About two days after release I posted an AMA on reddit expecting a small boost for our metrics. Instead we ended up having the 50th most successful reddit AMA of all time, collecting 35,800 upvotes and rocketing to the #1 spot on the reddit front page and sticking around up there for about 11 hours. (Here’s a link in case you missed it.)
There will be three posts in this series (Part 1 – The Failed Post, Part 2 – The Successful Post, and Part 3 – The Business Impact)
The Successful Post
In the last chapter I explained that our first AMA post was taken down due to an error with the subreddit moderation bot, and that the mods of r/iAma were gracious enough to allow us a ‘second chance.’ I think this actually ended up working in our favor, since I do not believe the original post would have performed as well as the second one did (how could it, really?). However, at the time I was pretty bummed out about it, and with all of the other stresses on release day I just didn’t feel up to try again the next morning. I took one frustrated day off of reddit, and resolved to post again as soon as I felt up for it.
I woke up around 8:30 AM two days after release, checked reddit, and saw that there was already an AMA on the front page, this one from Gorrillaz. I remember feeling pretty jealous… “Dang, that’s going to take attention away from our AMA.” I admit there was a part of me that was bitter that big acts like The Gorrilaz can post with impunity and never be questioned, but there seemed to be so much resistance to an independent developer doing the same. In retrospect, I think this is another thing that worked in our favor, our art style isn’t so dissimilar from theirs (and in fact one of our artists was very much inspired by their branding) so we may have gotten some positive spillover from their AMA on to ours.
I put the AMA up at around 9:00 AM and started answering questions. About an hour later, I was browsing reddit waiting for responses and saw that we were on the front page. At first I couldn’t believe it! “It must be because of the subs I am subscribed to”, I thought… so I logged out. Lo and behold it was still there, sitting pretty at #3 on the front page! It was extremely sudden and unexpected. I was so surprised, I hadn’t even had time to notify my partner that the AMA had been posted. I frantically called him, “We’re on the front page of reddit.” That’s some pretty great news to get in the morning two days after your game releases. Just a few minutes later we would be the #1 item at the top of the front page. Wow! Our AMA actually received more attention than The Gorrillaz AMA did, something I never would have imagined was possible!
I had foolishly pledged in my original post to answer every single question, no matter how aggressive or mean it was, and I intended to make sure that promise was kept, so Danny and I went to work, all day… answering every single question, which ended up being well in excess of a thousand.
The pace was intense, it all felt VERY important, and of course in terms of our business it really was. The questions were coming in faster than we could answer them, even with both of us going at full speed. I couldn’t believe the sheer volume of it. At one moment I glanced up at my inbox and say I had over six hundred unread messages. By the end of it my hands were trembling, and I became acutely aware that I hadn’t even eaten the entire day, WHOOPS! When the post finally fell off the front page I was relieved that it was over, which is pretty dumb if you think about it!
Danny and I worked literally 11 hours straight answering questions on reddit before we were able to catch up to all the questions. They continued to trail in for the next several days as people left additional comments ‘after the fact’ as well. To make it even more stressful, I was actually fielding technical support inquiries from users during much the AMA as well.
The comments in general were extremely positive (see for yourself) , but here are some common themes.
How did you get started?
This question came up quite a few times, I think a lot of our traffic was generated by other people interested in becoming game developers.
What advice do you have for new developers?
This was another very common question, and one which I never quite felt qualified to answer fully. However, I made sure to mention finite-state machines and tweening algorithms and pointing people towards this video (It’s a talk on game-feel by Vlambeer.)
People asking about the game itself, or just complimenting us on the game.
There were plenty of these, probably the vast majority of comments were just like “Wow, That’s awesome! What will you do next? :)”
You guys are just shills, spamming our subreddits and blabla etc…
This was a VERY rare response, maybe 4 people in the entire AMA left comments like this. However, it was a pretty interesting thing to have people say, because the only supporting evidence for such a claim would have been our previous AMA (which was taken down.) The people that made this complaint would have had to skip the text of our original post, and then search through our post history for the old blacklisted post looking for trouble, essentially.
