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Synesthetic, the App Store and making a living

08-04-2012, 04:52 PM
#1
Synesthetic, the App Store and making a living

Long post ahead:

About a year ago, I had an idea for a game that would sync with your music. I thought it was a sure thing since I believe there are plenty of people like me out there, who keep their music on their iDevices and would like to play a game that builds levels based on it (the first thing I searched on the App Store when I bought my phone was Audiosurf). Two weeks ago Synesthetic was launched and at that time I was afraid two things might happen: 1. the game is a buggy mess and everybody hates it and 2. the press completely ignores me and I get zero exposure. Right now I can tell you my fears were misplaced: most users have given the game great reviews and all the major IOS-game websites have reviewed the game (most of them giving favorable marks, and all of them appreciating what I was trying to do). So everything is fine and peachy, right?

Well, no, unfortunately it isn't. At this point in time I've made ~1300$ and by the looks of it I don't think I'll make much more from here on. Thats 1300$ for a year of part-time work, definitely not a good return on investment (I could now probably make the game a lot faster but I assure you I've thrown out a lot more code than I've kept in the final product).

So what went wrong? Well, a lot and not that much really. The game was launched on the same day as Fieldrunners 2 and on the same week as Great Big War Game and the latest Batman game (all of these are games with great teams working on them, a lot more money on their side and very recognizable names) but one could argue that none of them was a direct competitor and that every week great games are released on the App Store. Next, and I believe most importantly, Apple did not choose my game to feature in the New and Noteworthy category. I'm not sure if they didn't like it or if they didn't know it existed (the game was approved a whole month before release) but I do believe it was a better app than a couple of the games that were featured. On the other hand some of those games seemed to have done just as bad (or just marginally better) as I have (based on data from AppAnnie) so I'm not that sure how much of a difference it actually makes being featured on anything but the main page.

When I started building apps for the iPhone I believed that if you are in the top 5% (quality wise) and get noticed by the press you will at least get the equivalent of a bad salary as a part-time programmer but it appears that only the top 1% break even. Whenever I heard somebody say that their game didn't sell as well as they had hoped, I thought that it was probably because their idea was unoriginal, the product wasn't polished enough or that there wasn't a market for that game but right now I'm not sure what to believe. The game is like nothing on this platform (the only other good music game, in my opinion, is Beat Hazard) and I'm sure there's a market out there. I'm not saying that Synesthetic is perfect (based on the reviews it clearly isn't) but it is a good game (again, based on the reviews) and I'm sure plenty of people who will never hear about it would enjoy it.

If you have similar stories please share them and if you think I've made a mistake somewhere or have any advice what I should do with the game from here on, please, tell me.
08-04-2012, 05:33 PM
#2
Joined: May 2012
Location: In the Chatroom
Posts: 15,520
Alex, I wouldn't mind giving some constructive comments more from a consumer side of your question "So what went wrong?", but since you seemed kind of down, thought maybe that is not quite what you are asking for, seems like you want some more developer hardship stories or developer's advice on how to get more future sales.

Too bad sales of your game didn't go as expected. Good luck.

08-04-2012, 05:40 PM
#3
Quote:
Originally Posted by Connector View Post
Alex, I wouldn't mind giving some constructive comments more from a consumer side of your question "So what went wrong?", but since you seemed kind of down, thought maybe that is not quite what you are asking for, seems like you want some more developer hardship stories or developer's advice on how to get more future sales.

Too bad sales of your game didn't go as expected. Good luck.
Feedback is always very welcomed.
08-04-2012, 06:03 PM
#4
Joined: Jun 2012
Location: Ottawa, Canada
Posts: 150
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Dantis View Post
Long post ahead:
I'm not sure if they didn't like it or if they didn't know it existed (the game was approved a whole month before release) but I do believe it was a better app than a couple of the games that were featured.
I read somewhere on this forum and I'm not entirely sure on this but that once it get's accepted you have to release because it's countdown off the new and noteworthy section starts immediately.

Why did you wait a month after it was approved? (website,reviews,promotion?)

Your game looks professional, your website is great as well, but I think people saw it more as music visualizer and maybe don't understand how it plays as a game. Still looks like it should have done better. Will try it out right now.

I feel like the same financial fate awaits me, <gulp>.
08-04-2012, 06:34 PM
#5
Joined: Jun 2012
Location: Ottawa, Canada
Posts: 150
Just played the game, and I have to say I really love your work, It's exactly like playing a music visualizer from winamp and love how the game comes to an ending, buying and reviewing it right now. It's a shame this didn't get featured because the iOS was built for playing music and this game really uses it for gameplay. Very trippy. I haven't tried the other modes yet, but is there a way to make the variation in quiet and loud parts of song extremely evident in the gameplay? I see the bumps and how they change with the music, but I'm wondering if the app can sense larger chunks of the music and differentiate between them, like shifts between big and quite verses.

Perhaps instead of getting game review sites to review you should try and see if you can get lifestyle sites and magazines (especially involving music/ipod/audio). I really hope it picks up, because I think it deserves too.

This game should cater more to music lovers than gamers.

Also I looked at your posts on touch arcade, while you were showing off your game you don't have a sig for your website or any social media account like twitter or facebook, you should put one up so ppl can follow the progress of your game, although I'm not sure how much a difference it would make, but it won't cost you anything.

Last edited by RebelBinary; 08-04-2012 at 06:51 PM.
08-04-2012, 06:56 PM
#6
Quote:
Originally Posted by RebelBinary View Post
I read somewhere on this forum and I'm not entirely sure on this but that once it get's accepted you have to release because it's countdown off the new and noteworthy section starts immediately.

