Category Archives: Review of the year

2016: Better than expected

It’s the start of a new year, and that means it’s time for our traditional time to reflect on the previous year. We did this last year, in 2014 and 2013.

2016 was an extraordinary year in many ways. Here at the Freeform Games HQ, we’re pretty happy with how 2016 went for us.

wow-28

Sales overall were up 29% on 2015, and it was our second-best year ever – beaten only by 2011.

Best selling games

Our best selling games for the year were Way out West, followed by Casino Fatale and A Speakeasy Murder. These were also our best-selling games last year.

Overall our top three games accounted for 27% of our sales.

New and updated games

For the first time in many years (possibly ever!) we didn’t publish any new games in 2016. That wasn’t planned, but just the way it worked out. We have been working on a game (The Food is to Die For), it just wasn’t ready in 2016.

Way-out-West-bookBut that doesn’t mean we were just sitting around doing nothing, instead we:

The interweb

We didn’t do much to our website in 2016. We had a few problems with spam on our discussion forum, which is why it’s currently turned off. At some point we will revisit that.

We’ve had more people contact us via Facebook this year, which is a trend that we expect to continue.

Google Adwords

We dipped our toe into the water with the advertising behemoth that is Google Adwords. We’re starting with a low monthly budget to see how it’s going. So far the results appear to be good – although the Adwords’ tracking tools suggest that we’re not making many direct sales as a result of the advertising, we think there’s more to it than that.

So there’s a bit of uncertainty with Adwords, but we’re keeping our budget small for the time being and we’re happy with the overall results.

Flash sales

We’ve been running regular Halloween and Christmas sales for a while, but this year we started to experiment with short ‘flash’ sales. We celebrated the discovering of the tomb of Tutankhamun in November with a short sale on Curse of the Pharaoh.

What about our plans for 2016?

an-12We set ourselves some goals for 2016. This is how we did:

  • Improve the website, again. Fail – we didn’t pursue this in 2016.
  • Improve sales by exploring reviews or advertising. Success – we’re now advertising with Google Adwords. We haven’t explored reviews, but our sales have improved anyway.
    Get the free Way out West in front of more people. Success – we’ve now turned Way out West into a book.
  • Update Death on the Gambia and Curse of the Pharaoh. Partial success – we updated Death on the Gambia but not Curse of the Pharaoh. We’re also almost finished with an update of Snow Business, but I’m not counting that as it wasn’t part of the plan.
  • Publish new games if possible. We didn’t promise to publish any games, and we didn’t.

So I think that’s mostly a success. Our main failure was to improve the website.

Targets for 2017

So here’s the targets we’re setting ourselves for 2017.cita-03

  • Improve our website: Google has a new tool we can play with to try out variants and see which is most effective.
  • Update Curse of the Pharaoh: We didn’t do it in 2016 so we’ll try and get it done for 2017.
    Update Snow Business: This should be ready for early 2017.
  • Publish The Food is to Die For: Currently being playtested, so shouldn’t be too long before we publish it.
  • Re-start work on The Reality is Murder: This has been on the back boiler for years, and it’s time to dust it off and get it ready for publication. With a bit of luck we’ll get it published in 2017.

So here’s looking forward to a good 2017. We’ll catch up in early 2018 and review how we did.

Looking back at 2015

It’s the start of a new year and that means it’s time for us to look back and reflect on how we did last year. We did this last year, and for 2013 before that.

Sales overall were up 7% on 2014, and it was our best since 2012. Sales might have been even higher, but for some website problems – more on that below.

Hopefully this trend will continue into 2016, and we will continue to improve our website to make sure that it can be found by the search engines.

Best selling games

Our best selling games for the year were Way out West, followed by Casino Fatale and A Speakeasy Murder.

Way-out-West33

Way out West – our best-selling game of 2015

I predicted last year that A Speakeasy Murder would outsell Hollywood Lies, and sure enough that’s exactly what happened. It’s pleasing to see a new game in the top three. And Way out West’s popularity is boosted by it being our free game.

Overall the top three games accounted for 28% of our sales.

New and updated games

In 2015 we published Death on the Rocks and we updated Hollywood Lies.

