May 302012

It’s been a while since I’ve done a proper, on-time post-mortem! Previously, I’ve done “by-the-numbers” posts on SteamBirds and SteamBirds Survival, and they are some of my two most popular posts ever. Let’s give IceBurgers a nice treatment, shall we?

Before I get started, if you don’t know what IB is: IceBurgers is a word-game I developed for mobile devices, in a very rapid fashion. You can read all my posts on IceBurgers with that link there, including a full DevVlog on the game and some posts on subsequent troubles launching the title to the iOS market.


Development of the game only took me 8 days.

Development of the game only took me 8 days!

Everything in this post should be coloured by that. Please remember it! I wrote it twice to double the odds you do so.

Why 8 days? Since early development, it was apparent that the game would launch on mobile platforms – the control scheme just doesn’t feel comfortable on a desktop. I consider the browser-based market a “safe bet” for making your rent, but very difficult to strike it big. I consider mobile platforms to be the opposite: easy to get absolutely nothing, but slightly easier than the browser markets to strike it big. “All or Nothing,” as they say.

I restricted my development time on this project to make sure I wasn’t betting the farm on the title. I didn’t want to pour a ton of effort into a thing that had a very big chance of striking out completely. If the game got traction, I would continue development; if the game was ignored, I would halt it immediately.

It helps that titles like word-games are very heavily focused on a single core mechanic, and that core mechanic is very easy to develop quickly and make interesting and fun. Word games don’t typically require depth or intermixing of several mechanics to be worth buying. Games like SpellTower, PuzzleJuice, and Wurdle all had relatively short development cycles as well (though I think IceBurgers still is the speed champion, for better or worse).

As a quick note, the game was developed in the AS3 language and compiled to native bytecode with Adobe AIR. This pipeline allows for (free) targeting of iOS, Android, Blackberry, and other such mobile devices… Though I did just focus on iOS to start. Most playtesting was done on an iPad2, and I would say the game is most at home there, though the app is universal.

Also note that this was my first ever iOS game and I didn’t know what to expect, had no experience, and wasn’t sure what roadblocks would be ahead of me.

Why launch on just iOS?

So browser development was thrown out early for UI-reasons. Why restrict launch to iOS, especially considering I could just recompile for, say, Android with a single mouseclick?

Well, probably mostly because I was scared. I wanted to make sure the game would do well in the iOS market, and I had hopes of getting some really good feedback so that I could push an excellent version 2.0 out to all the other mobile markets. Intentional restriction for quality control reasons.

Also, I’m lazy. Reworking the game to fit all the screen resolutions for all the android devices would be annoying, and I don’t have test devices to try them all out on.

Thinking back, though, that seems silly. I should have just launched everywhere at once.

Development Costs

Though rapidly developed, I did spend a chunk of money on getting some help. I even did marketing.  Yeah, proper marketing. This is new for me.

In all my previous games, I’ve partnered with people – give up revenue and IP shares in exchange for services rendered. This effectively made all my previous games “Free,” but this one was different. I wanted to try out just paying cash for everything. And Cash I did pay:

  • $2800 – Game Development
  • $1000 – Marketing
  • $300 – Merchandise
  • $99 – Apple tax

Some of those “game development” costs are for Sven’s awesome artwork, Alec’s great music, and Kert’s kick-ass dub-trailer, and I don’t think I could have avoided paying those unless I was a genius and could do all forms of art myself. Alas, I am a mere programmer and designer! I am jealous of those people that can pull off doing it all.

Other expenses included in the Game Dev section: a few hundred here and there for APIs (MilkManGames has an awesome collection, for example!) or other software packages I didn’t quite own yet, so I guess those could be considered “business development” costs and not “game development” costs. Oh well, they’re small enough anyway.

The marketing stuff is me actually buying ads. More on that in a bit. :)

How did it do?

Terribly. Let’s break it down into a few key time periods:

    The game launched with a single tweet (as a weird marketing test). It was a soft-launch with no press emails or anything, just in case there was a hideous show-stopping bug. I did an account-switch at Apple so I don’t have my data in chart-form for original launch, but I made a DevVlog at about this point with some visible sales data in the video. Surprisingly, I had 46 re-tweets of a single tweet I made here… It was a crazy-successful tweet with huge reach. 

    The game sold 41 copies on launch day, and about 20 copies the rest of launch-week. The rest of the month saw a sporadic sale or two, all of which at full-price: $1.99.

    After fixing some bugs and bettering old-device compatability, and introducing some viral-loop features (Facebook and Twitter integration), I officially launched the game around 1 month after the soft launch. This launch officially had marketing support, emails to hundreds of press contacts (none of which replied), and all the bells and whistles of a proper launch. It went on sale for the first time, half-off at $0.99.During the launch-weekend timeframe, the game sold approximately 20 units.
  • #BecauseWeMay
    The BecauseWeMay sale was interesting. It was a celebration of pricing control, and I did mention it in past DevVlogs and on my blog as well. It happened about two weeks after the real launch of the game and got a lot of press attention.The week-long BecauseWeMay sale drove approximately 90 sales to date (the sale is on for two more days, as of this writing), and has – alone – more than doubled all of my sales to-date.

