Mar 102011

Well! I’m back from the Game Developer’s Conference and the Flash Gaming Summit, where I spoke about how SteamBirds is doing and let all my cats out of their respective bags. I think it’s time for another by-the-numbers gig!

When I last left you, my very popular SteamBirds: By The Numbers article let you know that SteamBirds had made approximately $34,000 USD (gross).  This article was so popular it was copied over to Gamasutra and into two different magazines! (score!) I suppose that means you guys want more?

So let’s start by getting caught up.

SteamBirds: The Original

Since last writing, SB went on to make an addition $11K in various sitelocks and licenses, and to this day is still generating more business (did 3 sitelocks in January alone!). I’m fairly confident that the original SB is going to make money for a loooong time.

SteamBirds [the original version only] has now made approximately $45,000 USD.

Here’s a popular chart: breaking down the sources of all revenues for the original SB:

I really like this graph because it visually represents how much I loathe advertisements.

I say this a lot, but there’s no harm in re-iterating: I hate ads, I’m really bad at deploying good ads, and I have no advertising strategy other than “tack it on hastily.” You can see it really paid off;

  • Mochi ad revenue has paid so little, it hasn’t even sent me a cheque yet (they promise they owe me $78 though)
  • CPMStar sends me regular cheques, though the amounts are dwindlingly low
  • Kongregate’s revenue-sharing advertising model is about the only thing that pays out, and it pays out IN SPADES.

4-5x more revenue than CPMStar and Mochi combined?? Why does anyone even bother with advertising anymore?!

And even then: All advertising combined is hardly 10% of combined revenues. It might be worth it, but only in this larger-scale economy. I don’t think I’d bother with advertisements at all if I had a game that was expecting to make less than $30K.

As far as traffic and popularity goes:


(Click for Big)

It seems like traffic is dwindling off to nothing, but it’s been nearly a solid year of 50,000 plays per day (and trended up to 150K/day around the time of Survival’s launch). That’s more web traffic per day than I’ve ever hoped for with a personal blog, so I call it a success!

But that’s enough whinging on about the original SteamBirds. Let’s jump into the fun, new stuff!

SteamBirds: iOS

The wonderful fellows at SemiSecret Software (Eric and Adam) worked hard at making an iOS version of the game. They launched two separate SKUs – one for iPhone/iPod Touch ($0.99), and an HD version ($1.99) for the iPad.

The iOS version of the game was identical to the original flash game, except:

  • The game came complete with the “Bonus Missions” (previously only available at ArmorGames)
  • The in-game art was completely redone by hand by Adam
  • The game got a brilliant, awesome title screen (also by Adam)
  • Features all the original, epic, awesome music by DannyB (buy the soundtrack here, and support more awesome music from DannyB!)

Here’s a total sales graph:

(Click for Big)

The iPad sales were fairly consistently around half the volume of the iPhone sales, which was surprising – considering how many more iPhones there are in the world!

What was super interesting, though, was this zoomed-in portion:


(Click for Big)

(ignore the dip around Jan. 5th – error in the data – sales were consistent)

I love the big spike at Christmas time. Shows people reveling in proper Commercial Spirit! But even more interesting was the App was on an “introductory sale” for December. We bumped the prices up $1 on January 1st ($1.99 / $2.99), and there was no affect on sales at all! Interesting…

I have to say that the iPad edition of the game is, hands down, my favorite game experience. SteamBirds feels like it was designed to be on that platform, and I love it to bits. I bought an iPad just to fawn over it.

SteamBirds: Android

Victor’s team at FlatRedBall created an Android edition of the game for us. This version of the game was again, identical to the original SB, except:

  • The graphics engine was entirely re-done from scratch, and features really awesome 3D effects
  • Contains dozens of bonus missions and storyline, not available anywhere else
  • Contains MULTIPLAYER gameplay!

