The Stanley Parable

A postmortem on the launch of the Stanley Parable

October 20, 2013

Okay! So we're a few days out from the launch of the Stanley Parable, and I wanted to take a minute to talk about what happened, what went right, what we did, and lessons from this launch that might help others with their own game development and marketing.

First up: The Stanley Parable just crossed 100k units sold! This is a lot more than we were expecting, and the shock of a successful launch may have been one of its biggest challenges. Some of the repercussions of this success is affected by business decisions we made 18-24 months ago, long before we ever thought this was going to make any real money! First and foremost, this taught us a single and invaluable lesson: do not expect success, but be prepared in case it happens.

I'd like to take a look back at specifically some of the things that we did, especially in the last few months of development, to cultivate and prepare for a successful launch:

Trailers

Not much to say here except that we released 5 trailers over the course of the game's development, and not one of them contains any substantial actual footage of the game. This is going to be a running theme throughout this postmortem: if you make the marketing material interesting on its own, it's irrelevant whether it "sells" your game. Our focus was always on creating content that was on its own fun for people to experience and to be a part of, with essentially 0% of the design aimed at trying to get the game to sell.

The Demo

The idea of a demo seemed obvious at the time. Since our game was very difficult to talk about without spoiling, why not simply make an extra piece of game in the spirit of the main game to convey what it's about! Most of the assets in the demo are re-used from the main game, so very little time was spent on content creation. I was writing it in the background for a few months, and William spent about 3 weeks building the version you can play now.

The end result, in my opinion, was very worth it. I don't yet have specific numbers, but we estimate that 150k-200k people have played the demo since it launched. It received its own run of news on most major news sites, the demo alone received video previews and was streamed by many high traffic Let's Players. Copies of the demo were sent to all of these outlets about a week before it launched.

Essentially we got the press equivalent of two video game launches. And we cheated, since we re-purposed most of the assets that we were using for the main game. All that it took was a creative remix of those resources and press outlets, youtubers and people all over social media were eager to talk about it. Plus, because the demo was free, this was essentially the equivalent of an artist putting out free work to gain attention and then monetizing later work once there's an established audience, except we did that whole process in a week. The quick turnaround means that we could channel all of the energy from the demo straight into the main game.

I know that it's easy to ask whether other developers have the time and resources to develop an entire second product while working on the first. To be sure, not everyone will have the ability to do this, nor does this approach work for every style of game. But let me propose: we spent two years making The Stanley Parable. For an extra two months work, we get an entire second game's worth of press. That seems like too good a deal to risk going without.

Streaming and Personalization

There's already been much discussion about the stunning impact of Let's Plays on game sales. However, one additional element we explored with Stanley was that of personalization. For example, we got in touch with the folks who run Game Grumps about doing a video for their Steam Train channel. We had Kevan (the voice of the narrator) re-record 3 lines from the demo, one at the beginning where he welcomes them, one in the middle where he asks them to apologize to the viewers, one toward the end that was just a play on one of their catchphrases. This video, otherwise exactly the same as every other video of the demo in every way, drew 313k views where most of their other videos have 100k-200k views.

Again, it was extra work to add these lines, but for an additional 100k views of our work (not to mention incredibly personal views, I still get people thanking me for giving this gift to the Steam Train community), the extra work had huge marginal payoff. We did the same thing for Adam Sessler's play of the game which drew a smaller crowd, so purely from a marketing perspective it had less impact than doing the same work for a major Let's Player like Total Biscuit of Dannerdcubed or whoever, but it was also a chance to connect much more personally with that particular community and with the folks at Rev3. Every one of these custom versions was borne out of a personal conversation with someone at that channel, it was always a desire simply to give something back to a community that we cared about and to have fun doing so. I would definitely do more of these kinds of personalized pieces of marketing in the future, and to know who I'm doing it for and why I care about that particular community. And if the community happens to be a very large one, that's good too!

