So here i am, almost one month after Wicked Lair launched on both the IOS Appstore and Google Play. I think enough time has passed to reflect on it and figure out what to take away from the whole experience. This will be lengthy post so strap in. (Or look at the index and just jump to the points that interest you – i wont judge)
Since i am sure some you want to look at game, here are the links to the store pages:
- What went wrong
- What went right
- IOS Appstore – Thoughts
- Google Play – Thoughts
- Downloads and Revenue
- Important lessons learned
1. What went wrong
Bit off too much for a first project. You read it again and again, when – especially small – indie developers write the post-mortem of their undertakings. “Ran out of time”, “Had to cut features”, “Underestimated effort required”. Even being very, very cautious when conceptualizing the features for the game, i still ran out of time in the end and nearly worked myself into a major burnout. I ended up cutting 3 additional dungeon types (20% of content) from the final release so i could keep my deadline (and my sanity). For those interested, the timeline i gave myself for this project was 4 months.
Monetization. I am on the fence with this one, but i am putting it in this section because ultimately i am fairly unhappy with the result. The approach of doing a demo model with full content unlock via IAP didn’t really scale enough and revenue as a result is fairly sobering (Check Section 5 for numbers). I am on the fence because i dont have different approaches yet to compare, but i have a feeling that ads or even charging up front might have worked out better in the end – considering the amount of press coverage and downloads the game got.
Leaderboards. The leaderboards are full of cheaters. All day every day. And while there are some obvious values that stick out like a sore thumb, Wicked Lair is a game that is fairly difficult to hard cap in order to get rid of those bogus entries automatically – that means i get to kick cheaters off the IOS leaderboards regularly.
Google play doesnt let you manage it at all – it lets you hide players, but they dont provide an interface for it in their dev tools which means you need to write your own solution for it using their API. In the end i decided i dont really care all too much at this point for it to be worth the effort, but i think its astounding that such an important functionality isn’t integrated in their developer console.
No tutorial. I made the mistake of thinking that a tooltip hint system would be enough to educate users on how to play the game, it is a fairly simple game after all – at least on the surface. Turns out that i am wrong and a tutorial would have probably gone a long way. I am sure a good part of the 1 star reviews the game got was because of people not knowing what to do.
2. What went right
The development process in general. I am fairly happy with how the development process in general worked out, thanks to unity. It is a robust engine that’s incredibly suitable for projects like these. I learned C# in the process – which is a nice side effect and could be useful in the future.
The artwork. Being a programmer, any artwork i produce that looks decent is a win. I am happy on this front, with reservations. Doing the artwork was a major contributor to my almost-burnout near the end. I can draw something that looks ok, but it takes me a long time, and that really drained me after a while.
Press Coverage. I think this worked fairly well. I emailed 6 of the major mobile game review sites and 3 of them did a piece on Wicked Lair. And while Touch Arcade didn’t do a review,Wicked Lair was number 1 in their Hot Games list for about 2.5 days. All the reviews were positive for the most part. I attribute the majority of the release date downloads to this. Also getting covered by 3 major sites kinda caused it to spread out to smaller review sites automatically.
Outsourcing Sound and Splash Image, App Icon. These two things are the only things i outsourced, and in both cases the artists delivered great results! The splash image was made by 2d-dungeon.com and the soundtrack was made by Schematist (you can find him on facebook easily – check him out).
3. IOS Appstore – Thoughts
Silly requirements and slow iteration. These are the two things i take away from the IOS submission process. All the media – screenshots, video etc. – needs to follow their exact requirements, which is ok in hindsight, but was extremely frustrating when going into it without being aware at first, because i already had a bunch of shit made that i needed to reformat to get them to accept it.
Furthermore for preview media, it seems to depend on the reviewer on what is acceptable and what isnt. There was one point where an update was rejected on grounds of the media not meeting their expecations, when it hadn’t really changed from the original submission – which was accepted. They did change their mind after i talked to them about it, but the whole thing still took three days to resolve.
