Building the Game Wizard

As many of you have, hopefully, seen; our Game Wizard has been released to the wide world.  Hopefully everyone is finding it as useful as the infographic which it is based on.  I thought in the blog post I’d talk abit about the development process.

The Data

The data was actually very easy – we already created it for the infographic.  Luckily, since we know the games well enough, creating the data for the infographic wasn’t that hard either – it was just a matter of taking the time to develop the various trees and making sure we didn’t double-up.

The Development

In this case, I went outside my usual developers for the site and used another 3rd party.  I had been talking to them for a while now on a few other infographics and they had shown me the work they had done before so I figured they could do this well enough.  The quote they provided was acceptable too, somewhat on the higher end of what we wanted to pay but decent.  I decided not to try the oDesk / Freelance job site this time as I wanted a design that would be coded decently well and previous experience had shown that results from such sites were widely variable.

With this local design company, we had to go through a couple of design changes, mostly tweaks to the original design they sent us.  The major issue came when they started trying to hook the design / information up to our sites database.  Unfortunately, Magento is an extremely complicated e-commerce platform and while I had asked them their experience (and received assurances of competence), they actually had no idea what they were getting into.  Instead of a 1 month delivery date, it took over 3 months with numerous back and forths.  One last, major issue, was the huge delay in displaying products when an item was finally called.  In the end, we decided to take the application as it stood.

Once we got the files, we took the final application and brought it to our usual developers (Collins Harper) and had them code in a cache system.  It should be running properly now, with a cache set-up to run once a day to keep load-times for product pages nice and fast.

In the end, we got an app, but it wasn’t what we fully wanted.  Unfortunately, the budget has now been spent.

The Final Product

So, you’ve seen the app/  It’s not what we wanted – the front-end is nice, but there are certain aspects of the backend that we really wished had been done.

  • It’s not possible for us to integrate the design into the main site without ripping the entire code apart.
  • There is no backend so all changes have to be hard-coded. This was definitely not part of our intention.
  • The code is extremely simple for others to steal.  Considering the work we’ve done, we aren’t particularly thrilled with that.  It’s not something we asked for, but it’s something we need to think about next time.

The Lessons

Firstly, we should have made sure to get full clarification (and double-check again and again) when we agreed to the work.  We thought we had an agreement on a few aspects of the business – like the backend CMS structure – but didn’t.

Secondly, double-check the credentials of the developers you use.  In particular, the software / the systems that you use – make sure the developers you hire really do know how the system works and what can / can’t be done.  If not, you’ll just add a lot of headache to the development.

Thirdly,if you have access to a developer you trust, work with them beforehand to develop a  structure / developer brief.  It’ll make your life a lot simpler and make the first issue much less of a contention.

Lastly, for me – I think I’ll go back to testing out outsourced developers for one-off projects like this (at least if CH is busy).

What Sells a Game?

Lately, I’ve been playing a few new games (Ora & Labora, Forgotten Planet & Leviathan to be exact) and it struck me how different each of these games are in terms of prices, themes and contents.  Combined with my own research recently into what games sell,I thought I’d write a little article about what drives the sales of a game, especially on a first impression basis.

Disclaimer – the following is completely my own opinion, barely backed up with any numbers.

a) Cover Art

Cover art is important.  Art in general is important (prettier / nicer it is; the better generally) but good cover art makes people pick-up a game.  When we are at conventions, it makes a huge difference of which games we’ll display and which games a customer will pick-up, look over and consider.  Without good cover art, you never even make it to the ‘this looks interesting’ phase.

b) Pretty pieces

Leviathan does pretty pieces so well.  Yes it’s more expensive; but there are certain segments of the gaming population who’d buy a game just for the pieces.  Same with Dust Tactics or many other FFG games.

c) Box Information

One of the most frustrating things I run into all the time.  Box covers that provide no information on the game.  Minimum information required is:

  • No. of players
  • Age range
  • Game Duration
  • Photo of game-play & pieces

d) Box size / Price / Weight Ratio

We instinctively expect more pieces, more weight when a game is more expensive.  If you have few pieces, but are in a large box, we almost feel cheated especially if the price is high.  I had that with Forgotten Planet. It doesn’t matter how good the game is, I expected more considering the cover price.  On the other hand, Ora & Labora has a nice heft to it.  You ‘know’ that you’re getting a good deal, even before you play the game.

