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Cultivating Curation: LudoNarraCon 2020 Recap

by Jenny Windom on 05/14/20 10:37:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Cultivating Curation: LudoNarraCon 2020 Recap


Traditionally, a lot of marketing and visibility for games -- especially indies -- comes about as a result of participating in cornerstone physical events throughout the year: PAX West, Gamescom, E3 … but for the past few months and foreseeable future, those annual touchpoints have all been completely upended as a result of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders around the world.

Digital events are popping up like daisies to fill in the gaps left by physical event cancellations. Festivals like the recently concluded LudoNarraCon and Steam Spring Games Festival, the upcoming Steam Summer Games Festival, IGN’s Summer of Gaming, Gamespot’s Play For All, the Wholesome Games’ Wholesome Direct, and...*takes a deep breath* Let’s just say, there’s a lot to pick from!

The prevalence of online events can be truly exciting for developers hoping to showcase their games to a wider audience without the limitations of cost and geography (and who can say know to showcasing a game in your sweats, amirite?), but what can these digital events mean for an indie studio in terms of prep work required and results?

Just a few weeks ago, we showcased one of our titles, Garden Story, at LudoNarracon, Fellow Traveller’s annual digital event, so we wanted to use this chance to recap how it went for us, and compare it with the experiences we’ve had showing Garden Story at physical events to illustrate some of the benefits -- and challenges -- of both showcase styles as an indie studio.
 

LudoNarraCon: Celebrating Narrative Games, April 24-27th

 

A Little Bit of Context


Before we dive into specifics, let’s take a second to talk a bit about Garden Story. Solo developer, Picogram has been working on Garden Story since March 2018. Garden Story is a wholesome title, filled with soft colors, cute & fruity characters, and an overall message advocating for community, empathy, and kindness. After seeing it at local Portland indie game events and getting to know Pico, we decided that we wanted to have Rose City Games team up with them and help release their game
 

Garden Story GIF: Concord the grape talks with Goldie the frog about Scarlet and Hakurei, two veggies who are singing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Prior to participating in LudoNarraCon, we also had the benefit of taking Garden Story to a handful of physical events. The Indie Megabooth at PAX East, Seattle Indies Expo at PAX West 2020, and PAX Together at PAX South are three times where folks had the chance to experience the game in-person. During times we were at events, we also experimented with limited time releases of the Autumn Town Demo (a standalone Garden Story gameplay demo) digitally on Steam, so folks at home could play if they wished even if they weren’t able to attend. 
 

 


LudoNarraCon


From April 24 -27th, Fellow Traveller hosted their second annual LudoNarraCon, a digital festival celebrating narrative games on Steam. The majority of the event took place over the weekend, with live panels, sales, and game demos available for players to try out, although the demos were available for an entire week after the main festival to allow folks to take their time and experience as much as possible. 
 

LudoNarraCon: Prep


LudoNarraCon really appealed to us because of the curation of the event. When we had the chance to experience it in 2019, LudoNarraCon impressed us with the panels available as well as the way it seemed to reach folks who all shared the same taste and goals with gaming. Curation, for me, is a magical word: a well-curated event allows you to reach the specific audience who’ll most appreciate what your game has to offer! Since many storefronts and events don’t typically participate in this type of curation, having opportunities that do target specific genres, moods, and tastes can be extra valuable. 

Since LudoNarraCon’s focus is on games emphasizing narrative and story, we predicted we’d be able to reach an audience that would perhaps, as a whole, enjoy what Garden Story has to offer versus a more broadly gathered group of games with a wider variety of genres. 

To prepare for the major requirement of participating in LudoNarraCon (3-4 hours of loopable video content), our entire team took time to pitch in! We all recorded video footage and tried some things we’ve never done before: Picogram recorded themselves creating pixel art for the game, Grahm played live versions of the tracks in the OST and discussed composition, we played through the game’s demo with commentary, and we found some creative ways to make sure gameplay was on screen most of the time. 

 

Highlight reel showing clips of the Garden Story LudoNarraCon broadcasts

 

 

In addition to preparing content for the weekend of the festival, we took time to make sure we knew how to stream to Steam (a relatively new tool with recently added features), added some polish to the existing Garden Story demo, and made sure all of Garden Story’s pages looked ready for a bunch of fresh eyes. This preparation took a fair chunk of time, and the week before the event was filled with editing videos and making sure we were good to go. This was on top of balancing normal daily tasks and community management for Garden Story and our other titles.

This felt, as you may expect, different in many ways from preparing for a physical event. For something like PAX West, while the majority of our team does jump in to help with preparations, the actual participation of the event sits more on the marketing and communications part of the team. We typically start months ahead of the event, purchasing tickets, travel, and accommodations, in addition to preparing all of the materials for setting up a booth and showcasing the game. 

While LudoNarraCon did take effort, we experienced lots of savings -- time and money -- compared to our previous experiences at physical events. Generally, our team sends 2-3 folks to shows like PAX, and floor hours often require folks to arrive around 8:30 AM and close up by 6 PM. This translates to a very full day, even if you have team members to break shifts up with, not to mention set-up, tear down, all the after-hours events and showcases, and long travel hours: it’s an exhilarating, but also exhausting, time!
 


LudoNarraCon was a change of pace (especially for my introverted sensibilities). While the event lasted for 4 days, after the first day, I just made sure to pop in throughout the day and check the chat on our Steam page, and even was able to enjoy panels and other developer livestreams and demos while in the comfort of my own home!



Here’s a quick (and extremely simplified) breakdown of key differences in preparing between LudoNarraCon and PAX West: 


While there were a lot of places we were able to save time and money, I want to be sure and acknowledge that a large part of that was because we did already have access to streaming hardware, video editing software, and someone on the team who could spend dedicated time coordinating all the different aspects of event participation. Teams who didn’t have the necessary equipment or experience may have not had the same experience or even opportunity since having a broadcast was a requirement for participation.
 

