The Numbers Post: Part 2
April 27th, 2009
Good Morning, everyone. On March 9, 2009, I wrote a blog post called “The Numbers Post (aka Brutal Honesty)” in which I talked about sales for Dapple in the first 24 days of the game’s launch. I posted the entry to Slashdot and the post ended up making the rounds of a lot of iPhone related sites. One of the most common questions I get now is “how have things been since The Numbers Post?” Today I’d like to take some time to talk about that.
I want to be very clear about what the purpose of this post is, up front. I want to be clear that I’m not trying to whine. The post is meant as informational. I want to share my experiences with other developers so that they can learn from my experiences. Also, in writing these posts, I learn from my own experiences as well. By analyzing my own successes and challenges, I hope to better myself as a game developer and business person.
Last week, Mobile Orchard approached me about doing an interview with them about my sales since the last post. Their interview with me is now live on their site. The interview (an audio podcast) is about 30 minutes long. It is meant to go along with this information. I’d recommend both reading the post and listening to the interview, if you’re so inclined, as the interview goes into more detail on certain aspects of the post.
What follows is a brief analysis of what has happened since the March 9th post.
What follows are some graphs of Dapple’s sales since the launch of the game. Please note that all graphs are showing number of units sold, not revenue. Because the price of the game has changed, I felt that showing the number of sales was more useful.
In the graph above, the dotted red line shows up to the date of the previous Numbers Post. What follows are the sales since. I have noted important events with a letter, which are listed in the legend.
As you can see, the post getting on Slashdot introduced a small sales spike (“E” on the graph). You can read more details on that in my “The Slashdot Effect” post. Two days later I placed the game on sale for $2.99, which introduced my biggest sales spike to date (“F” on the graph). However, sales quickly dropped again. The price has remained at $2.99 since I first dropped the price, and I’ve decided that it will stay at $2.99, no longer “on sale”.
When I posted the Numbers Post, one of the most common comments I received from readers was that I should have had a Lite version of the game out. Those who followed the blog regularly knew that I had submitted a Lite version to Apple, but it hadn’t been approved by Apple at the time. It was released at point “G” in the graph, a week after the Numbers Post.
I believe that the Lite version has had some effect on sales. I estimate that I have about a 2-3% conversion rate from Lite to full version. However, it’s difficult to estimate accurately, as Lite version downloads aren’t really high enough to get good stats. The Lite version was initially downloaded several hundred times per day, but now averages about 75 downloads per day. With those numbers, it’s hard to know how many of the daily sales are tied to Lite version downloads. I do know that about 10% of people who play the Lite version click on the “Buy Dapple” button to at least see the full version in the App Store. You can read a few more stats on that towards the bottom of my “Hey, Where’d He Go?” post.
The next important milestone was when Dapple got featured in the Canadian App Store’s “What’s Hot” section. The feature was only in Canada, and it only appeared on the iPhone version of the App Store (not in iTunes), so it had limited effect on sales. However, it did cause an increase in Canadian sales of the game, as you can see from the Canada-only sales graph:
What I found particular interesting about this feature was: a) how much smaller the Canadian market is than the US market, and b) how much of a difference being near the top of the list, as opposed to the bottom, made to sales. I suspect that most people who look at the “What’s Hot” list only scroll down a page or two, and never get to the bottom of the list.
At point “J”, Dapple version 1.1 was released on the App Store. However, due to a error on my part (in not fully understanding how updates work), I missed a key opportunity to show up on the new releases list with the update. You can read the details about that in my recent “Miscellanea” post. The update contained a new 2 Player Mode that let users play against an AI opponent. It also got the game under the 10MB limit, so that it could be downloaded over cell networks, instead of just WiFi.
After the first Numbers Post, I got several emails from people saying “I tried to download your game on my iPhone at work, but I couldn’t because I don’t have WiFi.” I suspect that, due to the kind of game that Dapple is, that most people wouldn’t bother trying to download it again once they got home. With the 1.1 update, I made it a priority to get under the 10MB limit so that the game can be downloaded over the cell networks. It’s kind of hard to say how much it has helped, but I’m sure I’ve had a few sales that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
In the Dapple 1.1 update I added a Feedback button to the game. I’ve been getting a lot of great emails from people who have played both the Lite and full versions of the game. I get a lot of very positive emails from people who love the game. I also get lots of great constructive emails explaining what they find difficult or confusing about the game.
