October Challenge 2010
I program iPhones.
(cross-posted from Under The Bridge)
So no doubt you remember ten days ago our Ludum Dare October Challenge entry BallZOut went live, and that was rather satisfying and everyone has been very complimentary thank you, but as an investment … well, not the greatest idea. Week and a half later, a total of 101 sales and down to trace daily levels; still just hanging on to the charts in the Puzzle category as of this morning with yesterday’s single sale amazingly enough,
but as those rankings are on a four-day rolling average (last we heard, anyways) no doubt it’ll descend into complete obscurity in short order.
So while we’d really like add a bunch of stuff to make it more engaging, pretty darn hard to justify setting any more time aside in the near future with that complete lack of traction. Not that one should actually expect to get any without a) excellent marketing or b) being featured by Apple, mind you. So shall we whip out the credit card and start doing some marketing? Weee-eellll, we were kinda toying with that idea, then we read this thread.
That particularly caught our attention as the game discussed, “180”, was actually on our phone — we caught it’s freeappcalendar.com feature day, and hey it’s icon had a cartoon redhead and trolls like redheads — and it’s a puzzle game more or less in the same headspace as BallZOut, except it’s polished to a fine sheen, and as you can see reading through that thread their marketing effort was nothing short of breathtaking. End of June, that thread was; so how’s 180 been doing since? Let us check Applyzer for it’s US rankings …
… it’s #850 paid in Games/Puzzle and off the charts in Games/Arcade their other category. So BallZOut is beating it right now? Oh, dear. Let us take that as acceptably solid evidence that a big marketing investment would be at the very least fraught with peril and more likely completely ill-advised, shall we? Which leaves us with the strategy of continually updating content and features and waiting for lightning to strike in the form of somebody at Apple deciding to feature it someplace as the most rational way forward, we’d say. Which still requires setting time aside. How shall we finance that?
See that post for full details, but briefly how this is working is that appbackr is making 40,000 future sales available at a wholesale price of 45¢; whenever any of those get sold, we get advanced 35¢, and once they’re sold we get a further 10¢ out of the proceeds, leaving the remaining 25¢ for the wholesale purchaser’s profit and appbackr’s cut for running the marketplace. At the very least an interesting idea, yes?
And not only is it an idea interesting enough to try out just to see what happens, this kicks the whole competition thing up a notch — why yes, there is an appbackr Challenge:
Reach $1,000 dollars in sales on appbackr before November 22nd and WIN!
- appbackr will back an additional $500 worth of your app
- The top 5 apps (based on dollars sold on appbackr) will get a FREE iPad
Yep, now that’s really a challenge, indeed it is. Stay tuned to hear how we do with that one!
(cross-posted from Under The Bridge)
So let’s check the iTunes Connect reports and see what happened the first full day BallZOut was available, with our total “marketing” having been cross-posting to Ludum Dare, a tools post in the cocos2d forums, and a Touch Arcade post …
… well look at that, 48 sales for $32.51 income! Woo-hoo! October Challenge WIN! *does the happy troll dance* We’d thank you all by name, but you know who you are. Okay, we’ll thank Pat by name, for providing the most amusing testimonial so far:
It is without doubt, the best app I have bought for iPhone!
(since it’s the only app I have paid for
Thank you, Pat. Your entry into the App Store economy is duly noted.
Speaking of the App Store economy, examining just where these results place us in it is rather eye-opening. “Shocking” might not be overstating it, in fact. Taking a screenshot here of AppAnnie‘s rankings page as we write this:
Woah, dude. Thirty bucks and change of total sales actually gets your game on the charts? And into the top 1000 overall in Argentina? Clearly Argentinians (Argentines? Argentineans? Argentinos?) are discerning folk indeed — we’ll tip a bottle of Fuzion to them at our celebratory dinner — but that certainly seems to indicate an surprisingly low amount of overall sales, doesn’t it? Even if we just look at the U.S. where most sales come from, BallZOut was 265 in Puzzle games and 437 in Action games yesterday. And those are the two most heavily populated categories of games, by far. Can’t seem to quickly google up a running count of subcategory splits, but sufficiently enlightening metrics we can quickly get from 148apps.biz for the ‘Games’ overall category:
- Total active: 40,288
- Submissions this month: 1,744 ( 83 / day )
Yes, it seems like we can conclude pretty safely that the massively overwhelming majority of iDevice games are just not making any money, if you can be comfortably into the top 500 in your subcategories in the U.S. by pulling in just about enough to go out for lunch with. And unless you have a really killer and massively financed marketing plan, you would be extremely ill-advised indeed to consider writing an iPhone game to be anything other than an amusing hobby. Which, indeed, we did find frenziedly pounding out 1.0 to be; so we have every intention of continuing work on this project as our little playground to experiment with multiplayer Game Center support, features we haven’t tried out yet of the cocos2d engine, and so forth … but we’re certainly not going to shortchange paying projects to do so!
