Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Baby’s Musical Hands Now on Android

Yes, you read that right: Baby’s Musical Hands is now available for Android devices! It works on phones and tablets and can be purchased via the Android Market:

There’s some weirdness going on for US customers. It’s supposed to be listed at $0.99 USD, but for some reason the store is showing $1.00 or $1.01 USD (which I think is $0.99 CAD converted into USD). I’m trying to resolve it, but if anyone has come across this before and knows what to do, please give me a shout. 🙂

Since several people have asked, I did not do the port myself. A friend of mine (@JoshOClock) who does development for both iOS and Android took it on, and he did a great job!

So if you’ve been dying for the Android version of Baby’s Musical Hands, go pick it up, and show your friends!


The iOS Game Revenue Survey

EDIT: If you’re looking for the results, head on over to the Results Blog Post.

EDIT: The survey is now closed! Thank you to those who participated. The results will be posted on this blog in the next few days, as soon as I can get them written up.

iOS Game Development Survey at SurveyMonkey

Hello everyone! It has been a while since my last post, and for that I apologize. But, as fall approaches, I wanted to kick things off with something that I’ve been thinking about doing for quite a while: an iOS game developer revenue survey.

There are a lot of articles out there about this developer making a lot of money, or that developer not making any money on the App Store. Articles often throw around estimates of revenue averages on the App Store. The problem is, we really don’t have a lot of reliable data. As independent game developers, we don’t have the resources to hire large consulting firms to do very expensive market analysis for us.

So, what I thought I’d do is run an iOS game developer revenue survey. It’s 8 questions long and asks you about the revenue your iOS games have generated. The focus is on games released in the past 12 months so that we can get an idea of what the market looks like right now. The survey gathers no personal information, and all data will be released in aggregate.

The goal is to get an idea of what the App Store economy looks like for games. The term “average” (or mean) gets thrown around a lot, but if you’re an iOS developer, you know that average is almost meaningless, because the massive hits on the App Store distort the mean. What is more important is the median, or what the middle game in the pack is making. I am hoping that, if enough people take the survey, we can start to get an idea of what that median is.

I’m planning to leave the survey up for 1 week (until Monday, September 26, 2011). At that point, I will make some fancy charts and post the survey results right back here on this blog.

So, what are you waiting for? If you’re an iOS game developer, please take the survey and help the iOS game development community:

iOS Game Development Survey at SurveyMonkey

Please spread the word on twitter, facebook, your own blog, or any other way you can! We need as many iOS game developers as possible to take the survey.




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.


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.


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!


Postmortem: Monkeys in Space

I never wrote up a formal postmortem for Dapple and I wish I had. Now that Monkeys in Space has been out for over a month and I’ve released one major update, I thought it was about time to sumarize what went right and what went wrong on my second game.

Because I really enjoy reading Game Developer Magazine, I thought I’d follow their template for a postmortem and list 5 things that went right followed by 5 things that went wrong on the project.

Buy Monkeys in Space - $0.99

What Went Right

1. Prototyping, Iteration, and Early Feedback. One of the processes I put into place when I started Streaming Colour Studios is the extensive use of prototyping and rapid iteration. When you build a large console game, you need to plan out everything a lot more because there are 100 people working on the game. When it’s just you, you can afford to play around with ideas a lot more.

Monkeys in Space actually started out as a completely different game. The first prototype I built involved controlling space ships with black holes. One of the things I learned with Dapple is that the sooner you get feedback the better. So this time I sent that first prototype out to a few trusted friends to get their opinions on it. The feedback that I got was that the controls weren’t intuitive enough and the game wasn’t really fun to play, just frustrating. This was fantastic feedback to get so early in the process and I was able to start trying new ideas and iterating on the design.

Eventually I got to the point where the game was fun, but the space ship theme wasn’t working for me anymore. I had had an idea for a bonus level that involved picking up monkeys floating in space with your ship, but after discussing this with a few friends over coffee (one of them ended up writing the music for the game) I decided that the game might be more fun to play if the monkeys were the focus of the game. Once this decision was made, it opened up new avenues for art direction, marketing, names, and even merchandise.

Once I had the monkeys in the game, I opened the game up to much more public play testing. People were playing the game and providing regular feedback at a much earlier stage of the development than with Dapple. This proved to be invaluable for fine tuning the design and polishing the game.

