What I learned from topping several categories


This week, after being on itch.io since December, Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle (chapter 1) suddenly saw a surge in views, plays and downloads. The surge was large enough initially to put the game at the top spot of several categories, including "RPG Maker/Web" and "HTML5/RPG Maker".

As the day went on, the game almost topped the general "RPG Maker" category, and placed very high in various others, including the general "games" category.

Right now it's still seeing almost as many views and plays in the days that have followed.

To say that this was a surprise is a hell of an understatement, so I thought I'd do a quick post to talk about what I learned.

You can't predict a surprise, even with the best tools

This came totally out of the blue. It didn't follow any specific post, no-one picked up a tweet, the game wasn't streamed by someone prominent (as far as I'm able to work out). The only theory I had was that the Ace Attorney trilogy recently came out... But I don't think that really explains it.

I have the analytics on Itch, but I also have Google Analytics, and my prior work as an indie Kindle author means I've spent quite a bit of time understanding how those work, to try and find lead generators and pin down referrers. In this case, I can't find a single cause. You might, in this case, expect to see a thousand users following a single link from YouTube, or Twitter, or something... But my referrers before and after the surge are similar; there are just more people.

Placement begets placement - and it's an upwards flexing curve

This should come as no surprise to anyone, but category placement is self-reinforcing - i.e. if you get to the top 10 of a category, you get more views - and as you go up, place-by-place, you get even more. The jump, then, from 50th to 8th is pretty big, and once I hit 1st in some categories I got a big bump too.

Then again, that makes sense. How often do you navigate to Google's second page of matches? How often do you navigate to the fourth?

Categories are definitely not created equal

This is similar to what I know about stores like the iOS AppStore; namely that the main categories (Games, Games/Web, Games/HTML5, Games/Free) see far more traffic of users than the smaller categories (such as RPG Maker/Web) - to the point where being in the top 50 of the general "games" category will net you more views than in a smaller category.

I guess you want to categorise yourself in both popular and relevant categories, which leads me onto...

Category choice is important

This is a useful one, and might be part of the reason for this. A few weeks ago, I recategorised the game on Itch, because idly I clicked on some of my categories/keywords and found that some of them were very obscure. For instance, one of them was "courtroom-drama", because being an author, this is a reasonable genre listing for fiction - however, this term isn't really used for videogames (as there are very few games which are courtroom dramas; Ace Attorney, Danganronpa, that Harvey Birdman Wii game... I guess KOTOR had a courtroom bit?) - so I switched that out for a different keyword.

It only took 10 minutes to find which of my keywords were kinda useless, and change them up for more relevant ones. They're still apt; like I didn't shunt the game into categories where it didn't belong, I just found categories that people actually used that were more suitable.

If you build it, they will come?

This seems obvious, perhaps, but still...

Like I said above, I've self-published books in Kindle, and being an indie author, doing PR is almost as much a part of the job as the writing. Books aren't a terribly visual medium, so it can be difficult to build an audience. You could write a pretty good book, but it just gets lost amid the hundreds that appear on Amazon every day. You have to shout loud or you just sink.

With Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle, I made it because it was something I wanted to make, to understand if it was possible. I've always wanted to write an anime; that's kinda how I see NALE, btw - but that's not really a viable goal for an individual. With NALE, I thought I could create something that had the narrative feel of an anime, built in a game engine.

As a result, I focused on just making it the best I could make it, within a scheduled timeframe for the work, and uploaded it. I made a few posts here-and-there on RPG Maker forums and my Twitter, but I didn't engage in any paid advertising. It was never important to me that NALE reached a huge number of people; I just hoped a few users would try it, play it, enjoy it, and that would be something. Maybe I'd learn something from the experience.

Then I woke up earlier in the week, refreshed my browser, and saw a huge spike in my analytics that dwarfed prior numbers. Suddenly I was getting new followers what seemed like every hour, instead of 1-2 every week. Nina's reached thousands of people at this point.

It's restored some of my faith in the idea that ultimately, the project is its own PR.

Wrapping this up

All I can say to you all is thankyou. A few thousand hits might not mean a lot to some sites, or "influencers" with millions of subscribers, but it means the world to me to understand that you guys got something out of the work I put in.

Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle II: Broken Wings is on the way, and will feature a multi-day case, with an explorable city, crime-scene investigation and more!

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