But this is me just blabbing about things! Who wants to see CHARTS?!

You can clearly see me often selling absolutely nothing each day. The peak in the middle there is the hard launch, and the big wall on the right is the #BecauseWeMay sale. Not pictured is April, which had a peak similar to the middle one.

As excited as I am about BecauseWeMay, doubling my shitty sales is just 2x shitty sales.

Total revenue-to-date is $179.44, two months after launch.


So, I mentioned I spent $1300 on marketing and Merchandise. What was that all about?

Merchandise was easy. For GDC, I ordered a bunch of T-Shirts and Stickers, which I had been giving out and wearing everywhere. You probably saw me wearing the shirt on my DevVlog videos! The game unfortunately didn’t launch till well-after GDC, so these efforts might have been wasted. $300 down the drain.

To support the main launch on May 12th, I bought a week’s worth of advertising banners on various websites. I did them up myself, so they aren’t the best ever, but whatever: Better than most other ads I’ve seen. Check out this banner ad:

I presented these ads in three different services:

  • Facebook, targeted at “women between 25-35 with children who use facebook on their phone” ($500)
  • Project Wonderful, targeted at more gaming-centric sites (with some custom ads placed on comics sites I like to read) ($200)
  • Reddit, untargeted. ($300)

Though facebook had the most impressions (HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS), it resulted in only 30 clicks. Project Wonderful had a tiny amount of traffic by comparison, and a much higher click-through-rate. Reddit provided me around 180 clicks as well.

Across all three networks, my cost-per-click was well over the 99-cent sale price, but I was willing to take a loss to promote visibility and viral-buzz.

I’ll give you a minute to scroll back up to my sales-graph and look at the date range of May 14th -> May 21st, the dates these ads ran.

I sold exactly 4 copies that week.


Why the price-point?

I wanted the game to be free-to-play, but didn’t have the time to devote to the game to get it done properly. I fully intended to convert it to F2P if it had been selling well, but as we can see.. It did not.

The $1.99 pricepoint was chosen for the simple reason that it allowed me to discount it to 99 cents. There is no “on sale” on iOS if your app is only 99 cents to start with.

By having this pricepoint, I was able to participate in the #BecauseWeMay sale, which – as we’ve seen – was the best thing to happen to the game!

What about rankings?

In the iOS market, your ranking position in the store is King. Being in the top-100 is considered absolutely necessary to make a profit, and even then the top-25 is the goal (and top-10 means bags-of-money).

So what rank does my $179 money-machine have? Well, let’s look at the US Market:

Nice. During the BecauseWeMay sale, I peaked at #74 in the “WordGames” subsection for paid-ipad-apps.

But, because I’m Canadian, and I want to feel good about myself, check out the charts in my home country:

Aww yeah! Look at that, #25! Wooo!

Sadly, what this is telling me is that you just have to sell your game to 20 Canadians and you’ll be in the top 20 or so. If I organized all my friends together at once, I might have been able to pull that off.

What went wrong?

It’s pretty obvious at this point that the game is a complete train-wreck, as far as profits are concerned. I might even feel better about myself if I sold ZERO copies, than just a handful of copies. But here we are. Where did I go wrong?

Well… where to start?

  • The branding of the game needs to be re-worked. The name is cute and has a pun, but it doesn’t sell the game on it’s own. The character is confusing and the imagery isn’t exactly cohesive.
  • The logos in the app-store could use some brushing up. Your app-store logo is your biggest billboard.
  • The website for the game is much too sparse on details, and doesn’t list the press-kit info right on the page.
  • I should have launched on all mobile platforms, considering how easy it would have been to pull it off.
  • I didn’t pester the press enough. There has not been a single critical review of the game anywhere, as far as I can tell.

The absolute biggest mistake, though? The TRAILER. It’s funny, I love it, the style is amazing and Kert is a genius for slapping it together. It was meant to be a teaser, and I was supposed to get an actual gameplay teaser in place on the game’s website for all those banner-ad-clickers to see. I had two press contacts say they never wrote anything about the game because they couldn’t figure out what the gameplay actually was from the trailer (… and therefore turned down acceptance of promo codes for the game).

Why didn’t I make the new trailer? Time and money constraints, mostly.

What went right

Time spent. I’m glad I didn’t pour several months into this title, just to have it flop like this. I’m glad I learned the “what went wrong” lessons early. A lot of people say “If I had just spent more than 8 days on the game, I would have done so much better! Maybe added new game modes and stuff!”… I disagree! I think all the problems listed in the above section were what held me back.