Emotional Discharge

Here's one thing we didn't plan for at all:

It's not unheard of for developers of relatively small games that get relatively big reception to experience a bit of post-release depression. When the demo launched, it left William and me incredibly emotionally vulnerable, the response was pretty overwhelming and we simply had trouble holding ourselves together. We were each a chaotic little bundle of raw emotion. I was expecting the same or worse to happen on the actual launch day, but surprisingly I felt almost none of that total emotional breakdown! I guess the launch of the demo simply got it out of my system, I went through that a week early so that I didn't have to deal with that as the same time I was dealing with the actual launch, reception and sales of the main game. This was never something we anticipated, but it ended up being a wonderful little corollary of launching a second game a week ahead of the first.

Tidy conclusions to sum it all up

I think the biggest takeaway from all this is that we released a lot of free and personalized content leading up to the main game, each of which was itself engaging and fun for people to experience. We wanted the media on its own to be something a person would want to share and talk about, and because every piece of media we released contained something that wasn't in any other piece, each one got its own press and conversation. The focus from the game itself to the supporting media was always the same: make this something that people will want to talk about. Each one had to be unique, had to have its own thought put into it, as though we were releasing it purely on its own. In doing so, we were able to get away with saying nothing about the main game because by the time the main game actually launched, the name itself was on a lot of peoples' minds. Give people a reason to talk, that's all we aimed for, and the rest sorted itself out. Release a whole bunch of things for free in fairly quick succession, then at the end of it put a price tag on the last one. It was a lot of extra work, but the results feel very much worth it.

If you have any other questions let me know and I'll try to answer them to the best of my knowledge!

The Stanley Parable Demo and Release Date!

October 10, 2013

It's finally here!
The Stanley Parable will launch on October 17!!

(holy crap am I reading that correctly?)

So here's what it means: Today we have launched a demo for the Stanley Parable. The demo is a completely spoiler-free experience meant simply to help you understand the style and tone of the full game without giving away any of its secrets. It is free and you can play it right this minute on the game's official Steam store page. WE HOPE YOU LOVE IT! <3

It's the beginning of the end. In one week, this crazy adventure comes to a close. For now let's enjoy a nice, simple demo and reflect on what, if anything, it all means. THANKS EVERYONE FOR ALL OF YOUR LOVE AND SUPPORT YOU ARE THE BEST!!!


The final door awaits...

Content Complete Part 5!

October 4, 2013

Well here we are. The game is content complete.

This is William Pugh speaking. I'm Davey's better half (we're talking game development here).
It's been a long road (much longer than anybody on the team expected) and now we've finally here at the end.

As you all know we've kept pretty much everything about the game a complete secret, we've intentionally maintained complete radio silence when it comes to what we're working on and what we've been doing so that all of you may go into this and have a unique and unspoiled experience.

And all of that is about to pay off.

We're now very close to release and you'll be hearing a lot from us very soon about what's going to be happening leading up to the game's launch.
Everybody's put an awful lot of love into this game and we can't wait to set it free into the wild like a caged bird that has adapted to life in captivity and then quickly perishes when confronted with the dangers of the outside world.

I hope you're all ready for a video game!!

A new Stanley Parable Trailer appears!

September 10, 2013

Would you like a new trailer for The Stanley Parable? Well I've got one for ya right here! Youtuber Chilled Chaos sat down with us to help guide you on a little sneak peak at the game, hope you enjoy!


PAX, release dates, and other stuff!

September 8, 2013

Hey all, last weekend I traveled to Seattle to show off a little demo of Stanley Parable we've been cooking up (you were wondering why part 5 has been taking so long?) and it showed really really well! We had just one TV running the demo, and the booth was packed nearly the entire weekend. Here, let me illustrate my point using PHOTOGRAPHS!












For a little more info about the demo we showed, check out this interview I did with Twinfinite:



Okay, so what about the game itself? Well I'm finally at a point where I can tell you with full confidence that the Stanley Parable will be released in October 2013! We are mere weeks away! Still a lot to do, but man, we're almost there. Almost there. Almost there. Almost there.

Just to send this off on the right note, here are a few screenshots we recently took from the (nearly finished) game! Thank you again for all your support over this very long and challenging development!