Website improvements

We also made changes to our website in 2015. The main change was to make the menu more responsive on smaller screens – tablets and phones. This had been on the to-do list for a while, but Google announced last year that it would be prioritising sites that worked well on smaller screens, so we moved it up the to-do list.

Looking at our traffic, it seems that while we get a healthy volume of traffic from smaller screens, purchases tend to be made from laptops or desktop PCs. We believe that our visitors are browsing our site with a mobile device before purchasing a game with their “main” computer.

Speakeasy-PT1a

A Speakeasy Murder

Website problems

We had two big problems last year. We had a few outages in the first part of the year which led us to change our hosting provider (which is always a challenge). And then in October (the run up to our busiest time of year) our new hosts updated their database software, and that meant we had to update our site.

Our plans for 2015

We set ourselves some goals for 2015. This is how we did:

  • Continuing to improve the website, and keep an eye on its performance: Website improved, performance good but would have been better without the problems described above.
  • Publish Death on the Rocks. Achievement unlocked!
    Update Hollywood Lies: We finally published the updated Hollywood Lies in December. The update took us longer than we though and you can read about that here.
  • Publish our standard rules. Stretch goal reached! We snuck our standard rules into our games last year, and talked about it here.
DotR Group

Death on the Rocks – our new game for 2015

Our plans for 2016

  • Improve the website, again. Maintaining a website is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge. By the time you finish, you need to start over. So we still have a few things that need sorting, and we want make it as attractive to visitors as possible.
  • Improve sales by exploring reviews or advertising.
  • Get the free Way out West in front of more people. We think seeing our games is a good selling point, and we’ve got some ideas for that.
  • Update Death on the Gambia and Curse of the Pharaoh. They’re both popular games, but they need an update to the new format.
  • Publish new games if possible. We have some games in the pipeline, but none of them are that close to publication right now. So we’re not making any promises for 2016 (we want to concentrate elsewhere). If it happens, it happens.

Looking back at 2014

So it’s that time of year again when we look back at the past twelve months and review how we did. We did this for 2013, and now it’s time for 2014.

Sales overall – a bit flat

2014 was overall a bit flat for us – a rise of just over 1%. However, that figure hides quite a bit of good news, as although the first few months were generally very bad, since the beginning of September our sales picked up and showed typically 10-20% year-on-year growth.

Hopefully that trend will continue into 2015.

We believe that the improvement is down to two things: first, we’ve improved our website and made it more user-friendly (and thus search-engine friendly). Second, Google changed it’s algorithms again. A couple of years ago Google changed their algorithm and penalized low-quality websites. Unfortunately it seems that they were a bit over-zealous and we might have been caught by that change. Last year they re-tweaked their algorithms and we appear to be one of the beneficiaries. Hopefully future tweaks will only be to our benefit!

Best selling games

Once again, our best selling games were Way out West (by some way), then Casino Fatale, and followed by Hollywood Lies. The overall levels of sales were broadly the same as for 2013, with Casino Fatale dropping a bit. Overall, the top three games accounted for 28% of our sales.

Way out West goes Steampunk

Way out West – our best-selling game of 2014

We believe that Way out West’s popularity is boosted as it’s our free game – so presumably customers are upgrading to the paid version when they want to add more players. One thing we could do to test that is to change the free game, and that’s something we may think about in the future.

New and updated games

Murder on the Dance Floor

Murder on the Dance Floor – one of our two new games for 2014

We published two new games in 2014: Death on the Dancefloor and A Speakeasy Murder. We also updated one of our older games, Murder at Sea (originally All at Sea), bringing it into line with our current format.

Sales of A Speakeasy Murder have started strongly, and in 2015 it may be challenging Hollywood Lies for a top three position.

Doubling our newsletter’s readership

In 2014 we doubled the readership of our newsletter, which was its best growth for a long time. By signing up to our newsletter you also get to download our free copy of Way out West, which no doubt helps explains some of the growth!

Improving the website

Last year we identified that we needed to improve our website and as a result we:

  • Made a few cosmetic changes (including more photos) and rearranged the layout to make it more friendly.
  • Changed the site header to the montage photograph when testing proved that it was more effective than a testimonial.
  • Added a page for customers new to our games.
  • Updated the FAQ and pulled it all into one place (it was tucked around in different places before).
    combined the stories and pictures pages into a single page, which makes them easier to see (and avoids duplicating content which can be a search-engine black mark).
  • Kept the blog going fairly consistently for most of the year, but towards the end of the year Real Life got away from me and I was unable to update is as much as I liked. I’m hoping to be a bit more regular again in 2015.