Why did you wait a month after it was approved? (website,reviews,promotion?)
To tell you the truth I didn't think about it that much. I imagined the reviewers just give the game some sort of mark and when the time comes they feature it based on this mark. The answer is a weird mix of getting a new job, studying for an exam, and working to make a great trailer (you'd be amazed how much time was spent looking for the perfect creative commons songs) + one week to send press releases and try to build up hype.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RebelBinary View Post
Your game looks professional, your website is great as well, but I think people saw it more as music visualizer and maybe don't understand how it plays as a game. Still looks like it should have done better. Will try it out right now.
Thanks! The nasty thing is that after a full year of playing the game I can't tell if it's any good or not and all the gameplay mechanics seem obvious to me. Unfortunately you're forced to base your assumptions on what the testers tell you and even though I've got a lot of great feedback and advice from them (a huge thanks to everybody on the forum who has helped me), it's never really enough.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RebelBinary View Post
Perhaps instead of getting game review sites to review you should try and see if you can get lifestyle sites and magazines (especially involving music/ipod/audio). I really hope it picks up, because I think it deserves too.

This game should cater more to music lovers than gamers.
That's a great idea. I guess I should start preparing a new batch of press releases. As for the song analysis: I already have a couple of ideas how to improve it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RebelBinary View Post
I feel like the same financial fate awaits me, <gulp>.
I really hope not and wish you loads of luck.
08-04-2012, 07:08 PM
#7
Joined: Jul 2012
Posts: 20
Just some feedback for you, from a potential costumers perspective. (Didn't buy it)

1. Your game seems to be for a niche audience so I wouldn't expect too many sales.

2. Watching your YouTube video, what the heck is going on? Looks like a visualizer like RebelBinary said. Zero explanation on how to play the game, I am totally clueless after watching your video. You need to explain (show) what and how things work.

3. Classical music? Won't work on me, probably the last genre I listen too. Need more regular music (I know you have different music later). Your trailer is way too long, once you cannot introduce new game play elements, it's time to end it. Since it doesn't show any, most people will probably stop watching around the 15 - 30 sec mark.

In the end, you need to market your game differently, both on your website and in Itunes, and I think people could be more open towards it.

Hope this helps a little bit

PS. Only us developers care about 60fps, your average costumer has no clue what it even means. DS
08-04-2012, 07:10 PM
#8
Joined: Mar 2012
Posts: 7
I initially started developing apps back in late 2008 / early 2009 and released a novelty app (meaning stupid) which took me a month to develop with no prior experience in Mac / Obj-C. After I released my app, I saw that a company called Chillingo released a very similar app to mine soon after. Then I kept seeing their name pop up in the App Store and thought to myself, "who the hell are these guys?" Well, the rest is history and you know what happened next

I made a little over $4,000 with that stupid little app. Your application is by far more complicated (and better) than my app. Fast forward to 2012, and the market is vastly different. You have to compete with established and AAA players moving into the scene. It's rough out there. It's the same story for most indies out there. They release an app or a game, and they don't understand why it isn't successful. But the way I see it:

1. When I play the really successful games out there, it's obvious to me why they are successful.

2. Lot of the successful indies games out there were first on the scene, and they have built on top of their success. Now they have a big user/player base, clout, and decent budget for marketing and PR.

3. When I see people confused about their game's lackluster performance and check out their product, I can see why as I would not spend money on them either. By the way, I'm not judging your app and saying that your app falls into this category.

4. There are always exceptions to the rule, but they are just that - exceptions not the norm.

I started developing a game around two years ago. I was able to sign on with a major publisher, but the process has been dragging on for close to two years now even when the game has been done for over 8 months. So I have no idea how successful it will be because it has not released yet. We have been working on our second game for the past few months and were around 70% complete before everyone realized it just "wasn't good enough" to compete in the current market. So we scrapped the idea and are pretty much back to square one. Do we release a game that we don't believe in, in hopes that it will be successful and somehow generate income? Or do we take the time to make a game that we are proud of and a game that can compete? Are we putting ourselves at a bigger disadvantage by waiting and not releasing the game in this fast moving space?

All I can say is that it is difficult for most indies out there. So at least we can commiserate I think many people out there are striving for the same goal -- to get out of the 9 to 5, the rat race of daily corporate life. I was super excited when I started developing apps and games for iOS. It felt as if the some of the power has been put back into my hands. But as the years have progressed, as the market has been consolidating, I must say that the excitement has been tinged with frustration and perhaps even slight hopelessness. The only thing I can do is continue trying. There really is nothing else that I'm even remotely good at, so not much of a choice haha. As much as I look forward to savoring writing that resignation letter to tell the man that I quit, It seems like I'll be keeping my day job for the foreseeable future.
08-04-2012, 07:13 PM
#9
Joined: Jul 2011
Location: The red Skittle
Posts: 5,771
If you had waited a month after the game was approved, the game would not have been featured on the App Store's "recently released" tab. Thanks to that, it's not likely to have been featured by Apple too. They choose games (mostly from that list) from either the current, or the previous week.

Hopefully that shines a little light on your situation.



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08-04-2012, 07:43 PM
#10
Joined: Jul 2012
Posts: 669
Beat Hazard Ultra has me wanting more from my music collection of late and I considered your game. I tried the lite version and I found it enjoyable but it largely depended on variations in the music to make it interesting (BHU has the same issue).

You made a quality product! I'm sorry it didn't turn out better sales wise.