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