Content Complete part 4 of 5!

July 25, 2013

Holy cow! Only six days between parts 3 and 4?? These developers are craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy! (clarification: they are crazy only insofar as they are producing a game at a rapid rate, and in all other ways are sane and normal human beings)

Okay, we're getting pretty close to the end here. But I also want to point out that part 5 is the largest of the bunch, this section is primarily focused on polish, easter eggs, and a few little goodies we're prepping for the game's launch, so it's important that we take the time to get this bit just right. We're not quite out of the forest yet, but soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon!!

Stanley Parable Dev Showcase: Signing Off

July 24, 2013

The Stanley Parable Helpful Development Showcase is our way of connecting you to the development of The Stanley Parable by giving you a small look at what's been going on behind the scenes. Each week we'll give you a tiny peek into what it takes to make a game like The Stanley Parable, the creative challenges we come up against in the course of development, and how to not judge yourself as a person for the quality of choices you've made in your own life. These are just a few of the topics we'll cover in this incredibly useful blog series.

This week: How to drop everything and quit

It's a question that's been asked over and over, throughout the ages, by every person who's ever set out to create something:


Is now the right time
to abandon everything I've been working on
in an emotional rage?

Everyone handles this question differently. Some people flip a coin, some people flip hundreds of coins in a series of multi-tiered coin-flipping tournaments, and there are even people who meticulously craft their own same-sided coins in order to guarantee a particular outcome.

But these are generally considered to be ancient methodologies, outdated and obsolete in this modern era. For the contemporary craftsman there is only one truly reliable source for answers, one that can be trusted to deliver without any concern for failure: Rolf

Rolf lives on a 12'x12' island located in the very center of Indonesia:



There he has a single desk and computer. He has committed himself to two things: helping creatives figure out when to quit in a huff, and never dying. Rolf will be there for our children, and our children's children, and the people our children's children dress up in children's clothing to impersonate their biological children.

Rolf is single-handedly responsible for nearly every major decision to completely abandon one's work in a violent rage over the last 4 decades or so. He's become a touchstone in the creative community, and to speak personally for a moment, he's shaped my own development process in countless ways.

Here, for a minute let me share with you some of the exchanges between myself and Rolf that demonstrate the impact he's had on my game development:

Rolf didn't give me an answer because he knew that the real answer was inside of me, that I had to search deep within myself for the true path forward. I didn't quit development on that day, because Rolf taught me to think for myself, to not give up on my pursuits.

And your questions don't always need to be just about the right time to quit everything you're doing, Rolf is delighted to answer any questions you may have!

Rolf is wisdom, Rolf is guidance.

Here's a more recent email exchange between the two of us:

Just as always, Rolf had the perfect solution to all of my problems.

The only hard part now is going to be putting it all into action. And I think I know just where to start.


Click for full size image


My work is complete.

I've done everything I could.

All I need now is the final approval from Rolf.

He alone knows whether I can quit.

Whether I can abandon the HDS recklessly.

Have I done enough?

When his email arrives I tear it open with shaking hands:


...

The Helpful Development Showcase has been so much fun to make and to share with all of you I couldn't even possibly say. Thank you for joining me on this little experiment! There are many more experiments out there left to tackle, and right now I've got a big one left to wrap up. The Stanley Parable will be done before too much longer, and I'm absolutely bursting to share it with you all.

So that's where I am going to be putting all my time and energy for the next few months, into finishing the game. We've been working on this thing for quite a long time, and I'm just about ready to put it to a close.
Let's make a video game. Let's make a video game.

Love y'all!

<3

Content Complete Part 3 (of 5)

July 19, 2013

The Stanley Parable is 3 of 5 parts content complete!

Wow, that was fast! Only 12 days since Content Complete Part 2. SOMEBODY STOP THIS DEVELOPMENT TRAIN.

No seriously, don't stop the development train, we're getting pretty close to the end and it would be a real shame if you ruined it for everyone. Just think about that before you stop the development train, okay? Think about it.

