Whispering Willows is an adventure, horror themed game that features a dark and rich narrative, beautiful 2-D visuals, and haunting melodies that will leave you yearning for more. The game has released for OUYA, Windows, Linux, and Mac. The emotional story will unfold over four riveting chapters, each more intriguing than the last. The story will immerse you in a rich history steeped in the depths of the human soul as you solve the mysteries of wayward spirits. You will assume the role of a young girl named Elena as she searches for her missing father, against challenging odds, working through unconventional puzzles and bypassing other-worldly obstacles. She must harness the powers of her heritage, utilizing astral projection and other ethereal abilities to find her father before he, too becomes lost to the hopeless morass of the Willows estate.
This week, we talked to David Logan, the CEO of Akupara Games, to discuss their approach to publishing and some of the ways they get creative with the titles they work with. David shared some insights on marketing as an indie publisher as well as some advice for an indie game developer looking to partner with a publisher.
My name is David Logan, and I’m the CEO of Akupara Games. We’re an indie game studio based out of Los Angeles.
We do video game development, marketing, publishing, and recently, we’ve been doing a lot of porting as well.
My first game was out of college, and it is called Whispering Willows. I really wanted to create my own game, so I sort of just, went for it. I formed a team with all of my college buddies, and we started not fully knowing what we were doing
There was a console called OUYA, which was an indie-focused, Android-based gaming console that was around for a few years. They ran a Kickstarter and one of the reward tiers was a development kit and assistance getting set up with their platform.
I backed that Kickstarter, and then we entered one of OUYA’s contests to develop a game jam prototype, which later became Whispering Willows.
We won one of the awards in the game jam, and it was very positively received. From the experience and the positive reception, we went on to run a successful Kickstarter for Whispering Willows, and we decided to continue forward with the full development of the game.
With Whispering Willows, we tried various routes to get the game out and it released initially on Steam.
We did not have any marketing plan in place; we literally just launched the game. Of course, we all know how well that goes.
With Whispering Willows and some of our other titles, we tried working with a handful of publishers and marketing teams.
There were elements that were positive, but we realized there was a lot lacking from our experience working with them: from both the process of actively marketing the game and then the issues that came up post-launch.
Overall, there was a lack of creativity.
We felt that a lot of the publishers that we worked with used really cookie cutter campaigns that they probably did for every single other project, and there just wasn’t a lot of variety or outside of the box thinking with the stuff they worked on.
The other thing was just the lack of passion.
Throughout all of these early games we developed, it felt like a lot of the publishers and marketing teams just assigned people to our project, but they didn’t truly care about the project.
The people that were assigned had no choice in the matter, it was just a job for them. Those essentially became the two founding principles that I wanted to improve upon.
I started Akupara Games to really be able to bring the same passion that developers have when creating their games.
I thought, “Why not bring camaraderie and passion to marketing and distribution?” It doesn’t need to be looked at as some external team you’re bringing on board to help you, but really as additional members that become part of your team.
One of things we wanted to do, and are now doing 2 ½ years into at Akupara, is that we’re still very actively supporting our titles from a couple of years ago.
Every month, I’m still looking for new opportunities and new ways to get exposure for those older games as well as our current titles. That’s something I would love to see with more emerging publishers.
As with most marketing, it’s first identifying what’s unique about the game – what are some of the key points that we can hit on?
It’s really just looking at all the attributes of the game, understanding what people like and are resonating with, and then trying to think up unique ideas.
It’s brainstorming a ton of ideas, cutting out ninety percent of them, and then going with the strongest ones.
For instance, with Desert Child, one of the key parts to the game is that you need to survive in this world and you have to eat food in order to do that. One of the main foods introduced in the beginning of the game that you continue to see throughout is ramen
People were really resonating with the ramen. It wasn’t even necessarily one of the highlights of the game, but it became one of the things that we focused on because it was so positively received.
So one of the ideas that we had, which unfortunately didn’t work out, was to have a pop-up ramen truck at E3 2018. When people––press in particular––came by the booth and played the game, they could get a ticket and go to the pop-up ramen shop and redeem it for some ramen
We were also looking into renting a ramen shop in town and inviting a bunch of press there.
Another thing that we did do was that we built an arcade machine around Desert Child.
Desert Child has an arcade-like feel to a lot of the gameplay, so we took an old Virtua Tennis arcade cabinet that we bought from an auction, and we completely restored it. We added in new monitors, actual computers, new buttons, and joysticks.It took way longer than I could’ve ever imagined, but it was all worth it.
After several months of working on it, we debuted it at E3 and it was a huge hit. We were in an area where there were a bunch of indies, and most of the indies just had TVs or computers on desks.
Then we came in with this bright, beautiful, loud arcade machine in the center of all of it, and it drove so much traffic and we had such positive reception from it.
The year before that, we had Star Vikings––a game about Vikings in space––at E3, so we had two giant guys around 6’6 dressed up as Vikings with space visors on. They were carrying around signs advertising the game.