2. Gameplay. Monkeys in Space fits into the “line drawing”/”chaos management” genre of games, but it needed something to set it apart and help it to stand out. I had also learned, through my experiences with Dapple, that I needed a gameplay mechanic that was easy to understand, but offered depth to the experienced player. Monkeys in Space offers familiar gameplay goals to players familiar with the genre (get the monkeys to the bases), but adds a twist that adds depth to the game (linking monkeys together). The chaining mechanic was added about mid way through the prototyping process, but the feedback from play testers was unanimously positive. I’m very happy with how the game ended up playing out. The chaining adds a risk/reward factor to the game that has been mentioned in a lot of reviews.

3. The Name. I mentioned above that the game was originally about space ships. Well, it was a search for a name for the game that ultimately led to the game being about monkeys instead. I was brainstorming game names with some friends when I mentioned I had been thinking about adding a space monkey level to the game. Immediately we all started thinking about fun names for a game involving space monkeys. My favourite at the time was “Space Monkey Rescue”, but I ultimately abandoned it because of trademark concerns. I contacted my friend Stacy, who is a writer, and asked her for help. I sent her some of my favourites, including just “Monkeys in Space”. I told her I was looking for a 50’s or 60’s sci-fi b-movie feel for the title and she came up with “Monkeys in Space: Escape to Banana Base Alpha”, which I absolutely loved. I think the name is perfect for the game in that it captures that silly retro feel I wanted, and it says “yes this is a game set in space, but it’s not a serious sci-fi game; it’s fun and it has monkeys!”

4. Artwork. With Dapple I had decided to hire a professional artist to do the game’s artwork. While the artist did an amazing job and I was extremely happy with her work, hiring an artist is also expensive. With Monkeys in Space I decided to take a different risk and do the artwork myself. Now, I took some art classes in university, I’ve done a little life drawing since then, and I once had a job where I was using Photoshop for eight hours a day, but I’m not a professional artist, so this was kind of a risky move. However, in the end, I was quite pleased with the art in the game. I think the monkeys especially turned out quite well. No doubt a professional artist could probably have bumped the artwork up a notch (or two), but I’m happy with the results. On top of that, it was also really fun. It was great to get back into drawing regularly again and I think it’s something I’ll be considering for future games, if it’s a possibility.

5. Reviews and Apple Feature. Monkeys in Space has received some great reviews from the iPhone gaming press/critics (you can read them on the Press page). Every good review helps to build buzz around a game, but one of the biggest reviews the game got was from Their Monkeys in Space review was on their front page for two days and during that time I saw a sales spike close to what I was to see being featured by Apple. Then a week after the Touch Arcade review ran, the game was featured on the App Store in the Games -> What’s Hot section. This happened just before Christmas, which couldn’t have been better timing. It wasn’t a front page of the App Store feature, but it was enough to push me into the Top 100 Kids Games in the U.S. store. This gave the game some momentum through the holiday boost.

I’ve decided that while I don’t want to share sales specifics about the game (like the infamous Dapple “Numbers” post), I will share the shape of the graph of sales since the game’s launch:

Monkeys in Space Sales

What Went Wrong

1. Release Date. I mentioned this earlier this week, but my release date turned out to be a big mistake. I submitted the game to apple in mid-November and wasn’t sure when to expect it to be approved. I got the email from Apple saying the app was ready for sale at about 7:30pm on Wed, Nov 25th. I was so excited that I switched the app into the “for sale” state (by setting the release date to the 25th) and started preparing the email I’d send out to the press in the morning. On Thursday morning I sent out my press release along with screenshots and video, etc, to iPhone sites. At that point I started getting back “out of office” replies and suddenly released it was Thanksgiving in the U.S. See, we Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, so the date completely slipped my mind.

At first I didn’t think it would be a big problem. But then I started reading the review sites that were staffed for the holidays and most of them were just running stories about the hundreds of games that were going on sale for Black Friday in the U.S. Not only that, but it turns out a lot of people apparently take a long weekend from Thursday-Sunday, so it meant I didn’t hear from anyone until well into the next week.

However, I can’t really complain as the game eventually did get picked up by review sites, but the roll out was more gradual than I had hoped. The delay meant that my marketing lost some momentum right at the start, which isn’t ideal. In the future I will be paying closer attention to U.S. holidays when I set my release dates.

