One of the things that amazes me is how my memory has changed everything. I think of A Speakeasy Murder as one of our newer games, but it’s now over seven years old! And was it really in 2009 when we published The Karma Club?
One of our customers, Peal, got in touch with us recently to share with us a site they had prepared for lockdown Murder at Sea with 20 guests.
We’re really impressed – it’s a great way to set the scene for your online murder mystery party.
They built their site using Google sites. I’m not sure if they used one of the templates or if they built it from scratch (possibly the Event template). Other free website builders are available.
Murder at Sea – Home page
This is the home page. They’ve used an image of a suitable liner and included our introductory text from the game. They also included a couple of checklists.
Before the Party Checklist
Read your character description and (if possible) print out your abilities.
Read the rules to understand how to use items and abilities.
Ensure Zoom is working on your computer (Phones may be hard)
Ensure Google Hangouts is working on your computer.
You can check this by going to the map page and clicking one of the rooms in the ship.
On the Day
Reread your character details again!
Do you have?
A snazzy outfit and your character prepped
Phone and Laptop Charger
Then head on over to The Great Staircase and join the Zoom Meeting (Murder at Sea starts with the lights going out and Captain Bayard being shot – I don’t know how they staged that.)
This page contains the locations where the game will be played. The Great Staircase is the main Zoom location – that’s where the party will start. (Note that Zoom has a 40 minute time limit if you don’t have the paid version. Jitsi is a free alternative, but lacks some of the features that Zoom has.)
The other 11 locations (The Dining Room, a First Class Cabin, an Empty Deck and so on) are all Google Hangouts that the players can use to have private conversations.
(I’ve explained how you can set up Google Hangouts in this way at the bottom of the page.)
On this page, everyone can get access to the information about their character.
This is our cast list – it’s our cast list pdf embedded in the page.
So for example, clicking on Christina Younger takes you to the page below:
The three links on this page (Items, Abilities, Character Description) all go to protected Google Drive folders that the host has set up. Access has been shared with the relevant player only, so only they have access.
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.
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.
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.
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!
All at Sea was our second murder mystery game and is written by Chris Boote. Apart from amending a couple of errors we haven’t really touched it at all since its release in 2002.
However, since then we’ve changed our game layout (more than once!) and as All at Sea is one of our more popular games, we thought it was worth bringing it up to date.
The most obvious change is it’s title. All at Sea is now Murder at Sea. We changed it’s name for two reasons. The first is that Murder at Sea is a better description of what the game is about, and the second is that putting “murder” in the title of the game helps the search engines realise that our site is about murder mystery games. (If you cast your eye over our current range, that might not jump out at you, and we may may one or two similar changes in the future.)
Here are some of the other changes we’ve made:
We’ve added a detective to Murder at Sea – Aggie Marbles (who first appeared in Dazzled to Death / The Night Before Christmas). Aggie is 26 in Murder at Sea, and we’ve written a solution to the murder for her to read out at the end of the party.
With Aggie added to the game, Murder at Sea now needs 17 players as a minimum.
We’ve reformatted the character sheets. Each is now 8 pages long, including rules and abilities, so that you can now print it in booklet format.
All of the characters now have three abilities – originally they had only two. Our modern games all give our characters three abilities, and we’ve used our current ability template which helps them be consistent across our games (at least, those that we have updated, anyway!)
Each character now has a Clue. Previously everyone only had a Secret, but now we’ve given everyone a Clue as well.
Items and cash now have graphics to go with them.
We’ve changed the cash from pounds sterling to dollars, on the basis that the ship flies an American flag and has just sailed from New York. (I guess in reality they would use both on board, but to keep things simple we’ve just gone with dollars.)
The stewards and stewardesses now have first aid kits. That means that players can get medical attention from another player rather than the host.
We’ve tweaked a few of the characters to give them a little bit more background and to help draw them into the game better.