I don’t have a fancy graph of Android sales, but I know the performance was approximately 20% of the iOS counterpart in terms of gross revenue. I know Android has a vast install base, but not every Android phone has the Marketplace (as opposed to 100% appstore penetration on the iOS), so I have no good feel for how much of this is luck, how much is market, how much is user response, etc… It’s very difficult to feel out the numbers.

20% is still a big chunk, though – but much like the advertising revenue – only if you expect the game to push over $30K or so.

I have a huge problem with Android’s default “Sort by all-time sales” market, and content discovery is hideously broken, so that could be a huge contributing factor here. Hopefully Google will fix that.

The one huge saving grace here was the Android edition’s winning of the IndiePub Game of the Year award. The cash prize (and other perks) that came with that made it all worth while!

Mobile Edition Summary

Both mobile editions were “featured,” and both rose in ranks quite quickly. In terms of 72-hour sales, SteamBirds rose to a peak of #12 on the iPad “Games” category (#25 overall, if memory serves), which was really nice and super exciting. Sales didn’t hold, though, and tailed off rapidly.

Not hating on the tail at all, of course – it’s nowhere near launch-day-numbers, but they’re still generating cash. :)

If I had to do it all over again, I probably would target Android still – just because I like supporting the platform. Even with a featured, popular application with backing from Penny Arcade (two or three times now!), it hardly paid for it’s own development.

That said: Both mobile editions were done via contractors working for revenue split (50% each, which I think is generous!), and the resultant windfalls from both devices was, essentially, free money.

All in all, iPad/iPhone/Android split out to be a fairly even pie: around 33%/33%/33% each.

The mobile market has a fairly long tail, though – and that tail is pretty thick and lucrative, especially for Android.  I believe these figures will round out nicely in the coming year, but they were only launched near the beginning of December, so we don’t have a lot of data yet.

Let’s move on to the NEW game!

SteamBirds: Survival

SteamBirds: Survival wasn’t a gigantic technical change from the original, but it has very different gameplay. I’ve blogged about the specifics previously, so I’ll let you go read that (or just play it!) instead of updating it here.


The game went up on looking for a sponsor. We were fairly open to anything, but being the Christmas season with an non-thematic game: we had a fairly poor turn out. Several sponsors said they’d be willing to pay more in the Spring, but we didn’t want to wait. Not to worry: in the end we got a really good deal.

Our primary sponsor ended up being AXE, the body-spray brand (pit, pit, chest). They paid just over $10K for the game. A hilarious conversation came out of this:

Me: “OK, I’m done incorporating your logos. Where should I sitelock the game to?”

Them: “Oh, uh, we don’t have a website. Can you host it?”

Me: “Y… yes?!?!”

You see, typically a sponsor is paying for the traffic redirection back to their site. In this case, Axe didn’t have a dedicated portal – they just wanted the ad space. This allowed us to retain and control our traffic, show our users exactly what we wanted to show them, place up-sell icons for the mobile editions, place our own blog and twitter feeds… That’s worth an extra $10K of value any day!

And again: Much like the Original SB, sponsor and licensing requests for Survival keep rolling in, and I expect it to make us money for a long time coming.


This go-around I learned my lesson from the original Steambirds: no advertisments. We didn’t bother integrating with Mochi or CPMStar, and any revenue put forth by Kongregate was just a nice dollop of icing on this cake.


A new twist, however, was Micro-Transactions. To date, Survival has made an additional $10K or so in MTX – not too shabby considering there’s a maximum limit on how much you can spend (there are no consumables, by design).

The airplanes in SteamBirds: Survival are so different from each other, that unlocking/purchasing a new plane is like getting to play a whole new game. Some of the planes have fairly straightforward changes, but some themed planes – like the SolipSkier, Canabalt, and AughtNine planes – drastically change gameplay into something entirely different.

So here’s how we worked MTX:

  • The game contained a total of 24 planes
  • 16 planes were unlockable by regular gameplay
  • 8 planes were only unlockable with cash
  • The planes ranged from $0.75 (Cockroach) ->$10 (AughtNine)
  • Buying all the planes individually cost $20
  • There was a prominent “Buy ALL!” button in the game that only cost $15 (25% off!)

