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Reflections on my first flop as an indie developer

07-12-2014, 10:26 AM
Joined: Nov 2013
Posts: 89
Reflections on my first flop as an indie developer

Note: this article was posted on Gamasutra - you can read the original there.

As a indie, who loves to work inside my own world with my own rules (no deadlines, no budget), this is like "... ok, ok, I need to get a life and move on, and well, let's also try to make this thing something real at last, something that people can touch and provide some reactionsÖ letís go and see what happens!".

This is the kind of attitude which will always make you fail when trying to make a dent into the App Store. Your game will probably hit the deepest rank in App Store in 2-3 days and will never recover from there.

None will care about you, your "firm" nor your game, because the real thing is that you never existed, your shadow is too short.


The real problem about app marketing is not just about game quality or marketing budget. If it was so simple, then the solution would be just to throw in more bucks. But itís not. It's been always about reach, or properly named "social reach" today.

When I worked on the first game, TapTapGo (see it at AppStore here), I did it for the sake of getting the experience of both creating something on the magnificient Apple platform but also publishing and trying to make impact. I learnt a lot about marketing then. And I also felt depressed.

I tested almost any tool and tactic to try to get attention from potential gamers: preview videos, social and forums engagement (and joining #IDRTG), PR kits (almost none reply to my pledges), paid reviews with Gnome Escape (which gave my first game a mix of good and bad reviews), ASO (Sensor Tower and others) and many more.

It was exhausting (and expensive). And I could not see any benefit from those actions. I watched every day (and every hour sometimes) Apple charts. I was looking at iTunes Connect app and other statistical apps in my phone during my walks.

After 2-3 months releasing a few updates and working hard trying to get my game up in the ladder of App Store I threw the towel and decided to move on, to take a break and bring in space for new ideas.

My reflections on that experience are that, even I pushed very hard to market my game, my reach was very low. I had few contacts to share my game with and even my game got a few thousand downloads during the first weeks, I could not see any network effect. Every action, every penny, I expended trying to expand my reach was unsuccessfully brief, because the real problem is that I didnít have any social attractor linked to my game.

I didnít care about creating a fan base which could provide enough reach so any update could bring in more fans. Instead, I got only superficial downloads, forced by discrete investment.

So, next time, donít rush to release your game. Make sure you have a good reason to do that. Why will you be going to release the game? What are your expectations? Do you have taken the steps to build a proper reach through a fan base when launch day comes? Because if you donít, you will be disappointed. And you wonít be able to explain why do you feel so.

In next posts I will describe my efforts to create some noise before Noir Run, our second game, get released. Stay tunned!

07-12-2014, 07:32 PM
Joined: Jun 2014
Location: Allen, Tx
Posts: 64
I was just discussing some of this stuff with my wife. Part of the problem when you're just starting (myself included) is the thrill of launching your game. Patience and thorough planning fall victims to the anticipation of going live. It takes experience, and most of us have to learn the hard way. It's part of process and to be really good at anything you'll have to take a few lumps.

07-12-2014, 07:52 PM
Joined: Aug 2013
Posts: 1,065
It is just hard to get traction. If you got a few thousand downloads did you have any engagement analytics in your app?

If the app isn't very engaging then you know your problem.

Often people forget to even look at the app as the problem and always assume it is everything else but the thing they made!

Please follow me on twitter @JamesDestined I post lots of development from both my game creation and professional development.
Time to measure - Brain challenge https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/time...820864672?mt=8
The light box, can you solve it (free) (on google play too)
07-12-2014, 10:09 PM
Joined: Jan 2012
Location: Leo City
Posts: 389
I can understand how you all feel. Having made Small Chronicles and Folo Hearts, which didn't have much people playing them, made me disappointed as well. But that doesn't mean that I will give up making games.

It isn't easy to get people to notice your game(s) in a saturated market. All the more we should not give up

Remember to spend the same amount if not more effort on talking about your game than actually making it
07-13-2014, 03:19 AM
Joined: Nov 2013
Posts: 89
Thanks for your comments.

Yes, anticipating was part of my problem as well. But as I said it was my first game and I wanted to learn from the entire lifecycle. For example, how will the game behave when it's used by *lots* of gamers? And how will Apple pay me? And so on.

Another important problem is the saturation of the App Store as WhiteSponge says but I'm not sure that Apple can fix it. I think it's a matter of us to spread the word about the game as part of the process, especially before game launch and not after.

Last edited by TapTapGo; 07-13-2014 at 03:28 AM.
07-13-2014, 06:00 PM
Joined: Nov 2009
Location: Wellington
Posts: 938
Sorry to hear your first game didn't go so well.

I think one issue a lot of smaller developers have is overspending their time on trying to push downloads and reviews via forums etc. This is really time consuming relative to the numbers you can actually drive, and therefore not necessarily a great use of your time. Forums are great places for feedback, but you are never going to drive anything substantial through that alone.

You mention your game had a lack of social attractor, and that is a place of underinvestment a lot of the time. Haven't played your game, so I don't know how true this is - you at least seem to have the basics in there in terms of multiplayer, Gamecenter, leaderbaords, etc so I'm not sure I'd recommend doing more here at this stage.

