23 April 2010

Three Months on the App Store

We launched Space Miner on February 5th, with no clear idea of what was going to happen. We'd been developing games for almost eight years as a company, but this is really the first time we exposed ourselves directly to our consumers besides a couple of minor Windows Mobile projects. Being primarily a third party developer for companies like EA and Sega meant that we never had to deal with getting a product launched. To say that we were unprepared would be a woeful understatement.

This was not due to ignorance. We knew about the importance of marketing, buzz, etc. but at the end of the day, we didn't have time. The game was way over budget and way late, and we just needed to get the thing done. Furthermore we also questioned how much value there was in doing this for a couple of different reasons. One was that we didn't have a clear message for what the game was - marketing the next great Asteroids RPG didn't seem like it would be a compelling message. The other was that it seemed like the App Store audience was completely fickle, and quite dispersed, meaning there was no clear avenue to really spread the word short of spending a lot of money. In the end, these may have just been justifications to make myself feel better at night because we hadn't done these things I knew we should do.

We did what we could though. We tried emailing some journalists, and ran a short promotion on TouchArcade the week before, but I think at launch maybe 100 people in the world knew that there was a game called Space Miner. Including us and our families. Not the best job there, by any means.

What happened afterwards is pure luck. Our little promotion on TA meant we had some people waiting for the game, and as soon as it launched, they got it, and loved it. They literally evangelized the product so much that our thread exploded and the editors of Touch Arcade got the game and ran a glowing review two days later. It was also a slow weekend so it was the top article on their site for nearly 48 hours. Our sales shot up, the buzz continued, and great reviews kept rolling in. A couple of weeks later we got featured by Apple, cut the price, and got into the high 20s for overall App Sales.

Saying this is pure luck isn't really true, since we did do one very important thing right - we made a good game. For the most part, hype can give you a bump, but if you don't deliver the goods, it isn't going to do too well.

But we did kind of hit this frustration point - we couldn't get onto the top of the App Store. I was seeing all these games ranked higher than us that weren't reviewed nearly as well, by the press or their users, and some of them, frankly, sucked. Perhaps if we cut the price to $.99 at that point we may have been able to breakthrough, but I felt it was a disservice to take a game at this production level and price it like Doodle Jump. So we stuck to our guns, and began our gradual descent back down the charts, finally going back to our $4.99 price point.

Thus I learned my first lesson - chart ranks don't really help sales, unless you are near the top. For the most part, our ranking always reflected how well we were doing, and never served to increase our sales. When we shot up, it was because of being featured by Apple, or it was because we cut our price, and it happened within a day of the event. But then it would always hold steady or taper. We never experienced a rise, followed by a rise, which would indicate that getting up the chart was helping us sell more product. Perhaps this visibility would have been helpful if we'd had a Lite version available at the time, but we messed that one up and didn't get it out until we were off of Apple's featured lists. So we'll never know really.

Things have been tapering slowly since then, not doing horribly by any stretch, but it's a tenth or less of what it was at its peak, and seems to keep tapering. And we're a long way from break-even.

So we're now in a new territory for us, yet familiar to many hardened App Store veterans, where we try to figure out ways to extend the life of Space Miner. We've done a couple of things so far, including a couple of feature updates and getting out a Lite version. These have given us slight bumps, but haven't made a material difference in our sales. So we need to look at other methods.

I ran across a really good blog post on A/B testing, which I was aware of, but in terms of applying it to your icon, which I had never thought of. Here is a link to it since it's a good read: http://www.markj.net/ab-testing-iphone-app-names-360idev/. It looks like a relatively cheap method to perhaps get some better response to your app listing.

Another thing we're looking to do is get some cross-promotion going between our products. Since we only have one now, that's not really possible, but we'll be releasing our new game, Ninjatown: Trees Of Doom! in a couple of weeks, so we can see if that helps get more visibility (which will of course depend highly on how well it does.) We're also working on an arcade version of Space Miner that will be a pure free-to-play with ads.

Then of course there is the traditional medium of just buying ads. We'll probably dip our toes in this a bit to see how well it works, but you can sink a lot of money here fast, and the economics may be questionable if you don't do enough to drive yourself to the top of the charts.

The final thing I'm considering is to take the game on a "coaster". I don't know if that's a real term or not, but if it isn't, I call dibs! As for what a coaster is, I think it's best described by what EA did with the Simpsons or what Gameloft does occasionally. I'll expound on it more in another post.

Anyhow, the honeymoon is over, and we're settling in and getting comfortable now. The business challenges remain, but I look forward to finding solutions and learning new ways to be successful in this marketplace. I think a lot of people give up and move on at this point, which is a mistake. I think there is a lot of life left in Space Miner, and if nothing else, we'll expect to see a bump when we finish Space Miner 2 ;)

And one last thing - we're going to actually try and make this blog worth checking occasionally, so look for more frequent updates.

