27 Nov 14

Interacting with enemies on mobile devices

With Desktop Dungeons making the move to mobile, we’ve had to spend a considerable amount of time optimizing it to run on lower spec hardware (yes, some of our initial code is … inefficient …), but we’ve also had to take a long, hard look at how players would interact with the game without the ability to mouse over something.

We can’t have you simply click on an enemy to attack it, since in DD knowing how much damage you’re going to do (and take!) is essential. Unfortunately the way our current ‘selected’ enemy panel works just doesn’t take mobile into account.

So we’ve decided to redesign it.


Early on in the redesign, we realised we needed a two step process: Select Action, and then Do Action. This let’s you see what the outcome of doing the action would be, including damage taken, mana spent, etc. You know … like DD does right now when you mouse over an enemy. So all our designs had some sort of ‘Action’ button.


We toyed around with various ideas of smooth scrolling lists, and action buttons. We put things where the enemies currently display their effects, and we mentally played the game in different situations, to think about how it would handle.



In the end we settled on a ‘drawer’ that could be pulled out from the side of the screen, giving you all the in-combat options you might want. It doesn’t obscure the enemy status effects all the time, it can pull out as far as is necessary to show you all your options, and we even built in some ‘quick use’ slots that you can access without pulling the drawer out.


Once we actually get time to throw some art at it, I think it’ll look as good as it feels to play with.

20 Nov 14

Working UI Harder, Better, Faster.

We’re hard at work on the monumental task of getting Desktop Dungeons to mobile platforms. A large part of this is re-approaching whole chunks of the user interface (UI) and reshuffling the information to deliver it more cleanly, particularly without mouseover information. Specifically things like the altar panel, that window that pops up to select and compare boons when you’re worshipping a god.


Aaaand that is one of the problems; it’s a pop up. It’s the only large, dungeon-obscuring, pop up of interaction within the dungeon experience. When we originally built it, this didn’t seem like too much of a problem. This panel has a lot of information and you’re comparing several items to each other; there are effects, prices, and interactions to consider. We built it large and added that sweet portrait art to flavour it accordingly. I’m not even sure if we knew it would be the only time we used this large pop up to deliver information when we built it. Either way, over time it has grown into a pet-hate, so while we’re under the hood, we have to take the chance to make it better; deliver this information smarter.

Making UI smarter is not easy; reorganising information in an information-heavy game like this, particularly with the tight size constraints that we have in place, can be pretty intensive. It  takes more iterations to achieve smarter design; balancing flavour against essential information, determining which aspects are really critical and which aspects might be summarized visually. Should the altar be made of stone? Can we fit the boon names in less space without making it feel like just a list? Can we integrate it into the book effectively?

Rough Altar Images

So we explore this visually as well as conceptually until we settle on a design that works. Then we proceed to make it pretty with artness (the icons for the individual boons are still in process, excuse the placeholders.)


Which also goes through a couple of iterations of refinement.


Until eventually we’re happy enough to build it in game.

New Altar Panel

I imagine there must be people for whom this process comes more intuitively, designers  who have less of a process of elimination in their process. UI is one of those areas of design that becomes more intangible and invisible as it gets better. We’re not there yet, but we’re significantly closer than we were.


23 Oct 14

Steam curation: One month in

It’s been a month since Steam’s game discovery systems got a major overhaul, this is the impact that it’s had on Desktop Dungeons. Please note that this is only a single source of data.

Our daily revenue doubled


Desktop Dungeons sales graph

Desktop Dungeons sales graph

What you’re looking at there is an otherwise reasonably flat and stable long tail from a game that’s nearly a year old. Desktop Dungeons was earning an average of $200 a day before, since the 23rd it’s been earning double that. And no, we haven’t run any promotions or had incredible new press that might explain the hike – traffic on our site hasn’t seen a similar rise, so this is all Steam.

Those sales are the result of increased visibility. Desktop Dungeons is being shown to more people on Steam than it was before. It’s also being shown to people that are more likely to be interested in the game. When Desktop Dungeons launched, 1,015,643 people saw it featured on the front page, 4,196 of them clicked on the image and ended up on the game’s individual page, we can calculate a click-through percentage from that at 0.41% – that’s actually not bad, a web advertising campaign with a rate like that would be good.