Let’s see how well each did:

Isn’t that interesting? 70% of all sales came from the “Buy All” button. It almost seems like we shouldn’t have put the microtransactions on the other planes at all! The vast majority of users would rather just hand us $15 than actually buy each individual plane… But of course, that was the plan all along: Tempt users with greater value. The “Unlock Everything!” button wouldn’t have done so well without the other plans to compare against!

I love that people would trust me with an investment of that size, you know? It feels really good when a flash game player drops $15. Gives me hope for humanity, and the industry!

Free Plane!

We wanted to bait people with a free plane – just give us your EMail address, and we’ll send you a free premium plane! Of all the total users that ever entered the game: 10% clicked on the newsletter signup button. However, only 1% actually made it through the signup process! Signing up for the free plane required you were already signed into a Gamersafe account, so we lost 90% of our potential email addresses because of this hurdle. BIG LESSON LEARNED!

Edit: As DanC pointed out – if 90% of people couldn’t be bothered to sign into gamersafe for a free plane… how many didn’t bother to sign in to PURCHASE a plane? I think the MTX really suffered because of the extra signup layer. Every payment provider requires a signup of some sort, though, so I wonder what could have been done to fix it?

The BlackList

One big problem with the original SteamBirds was certain shady sites (usually in Asian countries) ripping out my advertisements, breaking sitelocks, and preventing outbound links (and sometimes even erasing credits!) or otherwise hacking the game and posting it without permission. For Survival, I implemented a dynamic blacklist – that allows me to block any site from seeing the game on a whim.

Thanks to the first release, I had a lengthy list of ne’er-do-wells, and put them in right at the start of SB:S’s launch. I also put in metrics to see who was trying to defeat my locks!

6 sites in particular were pretty bad, hammering away at the game thousands of times trying to make it work, to no avail. In the end, I had some interesting stats:

  • In the Original SteamBirds, I had 4,000,000 plays from “banned” locations
  • In SteamBirds Survival, I had less than 60,000.

I’d say that’s a success! 4 million plays that generate zero revenue and zero fan love is 4 million hits I’d rather not have.

What was super interesting is how this has skewed my stats of plays-by-countries; the USA is always #1, but the rest of the top 5 were always Asian countries in each of my other games. In SB:S, Brazil, Spain, The UK, and Canada come into the top 5. Now I know where to localize my games to first!

Other Interesting Stats

I cranked up my statistics tracking in SteamBirds: Survival, and got a bunch of neat figures out of it. Here’s a few:

  • Avg. PlayTime of SB: Original: 24 minutes
  • Avg. PlayTime of SB:S: 30 minutes (improvement!)
  • 25% of all rounds end with the player clicking “More Tips” on the gameover screen
  • 25% of players quit the game manually (without dying or closing the window)
  • 15% of all players unlocked >2 planes
  • 11% of players hit Mute (up from 6% on the original SB, down from 80% on my crappy games!)
  • 10% of players attempted newsletter signup, 1% succeeded
  • 3% of players clicked on the Twitter/Facebook icons at least once
  • 0.9% of players clicked on the Credits button (this is sadly consistent from everyone I talked to in the industry)
  • 0.7% of players unlocked the AllUrBase (hardest non-pay plane to get)
  • 0.5% of players clicked on the “buy the mobile edition!” button in game

That last one is super interesting to me. Totally tells me that there is very, very little crossover from the flash to the mobile market. Maybe not worth ever including? (then again: if a single journalist sees it, it might make a huge sales difference)

Total Revenues

So how is the SteamBirds franchise doing, overall?

I estimate we’ve made around $200,000 USD so far, with all things included. Here’s how I break it down:

“Old Rev” being the Original Steambirds, “Flash” being SteamBirds: Survival. Note that the original SB has an extra year headstart on Survival, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Survival overtakes it in the long run.

A lot of people will look at this chart and say “Woah! There’s so much money in the mobile market… Why are you bothering with the flash version?!”

