How Do I Get a Custom Advergame Produced?

March 2, 2013

Filed under: Branded Games — Simon Walklate

It’s been a while now since I wrote about the game development process (over 4 years to be precise, how time flies). I’d still recommend you go check out that post, but the other day I realised a few of things. First of all, some things have changed very slightly in how we generally work with clients (nothing major, but when common issues come up with clients, you tend to adjust). Secondly, although it does a pretty good job of breaking down the development steps with visual examples, it doesn’t really go into what’s required from your end (the client). I also wanted to go through some common queries as well, to clarify a few things. I’d really recommend you read the FAQs as well, as there are some things in there that I won’t touch on here. Of course you can check out a bit more info on our advergaming services page as well. Anyway, here we go…

First Contact

You email or call us and we have a little chat about roughly what you want (or you may not even be sure you want an advergame yet, in which case we’re happy to discuss it with you and answer any questions, to help you make up your mind if it’s right for you). This can go one of two ways, either:

  1. You have no idea what you want (other than an advergame obviously) – In this case we will need some info about your business, what you do and what you’re hoping to achieve with an advergame. It’s also extremely helpful (well practically essential) if you can give an idea of your budget in this case. This just saves us wasting too much time suggesting concepts that are beyond your means. It gives us some focus and lets us work out what is and isn’t possible within your budget, before we start suggesting grand ideas that just leave you saying “HOW MUCH!?!?!”. Conversely, you may have quite a substantial budget and want to go for something more complex than what we’ve suggested. Either way it’s much more efficient if we know what we’re aiming for from the start.
  2. You have a rough idea that you want to explore – In this case we’ll be able to give you a rough cost and timescale. Again, you may say “HOW MUCH!?!?!”, or “we don’t have that long”. At that point we can go back and either figure out ways to trim down the concept to make it doable, or scrap the idea and start to think of other options that will work (see above). Assuming cost and time is not an issue, we can start to go through your concept with you and highlight potential pitfalls and make suggestions that may work better, in the context of a game. We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we’re pretty good at immediately spotting problems or ways to make a game design work better.

How long will it take? How much will it cost?

This is a “how long is a piece of string?” type of question. If you give us a rough idea of what you want, we can give you a rough idea of cost and timescale. It’s best discussed on a case by case basis. What I will say though is please start planning your advergame as early as possible. You should be thinking months in advance, not weeks. If you come to us two weeks before the game needs to launch, there’s a good chance we won’t be able to help you.

In some cases we may be able to take on work on a rush job basis, but this will be subject to a rush rate that goes along with it (up to double what we would normally charge). This is necessary because meeting the deadline will involve working long, unsociable hours. You’ll need to speak to us ASAP if you have an urgent project like this, because whether or not we can take it on really depends on how busy we are at the time.

Please don’t ask us to sign your NDA

We’ve been seeing an increasing (and quite frankly worrying) trend lately that potential clients think the first step of enquiry (before they even give us a rough idea of what the enquiry is about) is to send over an NDA for us to sign. These are usually a blanket agreement that prevent us from disclosing or using literally anything that’s communicated to us by the client, from then until the end of time.

Now I could write a whole post about why we rarely sign NDAs at any point of a project. But to cut a long story short, unless you have genuinely confidential information that you want to protect from being disclosed, over the duration of the project (for instance a special promotion or product launch you want to keep the details of secret) and the NDA covers specifically that information only, then chances are we won’t be able to sign. Even in those instances, just a request to keep info under wraps until the launch date should really be enough.

NDAs shouldn’t cover ideas. Apart from the fact that this could fundamentally damage our ability to do business (if we sign your NDA, that potentially prevents us from ever using any game concepts you might mention, even if they are far from unique). That’s what patents are for and if you have a genuinely unique idea you want to protect, an NDA is the wrong way to go about it.

Asking us to sign your NDA at the initial enquiry stage is totally unnecessary anyway. You can give enough details about the project for us to give some advice, without the need for an NDA. Having us spend hours going through a legal contract, which may need to be amended (at your expense) if there are any issues, for us to potentially say “sorry, that’s not possible”, or “that’s outside the scope of what we do”, is a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time.