This last month Desktop Dungeons’ capsule graphics have been seen by 1,730,564 people resulting in 120,455 visits to the game’s page. That’s an astonishing 6.96% of viewers clicking through to read more about the game! It’s 17 times better than our launch interest, which is when games typically command the most attention. I don’t think I can really state how huge that difference is, and we didn’t have to do anything to get it.

Taking your turn at the firehose

The Steam front page is still the major source of traffic. It supplied just over 700 000 impressions since the 23rd (41% of our total impressions).  52 000 of those people visited the game’s page (43% of our total views) which puts the click-through rate around 7.4%. Part of the changes to Steam mean that more games are getting front page time, but they’re getting that time in front of less people who are more likely to be interested in the games they’re seeing. It seems to be working.

There’s honestly no way that Desktop Dungeons would be on the front page for anyone right now without these changes. It’s also much more selectively targeted than it used to be, I think the game’s tags combined with our good review scores (93% positive reviews out of 530+) mean that Steam’s algorithms have a good handle on the game. While that in itself doesn’t mean the game’s matching its launch sales, it’s doing a lot better than it did last month.


Desktop Dungeons impressions - views of the game's capsule graphic

Desktop Dungeons impressions – views of the game’s capsule graphic

More like this queue please

Interestingly enough, our next largest source of visits are other game pages, although this took some figuring out: 30% of our total visits come from just 3.1% of our total views at a whopping 65.6% click-through rate. That turned out to be a little too good: The incredible views (33,000 of them) come from the Discovery Queue, which doesn’t seem to track impressions in the data. The only source of impressions comes from the More Like This entry, so it could be that there’s either a set of impressions missing (probably because the queue doesn’t display a capsule graphic), or the queue’s impressions are rolled into More Like This. Either way, it’s not like those views are going to evaporate if the data gets better.

The Discovery Queue also seems to be at the root of another thing we noticed after Steam went blue: More people have Desktop Dungeons on their wishlists now. The Discovery Queue makes it super easy to click through to a new game and wishlist it so that you can keep discovering new stuff.


Desktop Dungeons game page views

Desktop Dungeons game page views

Recommendation beats curation

Curator recommendations supply 84,000 views and 2,600 visits. Their 3.17% click-through rate is better than our launch rate, but the front page and game recommendations are simply better. Desktop Dungeons is in a few respected curated lists, the largest being Rock-Paper-Shotgun and the comments are universally positive, so the game is definitely curated. We might see an increase in traffic from lists in the future, but I suspect that recommendation algorithms filtering lists might be the thing that makes that happen. “Recommended for you from this list” should at least be a viewing option there.

Curators probably affect your sales more directly when featured on your game’s page with good blurbs, or when players recognize a curator that they feel carries weight for them. Disabling all the curated lists on a game’s page would be an interesting experiment to run.


A particularly confusing Desktop Dungeons screenshot, because you expect me not to?

A particularly confusing Desktop Dungeons screenshot, because you expect me not to?

So what about new games?

I’m not sure how newly released games are going to benefit from recommendation systems while their reviews and tags are being populated by users. Desktop Dungeons had the benefit of being pretty well “understood” by Steam when the discoverability update happened. We definitely got an initial boost in visibility from being on a set of early curated lists. People have pointed out that the changes mean that external press is even more important for your game’s success, I would argue that it’s always been incredibly important (and that if you were just relying on launch featuring to get people to pay attention to a game on Steam you’re being incredibly naïve) but it seems to be how you get your game curated and how people might care enough to review your game. Growing your recommendations is going to need user investment, that makes community really important – especially communities of players you’ve already established on Steam.

I would hazard a guess that Desktop Dungeons might be reaping the benefits of having a really good return rate and racking up some great playtime statistics. Obviously users that keep coming back to your game are great for you, but their repeated returns to your game on Steam might prompt them to review the game or otherwise get involved in your game’s greater community. I don’t say this to advocate only building randomly generated games, but more as a way to explain where the community of players came from that have helped the game make good use of the discoverability update.


Desktop Dungeons’ ludicrous playtime categories

Where to from here?

New traffic heading to your game page is useless if your page isn’t turning those (presumably) new players into buyers. The discoverability data gives devs a great way to play around with what they put on those pages, from screenshots and videos to feature copy and maybe even price points. I’m curious to see where this ends up going over the next six months. Best case scenario would be that the recommendation systems allow quality games to keep growing their audiences, that way everybody wins. I’m certainly happy as a developer: Desktop Dungeons is doing better than it was last month and we didn’t have to devote any time to marketing to make that happen, so we’re able to focus our time on updating the game and porting it to tablets.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some ideas on how to make our Steam page sell the game a little better.