My response to that is quite simple; the only reason we made more than $10 on Android is because we got Featured by Google.  It’s a similar story on iOS.  The reason we were able to get featured so easily is because of the fame and endless praiseworthy reviews the Flash version got! If the Flash edition never existed, we would never have had an opportunity to get as much exposure as we did.

I fully plan on developing for Flash into the future. And I think what we have in store will turn the tables on where the biggest revenue lies. ;)

The Future

So what are we working on now?

  • SteamBirds: Survival for iOS and Android
  • SteamBirds: Multiplayer (working title)

I’ll keep you posted as long as you keep your eyes glued here!

  39 Responses to “SteamBirds: Survival – By the Numbers”

Comments (28) Pingbacks (11)
  1. Wow, congratulations on this amazing success, and thanks SO MUCH for sharing your data with us.

    These lessons are pure gold. Beautiful stuff!

    Also the closing note regarding building an easy-to-access credibility earner (Flash version) is very important. With the growth of HTML5/JS giving players the opportunity to try something easily in their browsers, if a dev’s got the time and capacity it makes perfect sense to build a version for this outlet.

    Thanks again for the share! Excelsior!

  2. Thanks for sharing the figures. Very interesting as I was just thinking about adding Mochi to my next game.

    Do you do all of your licensing business through FGL?

    Oh and this:

    It almost seems like we shouldn’t have put the microtransactions on the other planes at all!

    If you hadn’t, sales of the full unlock would most likely have been much lower. Psychologically people need the other options available to compare against and decide to just go for the biggest option.

  3. Thanks for sharing this.

    What was your experience like working with GamerSafe? Did it cause some sponsors to be maybe more conservative? Any particular advice (beside the newsletter signup) you’d give to someone looking to work with it?

    Wouldn’t a revenue of $10K would be enough to get you to put some work on integrating Kreds from Kongregate as well or do you have stats for players that moved from Kongregate to your your own website to access micro-transactions?

  4. Thanks for sharing your data, good insights.

  5. Hi. Can you share your black-list of link-blocking sites?

  6. Please share this ugly-sites list!

  7. @Dave Toulouse: I don’t have any experience with Kong’s Creds system, so I can’t tell you how profitable that would be or if it would be worth it. From what I hear it doesn’t pay out very well.

    My experience with GamerSafe was great – it was super easy to use, quick to deploy, and no problems or worries at all, technically speaking. However, as soon as something has a login prompt, many sponsors refuse to license the game. This goes for ANY system that has a separate login though, not just GS.

    You may notice that on some sites (such as, the premium planes are missing (and instead there is a link to my site to buy more planes).

  8. I’ll do up the ugly-sites in a follow-up post. :)

  9. This is f*cking gold dust thanks Andy! Great write iup and very educational for someone who is about to try out similar things.

  10. Have I mentioned lately how much you ROCK!?

  11. hmm indeed after some really basic math (checking game plays of SB: Survival against my game Golemizer and revenue made there) revenue from Kongregate would be around 5%-8% of what you have made so far with micro-transactions so probably not worth it. Specially now that the initial wave of plays is past.

    But yeah that’s just an approximation based on comparing numbers in a simple way so take it for what it is.

  12. Thanks for sharing these figures.

    I’m surprised that increasing the price by 50% did not decrease the number of sales. I’m curious how far this threshold could be pushed.

  13. 1- You said your ad revenue is low (well, compared to your sponsorship revenue of course it is) but where are these ads? are they in the viral version everywhere?
    2- Why your Primary License for SB Survival game needed to be sitelocked? (primary sponsorships shouldn’t be distributables?)

  14. @hermitC I was really surprised too. All the other data I’ve seen shows a doubling of sales when halving the price (hence the “race to the bottom”) – maybe this is an anomaly?

    @mc: 1. ads for original steambirds were on the preloader, on the viral version of the game. Anyone that paid for a sponsorship usually removed it. 2. typically a sponsored version of the game is also the viral version, so shouldn’t be sitelocked, so this is a bit of an odd case.

