integrating wormholes into level transitions ~1hr
Rezzed related planning took up a bit of my head space this week but made some decent progress. My nerves leading up to Rezzed will be calmed just as soon as you can play the game through to the second planet, wormholes, narration and all. Hoping this week will be the week, then I can just tweak things!
Have been scrambling about doing all sorts of stuff this week after hearing EXO ONE would be at Rezzed. Partially getting over excited maybe, but also wanting to maximize the opportunity and make the game look its best for the end of March. So to that effect I’ve been:
Sweating in the 40C heat here in Adelaide with no air con in my office
Improving both planets
Finalizing the height map for Planet 2
Working on final details/grass/rocks etc for Planet 2
Had a ‘breakthrough’ realisation of how we can more easily see through clouds and keep our bearings at the same time
Emailing a swathe of people I know in game dev, generally asking for their thoughts about the whole Rezzed thing and how I should handle it (since I probably won’t be flying over)
Turning up my PR/Marketing efforts. Mostly feels like to no effect whatsoever, lol. Either I’m bad at it or it just takes a far bigger, longer concerted effort than I think! Made me think of Jacob Leichty’s (from Astroneer)Tweet:
Twitter is for deleting the notion in your mind of "I wonder if anyone cares"
I’m pretty sure people care about your game Jacob, stop complaining, omggg!! :)
For my marketing troubles last week (I probably spent almost 2 solid days doing nothing but…) I gained 3 newsletter subscribers and a handful of Twitter followers. Boom! It also seems that Reddit somehow dislikes me about as much as I dislike it…! I’m joking, I love Reddit, I just hate posting anything to it, because I get downvoted and comments like this:
Somehow nothing I ever post there gets any love at all. I feel like Reddit is like this:
“You did something great? You’re personally telling us about it? Go away!!”
“My friend did this and now that happened and OMG isn’t that amazing?!” Upvote!!!
Ok, end of rant. Back to work. I officially abandon all Reddit hope lol.
Ooblets prompts you to sign up to their newsletter/mailing list, linking to their home page, which features the sign-up form top/center. They also throw in the games logo/screenshot + one line description, nice!:
Mr William Pugh (OMG, look at that amazing hair!) blams a Youtube video to the top of his Twitter account, featuring their cray-cray VR game, in collab with @squanchtendo. I wish *I* could be told by the Rick and Morty creator to fuck off in VR, but I lack the Vive! These guys have so much marketing punch they can name their game the complete opposite of what it is, nice! Kinda like me with EXO ONE eh?!
Mr Nicoll “The Beard” Hunt shares some wisdom only possible through beardedness, earning him a hefty 1800 retweets for his efforts. I’m going to totally copy him and pin this article and see what happenz. On Twitter, so often your followers are other game developers, so this is certainly a nice way to corral support, by helping your fellow devs/offering advice/tips.
The first step of any project is to grossly underestimate its complexity and difficulty.
I’ll be working with a PR company/individual on EXO ONE’s PR/Marketing, probably in an hourly consulting capacity. I plan to write my own marketing plans and timeline, then get the experts to essentially OK it before I proceed. I started this process yesterday, and while I have a large number of scattered notes and documents, there is no master plan document anywhere which covers all bases, and which I’d be happy to send to anyone. So I’m continuing to work on it today so that when I’m ready to start working with someone we can hit the ground running.
Just some of the resources I’ve used to gather PR/Marketing advice includes (and I’ll leave you to Google them!):
Thomas Reisenegger’s (from ICO partners) GDC talks
GDC talks in general. I’ve watched so many they all blur into one
Game to Market eBook
Pixel Prospectors Marketing Guide
Indie Game Girl
Wot I Actually Did Today
SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats + how to mitigate and capitalise on them)
Elevator pitch tweaks
Similar games research, market sizes
Identifying similar features from similar games
Objectives (sales, timelines)
More thinking/research on game naming
Assembling some initial quotes from press
Reading developer interviews from Game to Market ebook
Product USPs and tone keywords.
Fun, no…? I enjoy reading about and learning about this stuff, but don’t exactly like actually doing it!
I probably have another day or half day of this to go before returning to the fun stuff.