The Numbers Post (aka Brutal Honesty)

This post was written March 9, 2009.

I will freely admit, I’ve been avoiding writing this article. In fact, as I type this, I’m still not sure that it’s something that I want to do. However, again, I come back to that damn promise I made when I started this whole thing about being open and honest. Curse me and my big mouth! I also stated just over a week ago that I would write up on my numbers, so now I stand (sit typing) before you to reveal “The Numbers Post (aka Brutal Honesty)”.

Dapple

If you’ve been reading the blog then you know that I released my first iPhone game, Dapple, to the App Store on Feb 13, 2009. The game sells for $4.99 in Canada and the U.S. and at corresponding prices throughout the world.

Dapple is a colour-matching puzzle game based around the idea of mixing paint colours to make new colours. I feel like the gameplay is innovative and new, but rests on top of a solidly proven genre. Critical reviews seem to support this hypothesis, many calling out the fact that they were expecting “just another match-3 game”, but instead found themselves completely hooked on a game with an innovative gameplay mechanic that works.

Costs

I did a presentation for the 360|iDev conference on creating an iPhone game. If you’ve read it, then you’ve seen my “conclusions” section that had some numbers. Dapple took me about 6 months to make and had a budget of roughly $32,000 USD. That budget includes: paying my contractors, business expenses incurred during the 6 months of development, and paying myself a very small salary (akin to what I made as a junior front-end programmer when I first started in the industry).

Royalties

Apple’s deal is this: for every sale, Apple keeps 30% and you get 70%. So for a sale of $4.99, I make $3.50. That’s made in the currency where the app was sold, so I make more money when someone from the U.S. buys my game than someone from Canada. If you’re in Canada, it’s actually cheaper for you to buy the game than for an American, since it only costs your $4.99 Canadian.

If you do the math, you can see that I need to sell about 9,150 units in the U.S. before I break even on Dapple.

Reviews

Again, if you’ve been reading the blog then you’ve seen the excellent reviews the game has been getting. People who play the game tend to really enjoy it. Every review I’ve had so far has been extremely positive. I even managed to get a review from Kotaku, which is a very large gaming blog. It was the Kotaku review that led many people to start asking me about sales numbers, assuming that I must have seen a massive increase in sales.

However, I haven’t had reviews yet from any of the “Big 3″ iPhone review sites (Touch Arcade, 148Apps, and AppVee). Those are the ones that I think might really affect sales.

Sales Data

This is what you’re here for: the numbers. Here’s a graph (done in AppViz) of revenue (the y-axis is dollars, not number of sales) I’ve made world-wide from sales of Dapple since it went live (all funds in Canadian Dollars):

Dapple Revenue Graph

Dapple Revenue Graph

I’ve marked four important data points:

First Sale
– This was the first sale of the game, made maybe an hour after the game went live. I suspect this was purchased by an app cracker. Dapple was cracked and uploaded to pirate sites less than 5 hours after it went live. This was the only sale prior to that. So thanks, Mr./Mrs. Cracker, you were my first sale! On the topic of pirating/cracking: I have no idea how many pirated copies of Dapple are being played right now. I don’t track metrics like that, although I should perhaps start.

Launch Day
– This was the first day Dapple was on sale. Many of these purchases would have been friends of mine buying the game. Many other sales will have come from my app being in the “New” apps list, as other devs tell me that appearing in any list on the App Store helps sales significantly. By the end of the third day my app wasn’t on the front page of newly released puzzle or family games anymore.

Kotaku Review – This was the day that the Kotaku review went live. The review had about 5,500 views on Kotaku.com (not including RSS readers). I had about 55 people click through to my website. I had about 12 sales that I can attribute to the Kotaku review. So a high profile review like one on Kotaku resulted in a ~0.3% conversion rate. Still, that’s 12 sales I probably wouldn’t have had, otherwise, so hooray!

360iDev Presentation – This was completely unexpected. I had a lot of people come up to me after my presentation and tell me that they had bought a copy of Dapple! I was thrilled that people were so supportive. The iPhone developer community really is an amazing and wonderful group of people. I really appreciate the fact that so many people bought my game. Thank you!

Overall Sales Data

Dapple has sold 131 copies worldwide in the 24 days since it launched. I realise that I’m dealing with a very limited amount of data here, so I’m not going to pretend like I can make any kind of long term projections about how sales will be in a month, six months, or a year. However, what you can see is how far from my goal of 9,150 I remain. So…

What’s Next?

I have some ideas up my sleeve that I’m not ready to talk about yet. Those things will have to wait for another day.

One thing I will mention is this: I submitted Dapple Lite to the App Store for review this morning. With a little luck it should be live by the end of the week. I think that at my $4.99 price-point a lot of people are hesitant to buy the game, even after reading a great review. I’m hoping that the Lite version will show people how great the game is and I hope that they will then buy Dapple. Once Dapple Lite has been available for a few weeks I’ll revisit the numbers and see if I can draw any conclusions about that.

In Conclusion

I hope that this article might serve as a counter-point to the articles that seem to go around the web about devs making hundreds of thousands of dollars off an iPhone app. Everyone within the dev community understands that the odds of that happening are very slim, yet those are the stories that people like to hear. As I said, I was hesitant to post anything about Dapple in a less than stellar light, but at the end of the day, if I were a publicly traded company, I’d have to make this kind of information available anyway. I hope that it might serve to help set realistic expectations for other developers.

I remain convinced that there is money to be made on the App Store, but I suspect we’ll see fewer and fewer stories about people getting suddenly very rich. My hope is that we’ll start seeing more developers putting out quality titles in the hopes of gradually growing a sustainable business.

Owen

[Update: 2009-03-11] – I’ve posted a follow-up to this article here: http://www.streamingcolour.com/blog/2009/03/11/the-slashdot-effect/

[Update: 2009-03-13] – Dapple is now On Sale – 40% Off! http://www.streamingcolour.com/blog/2009/03/12/dapple-sale-has-started-40-off/

[Update: 2009-04-27] – A complete follow-up article (a month later) called The Numbers Post: Part 2 can be found here: http://www.streamingcolour.com/blog/2009/04/27/the-numbers-post-part-2/