Cricket Words Mid-Mortem
Ultimately this post is about getting suggestions from other devs. Let me give you the background. There are questions throughout and I've included user numbers and profit data.
We launched Cricket Words on November 22, 2011. Words with Friends was at a height of popularity, but we had various issues with it which I won't go into here. Our idea was not to make a Words with Friends clone. Far from it. We just wanted to make an awesome word game that we'd actually enjoy playing.
The app is here if you want to check it out while reading: http://bit.ly/cricketwords
Our game would be a combo of word-building games like Boggle with scoring from the dart game cricket. The game revolves around making words of particular word lengths. For example, make a 4-letter word and you get a mark for 4s. Make three 4-letter words and you have cleared 4s. Make another 4-letter word and, as long as your opponent hasn't cleared them, you score 4 points on them. The winner is the first to clear all marks with the lower score. To further tie it to cricket we included ways to get doubles and triples based on playing a red letter on a red square.
In order to avoid the cheating that is rampant in Words with Friends (one of our main gripes with that game) we added a timer. Once you start your turn your letters are revealed and you have 45 seconds to make up to 3 words max.
Does this all make sense? One red flag might be how hard this game is to explain. We included instructions in the app but that may not be enough, people might not read them, or the game still might not be clear after reading them. We were trying to do something different but I'm wondering if we were a little too different. This is something I'd love feedback on.
A few more notes: the game allows you play against 2, 3, or 4 players. We launched as a universal app for iPhone and iPad. We included a number of Game Center achievements and leader boards right from the start to track total wins and points as well as various accomplishments.
We iterated extensively throughout the dev process, playing with our friends all the while to test and see how people reacted to each change. Things like:
- We originally had 4 red letters available to make doubles. This made the game far too easy.
- We originally only had one difficultly (what ended up being Hard). We could see certain people were struggling and decided we had to launch with an Easy and Medium option.
- UI went through various stages, as I'm sure is normal.
We went through various ideas as to how we would position the app to make money. We decided against just charging for the app. Charging for a multiplayer game from a company that had never released a game before seemed like a bad idea since it would be too high a barrier of entry to expect your friends to also pay to try an app that you like.
Ads and in-app purchases were the obvious options.
We added advertising. At the time we implemented AdWhirl and set it up to use iAd, AdMob, and our own house ads (directing users to our other apps) for when those couldn't be filled.
We initially had a handful of in-app purchases. Ad-free, of course, which lives on to this day. We also had in-app purchases for being able to play against more than 1 opponent and the ability to play more than 1 game concurrently. Ultimately we felt these last two were just hindering people from playing and would lead people to abandon the game quickly. We scrapped them both before launch and allowed anyone to play 2/3/4 player games and to start as many games as Game Center would allow.
For interstitial ads, we did not want to be as annoying as Words with Friends, displaying an interstitial after every turn. Instead we would display an interstitial once every three turns. On the iPhone the interstitial was essentially an advertisement to purchase the ad-free upgrade. On the iPad we attempted to use the iAd interstitials if available, otherwise we'd display the ad-free upgrade option.
The game would be multiplayer and use GameKit's new (at the time) multiplayer mechanics and matchmaking. This meant that we were launching as 5.0-only very shortly after the release of 5.0. We didn't think too much about this since using GameKit's built-in functionality was really the only way we were going to get this done in a reasonable timeframe. Potential downsides were excluding people who hadn't upgraded to 5.0 and people who couldn't upgrade to 5.0 (because their device didn't support it). A potential upside was hoping that Apple might want to feature an app that was iOS 5-exclusive (they didn't). We blogged about this, posted some data, and then our numbers from when we switched to allowing 4.3 and up. As you can see, didn't really make a difference.
We had a number of friends and acquaintances playing Cricket Words from the moment we had something playable. Prior to release to the App Store we posted on a few forums (including here) with screenshots and promo codes (the game had been approved but we hadn't released it yet). We honestly didn't and still don't have much of a Twitter following, though we tried to ramp up how much we tweeted and posted to our blog ahead of launch.
We sent close to 50 requests to review sites to try to get some kind of attention. We included promo codes so they could download the game ahead of launch. This resulted in exactly zero reviews.
What could we have done better pre-launch?
When trying to post I'm being told my post is too long. I'll break it here and post more about the Launch and beyond.