LudoNarraCon Results


Logistically, LudoNarraCon was one of the most organized digital events we’ve participated in. Fellow Traveller had a wiki set-up explaining almost everything we could ever hope or need to know about preparing for the event, from recording video to streaming best practices, and even suggestions for social media prior to the event. They were incredibly responsive anytime we had questions (via email as well as Discord) and even took into account providing moderators for both the panels AND developer livestreams throughout the event. As the person who was the primary contact for organizing the Rose City Games side of things, this was immensely helpful and appreciated! We’re all in relatively uncharted territory in organizing for digital events on a larger scale like this, and their organization made us feel incredibly comfortable and ready for what lay ahead. 


 


Our theory that participating in a more curated digital event could result in higher wishlist numbers also seemed to come to fruition. Comparing the results during LudoNarraCon and the weekend prior (as our ‘control’) was night and day. From Jan 01 - 31st, when we were pretty heads down in development for Garden Story, we averaged about 69 (nice) wishlists a day. From April 24th - 27th, the weekend of the event, we averaged 1.2k - 1.4k wishlists a day. A huge jump! 

The only other times we’ve had comparable spikes were at (starting from the right going back): the Steam Spring Games Festival, PAX East, and when we’ve released the demo during limited time periods, and those wishlist numbers were at about 50% of digital event activations (like the Steam Spring Festival and LudoNarraCon).

Visibility for the Steam page was way up as a result of the festival as well. As you can see below, impressions went from almost 20k the weekend prior up to almost 77k. The click-thru rate (which is when an impression actually turns into a store page visit) jumped from 7% up to 31%! Even if not everyone wishlisted the game, this means at least folks know of the game and are gaining familiarity with what Garden Story is about.

 

April 17-19, 2020:

April 24-27, 2020:

 


While wishlists and overall page visits seemed to be flying, we were a little surprised to see that the demo downloads were lower than we anticipated. There were only 2,734 downloads during LudoNarraCon, and we felt that the higher number of wishlists to low number of demo downloads was an interesting phenomenon. A couple of reasons why this could be

  • The Autumn Town Demo was available on a separate demo page, thus adding to the friction between the point of folks being interested and actually clicking on the demo to play.

  • Because of the highly curated nature of the event, perhaps folks just saw the Steam page or our broadcast and didn’t feel the need to play the demo (or didn’t have the time!) but wishlisted it anyway.

  • There’s also more and more discussion about the difference between quality vs cursory wishlists. You can read more about it in places like Simon Carless’s Tales From Discoverabilityland and Zukalous’s Did Warriorbs Use of Prologues “Fail?”.

    • It’s worth considering the fact that the act of wishlisting may not hold a serious intent to purchase a game when it releases for some Steam users. In some cases, it may act more as a bookmark to keep the game in mind in the future.

The looped Store Page broadcast got almost 50k individual viewers over the festival weekend! The broadcast played both on our Garden Story page and was accessible via the LudoNarraCon event page. Through our own monitoring, we were able to average 50 concurrents watching the stream throughout the entire weekend (until the very last day) and even had almost 150 concurrents at one point! This is a marked difference from in-person events like PAX East, where we are only able to allow about 2 simultaneous players in demo stations, with perhaps another 5-6 folks around the booth comfortably to be able to watch and ask questions. To know we had, on average, 50-some eyes on the game’s page and our stream throughout the event was exciting, to say the least!
 

 


Even with that many concurrents, chat activity was relatively quiet, which did feel very different from a physical event where folks are very eager to talk about the game. This may have been because the videos were pre-recorded and looping. I would say that’s perhaps the biggest part that I missed about in-person events: the face-to-face interaction and observation of players! In future events, I’d love to play with scheduled AMA’s and activations throughout the weekend and not just have the rush be on the first day of broadcasting. 

Especially with an event like LudoNarraCon that emphasizes stories, human connections, and the people behind games, it was nice to have the streams up and allow folks to feel more connected to the team since we weren’t able to connect with them in-person as they played. So, while chat activity came and went, it was overall quite positive, and folks did take time to pop in and say how much they enjoyed the art style, music, and demo.
 

    

 


Because the streaming component of Steam is still in Beta, the analytics are currently limited to seeing viewer counts, so I can’t speak to how well the stream worked in terms of convincing folks to wishlist. I’d love to be able to dive into some details on how long folks stuck around the stream, and even perhaps see where they came from and headed to after checking out our content to help us dive down even more into what folks are connecting to the most about the game. I can say that having this event take place directly on Steam did provide great data overall for us moving forward: being able to see overall traffic, wish lists, and regional data in conjunction with viewership from the stream is incredibly helpful!
 

Conclusion

In a time when we’re unable to travel and attend the events we know and love, LudoNarraCon created an environment for developers, publishers, and players to connect. There were folks who popped into our Discord, the Steam chat, and our social channels all excited about Garden Story. This was awesome! The event, with its distinct focus and curation, was also very beneficial for visibility and quality wishlists, two important elements in the journey to find success as an indie game. 

Steam algorithms do allow for a level of targeting with tags, genre, and recommended queues, but providing featured space and time for events like LudoNarraCon allowed titles a level of visibility they may not have received if left purely to the algorithm. Hopefully we’ll continue to see more of these types of events in the future!

Interested in more? Corey, one of Rose City Games’ co-founders, is working on a post to follow up this one, diving into the specifics of wishlists: both how we get them as well as how we use wishlist data to determine goals for marketing Garden Story! So keep an eye out for that coming up. Thanks for reading!


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