I recently wrote an analysis of, what I called, “Dapple’s Identity Crisis“, in which I talk about some of the design lessons I’ve learned from Dapple.
Investment vs. Income
In the first post I threw out some numbers that generated considerable uproar. I had stated that Dapple took 6 months to write and that I estimated its budget at about $32,000 USD. Some of the most common questions I got were about how it took 6 months to make and how I could spend $32,000 on the game. I recently wrote up a response to the 6 month question in my “How to Make Dapple in 6 Months” post. Give that a read if you’re curious about all the work that went into making Dapple.
The question of budget is an interesting one. I stated in the original post that the budget included my time. A lot of people assumed this meant that I had actually paid myself a salary. What I was trying to convey was the cost of making the game. I did not pay myself a salary. However, examining the cost of producing my game without taking my time into account is not a measure of the cost at all. The major cost in making the game was my time. Not accounting for it would give a budget number that doesn’t at all represent the cost of making the game. Suffice it to say that the actual cash out-of-pocket cost of making the game was much less than $32K, but the $32K is an accurate estimate of the total cost of producing the game.
I also had a lot of people wonder why I had spent so much on building the game but spent nothing on advertising and marketing. The fact that I hadn’t mentioned advertising in the post was taken to mean that I wasn’t doing any. However, this is not the case. I have been running Dapple ads in various formats. I have also been doing other forms of marketing and advertising. However, the advertising side of things is one I’m not prepared to talk about in specifics, mostly because I don’t have enough data to be able to draw any good conclusions from it. The other reason I won’t talk about it is that individual ad sellers ask that their rates, etc, be kept confidential, so I can’t really talk about a lot of it.
I think it should be enough to say that I’m not sure how successful advertising has been for the game. It’s incredibly difficult to know how many sales actually come from people who are buying the game because they’ve seen ads. However, what I do believe is that advertising is helping to get the Dapple name out there. Having people repeatedly see the name in different places is bound to help.
Conclusions and Lessons
Dapple has sold over 500 copies at this point, and the Lite version has been downloaded over 4,500 times. While I’m not thrilled with the numbers, they’re certainly not horrible. Considering this is my first game, I think these numbers are pretty decent. I’m a long way from breaking even, but I don’t know that it was a realistic expectation for a first game.
One of the most common comments I got after the first Numbers Post was “how did you expect to sell another matching game for the iPhone?” Perhaps it was naive, perhaps it was a mistake. My feeling was that by introducing a new mechanic (mixing paint), which a lot of people find challenging, in the context of an existing, well-established game genre, I could ease people into the concept. Maybe this was a mistake, maybe it was the best way to tackle it. Regardless, I made the choice and I’m extremely happy with the way the game turned out.
I have also decided to leave Dapple at $2.99 (no longer on sale), as it feels like a better price-point for the game on the App Store. Although I still feel like the game is worth more, I don’t think the market will support it. Since the market determines the worth, I have to sell it at what the market deems its value.
The process of creating Dapple and selling it has taught me an incredible amount about making games for the iPhone. It has also given me a finished 2D games engine that I can build my next game with. I hope that I can take the lessons I’ve learned and apply them to my next game. My goal is that each game is better than the last, and that I can gradually build the company into something that people associate with quality, fun games.
I have been asked a lot if there are more updates coming for Dapple. The answer is: yes. I am still planning at least one more update for Dapple. I would still really like to get some online leaderboards into the game. However, after that I really need to start working on my next title.
I have a concept I’ve been playing around with for my next game, and I’m looking forward to doing some prototyping. I plan to take the things I’ve learned from Dapple and try to make something quite different. I want to create a game that’s much more about the experience of playing, and less about the rules. I want to create a game that is quickly accessible, but still deep. It will be a challenge, but I’m always up for a challenge.
Finally, one of the most common things I get asked is if I’m planning to keep making iPhone games. Yes, I am planning to stick with iPhone development for the time being. I think I need to give it a solid shot to determine whether or not it’s possible to make a living doing this. I don’t need to be rich, I just want to be able to make enough to keep doing this. After all, making games is a great job!