I recently got the chance to talk with Andy Moore, the manager of the wildly popular game Fantastic Contraption. Fantastic Contraption is an extremely fun game in which you must build contraptions to get a ball into the goal area.  In this interview Andy talks about his work with the game, the self-publishing route the it took, the microtransactions model that was used, the community of players that grew around it and more. Here’s what he had to say:

1. On your website you mention that you are a social engineer and an IT consultant. Could you give me some background on what you do?

*Chuckles* Well, I struggled long and hard to come up with an adequate title and I still don’t think I’m there yet. I try to be a jack of all trades – I do everything from press releases, to human resources, to programming, and even hardware and server work. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But really, at the core, I am a people-person. My favorite work has been Community Management, which is largely forums, chatrooms, event organization, and basically keeping in touch with the fans and the media. If a game developer doesn’t know what their fans want, or what they are saying – how can they make a truly spectacular product? If you haven’t made a game yet, how do you know what the market is currently clamoring for?

I’ve got my finger on the pulse of the community – and using the jack-of-all-trades knowledge I have, I don’t just go running to the programmers saying “every single fan wants us to put server-rendered guns into Fantastic Contraption!”

2. How did you get your start in the flash gaming industry?

Colin Northway wrote Fantastic Contraption a year ago – it was his first published flash game. He worked on it during his evenings and weekends for approximately four months, and here we are! We are all very lucky that Colin wrote such a great game, and that it was his first (and to this day, only!) flash game.

3. Colin Northway, the developer of Fantastic Contraption, did a great job of creating and coding the game. At what point did he realize you would be needed to manage the customer service and community that would grow around the game?

I was always involved in the game – I got to play the first released tech test:
http://www.andymoore.ca/Contraption.swf

That was way back before it looked anything like the current incarnation! Back then I was just helping by doing some light level design and being a sounding board for ideas.

Colin ran a forum during beta just as a place to collaborate on level ideas and gameplay concepts, and once the game went live we created a public board for our users to share links with. We started getting a surprising amount of traffic early on – once the forum took more than an hour per day to keep up to date with, I stepped into the Community Management role. I believe it was around a week or two after release. We simply needed someone to collate all the feature requests and bug reports into a single list, and to keep the community involved and sticking with the site.

4. You avoided the sponsorship route and went straight for self-publishing , what was your strategy for promoting Fantastic Contraption?

Colin’s level and design sharing idea really made the game run on it’s own two legs. If just one person played and shared a link with their friend, they would share with their friends, and so on. Most of our traffic was generated simply because players were proud of their creations and wanted to show their friends and family. Other than this very simple game feature, we did absolutely zero marketing or promoting.

I made a single blog post about the game with a few screenshots – and over the course of the following two weeks we got reviews from a few other sites. I give a lot of credit to JayIsGames, which continues to drive us a lot of traffic with their absolutely glowing review. It was our first review to go online and it is still the best review out there.

We weren’t entirely portal-free, however. We tried putting the game up on Kongregate, AddictingGames, and Whirled eventually, but only after the game was already pretty popular. These were very lightweight contracts (no payouts) so that we could retain creative control. Though they doubled our traffic in the best of cases, their effects only lasted a day or two.

Despite review sites and portal sites giving the game highest marks, despite huge support we got early on from Korean sites and places like 4Chan and Something Awful, their total traffic is completely and absolutely dwarfed by traffic our all-time best traffic generator, StumbleUpon.

Still, I’m talking small potatoes here. The vast majority of our traffic is organic (google searches and bookmarks). All the other sources are fighting for a slim slice of the pie.

5. Your game deals with a new business model for the flash industry; microtransactions. How did you convince players it was worth it to part with their cash?

I think the key was looking at the payment as a donation. The game was built to be completely free – and if you liked it, you could donate! A lot of effort went into making the game a truly enjoyable experience, one that left people (hopefully) in a state that made them wish to donate.

Of course, it isn’t quite as simple as that. We originally had 20 free levels (now just over 40) and we found a lot of people would play the game for days or even weeks just playing with just these levels. By giving those that donate access to a level editor – and access to all the player-generated content – it was a little sweetener to the deal. Today that equals 300,000 new levels to enjoy.

We’ve actually found that a large chunk of users pay the $10 donation as a “thank you” and never actually use the level editor or bonus content!

I am firm in my belief that people will give you money for your product if you meet the customer’s expectation of value for the price you set. We found most people that played Fantastic Contraption would agree that, if the game were sold on the shelf, it would be worth $10. We actually get a complaint every month or so from a customer wishing to pay more than $10, but not having the option to do so!

It really does depend on customer expectations, though. Fantastic Contraption on the iPhone gets complaints that instead of $6, the game should be $1. I believe this is largely because most applications there are $1, so the expectation is lowered.

6. Earlier, I mentioned the community aspect of Fantastic Contraption. What allowed you to develop such a big community around the game?

Other than the previously-stated key of sharable design and level links, it was player ingenuity that really perpetuated the forums. It was forum users who invented the Badges (seen in the iPhone version), and forum users that built all the best and most amazing levels and level solutions. They even self-organize contests – today there is around a dozen contests going on in our forums!

I try to keep interest and focus on our own forums by providing regular input and updates from the development side of things; organizing official contests; and rewarding good contests and good designs with the occasional cash prize (or gift of free membership). There’s a bunch of other community magic I work in the background too, to keep things flowing nicely.

7. Are any sequels in the making for Fantastic Contraption?

The game has been hugely successful and not building on that would be foolhardy.

8. After Fantastic Contraption, where do you plan to go next with flash games?

Nothing solid yet – both Colin and myself have a few game ideas we bounce around, but nothing is in full-scale development at this time. Fantastic Contraption still keeps us happy (and busy)!

9. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I can’t stress this enough: If you have a good game, people want to give you money. If you don’t give people an option or incentive to buy, you won’t get that money.

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