Two million downloads later - or what Voxel Rush taught me
An excellent article from the indie developer Rafal Wilinski, which in a sense returns from heaven to earth and subverts some of the stereotypes that have developed among application developers. On the other hand, this article confirms many truths about product management.
Before that, I talked only about technology and programming, but today I would like to dwell on something fundamentally different, talk about what most Indie developers hate.
And other minor things not related to programming.
After my games have been downloaded millions of times, I think I’m already a little in the subject, so I decided to create a list consisting of myths, thoughts and my own experience. Some of them can be very controversial, but remember that this is only my point of view. Feel free to argue with me in the comments section.
Let's start with ...
Neither your first, nor second, nor even your twentieth game will ever succeed
This is what I constantly see on forums such as Indie Game Developers. I was 17 years old when I released Voxel Rush, this was my first game, and my desire was to gain 1000 downloads over time. I made a lot of mistakes, but despite this, everything went (was) pretty good. And I will tell you why - I was fine-tuning my game again and again and it was re-released three times.
First try- an independent release, the controls in the game were broken, she had a “wooden” interface, and it was too complicated. I have collected over a thousand downloads per week with an average rating of 2.88 with zero press coverage and poor description and cataloging. My dream came true, but not exactly the way I wanted it. It was a complete disaster. After this “accident”, I deleted all the source code and started working on the same concept. Before releasing the game, I also decided to go to Vivid Games, where I was hoping to find a publisher. I had a great conversation with their co-director, but it is obvious that they had to refuse my offer, because the game was just awful. After that, I had only one thought in my mind: “Well, hey.”
Here's what it looks like today from the point of view of the developer console:
Today's statistics, 33 live copies!
The second attempt - 5 months laterWith much more experience and knowledge in programming, along with feedback from players and friends, I had a complete and polished idea of the game. And again, I myself released (released) a game in which everything was significantly improved, and it became a little easier to play. I just wrote about it in some forums, such as AndroidCentral or XdaDevelopers, and after 2 or 3 days, when I saw that the game was going in the right direction (positive feedback, 5/5 reviews), I decided that it would be great to advertise her somewhere else, so I started spamming other forums. Looking back from the height of my existing experience, what I have done can, in a sense, be called a very short “soft-clutch”.
Today's statistics, people still play this?
The third attempt - another 5 months later, after I received more than 200 thousand downloads, and was really proud of myself, unknown to anyone, 17-year-old Indie Game Developer. Once, I was kind of lured into a London-based mobile game publisher, Hyperbees. Fortunately, they spoke Polish, so that we could communicate freely. The contract was quite complicated and was not written in my native language, so for a month, we discussed only my fears.
After countless conversations via Skype and mail, I decided to work with them, and I do not regret it. The publisher really helps you with advertising, promos, website development, press kits, etc.
Remember that even if your game does not become successful, there is a huge variety of additional bonuses, in addition to money and downloads. I’m talking about parties in the industry, exclusive advertising deals, campaigns that are ideal for your game, a much wider audience reach, and in my case, unforgettable impressions and individual English lessons.
Focus on the first 30 days.
This is very important. During the first 30 days, your game can be found in the “New Releases” section. Getting a good position on this chart is much easier simply because there are fewer games here. If you use this opportunity wisely, you can create a “snowball” lasting more than 30 days,
but this is a double-edged sword.
During our third attempt to release (release) the game, we decided to start from the very beginning, instead of re-linking the application to another developer account, and this was one of our worst decisions. We relied so much on these 30 days that we removed the application, which collected more than 2,000 downloads daily; we mistakenly thought that these 30 days would give us more resonance (wider audience reach).
We removed the game, which collected more than 2,000 downloads daily ... Irreplaceable loss. Returning to these indicators in the new catalog took us more than 6 months.
In addition, if your game does not receive 10,000 downloads during this period of time, then later it will be much more difficult and maybe it is just not good enough, and you should find the reasons for this.
Self-release of the game is a disaster, and you are unlikely to get at least some number of downloads.
Even greater nonsense
My case shows the exact opposite in terms of downloads. Let's compare my second and third releases in terms of downloads:
150 days after the second and third launch (release).
This graph shows the “Total number of installations by device” in the first 150 days after launch. As you can see, on some points I was significantly superior to my publisher, but in the end it seemed that the collaboration with them was worth it.
But wait, there is something else! Take a closer look at the following “exaggerated” schedule:
Money that I earned myself versus money earned with the publisher
Before I started working with Hyperbees it looked like a charity. There were no ads in the game, there were no sales within the application (in-app) and ZERO of third-party SDKs. Well, I was very young and stupid. Another bonus the publisher has is that they also take care of taxes and all other bureaucracy and you can focus on the product.
The press is very useful
In my case, this was not so.
Thanks to Tom Mlecko and Hyperbees, our game won the Big Indie Pitch on Apps World and it was really cool; we won VIP tickets for the PocketGamer event in London, people finally heard about VR, and we had the opportunity to talk with some influential people. But guess what was the result of sales / downloads? Zero.
In another instance, we were the organizers of the Platform Wars event, which was a huge success with Nvidia, but a few days before there was really long press coverage in the Chicago Tribune, one of the top 10 newspapers in the United States. Did we get extra downloads? Only within the limits of statistical error.
