Resurrection of an AppStore Salesman

After a month of of being ignored by all major review sites, generating no noticeable impact on any forum and close to zero sales, I was pretty sure I had wasted a year of my time as well as my entire company budget and would be looking for a job soon. And then the AppStore team decided to feature NEW ORBIT. *Boom*

Over the first month the game had sold just under 350 copies and made just over EUR 200,-. To pay the rent, feed my family, pay insurances, taxes and to keep my tools and software up to date – in other words: to live a normal, humble life – I need around EUR 33.000,- per year. No big vacations, no new car, not too many shiny new tech-toys. And mind you that this is considerably less than what I earned back as a graphic artist at Funcom. So was I getting close? Yeah, close to crashing and burning, close to the end of my indie career, close to going up in flames…

Bam, Featured!

Sales shot from 3 to 3000/day on the first weekend and I enjoyed a week of good sales followed by a week of decent sales once NEW ORBIT was off the frontpage.

NEW ORBIT sales chart

I’m about 1/3 of the way to recouping my investment. It’s a start, but…

…now what?

More Platforms!
A PC/Mac port is almost done and there’s an exciting new platform that NEW ORBIT might launch on soon…

More games!
This was supposed to be an episodic game from the start. Now that the base tech is built, it would be stupid not to work with it and build more games that use it. And the next one won’t take a year to build. Hopefully.

More ways for players to show their support!
Selling a game for $0.99 is insane, there’s no other way to put it. But charging much more isn’t really working either – at least on the AppStore. Now I’ve had such a lot of positive responses, that I’m hoping at least a small group of people might be interested in more games and would consider supporting my game development thing beyond that one dollar. So: T-ShirtsSpecial Dev Support Program (Might turn this into a kind of preorder with a touch of kickstarter thing) –  anything else you’d like to see? 3D printed asteroids? Soundtrack? Posters?

Lessons Learnt

  • If Apple doesn’t feature you’re game, it’s dead. No one will ever find it. Probably not even if they’re searching for it…
  • Even if Apple is on your side, it’s not easy to succeed with a game that’s non-mainstream.
  • Review sites don’t matter much. Only the hardcore geeks read reviews, the large majority just opens the AppStore and buys what’s featured or what’s in the charts.
  • Good ratings and reviews help, bad ratings/reviews can kill you. 5 stars? Let’s check it out! – 3 stars? I guess I’ll buy something else.
  • Bonus lesson: NEVER focus on one single platform!

Read Part 1 – “Death of an AppStore Salesman” here!

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    Michael Kingery on February 3, 2012 at 18:04 | Permalink

    thanks for the update!

    Michael on February 3, 2012 at 19:23 | Permalink

    I think that it is very difficult to become a top-seller in the appstore. As you said -big companys are investing much money into advertising. You as a single-dev. you couldn’t do such much effort.

    What do you think of the android platform for publishing software? Do you think that its easier for small devs threre?

    col000r on February 3, 2012 at 19:30 | Permalink

    I don’t know, to be honest. I heard people on Android don’t buy much, but I guess things are starting to change now with the Kindle Fire and everything. I haven’t looked into developing for Android, mainly because I’m afraid of the fragmentation. – It’s hassle enough to test with all those iOS devices, I don’t think I could even afford all the Android phones and tables… And releasing without having tested it on the actual hardware sounds pretty scary…

    Martin on February 4, 2012 at 00:31 | Permalink

    Concerning Android: Android doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t, at least not when it’s about earning some cash. Android is cluttered version wise, so it costs a lot of time to develop and for testing. The devices are inconsistent in performance and screen sizes, which takes additional time to develop for. Then there’s the user base of Android: People who want to buy cheap phones because they can’t (or don’t want to) cash out 500 bucks for a smartphone with an Apple on the back. Sure, there’s a bunch of geeks and nerds who buy Android to make a point and because they really think it’s actually better, but don’t rely on them to make a buck from your game. (Geek Android users are like the Linux fans of the last two decades: They are there, keep it alive, but no one makes a serious buck on them.)
    Then there’s the multitude of different stores, some of them are whole lot worse than the App Store when it comes to dev-friendlieness. Ever tried to sell something through Amazon’s app marketplace? Don’t even try. Basically, you’ll be at Amazon’s mercy. They take the right to change description texts, keywords and prices as they see fit. Apple’s 70% cut and their review procedures look pretty friendly and down-to-earth in comparison to Amazon’s way to do business. And Google’s marketplace is nothing more than an unorganized pile of crap, your game will be lost in there even more than it ever did in the App Store.
    And then there’s the final nail in Android’s coffin: It’s way too easy to install stolen apps. I’ve heard from a considerable amount of devs that knew from analytics that thousands of people play their games, only that they sold just a few hundred copies in total.