[NOTE FOR YOU TO CONSIDER: content complete will not coincide exactly with the game's release since we have a number of other backend/distribution issues to address, but the point is it's not that far off. Every time you wait patiently God brings a kitten back to life!]

<3

Stanley Parable Dev Showcase: Distribution

July 10, 2013

This week: Distribution of The Stanley Parable

The world of video game distribution is scary. Just look at the facts:

 

In 2012 alone, 100,000 people attempted to purchase video games, and yet only 1,400 were able too. That's down from 150,000/2,300 in 2011 by a factor of nearly twice as much. And as far as we can tell, every single person who has ever purchased a video game has died or will die.

The facts don't lie, and they're even worse at cheering you up. Will video games ever win the Barrack Obama Cultural Relevance award if the people who purchase them keep dying? When will it end?


Sure, you're likely to tell me about the methods of distribution we already have in place, Steam, Origin, GoG, Gamestop, robbing your friend outside of Gamestop, being robbed outside of Gamestop and going back in and purchasing another game, the list goes on and on. But do you FEEL any safer? Of course you don't. That's what video games are doing to us.

There is a better way.

Although the Stanley Parable secured distribution via Steam on their Greenlight service, today I am announcing that we will be rescinding this offer in favor of a new distribution outlet created specifically for The Stanley Parable. The dark era of fearing for your life every time you attempt to purchase a game is over.

Let me explain how our model works:


Decide to buy a game. We intend to license other games for purchase in the future, but until that time the only game you'll be able to decide to purchase is The Stanley Parable.

This is the most difficult step, but it's also the most important.


Tattoo the name of the game you want to exactly fill the distance between each of your nipples.

It's also encouraged that you make the tattoo as visually interesting as possible, like depicting characters from the game you're purchasing forming letters of the title with their body (see Step 7)


When you wake up the next morning, you'll find a second tattoo has been printed on your body in the night. The visual quality of the second tattoo will correspond with that of the first, so you really want to be sure that first one is up to par.

The second tattoo will have an address. The address has been randomly selected from Google Maps. You have 2 hours to get there from when you wake up. If you fail this deadline, the bomb in your liver will go off. You have a bomb in your liver. The person who gave you the first tattoo put it there. They work for us. Don't bother going back to the tattoo parlor. It isn't there any more.


Go to the address. You'll see a man, or maybe a woman, or maybe nobody. Either way it's a good sign, means everything's going according to plan.

When someone or no one shows up, greet them with a printout of this picture.

The person is blind, they can't see it.

What were you thinking??


Instead, they'll tattoo a second address on your chest below the first. They didn't bring any actual tattooing equipment, so you should probably expect an extraordinary amount of pain while all of this is happening.

Also they're blind so the tattoo is probably just generally going to be nonsense. Ignore the tattoo, we'll send someone to your house.


Take a minute to think about how if you were at Gamestop right now you'd be getting robbed by your friends.


A week later, a man will show up at your house. He'll look he's just here to deliver pizza. He is. You ordered pizza.


A month after that, a woman will arrive who actually works for us.

You will present to her a 10-slide powerpoint presentation detailing why you deserve to purchase the video game. Here's an example of a slide you might use:

As she watches your presentation the woman will give you lots of little patronizing laughs and roll her eyes whenever you try to make a point, and at the end she'll resignedly say something like “well I guess I can run it by someone for a second opinion.” She'll eat something you were specifically saving for later and then head out the door.


The woman will then make this exact same presentation to another executive, who in turn will perform it for another, and another, eventually circling back around to the woman who started it. By this point, every member will have forgotten they ever heard the speech, and so will re-hear it, re-learn it, and re-present it over and over, in an endless, beautiful dance, forever.

Let's visualize this process for a more in-depth understanding:


 

Content Complete pt. 2!

July 7, 2013

You might remember I previously posted about locking down Stanley Parable content for final release. Today we locked part 2 (of five)! WOO!

Have a screenshot as thanks for all your lovely lovely patience! YOU (SPECIFICALLY) ARE THE BEST!