(cross-posted from Under The Bridge)
So we’ve almost won the October Challenge now:
- Make a game — check.
- Take it to market — check. And no rejection cycles, even!
- Sell one copy — 11 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes, 53 seconds to go!
This was a rather enjoyable little frenzy, actually, much more so than we’d expected given our previous history with commercial games programming. Which is actually a fair bit, starting with porting Dark Seed II to the Mac waaaay back in the day right up to little trifles (and some not so little) you can find on the App Store now. But the common thread throughout all of those is that our creative input was for all practical purposes zero; they’re either porting existing code, or implementing somebody else’s specifications. Doing so rather well, it is generally agreed, mind you; as nicely exemplified in what’s still our favorite review ever:
… Overall, Horse Racing Manager is a great port of a good game. It is bugless, it is an almost perfect replica of the PC version, it just isn’t a game that the average gamer would ever want to play.
Hey, it keeps the mortgage paid. But there is a certain lack of creative fulfillment itch there, which over the years every so often we’d consider scratching. But then we’d remember that producing a successful game generally requires a vast array of talents which we pretty much completely lack, from artistic to marketing; and return to our accustomed mercenary pursuits.
Fast forward to September 27th when we stumbled across the October Challenge; and as it so happened, we’d just been moping about losing on October 10th the kinda cool we thought “BallZOut” name that we’d registered with Apple last spring for a project that ended up not happening, now that you can’t squat on App Store names anymore. Plus, we’d been thinking gee it would be a good idea to get some actual experience managing a Game Center enabled app before somebody required that in a project bid. So hey, let’s see if we can indeed achieve a MVP in twelve days flat — a challenge, indeed!
First thing was the game concept. Narrowed it down pretty quickly to a level-based physics puzzler being the only thing of conceivable practicality given a twelve day time frame; and as our name is “BallZOut”, well let’s make it … knocking. ballz. out. Like marbles, or curling. With some obstacles to make it not completely trivial. Yep, that’ll do.
Engine choice given the concept was immediate; as big fans of cocos2d, we’d bought the LevelSVG code referenced here to support the author back when it first came out, and it demonstrates Box2D physics engine integration and Inkscape document parsing for level design. So hey, there’s most of the heavy lifting done already! And yep, that worked out pretty much as well as could be hoped.
So, on to design. Did we mention above that trolls completely lack artistic talent? Why yes, yes we did. So how, you ask, do we address that problem? Why, by frantically mining every clip art/sound collection in our archives and every free clip art/sound site on teh Intertubez, that’s how we address that problem. Plus picking over the discards from our last project that involved a real artist, in return for throwing in a referral screen. Topped off with laying out all our text type stuff with Comic Life Magiq as a substitute for any actual art skillz. We’d like to think that didn’t work out half bad. For lacking completely in both investment and talent, anyways.
Game Center integration went pretty well, although designing in multiplayer somehow wasn’t practical in the timeframe. We’d like to get around to that sometime. As with a vast array of other features. And more levels. We did rather underestimate how long it would take to design levels even vaguely interesting, the last couple days were mostly spent constantly downgrading our expectations of how many and how interestingly designed it would be acceptable to ship with. 20, by the time we’d achieved a state of complete panic a few hours before Lose Your Name Day™. Definitely, we would like to find the time to up that. Significantly.
But under pressure of immediate deadline, we offered it up to the Apple gods just in time, and in the ten days since we did some looking around for easy ways to throw up a support website; settled on Templatic’s iPhone App theme, which worked out pretty well we think to throw up ballzoutgame.com in an afternoon. The $99 we paid for that being the only cash investment involved here so far, other than $29 for the newly commercial Zwoptex native version, a handy and highly recommended tool for your sprite sheet creation needs. Add in the probably 80-90 or so hours we spent finding artistic assets and doing the coding, and, hmmm, well, we’d still have to sell a pretty unlikely several thousand to make the exercise remotely worth it compared to doing a couple weeks’ worth of contract hours, actually.
But hey, as we mentioned at the start, it was quite a different experience and surprisingly fun to just full steam ahead weighing nothing but “latest wild idea” vs. “time ticking away” minute to minute. Not news to anybody who does these abbreviated development contests regularly, no doubt; but doing it just for the sake of it, that just doesn’t quite get us revved up. Add the “… and sell one copy”, now the addition of that external validation condition, that suckered us right in. So here we are … waiting to see how that works out!