    The truth is, Apple’s App Store works. It just does. It’s a perfectly fine market place to sell your software at. But col000r said it himself: It was a whole lot easier three years ago, because there wasn’t a lot of competition going on.
    The only thing that Apple does wrong is that they approve every piece of shit that gets submitted to them, no matter how good it is. But then again: What if they didn’t? I can almost hear the angry mob crying “censorship” and “unfair policy”. Apple simply has no choice.

    One could argue that the mistake was to endorse a price as low as 99 cents. People now think it’s possible to produce content for that kind of money, but it isn’t. And for everyone who thinks its easy for EA and the like to produce content for a buck a shot and forcefully push to a black bottom line by throwing shitloads of money into advertising: They have to fight just as hard as we indy devs do. For every Tetris they have in the store there’s a couple of games that’s not even in the top 50. I know, most of us would be happy beyond believe if we could sustain a sales rank that high for just a few weeks, but EA is not a tiny company. They’re having just as a hard time as we do to survive, only they also need to pay wages for a huge workforce.

    In the end, it boils down to having prime content, a prime quality product. It’s actually that easy. I can understand col000r’s disappointment first hand. I have been there, I have done that, I had to learn the very same lessons. But it doesn’t help your bottom line to be angry at others that your game doesn’t sell. It’s everybody’s own fault. It’s simply not reasonable to think you could make a decent income on a product that doesn’t really stand out in a marketplace that is overrun by tens of thousands of cheap fucks who all think they can get rich doing the next Angry Birds.

    But to end this on a positive note: I also learned another lesson. If your game doesn’t get bought by a whole lot of people anyway, those who do buy it because they like it. And those are willing to pay for content. If you can’t make a living by sell in quantity, do it with quality. Raise the price to 2.99 or even 4.99 and explain why you did that in the description text. You’ll see pretty soon that your sales won’t slow down by much, but your bottom line will grow by a lot.

    And then there’s also other software genres that are not nearly as crowded as the games sector: Utilities, Healthcare and Fitness, Music – there’s a whole bunch of ideas and concepts that haven’t been done yet for the App Store. You don’t need to make games to make money.

    Thomas on February 4, 2012 at 18:17 | Permalink

    Interesting read, the first post too. And congratulations on getting featured. I heard about New Orbit listening to the German Fanboys podcast today and immediately bought it :)

    I wonder, though, if what you’ve written here also applies to business and productivity apps. From my own experience as an App Store customer, the top 10 lists don’t interest me very much in these categories. If I’m looking for something specific – and in these categories I’d imagine most people are – I search. I also check out apps that I read about on blogs or hear about on Twitter. But for games, I think you’re right. Unless I hear or read about an app by chance, I just scan the top 30-50 and see what looks interesting.

    From what I’ve read on other sites, the way to go for games seems to more and more be the Freemium model. Have you considered going free and adding in-app purchases? Maybe you could launch additional levels or power-ups or something as in-app purchases. Financially, consumables are probably the way to go, so maybe you could offer, I don’t know, 100 speed boosts or something for $0.99. Not that I’d buy it, but from what I see in the wild there are actually people who buy such things ;)

    Jeremy on February 9, 2012 at 14:52 | Permalink

    Android is hungry for decent games. It is a mistake to ignore the “other half” of the market. Just buy GalaxyS or S2, and maybe 1 popular tablet. My game lags on the overcrowded App Market, but sells 10x on Android. It is a numbers game and you should pay to play in both huge markets. Use Unity to its maximum! Good luck to you!
    By the way, i envy your art skills.

    Oooooomonkey on April 15, 2012 at 17:43 | Permalink

    Just read both of your articles and it’s pretty sad to hear how it works out for a lonely indie dev who clearly believes in his product and spends a lot of time making it to get such a small reward for it.
    I’m one of those few fans who bought new orbit and love it, but in general that’s because I’m the type who doesn’t bother with buying all the main stream crap that is churned out on the app store and the reason I play games on ios is because of small games made by indie devs. You always find a real gem hidden away made by one or two guys that has something totaly unique about it. It’s finding these games that makes me love iOS gaming in general.
    About the AppStore pricing I’m not sure if it’s apple who should be blamed or the big dev company’s or even the customer? because there’s so many games out there for 69p or $1 that most people just think that “well if it’s not 69p its a ripp off” but I think that’s partly ignorance as the games are so cheap and throw away type that no body thinks of the work that’s gone into making it.
    Well I’d rather pay that bit extra and risk finding another hidden gem instead of buying another version of angry birds or cut the rope, but sadly if that’s what the masses want then that’s what sells.
    Actually I was going to end there but thinking about it, one main reason is probably that most app store customers arnt real gamers, there just casual 5minute gamers or a “ooo look everyone’s playing it so I must play it” types and id say that’s a real problem because unless your making a casual game to apeal to the masses you cant win.
    Well that’s my rant over. The article was a nice read and that’s my view. :-)

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  1. By Death of an AppStore Salesman on February 3, 2012 at 17:30

    […] I wrote this a few days after launch but didn’t publish it until now – Read Part 2 “Resurrection of an AppStore salesman” here. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Trackbacks are […]

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