No it’s not logical, but it it does seem to play out quite a bit.

e) Themes

Themes seem to have a strange relationship to sales.  Some customers buy into products / categories based on theme – they’ll specifically ask for ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Science Fiction’ games.  On the other hand, a lot of our bestsellers are more real world or generic in themes – e.g. Dominion, Settlers of Catan, Pandemic.

I think it’s a matter of tapping into bases.  With a highly themed SciFi / Fantasy game, you get those interested in that genre but might miss out on everyone else as the theme is restrictive.  On the other hand, more ‘generic’ themes might not restrict your base but you then have to compete with a lot more games too.

f) Play Time

Looking at our sales stats, I have to say; the vast majority of our bestsellers play within 2 hours.   In fact, a good portion of them (7 Wonders, Forbidden Island, Dixit) play in less than an hour.

 

Ongoing Site Modifications

There have been some improvements to the site, both on a usability perspective as well as additional options for use.  I thought I’d list them out here if you missed them:

Local Pickup Appointment Calender

We now have an appointment calender powered by Google.  If you have a Google Account, you can just log-in to the calender and book your appointment directly if you have a shipment confirmation.  This seems to be working quite well, with less calls to us and customers able to manage the appointments themselves.

Reward Points for Tagging

As a new way to get points, if you log into your account and tag products, for each approved tag, we will give you 5 reward points.  Hopefully, this will make navigating easier for customers.

Survey

Don’t forget we still have our survey running.  It’s a great way to get a 5% off coupon code and your comments and answers gives us a direction for improvements on the site.

Product Quantities

You might also have noticed that we’ve decided to make product quantities in the warehouse live.  We hadn’t done it before due to competitive fears, but have decided that customer convenience trumps our fears.

Search for Pages

We’ve added new functionality on the site to allow searches on our article / FAQ / etc. pages.  This should make it easier for customers to find information about things like what to do with our Reward Points or our Local Pickup policies.

In addition, we’ve added a new module for Search that should make searches better.  If you type the first three letters of your search, a list of related items will appear immediately to auto-complete your search.

Frequently Bought Together / Customers Who Bought This Also Bought

We’ve also finally gotten the automated code installed on the site that provides upsell / cross-sell information direct from our database of actual sales, so hopefully this information is now more useful for customers.

 

Product Quantites & More Points

Played with the site design a bit more today, fixed a few bugs so you should be able to see if a product is out of stock immediately and if something is a pre-order and the number of pre-orders made on a product.

In addition, product quantities are now live.  They should be mostly correct (barring stocking errors) so there should be less overall confusion.

Lastly, we have now added  points for tagging products on the site.  Log into the site via your account, tag a product.  If it’s a tag we have already approved, it’ll automatically be added.  If it’s not, we’ll have to review the tag and approve it before you get your points.  You will get 5 points per tag approved.

Changes in the category navigation

We’ve decided to update the Strategy category navigation pages so that the ‘Development‘ and ‘Resource Management‘ sections were smaller and better focused, instead of the catch-all categories that we were using them for.

We also removed the ‘Trading‘ section and changed it into the ‘Economic‘ board games section so that we could fit a few more games into it and provided more categories.

Lastly, we have the new ‘Civilisation‘ section on the site that includes all the civ games that we have including Age of Empires III or  Through the Ages or Tempus.

Site upgraded

So, we just upgraded the site again to the latest version of the software we are using, along with a few bug fixes.  We’ve tested the site and it should be mostly fixed, but if you come across any new bugs, do inform us!

Otherwise, a number of older bugs should now be sorted.

Category page changes

We just did a category page change on the Adventure and Card Game categories to decrease the total number of products per page when browsing into individual categories.  Hopefully, this makes it somewhat simpler for people to browse.

So changes include:

Adventure Games

Card Games

Next step – reviewing both the Family and Strategy Game categories to steamline further.

If you have any comments or suggestions on the site design and category hierchies, do inform us.

Customer Rewards Program

So, we’ve been considering putting together a customer rewards program lately.  The way the program would work is very similar to Chapters – customer would need to pay a membership fee to join the program, but would then gain all its advantages.

Some of the advantages we could see adding to such a program would be:

  • lower free shipping threshold
  • additional price discounts (3, 5 or 10%)
  • special sale days and offers to members

Here’s the question I have for you:

– would such a program be of interest?

– how much would you be willing to pay for it? what would you expect from such a program?

– which of the above three benefits is most important to you? least?

– is there any other benefit that you would want to see added?

A concrete example of the program could be a 5% additional discount with free shipping at $150 for $25.