31 Jul 14

Desktop Dungeons goes to Gamescom!

Desktop Dungeons will be part of the first Indie MEGABOOTH at Gamescom this year! So if you’re in the area, come say: “Hi!” or “This game is the best game ever!” (really loudly in front of member of the press please) or “I hate you guys and this game’s too hard!” (also loudly in front of press, pretty please) or any one of a number of phrases you might come up with yourself. We’re really excited to be exhibiting the game in Europe for a change so that we can practice our German.

We promise not to bring any goats… Not even our favorite travel-sized portable defense-billy.

09 Jun 14

Net Prophet 2014

Last month Marc and I spoke at the Net Prophet conference here in Cape Town. It’s a very different audience compared to the people we usually talk to (Net Prophet is far more focused on tech entrepreneurship and the growing venture capital scene in SA) so we focused more on what’s going on in the local game development industry and trying to torpedo the common misconceptions that people tend to share. We covered some interesting numbers and tried to highlight each concept with a specific local game, watch below:

As an added bonus, here’s Nick Hall – the chairman of MGSA – talking about what the organisation is all about:

We were really keen to talk at Net Prophet, not only does this give us and the MGSA exposure right when we’re trying to grow the local industry in some very interesting ways. But QCF was also one of the startups in the Net Prophet Accelerator program back in 2011, so this was a chance for us to stand up in front of many of the potential investors and advisers that didn’t quite grok game development then and give them a window into how we and others are making it work for us.

30 May 14

So you want to make a linux build with Unity

So maybe you’re like me, you’ve used Linux before, but it just wasn’t for you. That’s fine, everyone has their own tastes. But now you’ve got a game made in Unity, and some portion of your community is asking you to “Please port to Linux! It’s easy! Unity will do it for you!”

Well … yes and no. Getting Unity to output 32 and 64-bit executables for Linux is easy enough, but there’s a fair amount of work you’re going to have to do to get things running for your Linux users.

Now, to those very knowledgeable Linux humans reading this, please don’t take offense. This is the view of a Windows user trying to make the life of other game devs easier AND help put more games on the OS you love. If any of the info I present is wrong, feel free to correct me, but please make sure you do it in a way that is useful to someone who is not used to working in Linux.

13 May 14

Desktop Dungeons + Linux = <3


That’s right, Desktop Dungeons is now available for Linux! Tell your friends that don’t have the game yet that their excuses are rapidly dwindling… Especially because Desktop Dungeons is part of Midweek Madness on Steam right now for 50% off!

Like goats, Linux comes in many flavors. Also like goats, sometimes Linux can be recalcitrant and kill you in one hit… If you have any problems with the game, let us know and we’ll fix it ASAP. And finally, if anyone’s got a Steam box, we’d love to know how it plays!

08 Apr 14

QCF Design Vidblog, Episode 2

Uhhh, better late than never, perhaps? A few weeks ago we produced another discussion video for the QCF Design YouTube channel, this time discussing the trials and tribulations involved in resolution and interface design over the various iterations of Desktop Dungeons. Then we failed to repost it here.

This episode features a deeper and more substantial discussion than Ep1, as well as a slight increase in quality and overall user comfort. Plus extra minutes. Give it a lesson and let us know what you wanna see improved for Ep3!

07 Mar 14

QCF Design Vidblog, Episode 1

Hey everyone!

Trying something new this week. Instead of doing a text writeup about the topic of the day, members of the QCF Design crew sat down to share their feelings about Free To Play. It was deep, it was meaningful and it was enough to move a stone golem to tears.

We slapped the results into a real-life motion picture, which we now present to you as our tentative scout into the world of video blogging. Enjoy and leave feedback forever.

28 Feb 14

Female Representation in Desktop Dungeons


The broader debate of women in videogames needs no introduction, regardless of one’s stance on the matter. Everyone with an Internet connection and at least some investment in videogame culture has heard stories of the industry’s gender bias (which we’ll go ahead and assert is very readily apparent).

Now, Desktop Dungeons itself isn’t some haven of progressive social ideas and forward thinking. We didn’t start the game with an overarching agenda in that area – but during the course of development, we were heavily informed by the dialogues, rants and documentaries around the topic of female portrayal and how some games screw that up so badly. More…

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