Early 2011, everyone at Stolen Couch Games was still in school developing our exam year project Kids vs Goblins. Jay van Hutten, a fellow year mate, was developing a game of his own called Ichi. It was a elegant puzzle game that utilized a one-button mechanic in a way that didn’t feel gimmicky. The goal of the game was to guide a ball past a number of rings on the screen. By touching the screen you rotate bumpers, which caused the ball to change in direction. You could also hold your finger down to draw a line, once the ball hit the line it would travel back in the direction it came from.
About a half year later we spoke to Jay at a congress were he was demoing his game. I (Eric) shared my interesting in redeveloping Ichi for multiple platforms and making it a really great commercial product. Jay loved the idea and the day we finished Kids vs Goblins we were working together to make a bigger and better version of Ichi.
No developers were harmed during the making of this game
We knew that many people would consider Ichi as just another puzzle game, so we had to let people know how special the game really is. We spent about a week contacting the press about our game and we got a nice amount of coverage. But press alone won’t make your game a hit. If you read any guide on marketing for mobile games you always get to the point were the importance of getting a feature by Apple/Amazon/Google is expressed. We already got a feature on the Mac app store for our first game, but our published arranged that. We didn’t have a direct contact within Apple, so we had to come up with a way to contact them.
Luckily we had a few device IDs that belonged to Apple employees on our Testflight account. So we found out the matching email addresses and we send separate emails to every one of them. 2 of them, responsible for the iOS AppStore, loved the game and showed the game to the rest of the team. Our contact from the Mac AppStore was in love with the game. We Skyped for a few hours and everything was set.
Ichi was Apple’s Editor’s Choice for a week on the Mac AppStore and on iOS we were bumped to the new and noteworthy category and we got a small banner in the games section.
We’ve seen developers doing no marketing at all for their games because they believe they’re games will sell themselves. This is mentality is wrong. Just look at the top grossing games on iOS. Almost all of them spend enormous amount of time and money on marketing. Only by spending time and money, will you actually earn money.
The lessons we learned from this is that you should be prepared for something you can’t predict or test. We expected our server to send just numbers to the game, instead it was sending lines of random code. For our next games we’re making sure that the game handles these rare cases the correct way. One day of extra development time is better than losing thousands of dollars in revenue.
We launched the game with 50 built-in levels and player could play 10 user created levels for free. At the end of 2012 only 300 people out of 400.000 bought the in app purchase, an insanely low percentage. Why did almost no-one buy the in app purchase? We think it’s because people were done with Ichi after playing 50 build in levels. Nobody is going to play 10.000 user created levels, let alone 100. Ichi’s retention wasn’t high enough.
Getting a lot of players, quickly
Free app of the day promotions are great. Unfortunately it is unlikely that your app will become super popular once the promotion is over. We earned only $80 from the days after the FAAD promotion. But still it is better than nothing. One good tactic might be to get a lot of downloads using these promotions and then switch to a freemium model. You will have hundreds of thousands of players who will generate revenue though ads and/or in app purchases.
Critically, Ichi is a great success. We’ve gotten wonderful reviews and players seem to love the game. But commercially the game hasn’t done that well. We barely broke even on the development costs. Most of the revenue came from the Mac version, mainly due to the feature by Apple. iOS came in second, revenue-wise. The Android, PC and Linux versions didn’t make more than a few hundred dollars. Despite all of this we feel that Ichi was worth our time, it was great developing it and we delivered something we’re proud of.