2. Delays. When I did the first concept sketches for the game that was to become Monkeys in Space, the original plan was to build the game in 2 months or less. From start to finish, the game ended up taking almost exactly 3 months. One extra month isn’t terrible, but that’s a 50% overshoot of the original plan. Now I have excuses: my wife and I moved cities, which ate up a few weeks with packing, moving, and unpacking, etc. But I think the biggest reason the game took longer than I thought it would was because I decided to do the artwork. Because I was doing the art and the programming, it meant that the two couldn’t happen concurrently. When you work with an external artist, they can be drawing while you’re coding, but I didn’t have that ability this time. The artwork took longer than I thought it would, which pushed my timeline out. Ultimately, it was worth the extra time to make sure the art was good enough to meet my expectations for the quality of the game, but it did delay its release.

3. Marketing Push. I learned some important lessons with the launch of Dapple. One of the most important was the need to have your marketing push happen all at once. You want everyone to be talking about your game at the same time. I’ve already mentioned the problems the release date caused with this, but I suspect there were some other missed marketing opportunities around advertising that I didn’t explore. I haven’t had a lot of luck with advertising driving sales. However, I think if done properly, there may be ways to leverage advertising effectively, even for $0.99 games…I just haven’t figured it out yet.

4. Not Enough Levels in v1.0. During development I had to make a call about how many levels to include in the initial version of the game. I looked at the great games in the genre (e.g. Harbor Master, Flight Control, etc) and looked at how many levels each had shipped with, and decided to ship three levels. I also chose to limit myself to three levels at first because the game was already taking longer than I had expected. However, what I discovered is that people expect new games to contain as many levels as the other games do now, not how many they contained when they shipped. Some of the reviews of Monkeys in Space have mentioned that they would have liked to have seen more levels in the game. Since then I have released a fourth level as part of a free update and I hope to release more. Regardless, what I failed to realise is that the free update system for iPhone apps creates a different set of expectations in people’s minds. They don’t care that game X shipped with one level; what matters is that it has five now. This was an important lesson in competitive analysis for me.

5. Public Recruiting of Testers. I almost listed this in the “What Went Right” section as well, and it just barely squeaks into the “What Went Wrong” list. Very early in the process (much earlier than I’d ever considered before) I started asking people to play test the game and provide feedback. I put out a call on Twitter, on this blog, and in iPhone gaming forums, looking for people who wanted to play the game and provide some honest feedback about what did and didn’t work. The reason this should also be in the “What Went Right” is that I got some terrific people playing the game and providing me with insightful and helpful feedback. However, I also had a lot of people sign up, get the builds, and I’d never hear from them again. I think there is a small group of people who say they’ll beta test a game just to get a free game. The good news is that I’ve met enough great people that I now have a decent list of preferred testers I’ll ask first next time.


All in all, I’m extremely proud of Monkeys in Space. I think that I learned a lot from some of the mistakes I made with my first game, but I still made a few new mistakes. I suppose that’s all part of the process of becoming a better game designer, developer, and business person. What I like most about Monkeys in Space is seeing new players pick it up and to watch how easily they get involved with the game. I also love watching people laugh when the monkeys scream and wave their arms frantically. People seem to have fun with the game, and that makes me happy. To me, that alone makes the game successful.


Monkey News

I’ve been rather busy trying to get the word out about Monkeys in Space, so I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting the blog a little. However, today I have a few exciting tidbits to share with you…

First of all, I was pleasantly surprised to find Monkeys in Space featured on the App Store in Games -> What’s Hot this week! The feature is in every App Store I’ve checked (US, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia), so it’s really exciting to see it out there. I’m not sure how Apple picks the features, but Monkeys has been getting some good press, and I’m sure the Touch Arcade review didn’t hurt.

Secondly, I submitted update v1.1 of Monkeys in Space to Apple for approval yesterday. The main new feature is a new level that will be part of the free update. Here’s a sneek peak at what’s new:

Have you mastered the first 3 levels that Monkeys in Space has to offer and are looking for a new challenge? Try the new level “Three’s a Crowd” which adds a third monkey to the mix! “Three’s a Crowd” features a new big blue baboon that must be docked in the new blue banana base. It’s more monkey fun than you can shake a banana at!

With the new level comes two new achievements specific to “Three’s a Crowd”!


  • Monkeys now panic when they’re too close to asteroids on the “Asteroids!” level.
  • If you unlocked a level before signing up for OpenFeint, v1.1 will now grant you the achievement you missed.
  • Updated to OpenFeint 2.3.1.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a speedy approval. I’d love to see the level out before Christmas, but I’m not sure what to expect with approval times anymore. I’ve been hearing from some developers that they’re much improved, so I hold out hope.

If I don’t get a chance to post again before Christmas, then Happy Holidays everyone! Here’s hoping you get the apps you want from Santa this year!