  15. As DanC pointed out – if 90% of people couldn’t be bothered to sign into gamersafe for a free plane… how many didn’t bother to sign in to PURCHASE a plane? I think the MTX really suffered because of the extra signup layer. In fact, this is important enough I’ll edit it into the main article. :)

  16. Well there’s not much ways to have people pay without having some kind of account … unless the game is on some kind of service that people are used to be already logged in (Facebook, Kongregate, Mochi).

    The problem with GamerSafe is that people don’t know what it is (I know I didn’t before starting to work on Flash games myself) and there’s no “social wrap up” around it.

    I would be tempted to say that signing up for something free vs signing for something you must pay doesn’t provide the same barrier. Most people know that if they want to buy something they have to signup somewhere. But signing up for a newsletter just sound like “more spam on the way” so the reward looks less attractive.

  17. I think the major point is not that it’s a signup form, it’s that a huge percentage of people haven’t already signed up.

    If it were paypal, for example, it would just be a “login” for a trusted source. Gamersafe is something new, you aren’t sure if you want it, and you have to go through the signup procedure…

  18. “It almost seems like we shouldn’t have put the microtransactions on the other planes at all!”

    The perceived value of the “Buy all” option probably ensured its success. If you got rid of the individual transactions the bundle price wouldn’t have a reference to be compared against. Consumers love a bargain!

  19. Added in an edit:

    “But of course, that was the plan all along: Tempt users with greater value. The “Unlock Everything!” button wouldn’t have done so well without the other plans to compare against!”

  20. Thank you for the figures again, Andy. This is interesting and definitely motivating. The blacklist would be worth sharing. The more power to developers, the better.

    I have one question though: the SteamBirds website has no monetization in it (and the same goes for this blog), is your plan simply to stay away from the ads and use microtransactions only? Or will something change when you have the multiplayer version of SteamBirds available? If this is all work-in-progress or you simply want to keep the information to yourself then no problem, just curious about your plans.

  21. @TheSlave: New post is up about BlackLists!

    Ads generated so little revenue, and make such an intrusion on players, that I’m not sure if there’s any value left in them anymore. I believe (and have no data to back this up!) that the game will do EVEN BETTER with MTX with the ads gone. :)

    Multiplayer will indeed have mtx in it.

    I’m not done experimenting though – might do some pay-to-downloads or something? We’ll see!

  22. I think the price bump didn’t affect sales because it’s below the “amount of money I care about” level. My general impression, both of my own habits and my time spent catering, is that for a one-off purchase $5 seems to be how much money people actually care about. If it’s a cumulative cost (part of a bundle, something they’re going to pay daily, etc.) $2 – $2.5 seems to be the sweet spot.

  23. I want to commend you on a well written article Andy. This sort of transparency definitely deserve some praise as you briefly outline SB development. Personally, I like to thank you for the flash version of the game and have recommended several friends and family members to give SB a try. I originally found SB on the Android Market, played the demo, and purchased the game after 5 minutes of play. Keep up the hard work (development team), I will be sure to purchase any sequels to SB and continue to introduce the game to others.

  24. Cheers for sharing numbers, as ever!

    Food for thought: just put in a paypal $15 purchase to unlock everything. Then people who don’t want to sign up w/ a microTX site can skip it.

  25. Wow! Andy, I must say you are clearly one of the best writers in the Flash Dev community. This article along with many others on your site have been a pure joy and full source of knowledge for me. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your information, I really appreciate it :D

  26. Very insightful article. I learned a lot from this….appreciate you taking
    the time out to write it.

  27. For the Allurbase, if you compare the site scores to the price of the zeppelin, you find that even the highest scores aren’t enough to get about a quarter of the way(exempting the Bombino, which must have never run out of bombs or heals). People at that point would be saying “screw it,im not playing anymore”,or something along the lines.

  28. Thank you very much for sharing!

    I didn’t expect Kong revenue to be so consistent

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