I’m very proud of the game that was made, and I am seriously convinced that it is fun. Unlike any of my other games, I still do sit down and play it for fun. I play it on long airplane trips. I play it while laying in bed.  It’s a fun game.

Most of all, I’ve learned a lot about the entire “iOS thing.” This is my first iOS game, remember, so writing all of this off as a learning experience is totally acceptable.

Net Revenue

The game has put me in debt by $4,019.56.

Future Plans?

I’m thinking a complete re-brand. Go for a name like “Generic Word Game” and play up the whole scrabble angle might result in better sales. Make the game Free-to-play with a one-time unlock for alternate game modes or something. But because I’m so far away from riding a “viral wave” right now, I’m probably going to wait until after PAX (maybe October) before working on it further.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them. Hit me up!

  23 Responses to “IceBurgers: by the Numbers”

Comments (21) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Sorry for being pedantic but sounds like by ‘profit’ you usually mean ‘revenue’?

    Thanks for this – it’s much more common for successful projects to post their numbers than unsuccessful. Leaving everyone with a skewed idea of how much money there is to be made in indie development.
    I’ll post my own latest business failure soon – the short version is spent a lot less money on it but a lot more time for about the same revenue.

    Love Steambirds btw. Haven’t tried iceburgers. Apparently I’m part of the problem.

  2. Ugh, sounds seriously similar to my experience with Snow Bombers.

    I’m not sure that the trailer was a huge mistake, I have a great gameplay focues trailer, and still got jack-shit for response for the dozen’s of press contacts.

    Also, I did the “shotgun launch” thing, and I wouldn’t do it again. It’s too hard to manage launching on so many platforms at once. In retrospect, I think it might have been better for me to launch on Playbook, get some credibility, then take that “top 10″ playbook game, and try and drum up some PR with the Android / iOS versions…

    Cheers dude,

  3. Yes! Good catch. I keep mixing that up. Fixed the post, now reads “revenue” instead of Profit.

    I suppose the “Net Revenue” bit at the bottom definitely confirms the figures, though it’s good to be clear and correct throughout.

    I also edited the article to say that this is my first big-expense project, I normally work for free (aka rev/IP splits), so it extra-hurts this time.

  4. Interesting, Shawn, not wanting to do a shotgun launch again. Maybe it wouldn’t have been all that much more valuable. I’ll have to think on that!

  5. many apology for english

    i think you fail because make poor looking game with confusing character confusing setting in saturated market

    why penguin spelling? what sense that make?

    many many nice looking word game on apple phone

    this not so nice looking

    you say “8 day!” like it good thing, do they like it better because? no.

    you see spell tower, say “he so lucky! maybe i be lucky too” not true. not lucky, good design, good polish

    spend more 8 day, you make good game

  6. The confusing character & setting go together with the name of the game and the branding issues I was laying out in the article, sorry that wasn’t more clear. I’ve edited the “what went wrong?” section to agree with you there, NK. :)

    I think the game looks pretty good. Sure, it’s not as pretty as spelltower. But I think it’s definitely nicer looking than most other word games in the over-saturated market (as long as you don’t count the inconsistent weirdness of the theme). I guess I was hoping the weirdness would make it stand out a bit? not so much!

    And for the record: I never said SpellTower was lucky. It’s all talent in that man’s head!

  7. I don’t believe it is really nailed down to any of the things you mentioned – while they are generally right, they are elements of a larger issue.

    It was just another fish in the sea. It wasn’t as special as the really profitable games. And I hate to say it, but I don’t think any charting games were built in 8 days – it takes longer to make a great product. Since iOS is such an all-or-nothing landscape, you really have to invest more into the development to make it the best game you’ve ever made. Not literally finance, just in terms of spending more days mocking up prototypes and finding which has genuine charm.

    I suppose this is a bit of a guess, since I can’t play the game. However, this is the impression I have received from all the background – the dev log, the marketing, and so on. It looks like you focused so much on learning how to do an iOS launch that the game was almost an aside.

    This is all just my opinion from what I have read, and isn’t necessarily right. Take from it what is useful to you.

  8. “I don’t think any charting games were built in 8 days – it takes longer to make a great product”

    I think that’s a generalization, and sure it might be true in most cases… but for two things:

    1. I’m not trying to make a “great” app, just trying to make my costs back.
    2. There are plenty of games build in very short periods that did very well. All the word games I cited early on in the article – like SpellTower, which I think was about 12 days if I remember correctly.

    In any case, I don’t think “how long you spent making it” is a real valid concern. If I spent more time on the game, yet it still looked identical, you wouldn’t be saying that.

  9. Well, my two cents as a word game fan who bought and plays the game.

    1. I like the game’s main mechanic, it’s simple and fun, controls are perfect, the rankings work. I still play it. Visuals/audio are fine, although not much variety.