Overall the website changes seem to have worked, so I think that’s a success.

Looking back at our plans for 2014

We set ourselves some goals this time last year. Here’s how we did:

  • Get the website into a healthier place: Overall traffic was flat, but that hides a dip in the early part of 2014 and an encouraging upward trend since the start of September. So hopefully that will continue.
  • Publish Murder on the Dancefloor and A Speakeasy Slaughter: success. We thought we might get Death on the Rocks published as well, but that has slipped.
  • Update All at Sea: success, and now published as Murder at Sea.
  • Mo and I talked about possibly getting together one weekend to write a game (a bit like Peaky), but that didn’t happen and it was always optional.

Looking forward to 2015

Our plans for 2015 include:

  • Continuing to improve the website, and keep an eye on its performance.
  • Publish Death on the Rocks.
  • Update Hollywood Lies, bringing it into line with our current format.
  • Publish our standard rules. Our outstanding action from the feedback we received last May was to prepare standard rules that can be shared and sent out in advance. We’re well on the way with this.

Here’s looking forward to a good 2015 for Freeform Games!

2013 in review

So how was 2013 for Freeform Games?

Actually, it wasn’t great. Sales were down by about 20% in 2013 compared to 2012. In fact, it was our worst year since 2005. Ouch! Affiliate sales were particularly badly hit and were down about 40%.

We believe that much of this is thanks to Google’s latest algorithm updates. Over the last couple of years Google has been “improving” the quality of its search results, and it has been targetting spammy websites and other “black hat” search engine tricks. We’ve not employed any black-hat tricks, but we think we’ve been caught in the wash.

So we’re trying to improve our website (you’ve probably seen the redesign), both from our visitors’ perspective, and Google’s. And as Facebook becomes more important, we’re being more active on Facebook. But we’ve still got a lot to learn.Way out West - one of our top selling games of 2013

Highlights of 2013

  • Our stalwarts continue to sell well – Casino Fatale, Way out West, Hollywood Lies. Pirates seem to have lost their lustre; A Dead Man’s Chest used to be one of our more popular games, but appears to have fallen from favour. We need Disney to reinvigorate Pirates of the Caribbean!

  • We published one new game, Lord and Lady Westing’s Will in 2013.

  • We’ve continued our Facebook page, and I think we’re starting to get the hang of it now. We see Facebook as a place where you can contact us easily, and where we can ask questions and post things that interest us that we think might interest you.

  • We started this blog! And we’ve posted over thirty times – roughly once a fortnight. We see this blog as an opportunity to talk about our games in a bit more detail than on Facebook.

  • We also now sell games in multiple currencies – US $ and Euros as well as good old pounds, shillings and pence. So now if you are buying our games from the USA or Europe, you know exactly how much you’ll be paying.

Things we should do better

  • Playtests – we didn’t run any playtests ourselves in 2013, partly because A Speakeasy Slaughter wasn’t quite ready. But we did commission three that others ran for us – two of Murder on the Dancefloor and one of A Speakeasy Slaughter.

  • Unlike our Facebook page, our Google+ page isn’t anywhere near as popular. Google+ is a different audience – we probably need to think about how we make the best use of G+, instead of simply reposting everything that we post on Facebook.

  • Pinterest – we’re on Pinterest, but not really so that you’d know it.  We need to do better.

  • Twitter – we have a Twitter feed, which currently echoes our Facebook page. But it’s another way that you can get in touch with us.

Looking forward into 2014

  • First priority has to be to get the website into healthier place. We need to get it re-liked by Google, and we also need to make sure it’s visitor-friendly.Playing Casino Fatale

  • We are hoping to publish two games in 2014: Murder on the Dancefloor and A Speakeasy Slaughter. We might also get Death on the Rocks out as well.

  • We’ll update All at Sea, bringing it into line with our recent games.

  • Mo and I may get together one weekend to see if we can write a game together, a bit like Peaky. If that’s a success, we’ll do more of them and that may mean we can publish more games each year.

  • And we’d love to hear from you – what do you think we should be doing in 2014? Or what should we stop doing?