If I had to take a stab at what part of the problem might be, I'd say the core sales assets are a key issue. Getting people to your App Store page is a huge task, but once they are there you want to make sure you have stacked your chance of the person then downloading and playing the game.

Your game name is fine, and hints at what players should expect in the game. I'd suggest you work on your icon and screenshots.

For the icon, it doesn't read well when it is small. You are effectively trying to cram multiple screenshots on there, and that just isn't going to work well on device, or when people are seeing your game in a list. It is also mostly a muted brown, so it will sink into the background when seen against a sea of other puzzle games. Would suggest you play up the characters you have, making them much bigger and the focus of the icon, and use the core gaming elements such as gems and fruit where appropriate to enhance and add colour. Forget about trying to show the board layouts and gameplay on the icon - that's what the screenshots are for.

Your screenshots are also not optimal. At a passing glance, your first screenshot looks like an IAP popup given the dollar signs and options, and while it isn't people may be turned off by that first impression enough to quickly move on, or otherwise colour their impressions of the title (I think you should consider dropping this screenshot entirely on that basis). You'd be better off with the 3rd screenshot you have in the first slot as it is a much better representation of the game and has a better marketing tagline. In general, your marketing text on the screenshots is also a little lain and poorly laid out. Making this text more dynamic and better positioned will give a better impression of your game.

Take a look at top puzzle games like Cut The Rope, Bejeweled, and Candy Crush Saga to see how they handle some of the issues I have raised above.

It's very easy to get lost in trying to market your app as it can be very time consuming for little payoff as you note in the OP. Don't forget to spend as much time as you can perfecting not only your game but your store assets as well, as that will give your subsequent marketing efforts much more opportunity to pay off.
07-14-2014, 02:55 PM
Joined: Nov 2013
Posts: 89
PikPok, thanks for your valuable tips and extended comment!

Have you got the opportunity to take a look at Noir Run?

What do you think about it in general terms (so far the teaser is very short)?

Thanks again!
07-14-2014, 04:17 PM
I'll be totally honest and say that the screenshots have a certain feel that you see with 'amateur' games. I think it's the 'stock art' kind of look & feel (for instance, the explosion which doesn't jive well with the rest of your graphics). The art style/textures are awkward, as are the color choices. The main menu buttons, for instance, are all different colors, and the screen is visually busy. The graphics look like they were perhaps assembled by different artists. I would cite 'consistency' (in the context of visual assets) as a major issue I see in a lot of smaller indie releases.

I would invest your marketing budget in an artist for future releases. I spent $0 on marketing for Tales of the Adventure Company, but managed to get reviewed by most major iPhone/Android gaming blogs (including TA), and managed to gather nearly 500 followers on Twitter. Unless you're already huge, paid marketing is a complete waste for indies. If your game is good, it will sell itself. An import bit of the "selling itself" though, is that it needs to look immediately visually appealing.

Kind of blunt, but I'm a no-bullshit kinda guy :P I do think Noir Run looks more interesting/professional, but personally, the character design is off-putting. The levels look visually interesting (ala Limbo, albeit, simple) but the main character should change IMO. If you want to stick with the rolling-ball-guy, I'd like at iOS classic Rolando for ideas; alternately, embrace your grayscale aesthetic and go with some kind of silhouette character. I'd also add to the doodads and other visual flair in the silhouette of your level. It looks good now with the grayscale/parallax, but it needs more detail.
07-15-2014, 02:37 PM
Glorkian Warrior got great press and lots of it, but most importantly it was a featured app on the app store for the first week. It had great sales as long as it was a featured app... around a thousand downloads a day or so. But then it dropped off to trickle as soon as it left the app store front page.

All the press that came in after that, all the interviews I and other members of the team did, all the public appearances, had basically zero affect on sales. It's kind of frustrating!

We have a few more ideas to try, but I know it's not going to be easy.

I play Glorkian Warrior because I am the Glorkian Warrior.
07-16-2014, 11:16 AM
@TapTapGo -
Following are my observations on your Tap Tap Go game:

Screenshots: The wordings or writing on the screenshot are very verbose. At least in screenshots 1,2 & 5. Wordings should be short & concise to convey a specific feature to the user. So one feature conveyed in each screenshot
Your first screenshot of the Hint is a definite put-off as this is the first thing a user will see once he finds your Game. You should have a enticing screenshot as your 1st screenshot to generate user interest

Keywords - You said you did ASO with Sensortower, did you do it yourself or hire a person with experience in finding you the right keywords? Having access to sensortower isn't enough to choose the right set of keywords. You need to know which keywords to put in the Title of the App & which to put in 100 char list

Icon - When you view the icon on a iPhone i.e., on the App Store, you cannot make out the finer details of the board. So it needs to be optimized or changed completely

Noir Run - Looks like a interesting game, please optimize this game with all the info I have given about your TapTap Game

OptimizeMyApps.com - App Store Optimization / Marketing Services for Indies