These people literally saw our AMA and then immediately started looking through our post history for ‘dirt’ on us without even reading it first. Some people really want to believe in the villain narrative… speaking of which…
Vietnamese Click botters…
One intrepid fellow decided that we were backed by some kind of click-bot farm and that there is no way the post made its way to the front page on its own. I guess this type of thing is getting more and more common on reddit these days, but you’ll just have to trust us. We are all natural! To be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to start for that kind of thing. If only it were so easy!
Random Trolly Crap (How big is your dick? Why do you suck so much? etc..)
Some people are just gonna troll no matter what. I decided to take the opportunity to engage with them and have a little bit of fun while also answering their trolly questions as honestly as possible. I think the best way to handle stuff like this is head on, or just ignore it! But I had already said I would answer every question and damned if I would break my promise to THE PEOPLE so ignoring them wasn’t really an option. One guy declared a vendetta against us for some reason and began spamming our forums with trollisms prompting a forum ban. Some people just want to watch the world burn I guess…
How Did This Happen?
Alright, this is the million dollar question. Why? Why this post, out of all the posts up there on any given day? To be honest, I can’t give a definitive answer, it is as much a mystery to me as anyone else. However, we can perhaps shed some light on factors that may have contributed to our success.
Not long after the AMA, Danny began doing research on just ‘how’ unlikely such a success was, because he’s weirdly curious about things like this. He ended up finding this blog post from datastories. The article is pretty in depth, and definitely worth a read… but here’s the tldr; The ‘ideal’ reddit post with the highest likelihood of hitting the front page and staying there as long as possible has the following qualities:
- Posted around 9:00 AM
- A text based post (not a link)
- Contains a number in the headline
- Either OVERLY positive, or OVERLY negative subject matter.
- Contains a ‘positive’ headline (as opposed to a neutral or negative headline)
- Contains an image (This tends to give more upvotes but stay on the front page for LESS time.)
- Text posts get more comments and stay on the front page longer.
- From one of the following subreddits (funny, pics, gifs, todayilearned, gaming)
I want to stress here that we found this article after the AMA was already over. However, as you can see, it would be believable for us to claim we used the post as a guide. We fulfilled every criteria on that list that we possibly could (obviously an AMA cannot be submitted to the listed subreddits, and it cannot be an ‘image post’ because… it’s an AMA.) So yeah, dumb luck, a complete coincidence! Also the fact that our story happens to coincide very nicely with what reddit ‘wants’ to see.
I got the impression that many of the commenters dreamed of making their own game one day, that they were our ‘target audience’ in that they were predisposed to being interested in the story we were trying to tell. Of course, our story was already pretty positive, and warranted a positive headline… and I think announcing in advance that we were planning on answering every single question was a very good idea since it generated a lot of participation. My inkling is that a lot of people that might have skipped on the AMA or maybe just not left a comment changed their mind when they saw how many questions we were answering. For once, they could be guaranteed that their question really was going to get a response. I also suspect that Reddit uses comments in its placing algorithm, so the fact that we were getting a LOT of engagement must have helped us climb faster and stay relevant for longer. The average time a post spends on the front page is about 4.5 hours, but we were there for over 11, so we must have been doing something right!
As far as placing a number in the headline and posting it at the ‘exact’ right time… well that’s just a complete coincidence, since we didn’t know about that beforehand… but it seems like as good a place to start as any.
Finally, not to toot our own horn here but… the game is good, the trailer looks good, it is engaging, it looks professional. We were in the right place, at the right time, with the right product! Surely, there is a ton of luck involved in something like this though, that’s something we recognize.
The next installment of this blog-series will discuss the business impact of the reddit AMA. Just how effective is it to get to the front page of reddit? How much engagement does it generate? How many sales does it translate into? How many resources in terms of time and energy is it worth devoting to ‘the dream’ of hitting the front page as an indie dev? The answer may surprise you!
However, I want to prepare you guys for a bit of a wait here. We don’t want to release even generalized financial information about RotR quite yet. There will likely be a few articles on other topics before the next one in this series. Perhaps we’ll even start telling you a bit about the next project we’ve been cooking up!