In general the review process seems to take about 10 days. Which sucks when you discover annoying bugs that need to be fixed. I understand that their is a “priority submission” type of thing, but i think you only get to use those on game breaking issues.
In general i dislike the amount of time it takes, but it might not be so bad after seeing some of the issues i had on the google side.
4. Google Play – Thoughts
Nice developer tools, quick iteration, dumb rating system. Their developer console is great, and the ability to have alphas and betas for your apps is much more streamlined than on the IOS side (which they only recently introduced with their test-flight system) – it worked great in getting regular updates to a group of testers and help significantly in discovering bugs.
It takes about 2 hours to push an update of the app and have it be available for download in production. Which is great because it lets you iterate quickly, for bugs as well as new features. However – at least in my case – there is a fairly annoying downside to this.
Every time a new version is uploaded users get to rate it. With quick iteration it means users get to rate a lot (doesn’t matter if you just push a quick bugfix or something major), which generally speaking sounds like its reasonable. However it turns into a major issue when users start to abuse this to hold your rating hostage in order to push for their – sometimes inane – demands.
There is this one guy who at the point of this writing is responsible for about 17% of the 1 star ratings on the game, with every update he would demand that the game be made free and rate 1 star. I made sure to flag all of them as spam, but so far it doesnt seem to counteract it at all, meaning the average rating of the game has suffered just because of this one person. I dont even want to think about what several of these types of users would do. I emailed google about it and have yet to hear back from them.
From Nov 25. – Dec. 20
|Store||Downloads||IAPS Sold||Revenue (after store cut)||Conversion|
A lot of the downloads happened in the first week. After that it gradually decreased, now it gets downloaded maybe 300-400 times (both stores combined). Daily revenue (after store cut) has slowed to about $10-15. It will be interesting to see where it stabilizes out, if it stays $15/day for a while at least it’d pay for the unity license … which would be nice.
6. Important lessons learned.
There is a reason everyone tells you to be cautious about starting off too big – I think there is always going to be problems like that, unless you’re extremely generous with the time you allot to your project – e.g. take whatever seems reasonable to you and double it. Seriously. Things will happen that will slow you down. Things that you can’t necessarily control.
The monetization model i chose was flawed. So here’s the thing folks, in hindsight i believe the monetization model i chose was flawed and incompatible with the mobile market – at least in the genre i chose.
You are dealing with a customer base that has been educated to expect “free” to mean “free” with some in game currency purchasing thrown in. While i am sure that there are some legitimate 1 star reviews from folks that got frustrated by not knowing what to do, simply didn’t like the game or had some technical issues, i am also convinced that a good part of them came from people feeling slighted by me charging for the remaining content.
It’s almost like that by tagging the game as free and then asking for content unlock through IAP they feel like i wasted their time, they expected a free game with 100% of the content available to them.
It might be that i overcharged as well, im not sure about that. However most people that bought one expansion also bought the second one, so maybe not. I can’t say for certain – i believe those who wanted it for free would have complained either ways.
Do the fucking math. The harsh truth is that i could have seen that this monetization model is flawed had i done the math in the first place. I feel extremely silly about it now. The thing you need to understand is that by all accounts 5% conversion rate (eg 5 purchases made for 100 downloads) is fairly decent. So even with this decent conversion rate and purchases priced at the cheapest tier (0.99$) i would need around 2000 downloads a day every day just to be able to live off of it.
Let’s not even talk about recouping my expenses (about 3.5k not counting the salary i gave up by working fulltime on the game for 4 months).
I could have figured this out before hand. And so can you, so please if you are working on something right now, whichever monetization model you apply, do the math and be honest with yourself. Getting 2000 downloads a day in a market as saturated as mobile appears to be extremely difficult. I don’t say this to shit on your dreams, but to make sure you think about it.