Saturday, 9 June 2012 5 comments

Astavoid: A postmortem

The last six months have been a hell of a journey and have learnt so much.  What I don't understand are those people who write a game, expect it to become the next Angry Birds and then give up. What I have learnt from writing Astavoid has been invaluable but more importantly it is what I do next and having learnt from my mistakes are key to me achieving my goal.

This project and reaching out into the indie development world has been brilliant and would like to share some of the snippets I have received either directly via email or gleaned from other postmortems, blogs, tweets and browsing the interweb.

The general feedback I got about Astavoid was that it was a great first effort, that it was complete and polished with some neat twists but ultimately too hard and not sticky enough. This is supported throughout my analysis.

Keith Shepherd of Temple Run and soon to be released Temple Run: Brave fame was kind enough to feedback via email on my blogs and design of Astavoid with a number of pointers. Probably the biggest pointers I got from him were don't do soft launches but instead make a big impact by publicising your predefined launch date while also ensuring you never pay for reviews on review sites.  The other main point was making sure you keep player retention and he used the analogy that 50% of Temple Run's users were still playing after a month.

Another Indie I have had the good fortune of exchanging dialogue with is Whitaker Trebella.  He too has just launched his first game but his launch day tactics were exceptional.  He really got the word around and while he has some contacts in the industry having done some excellent scores for games such as Tilt to Live, Super Stickman Golf and Casey's Contraptions, he ensured he got the word around.  Again, tips I  have picked up from him were use Twitter, use blogs and forums (Reddit, Touch Arcade etc) and create a decent game trailer, the latter of which I was disappointed in my own efforts. Whitaker wrote a very good article on using Twitter to support your game launch:

Matt Rix of Trainyard fame and inadvertently Noel Llopis (Casey's Contraptions, Flower Garden),  were incredibly helpful in refining my game design for different reasons.  Matt was kind enough to be one of my beta testers and gave me some constructive criticism to make the game more accessible to the masses.  Like all good ideas (well good ideas to those that conceived it) you think that everyone will love it.  The challenge with apps is that you aren't dealing with gamers or a specific target audience specifically and for that reason you don't want to overcomplicate gameplay.  This is definitely something that Matt pointed out to me which meant I went through a number of iterations of beta testing based on his feedback to make the control mechanic more akin to Tiny Wings and Jet Pack Joyride et al.  Noel, on the otherhand, gave me insight into indie development as a whole which I have blogged separately about but I was able to be a beta tester on his Flower Garden game that gave me a view on to how games should be tested and user feedback being considered and adopted so late in development cycles. 

I have also read some great articles concerning the guys over at UsTwo who, amongst other titles, are reasonable well known for the very enjoyable Whale Trail. To paraphrase a few articles the tips from these guys are:
  • Give journalists a story to tell: the app store is too populated to just be about the game on the whole.  Have an angle to sell in and make you stand out from the crowd
  • And target the right journalists: Review sites may not be the write medium as not everyone is a gamer.  Look for other mediums such as newspapers etc
  • Get the right offering together before launching: make sure what you launch is right and not rushed to get something out on the market
  • Talk to your fans: ownership, involvement and loyalty will undoubtable helped mould a better experience
  • You don’t just need a good idea, you need a marketable idea: What do users actually want?
  • But it needs to be a marketable idea that you like: make something you want to make!
Along with this advice that I have gathered so far I thought I would share a few learnings of my own.  For what it is worth my game, Astavoid, hasn't been a great success.  It was launched mid April 2012 on iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod), Android and Amazon Kindle.  The breakdown of stats are as follows:

iOS downloads: 2,297
Android: 270
Kindle: 89

Total: 2,656

To be honest I don't know what I was expecting from my first game but these seem respectable.  That said half my iOS downloads were on the first day.  But considering, despite my best efforts, to get reviews and press coverage this is purely word of mouth and one press release via prMac.

The only thing I have done is invest a total of $140 ($70 on iOS and $70 on Android) in AdMob advertising campaign.  The tactic of this was to see if this had an impact on sales and whether in app advertising was a future strategy I should consider.

I ran the AdMob campaign on separate weeks, with a daily spend of $10 and a click of $0.01 which should generate 1000 click throughs to the relevant app stores.  So for $140 I should get 14,000 click through to stimulate downloads.

The following two graphs are the effects that the advertising had on the downloads figures:



The graphs are a little misleading as the spike on the Android one is much larger given the relative non existent downloads to that point.  What the graphs do show is that the ad campaign did stimulate spikes.  However, despite the campaign breakdown as shown below the relative click through rate and the resultant conversion to a download was negligible

As you can see my ad was show some 2.4m times but the general awareness didn't really stimulate anything.  This then brings me to the main point of monetarisation.  Going back to the advice that Keith gave the game must be sticky and there is no truer word then when you have a free app reliant on ad revenue.

Just to be clear about my goal although it is about making enough money to put my kids into private education and pay off my mortgage I wasn't expecting to make a dent in that with my first game.  In fact I see my first year making a loss and hope there are enough lessons to build on for year two to be profitable. With that in mind I will share with you my bag of loot.

[Update: As noted by AC in the comments this is timelapsed based on revenues per day]

Yep thats right $10!!! So just AdMobs alone I am at a $130 loss.  But this is what this is all about learning, experimenting and putting these skills and thoughts into action that mean the second, third and one hundredth game.

So what will I be taking forward into my next game? To summarise:

  • A paid for app [Update: main comments are to consider freemium, we'll see :)]
  • A game that allows short bursts but brings the user back
  • To engage far earlier in my marketing.  To fix a date some two or three weeks after the app is approved and let the media, forums, blogs and the world know its coming
  • Create a quality teaser video that does it justice
  • Make a richer, deeper but polished experience for the user
  • Try to instill some elements of community 
  • Learn more
  • Keep having fun
So for now I will leave Astavoid behind and have fond memories of fulfilling a dream of writing a game however simple it ended up being and move on to much bigger and better things.

Check out Astavoid on App Store and Google Play and download for free.