My game also featured on numerous Polish technology websites and the conversion was minimal.
Stay on top of AppOfTheDay and similar programs.
This is a huge push, but the greater the strength, the greater the responsibility. Thanks to AppTurbo and AppOfTheDay, we managed to get more than 100,000 downloads in just one day. Here is the result:
And the peak of downloads:
Source: Developer Console
There are pluses, but there are undeniable minuses. Here's how our rating went down:
We went down from 4.83, which at that time was one of the highest ratings on the market, to 4.07. Even after 18 months, we could not recover from this and now we are stuck at a 4.25 rating. There are two reasons for this negative effect:
1) You get random traffic that is not interested in your game. People download the game only because it is the “application of the day” and in the end it will not be interesting. Your game should be very entertaining from the first moment, if you want them to remain your users.
2) The version with a critical error was in production. Over 60,000 downloads were affected by this error, where during the first game you were immortal and strikes against obstacles did not lead to anything. This was the main reason for these 1-star ratings.
Here is the conclusion from this - just test the game again
It is my fault and my publishers that we sent this version to production, but I completely understand why this happened. We are all tired of working in such a hurry at a crucial moment, and here is a lesson from this:do not hurry.
Game development also involves getting pleasure for us designers "Triple-I» ( "the Triple-I of" ). Do not shamefully delay the release of your game in order to make it better and polish a little. Even AAA studios do this; look at The Witcher 3, for example. CD Projekt decided to release the title later, but thanks to this, they managed to make such a wonderful masterpiece that for me this is still one of the best games I have ever played.
In addition, try to do a stress test of your internal server before such events. Our servers really ran into big problems trying to deal with 1000 one-time players; we had to disable some endpoints and we did not receive all the data that caused massive “memory leaks” in the database.
Dating offline is very important
As I said before, we won VIP tickets for the PocketGamer Connects event. We had a great time there, ate delicious food, drank delicious wine and met amazing people. One of these guys was from Google Play. We had a chance to saturate our game for him, and despite the fact that our brainchild fell (!) During the presentation, and he was not impressed, a few months later thanks to this meeting, our game was locked on Google Play around the world . Nevertheless, maybe this happened because we prepared a special, more intense version, filled with events, complex obstacles and set it up so that the game would be much faster.
The power of phishing from Google
So for a week, VR featured on Google Play in the categories “Best Games” and “New and Improved” in some countries. Fichering is probably the best thing that can happen to your game; you get an impetus to a huge number of downloads and from our experience, unlike the programs of the (App of the day) App of the Day, you really attract players who are most likely to stay in your game and give you their money. In addition, this “peak of downloads” will resonate over time, so there is less chance that your servers will be DDoS with a huge number of players, and you will also have more time to react. It is also worth noting that phishing from Google is simply more effective.
Left: Google Play featured, right: App of the Day
OK, but how can I be fixed? Here's how you can increase your chances of phishing:
- “Just” create a great game, lol
- Integrate Google Play services with your latest features, such as real-time multiplayer, quests, gifts, etc., and show them very clearly in the game
- Try to win or simply take part in several contests, such as Big Indie Pitch or <any other games contest>, and you can be noticed by them.
- Meet at events, in our time, communication is as important as money or a great product
- Do something unique. Our selling point was an event called Platform Wars, where Android players fought against iOS players in World War II.
Stay in touch with the players
This may be obvious, but here's the thing. Nowadays, almost every game has its own fan page on Facebook, Twitter, etc. The problem is that if I, as a player, wanted to give you feedback, I would have to stop playing, exit the application, launch the Facebook / Twitter application, find the developer / game page, and then post something. Running with obstacles.
The player needs a way to immediately provide feedback. In Voxel Rush, we decided to add the “Help me!” Button in the lower right corner of the main menu, which opens a mail message in which the basic information is already filled. Through this button, we received a huge number of letters with valuable feedback, complaints, indications of errors, etc. etc.
If you don’t like it, try adding social icons redirecting to your page, but please, for heaven’s sake do not use facebook.com
Try to minimize the amount of SDK
From our experience, SDKs are the main cause of game crashes. They also increase the size of the game and managing them sometimes gets too much trouble, especially on Android, where you have to take care of AndroidManifest and duplicate classes / methods. Third-party SDKs are also a major cause of production delays, forced updates, and my own frustration. My advice is to set as few SDKs as possible. Your game should be in perfect order with Game Center / Play Services, AdMob, UnityAds and some analytic systems.
Comment by devtodev:
This article confirms the statements that we often repeat to our clients and voice in webinars:
1. You need to focus on the first days of the life of the application. It is these days that you get the cleanest and fairest feedback from users. Plus you are in new releases.
2. Do not rush, it is better to check the application again, and then again. It will only get better.
3. You need to be on a short foot (in touch) with users, they love it, they react to it.
4. Google Play Fichering is something everyone should strive for. This is a fair reward for the work of the developer.
5. The main thing you need to do is a cool product. The truth is so simple, and you should always remember it.
Well, the case about how AppOfTheDay increases downloads, but lowers the rating is very interesting. We will use it in the future as an example.