    2. I don’t think it’s really a problem that it’s a spelling penguin who likes hamburgers and that makes no sense. (Oh, like fuming fowls being thrown at pigs makes sense!)

    3. Maybe not having “word” or “letters” etc somewhere in the title does hurt discovery, I made the same mistake with my word game

    4. mobile is word-gamed out, even solid word games are going to get ignored now (unless you get featured, etc..) I think free+ads/iap would work out better, never too late to add a free version like that and test the waters.

    5. I think there is currently one issue, gameplay-wise, holding the game back: after creating a word, a normally skilled player can end up in an unfair “bad spot” with no/few vowels.

    I think you need to constantly perform checks and insure a decent vowel/constant mix at the current location by changing the board (yeah, that may be hard to add in a way that doesn’t look strange.. ), perhaps even making sure 10+ five letter or better words are possible at any given time, purely for playability/fun.

    6. 8 days for a new game on a new platform? Crazy fast!

  10. Some readers seem to be getting caught up that Andy making this game in 8 days is a bad thing. However, the time it took him can’t really be measured as good or bad, because given his skill he executed the game he designed the way he wanted. It might take another person of different skill level 1 or 2 months, or even 48 hours to complete the programming. He most likely got the core done in 1 or 2 days, it really doesn’t take that long when this is your full time job and good at it.

    You could have made this title free, but with limited functionality in a way. Then have a IAP to unlock the full game. The downside to this is, your ranked with other free apps, therefore need more downloads to compensate that. You would have needed a very strong push to even make a dent with free. For some reason 99 cents is now a “premium” price, lol and it’s clear from Apple that majority of revenue is from IAP. The few case studies from other indie developers can’t really be used as a benchmark or business plan. Thx for sharing your numbers!

  11. First of all thanks a bunch for the details and insights behind the scenes. I agree with the trailer probably being a problem. It personally delayed my purchase because I couldn’t find a gameplay video. I love dubstep, but I know a lot of people who loathe it. For people looking for a nice cute experience, it’s a bit trippy and incongruous.

    That said, I love word games, and this one is fun for sure. I like the “last word”. It feels dramatic!

    One criticism about the game itself. On the large screen of the iPad I notice since the letters are white on blue, my subconscious has more trouble seeing words peripherally and I have to dart my eyes around more, causing a bit of a frantic feeling.

  12. It seems to me that you have just written your third most popular post :)

    I’m thinking about making games for the iOS, so for me it’s very interesting read! And thank you for your courage of sharing with us not only success stories but failures too. Sometimes such an articles are even most valuable than success stories.

  13. I’ve known about IceBurgers since the moment the (awesome) dub-step trailer got announced on twitter, yet to this day I don’t know what the gameplay is. Yeah, it’s a word game, but I need to know what is unique about the gameplay – what sets it apart from all the other word games. And I’m not going to buy it to find out.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m coming down on the game – I love the title, love the penguin, and love the art style in general. When I saw the first trailer, it said to me, “The next big game from the creator of Steambirds!” And the trailer felt like this cool sneak peek for those of us cool enough to follow you on twitter. But then there really wasn’t much follow-through, or at least, didn’t feel like it. Which sucks, because I want IceBurgers (and you) to be successful.

    I think an actual gameplay trailer, even a crappy one, would do wonders for the game. Seriously, make one, I don’t care how rough it is. Show people the game in motion so they can see why it’s fun. Let them see why they have to buy it!

  14. How great is the performance with Adobe Air?. In the future I would want to port my browser game if it is popular but I would rather not pay or learn to develop it in obj-c. I’ve heard that the performance is lacking. I would hope it’s as easy as a native app to develop and port?

  15. @Zack: Check out my performance-related post here: . TL;DR: AIR is pretty fast, if done “the right way” for the platform.

  16. Thanks for this.
    Great information here and very detailed. Gonna be a big help in the future.

  17. First of all, thanks for posting this.

    You said:
    “1. I’m not trying to make a “great” app, just trying to make my costs back.”

    Maybe this reveals something about the bigger problem. If you expect to make money – any money – you have to be ready to deliver your best. Even if breaking even is your goal, if you want people to give you their money, you can’t settle for “okay”. Whether you spent 8 days, 8 weeks or 8 months working on this game, the question you must ask yourself is, did you really deliver the best product that you possibly could?

  18. I think my phrase covers it: I wanted to do what it takes to make my costs back. If that requires me to do my best? Then that’s what I did!

    [if I made my costs back]

  19. Thanks for the development/marketing story, Andy. And great job on the game. I really enjoy playing it as a form of scrabble-like distraction from the day-to-day. All the best! – Soon

  20. Andy not easy huh as a game maker i have an idea for a game

  21. Andy lets talk man on skype buddyman772

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