Archive for the ‘LandFormer’ Category


Today only: FREE GAMES!

Yes, you read that right: for today only, I’m reducing the price on four of my games to FREE. I have never dropped the price of any of my games to free before, and now you get four in one day!

Maybe it’s that the holidays are coming up, or maybe I was just in a good mood. Who cares?! You get free games! So what are you waiting for? Go to the App Store and download these games now!

Dapple (Reg. Price: $2.99)

Monkeys in Space (Reg. Price: $1.99)

LandFormer (Reg. Price of Premium Content: $1.99)

* LandFormer was always a free download. However, the Premium Content is available from the In-Game Shop for FREE today.

Dirty Diapers (Reg. Price: $0.99)

I hope you enjoy the games. And if you do, please feel free to throw a good review up on the App Store. 🙂 Happy Holidays!

Owen


LandFormer Postmortem

A couple of months after I launch a game, I like to sit down and take a hard and honest look at the things that went right and the things that went wrong: a postmortem. It’s a great exercise to go through after a game is launched to learn from your successes and, more importantly, your mistakes. I wrote up a postmortem after launching Monkeys in Space that was based on the structure that Game Developer Magazine uses. I’m going to use that same format for this LandFormer postmortem.

Introduction

If you haven’t played the game, LandFormer is a puzzle game for iPhone/iPod touch. Each level is made up of a 5×5 grid of terrain at different heights (oceans, up to mountains). The goal on each level is to use land forming tools to modify the heights of the terrain tiles to flatten things out. It’s a challenging game that starts off very easy, but get quite difficult in the harder levels. It’s a game that requires skill, patience, but most of all, intuition.

The game is free to download and try (there are 12 levels currently in the free version of the game), with In-App Purchase (IAP) available to upgrade to the “full” version of the game, as well as IAP for additional visual themes and additional levels. I think of it like a demo, where the user gets to try it and then decide if they want to spend money on more levels. The free version also contains ads, which are disabled if the player buys any content from the in-game shop.

The game launched on June 29, 2010 and has had 147,000 downloads of the free version of the game so far.

What Went Right?

1) Gameplay

I’m really happy with how the game itself turned out. LandFormer started as a prototype called “UpDown” that I did in 6 hours at the all-night GameJam for 360iDev Denver in September, 2009 (I participated via Skype). After I launched Monkeys in Space, I returned to the prototype in early 2010 and started playing around with ways to make it more fun, and settled on the terraforming theme, which helps players understand what they’re supposed to do, and why.

What I like most about the game is that I haven’t really seen other puzzle games like it. It’s similar in play-style to sliding block puzzle games (it requires a similar combination of spatial reasoning and intuition), but the up/down movement of the pieces makes it feel very new and requires new ways of thinking. It’s also very easy to learn how to play, but takes time to really master it and get good at the more difficult puzzles. In the end, I think the gameplay stands as being strong, and I’m very pleased with how the game turned out.

2) Strong Launch

This is my 3rd game, and thus my 3rd game launch. However, with LandFormer I decided it was time to try a new launch strategy. With my previous games, I launched the games as soon as Apple approved them. This caused all sorts of problems in terms of getting press materials out, and reviews trickling out gradually. With LandFormer, I decided to set a proper release date. When Apple approved the game, I set the release date for a week and a half into the future. I immediately sent out press releases to sites along with promo codes (yes, they work once the game has been approved, but before it’s available in the store) for press to try the game. Because my content is all IAP on my server, I could also make it available to the press for free during the pre-launch review period. Very handy.

The result of this new launch strategy was that several large review sites had reviews out within one or two days of launch. This helped pick up momentum for the game, then the first Thursday after launch Apple featured it as a Hot New Game. The Friday immediately after the feature, Gizmodo ran a review of the game, which boosted downloads tremendously for the following weekend.

I really couldn’t have asked for much better a launch. The only way it could have been better was by getting a front-page feature, or App of the Week feature from Apple. They’re probably just saving that for my next game (har har).

3) Free + IAP

As all developers do, I struggled a lot with the pricing model for the game. My other games are both paid games, but Dapple has a separate Lite version for players to “try before they buy”. The thing I don’t like about the Lite model is that it requires players to download two separate apps if they then want to buy the game. It always felt kludgy to me. Ultimately I decided to set things up like a PC or XBLA demo: free to download it, but if you like it, buy the full upgrade from within the game. This is the really exciting monetization path that IAP opened up when Apple introduced it.

Because I was implementing the in-game store for this anyway, it also allowed me to developing a theming system for the game and sell themes. It also means I can continue to release new level packs for users without having to update the game itself.

I think the model has a lot of potential on the app store. The free download gets you maximum visibility on the store (people are willing to download something just because it’s free), but then you have a way to earn some money within the app. However, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns: see the corresponding section in What Went Wrong.

4) Level Editor

When I started building the game, I was building levels as string of data then loading them into the game and testing them. This was ridiculous. I realized early on that building a level could be seen as solving a level in reverse. I was able to very quickly build a first pass at a level editor just by reversing the rules: start with a flat plane, and use the tools to deform it. This had two advantages: 1) it made building levels much easier, and 2) it meant that any level created in the level editor was guaranteed to have a solution.