Written Proposal and Quote

Once we’ve got past the first step and assuming you’re still interested in getting an advergame produced, we may need a proper written brief (or at least some more detailed info from you in writing). This is all dependent on how much detail was given in the first instance and is just to get all the specifics of what you need out of the game nailed down. The purpose of this is to give us everything we need to write a detailed game spec and quote, in the form of a written proposal.

The written proposal will put in writing the concept of the game, which has been provisionally agreed, (along with detailing all required functionality outside of actual gameplay) and a firm quote for all the work detailed in the spec. The proposal will also include all terms and conditions that you must agree to before the project starts and a detailed description of what’s expected of you to make sure the project runs smoothly.

Will I get to see what the game will look like?

Generally, we don’t do any visuals at the proposal submission stage. That happens at the design stage, once the proposal is signed off and we get the go-ahead to start the project. The only possibly exception being if it’s a particularly large project and it’ll help seal the deal. Then we may be able to include a rough visual mock-up as part of the proposal.

The reason we don’t do visuals at this stage is we have quite a collection of concept art for projects where the client insisted we do this, then the project never went ahead (or in one case the client proceeded to ignore our emails, after we’d spent two full days artworking said visuals for them). Creating visuals is a hugely time consuming process, as is putting together game concepts and the written proposal. If we were to do this for every enquiry we had, not only would we have no time to do anything else, we wouldn’t get paid a bean for our time.

Unused Concept Art

From our collection of concept art for projects that never happened

If you’re serious about us working on your game project then you can see examples of past work in our portfolio.

Mock-Up Visuals

Once the proposal is signed off and we get the go ahead to start the project proper (as well as receiving brand guidelines, logo artwork etc. where applicable), the first stage is to get a visual mock-up put together, so you can see roughly what the game will look like. We do this for two reasons. Firstly to make sure we’re heading in the right direction, in terms of visual style and you’re happy it fits within your branding and/or campaign. Secondly to give you something tangible and make sure you’re happy with it before we take a deposit on the project.

Once the visual has been signed off we invoice for a deposit on the project. For larger projects we may require more payment milestones, which will be set out in the proposal, but generally we take 50% deposit at this point, with the remaining 50% payable on completion.

We used to start with approval of a layout sketch before we went on to artwork the static game visual. We’ve stopped doing this now though. Although we do still start the artwork process in sketch books and layout pads, this work rarely gets shown to clients now, just because on a few occasions it tended to confuse the issue.

Game Production

This is the point where we take everything we’ve done (and you’ve agreed) up to this point and run with it. We’ll set up a staging URL for you to see and play the game as it progresses and regularly send over additional final artwork to be approved.

Usually artwork and coding will happen simultaneously. We’ll usually get a rough prototype of the gameplay up and running while the artwork is being finished. So in most cases you’ll get to see and play a rough version of the game, before final artwork and animation is complete. You do need to be aware at this stage that it’s a rough work in progress, so if you have any issues it’s best just to report major, fundamental ones, not minor bugs or tweaks. Save them for later on (if they haven’t already been corrected by that point). This whole process can take anything from a number of weeks to a number of months.

Music and sounds effects will also be produced at this stage. We use a professional freelance composer to produce the game music and usually all sound effects are recorded and edited by us on a per project basis. If you have any specific requirements or ideas for the music (including things like style and instrumentation) please let us know. Otherwise we’ll give the composer an outline brief and he’ll be asked to produce the music based on seeing visuals and the game spec (and in some cases a game prototype if available). He’s brilliant at what he does and can compose in pretty much any style you care to mention, so in most cases it’s best to just leave him to it. Generally we include music and sound design free of charge. This includes basic sounds and one specially commissioned piece of background music. If you have more complex requirements, please let us know early on, as additional charges may apply.

When the game is provisionally finished we’ll add in any front end graphics and functionality. This includes menu screens, scoreboards and where applicable, Facebook integration.

Polish, Amendments, Testing

Once we’ve got a provisionally complete version of the game we’re into the final stage of development. This involves getting client feedback for minor amendments, minor tweaking to both gameplay mechanics and visuals (to give that extra bit of polish and make sure things like difficulty curve are correct) and thorough testing.

When presenting amendments, it’s probably best to get everyone that needs to see it to play the game and make a complete list before coming back. This helps avoid potential contradictions and prevent wasting time on amendments that later on we decide weren’t a good idea after all. We can potentially keep going through this process until you’re 100% happy (as long as it’s all within the scope of the proposal, major additions will likely incur additional cost). Do be aware though that this can add significantly to the project time and if we end up on the 10th round of amendments, there’s a good chance we’re going to miss the deadline.