They were having fun interacting with people and walking around outside of the convention. It was maybe a $500 idea, but we got some great video content out of it. Tons of people came by our booth, and we were featured in many videos on social media and a couple press videos.
It was a relatively cheap marketing expense for something that’s very memorable and that people can get behind to get excited about.
For each of the campaigns we’ve done, we’ve thought of tons of ideas, but we’ve tried to execute at least two or three of what we call “viral ideas.”
Maybe they actually become viral or maybe they don’t, but it’s at least an interesting talking point. If it’s at a convention, then it’s something that brings extra attention to the booth, and gets people talking about it.
As an indie team, we have limited bandwidth and budget for our projects. Indie Boost has been great, because we can focus our outreach efforts on our established connections, while Indie Boost supplements our efforts by getting our game into the hands of many more media outlets and influencers.
When we ran our recent Desert Child campaign, Indie Boost helped us not only find a wider audience, but made tracking and managing everything easy.
When we pick up a game that we’re going to publish, we have our team all decide if they want to work on it or not. It’s okay if not every person resonates with it; that just means that we’ll put someone else on the project instead.
The teams that we put on our games are the people who are most excited about the project, who really want to put in hundreds of hours, learning about the game and understanding every little detail.
For instance, our CMO, Yoonsang, and I have this constant competition over who is the better Desert Child player. It’s obviously me, Yoonsang will always be #2 on our games.
I really feel like our team for publishing is a team that will stay up late at night and work on weekends––not because we have tons of work––but just because we’re excited to do more for the projects that we’re a part of and see where it will go
We’re pretty open to most genres as long as they’re innovative and do something different.
We like to see a unique element that hasn’t been done before, or maybe it has been done before but improves on a previous game, and does it better.
We are more console and PC focused, with an internal studio that does the ports for the titles that we work on. So for the titles that we pick up, we’re generally looking at titles that are PC first, then Akupara does the Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox ports. I think mobile is a nice secondary and we will do mobile for the title as well if it is a good fit.
We’re going to be looking at more games that appeal to streamers just in terms of how the game is built and structured––maybe slightly shorter play sessions or greater replayability.
We’re looking at games that would provide a good opportunity for Twitch or Mixer extensions, just to add that extra incentive for the games to be streamed in general and for people to watch the games.
A lot of it is the personality of the team. We’re looking for teams that we want to work with long term, that we like as people. If we meet them at conventions, we want a team we can have a fun time with: to be able to grab a drink or a meal with them.
What’s great is that we’re already seeing teams that we’ve worked with coming back to us again and wanting to work with us on more games in the future.
I would rather have a handful of teams that we work with over and over and over because I feel like you’re coming back and supporting them and their products in an even a bigger way.
If you’re representing their whole library or a few games in their library, you have an even stronger connection.
As a publisher that focuses on different genres, it’s sometimes harder to retain fans as a publisher just because it’s all these different kinds of games. However, by getting multiple games from the same developers, that definitely helps retain a following.
I think a game studio’s community is one of the most important things to build and establish and maintain. The more you’re able to keep your audience coming back, the more guaranteed sales for your next product.
Even though we do look at different kinds of genres and different kinds of games, we are always actively thinking about what will resonate well with our different communities for our games.
I think the first things to do is identifying your game, really understanding what your game is about, and deciding what you want and need out of a partnership.
For instance, maybe you only care about financing––you don’t mind if your game has a lackluster marketing effort––you just want to finish your game and you want a publisher that’s going to finance it.
Well, then you’re going to be looking for a publisher that, maybe doesn’t have the best marketing presence, but has investor capital and finances that they can invest and put in whatever it is that you need to finish your title.
Maybe your game is ninety percent done, you don’t need any more money, but you don’t know anything about marketing and really want the best exposure and have it be as successful as possible. You’re going to be looking into different publishers that maybe have more strengths in their marketing campaigns.
A lot of it is finding publishers that you mesh well with in terms of personality, but you should also consider factors like where they’re located and their time zone.
Once you’ve identified publishers that you think would be great, you should reach out to the developers who have worked with them before and ask what it’s like working with them.
You can ask developers if they’ll take a 30-minute call to talk you through some of the pros and cons, as many indie developers are willing to share their their candid feedback for things like this.
In my opinion, that’s the best way to be sure about a publisher before you sign. I don’t think you should sign anything until you’ve done that, just in case there are any red flags that you’ve missed.
The one thing I would say that we’re not able to do as a publisher right now is the financing part, so getting to a point where we can have a reserve of cash that we can put towards these games is something I’m looking forward to.
The biggest thing that we’d like to do is become a kind of pub fund, where we we establish a fund for indies.
We could take on many titles at once and really scale up what we’re doing now with the same creativity and passion, but through multiple teams on more projects at once.
Indie Boost is proud to be part of Akupara’s marketing and influencer outreach efforts. We’ve helped boost the launches of both Little Bug and Desert Child.
Verified content creators and press on Indie Boost can also request keys and interviews from Akupara through their game pages. Check out the games they have listed on the platform:
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