Once I had it working for my own purposes I decided that it needed to be available to players in the game. The level editor is so easy and intuitive to use, I need people to be able to play with it. I’m happy I took the time to do the UI work required to build the level editor out into something that everyone could use.

The editor allows players to create their own levels, but beyond that, I implemented a sharing system based on URLs, where players could email a level to a friend. The friend clicks a link in the email and the level opens inside their copy of the game for them to play. It’s a simple system, that I think works quite nicely.

5) Doing Everything (Almost)

Since Monkeys in Space, I’ve been doing everything except the music in my games by myself. For both Monkeys and LandFormer I did all of the game design, programmer, artwork, UI design, sound design, PR, and marketing. I don’t do music, because that’s just something I’m not capable of doing myself. However, doing everything myself has given me a lot of freedom to make the game exactly how I want to make it. It also allows me to think about how a change will impact all the various aspects of the game. And, perhaps most importantly, it allows me to save a huge amount of out-of-pocket expense. I would love to have the funds to pay a full-time artist to work on the game, but that’s just not in the cards for me yet. I do have some art background, but doing all my own art for these games has helped me get a lot better than I was. I hope I’ll continue to improve. However, this is also another one of those things that also appears on the What Went Wrong section. So let’s get to that now.

What Went Wrong?

1) Free + IAP

I listed the reasons why I thought Free + IAP was great for LandFormer, but it’s also something that didn’t work great. One thing I was not at all prepared for was a backlash from users over the pricing model. I thought that players would be happy that they were given an opportunity to try the game before spending any money on it. However, the reaction from a lot of players instead was “The game says it’s free, but you have to buy stuff!” I got called a cheat, a liar, and a con artist.

My immediate reaction was that my app description clearly states that you only get the Beginner levels for free and have to buy the others. The app page in the store also lists the top IAP. But what I learned is that no one reads that stuff. I think I got a lot of downloads (especially after some of the big press stories ran) from people who saw the name, the icon, and “free” and downloaded it.

The problem is that there’s a disconnect between my view of the pricing model, and that of the minority of angry, vocal, app store consumers. I saw: “LandFormer offers you a way to try the game for free, and if you like it, buy it.” That customer sees: “Hey, a free game!” And then is angry when they discover they can’t play all the levels for free.

In the end, I’m not sure if the pricing model I chose for LandFormer was the right call or not. I’m not convinced that I wouldn’t have made more money by distributing a Lite version and a separate paid version (or only a paid version). App Store customers have gotten used to that model. I think it’s a problem with the fact that IAP didn’t exist from the start. Users had a year to get used to a certain business model, now we’re trying to change that. It’s going to be a difficult transition.

Not to go on about this for too long, but I think the Free + IAP model works best for games where you’re giving away a complete game for free, and then selling IAP for additional content that’s not required. If I ever do another free game, I’ll be looking toward that model.

2) iOS 4 + Multitasking

Apple launched iOS 4 on June 21, 2010, 8 days before I launched LandFormer, but 2 days after Apple had approved it. I had time with the beta SDK to make sure the game didn’t crash and that the game could be put into the background and restored properly before shipping it. However, I spent a great deal of time over the next 3 updates fixing weird little issues that cropped up because of iOS 4 multitasking. Multitasking caused all kinds of problems with my level sharing system, as well as my save system. I believe there was also one crash that only showed up in iOS 4 because of a change in the way some touch events fired. I’m not blaming Apple, it was just bad luck on my part that I launched so close to iOS 4, and I couldn’t afford to delay the launch of the game any more to deal with all the little issues that cropped up.

3) Ad Network

I mentioned in the introduction that I decided to include ads in the free version of the game. This is in this section for several reasons. At the peak of LandFormer’s popularity, it was being downloaded about 12,000 times per day. This translated into about 50,000 ad impressions a day. However, my click-through rate (CTR) was abysmal. It turned out that the way I was loading ads meant that a lot of people never saw the ads I requested. On my best day, I made about $5 off of ads. In the first update to the game (v1.1) I released a fix that made sure that ads were displayed properly to users. However, by the time it was approved I was down to a few hundred downloads a day of the free game. Even though my CTR increased dramatically with the change, my earnings averaged out around $0.30-0.40/day.

On top of that, the ad network I used had a crash bug in its code. After a couple of weeks trying to help them track the problem down, they told me they weren’t going to look into it any further. I was getting several support requests a week from players about this crash, so ultimately I pulled their ad network out of my game and I wrote my own custom system.

The game now (in v1.1.2) pulls ads of my own server. This is cool for several reasons. Now I get to decide what ads get shown in the game, it means I can cross promote my other games, and it means that I can promote games that I actually buy and play. I use LinkShare to get a small royalty any time someone actually buys through this system, but that’s been next to nothing so far. Still, I’d rather help support developers whose work I respect and have no crashes, than get the $0.30/day but with 10% of users experiencing a crash every time they launch the game.