11 comments:

  1. Just so you know, that was by far the best game I've ever played on the iPhone. I've payed 2x start to finish and wish their was more / longer.

    Anything you guys develop from here on out (unless its totally out of my interests), I'll buy based on Space Minor.

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  2. You made a teriffic game. I'm on my second playthrough, and I will be playing it a third time too. And maybe a fourth if I don't have all awards by then.
    This is the most fun game I've played on my iPhone since I have an iPhone so keep up the good work!
    I'll be looking forward to your next game.
    Greetz from the Netherlands, Thomas

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  3. Here's my 2 cents. I loved your game, but I only convinced myself to buy it after reading lots of positive comments from people I trust. I think the theme is a hard sell. Space mining? Sounds boring.

    It reminds me of the same problem I had with the TV show Firefly. I put off watching it for a very long time. Friends told me it was great, but described it as "a western, in space" which while accurate, just didn't get me excited to watch it. But, when I finally did watch it, I was thinking "why did I wait so long to watch this great show?"

    Which is how I felt about Space Miner. It's a great game - one of the best I've played on the iPhone - yet the theme seems to be a hard sell. One of the descriptions that did finally pique my interest enough to buy the game was when someone mentioned it was like an asteroids RPG. Now that's a game style you don't hear very often and seemed like it might be interesting. I don't think that's really an accurate description, since the only RPG element is the building up of your ship, but, it's probably the closest two word description which captures the feel of your game best.

    Anyhow, I guess words are cheap, since my 2 cents went on for a long time. My point is, great game but tough theme to sell.

    Best wishes for your future success. I'll be sure to look out for future games you make.

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  4. Let me know how the A/B testing works out. Mark (author of the name & icon testing article).

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  5. These comments are a pleasant surprise, mostly since when I wrote this I didn't think anyone would read it. Glad to see you all enjoyed the game :)

    @Mostly Torn - I agree. Not sure if you caught the earlier article on how Space Miner came to be, but it was very much an accident. The concept is hard to get across. I am planning to do some revision to our App Store copy, and perhaps getting that description of asteroids meets RPG may be in order.

    @Mark Johnson - Will do, and thanks for the article!

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  6. Are you coming out with an iPad version?

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  7. We're still evaluating the iPad platform for a Space Miner port. If we do, it won't be soon.

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  8. This is, by far, one of my favorite games on my iPhone! I literally cannot put it down.

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  9. Make sure you have a Lite version out first for your next game. I read in a developer forum that the Alpine Crawler developers had great success by first having a Lite version in the App Store for customers to try. With Space Miner, I wasn't sold until I played the Lite version. The graphics are fantastic and can only be experienced through a Lite version. All the positive reviews in the App Store helped as well, but only enough so that I would try the Lite version. The Lite version sold me 100% and I bought the full version, which I love.

    I agree with Mostly Torn, it is hard to sell the concept of the game. And I'm not sure about the title, Space Miner, which doesn't really sound that fun. The game is WAY funner than the title would make you believe. I like the title of your next game a lot better.

    I love the game and had to find out who made it, and that is how I found this blog.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with developing games for the App Store, it is very interesting to read.

    This game deserves to make a lot of money. I think that if you leave it out there, people will eventually find it, probably through word of mouth from other players.

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  10. This is - by far - the best game in the app store.
    I can just not understand why it is not #1 in the charts.
    I played it through about 5 or 6 times now, and still absolutely love it. And it is worth more money than you ask for.

    Just my 2 cents:

    - the game "cover" picture looks crappy, and nearly prevented me from buying it.

    - the title "space miner" sounds boring, and should be replaced. So if you should be developing something like "space miner 2" please rename it into something cool.

    - perhaps reduce the percentage of cartoon-like content, and add some more "spacelike", "technoid" feel into the game. (there are so many crappy cartoon - games on the app store. At the very first moment, i made the mistake of thinking your game is just one of those). More science fiction, slightly less simpsons please.

    - just like doodle jump, hold back some content first, and bring a new Hull/ alien tech / weapon / zone every week.

    - the first level of the game looks and feels little bit boring, compared to what is coming up later in the game. There is little danger, that some people stop playing after the first two minutes, thinking this is just another bad asteroids clone. Add something shiny to the very start. People should get the point very quickly, that this game is all about developping your ship, not about shooting asteroids (only).

    - if possible add some explosions etc... which appear from the very start, making people think: "wow".

    In conclusion, i would say, that this game has more potential, than anything else i have seen so far in the app store. Plays and feels like diablo2 in a space ship :)

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  11. good points Felix Krull!

    This is THE best iphone game I played.
    Please make more games Venan.

    I'm keeping it short so you don't waste time reading this message instead of working at the next best thing.
    Now get back to work! :)))

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