It’s also worth mentioning that at every stage of the project, meeting the final deadline requires things to run smoothly from your end as well as ours. We do everything within our power to stick to deadlines, but if we’re kept waiting around for approval on artwork for a whole week at a time and end up doing endless amendments, it’s likely we’re not going to meet the deadline. We will always advise if it’s getting to a point where this is likely to be the case, but then the ball’s in your court.

Testing is extremely important for any piece of software and we encourage you to get involved as much as possible at this stage. Although we pride ourselves on our quality control and ability to exhaustively test the games we produce, it’s best to get as many people testing the finished game as possible. There can be literally thousands of possible combinations of actions and outcomes in a complex game and we need to be as sure as we possibly can be that everything works as expected. At this point we can also carry out minor tweaks including changes to game difficulty curves and minor artwork tweaks where necessary.

You’ll also get tracking information where applicable. If we’re including Google Analytics tracking in your game then we’ll set that up for you and you’ll be encouraged to check it’s working at your end.

Final Sign-Off and Delivery

Once the game is finished, everyone is happy all the bugs have been ironed out and everything is working and looking as it should, it’s time for final sign off.

We’ll need this in writing from you (email is fine, as long as we have some written proof that you’ve given final approval on the project), as we will at any interim approval stages throughout the project. Once we’ve got this from you we can invoice for the final payment, which is due prior to delivery of the final game files.

So what do I actually get at the end of the project?

Deliverables are generally the finished compiled game file (in the case of Flash it’s the swf file to host on your website). Plus the server side scripts and data files to facilitate scoreboards and any additional game functionality. Usually we host these scripts for you though, to save you the hassle of having to set them up on your own server. (It’s also worth mentioning that the server side scripts remain the property of The Motion Monkey). We can also host the final swf file for you if you wish, so you can just link to the game or embed it on your website without having to host the file.

I’ll own the source code, artwork and music though? When do I get those?

No. Any individual assets used in the game remain the property of the creators, copyright in those doesn’t pass to you. You’re paying for the final game and you don’t need to own these assets for the game to work. This is standard practice and doesn’t affect your use of the game. It just means you don’t get to use individual assets outside of the game. We’ve spent years building up our code library, common tasks in your game will use code we’ve already written. Giving you copyright in code restricts our ability to do business in future, as it would mean we lose the right to use our own code library in other projects.

Apart from the fact assets created by third parties aren’t ours to give (e.g. game music, which belongs to the composer and is licensed for use within a particular game only), signing over copyright in assets that we did create (like artwork) would mean you are free to exploit them in any way you wish, up to and including selling those rights on to a third party. Hence the reason why this is not common practice and we don’t do it.

If you do wish to use assets elsewhere, please let us know and we may be able to accommodate you. For instance, we may be able to agree extra usage rights on game artwork and we can either negotiate on your behalf or put you in touch with the composer, if you wish to use the music elsewhere.

Viral Seeding/Distribution

If we’re distributing the finished Flash game for you then at this point we’ll start to send the game out to our database of gaming websites. This involves a combination of email and manual submissions and usually takes about three days to complete. At this point, the more promotion the game gets the better, so it’s the perfect time to send a link to the game out on your mailing list and write a press release focused on the game to send out through your usual PR channels. Any way you can possibly help get people playing the game, by leveraging your own usual marketing and PR channels (both online and offline), is only going to help the game reach the largest audience possible.

Once seeding is complete it can take anything from a week or two up to a month or so to really gain some momentum. Again planning well in advance is the key. Ideally the game should be ready to go out about a month before your product launch (or whatever it is you’re promoting) to give it chance to generate a decent amount of traffic and increase awareness in the run up.

With our standard viral seeding (included free of charge) we do our best to get the most exposure for you game, and we’ve achieved millions of plays using this method alone, but there are no guaranteed play numbers or guarantees of inclusion on specific websites.

If you need guaranteed inclusion, specific numbers of plays and/or to target specific demographics, then you’ll need to use paid placements. We can organise these for you, but they can get quite expensive, so please let us know early on.

Hopefully that’s everything covered, any comments and questions are welcomed, just post them below or get in touch directly.

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