4) Themes

When I built the IAP system I was very excited to be able to sell themes (skins) for the game. The way I had set up the graphics engine meant that it would be easy for me to load different textures to change the look of the game. I thought players would like the chance to be able to customize their experience a bit more too, but I was wrong. I’m seeing about a 0.1% conversion rate on themes (i.e. about 1 in 1000 people download a theme).

At this point, I only have one theme for sale. So it could be that people just don’t like that theme. It could also be that people just like the default art more. Or it could just be that people really don’t care about theming this kind of game. Though, if you think about it another way, if 1 in 100 people buy the premium content, the users who would buy a theme are probably a subset of that 1 in 100. So that means about 1 in 10 of those people have bought the theme, so maybe that’s ok. Still, when you do the math, that’s about $100 made off the theme so far, and it took almost a week of art work to build it (not even counting the time it took to put the theming system in place). When you look at it like that, it’s not as worth it.

I’m currently working on another theme. If it doesn’t sell, I probably won’t be releasing more themes. I think themes would sell better in a game where you could play the whole game for free. I think people might be willing to buy a theme in that case.

5) Doing Everything (Almost)

I’ve already outlined why I thought this worked for the project, but doing everything by oneself also comes with some big downsides. The biggest is time. LandFormer took 5 months from start to launch (then another month of work after launch). I’d guess that at least 2 months of that was doing the artwork and UI design for the game. If I could have afforded to pay a professional artist to do that for me, they probably would have taken half the time, and they could have been doing it while I programmed.

The other big downside is not having someone to bounce ideas off of. Working with an artist allows you to brainstorm, to try new things, and play with the concepts in the artistic direction of the game. When you’re doing it all yourself, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of just doing the first thing that comes to mind. It’s hard to force yourself to try multiple things and to find the best artistic solution to a problem.

Conclusion

In the end, I’m extremely pleased with the way that LandFormer turned out. I think it’s my strongest game to date. The game was also an opportunity for me to experiment with several new things I’d never tried before: IAP, free games, ad-supported games, and user-created content and sharing. I’m very happy with the number of free downloads the game has had. I find it absolutely amazing to think that almost 150,000 people have downloaded my game! At the same time, I’d be lying if I said I was happy with the conversion rate I’ve seen from free to paid.

The game continues to get a couple hundred downloads a day, and it seems to have stabilized there. I hope that it will maintain this level (or higher) for quite some time. The fact that it’s free seems to help keep the downloads alive.

Every game is an incredible learning experience, and I’ve learned a lot in making and launching LandFormer. I’ll be continuing to support it and add new content, but I’m also looking ahead to what’s next. Onward!

Owen


LandFormer Update 1.1.2

Ask and you shall receive, apparently. I tweeted out earlier today that the latest LandFormer update had been waiting for approval for 8 days now, then this afternoon it was approved. Hooray! Go grab the free update for the following changes:

  • iOS 4 multi-tasking fix: receiving levels while the app is in the background is now handled properly.
  • Fixed a crash in the free version of the game that occurred when playing the game for the first time with no network connection.
  • Fixed a bug where quitting in the middle of a received level wouldn’t save the game in progress.

(Note: As of the time of writing, the servers haven’t updated with the new version yet, but it should be available in a couple of hours)

Enjoy!

Owen


LandFormer 1.1 + New Levels

Yesterday Apple approved a new update to LandFormer, as well as a new level pack you can purchase in the game. The new level pack is called “Easy Part 2” and it contains 25 new easy difficulty levels, available for $0.99. If you’ve been playing the game and are finding some of the more difficult levels too challenging, then this is a great level pack to pick up.

I will be releasing “Medium Part 2” and “Hard Part 2” packs in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for those.

The 1.1 update is free to download and contains some important fixes to problems people had reported in 1.0. There are also two new free levels added to the game! Here are the full release notes:

New Stuff:

  • Added two bonus levels to the free version of the game: one Easy difficulty level, and one Medium difficulty level.

Fixes and Improvements:

  • Fixed an iOS4-only crash that would occur when certain help alerts came up mid-game.
  • Fixed a bug where a received level wouldn’t load if you were in the middle of a game.
  • Fixed a bug where purchased content wouldn’t appear right away when the shop was entered from particular alerts.
  • Improved fast app switching for iOS4 devices.
  • Improved handling of corrupt save files.
  • Improved the review path from within the game.
  • A few small UI tweaks and bug fixes.

If you left a review for the 1.0 version of the game, thank you. If you get a moment to download the update and update your review for 1.1, I’d appreciate it, as reviews get hidden away with each update.

Owen


Sneak Peek: City Theme Sketch

I thought a few people might like to see how the design of a new theme for LandFormer starts. I’ve started working on the concepts for a city theme for the game. I did some sketching the other night and these are the drawings I’ll be basing the theme on:

City Theme Sketch

You can see there are the 5 tile heights from the game. I’ll be working from these drawing to start creating the main tiles for the theme. There’s a lot of other art that goes into a theme, but the tiles are what I start with.

Owen