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Indie Marketing Tips and a Free App a Day Promo

If you have been following my past posts you will know that my first game Monster Splash was recently released. So far it’s made a grand total of $41!!!! Gaah. But I’m not giving up. The game was intended to be a free to play game with in app purchases to monetize it and so far it’s not been free and it’s not had a big promotion. The reason I haven’t made it free yet is because I have booked it to be promoted on Free App a Day(FAAD) on March 14th and they said that I shouldn’t make it free before then.

Focused Marketing Push

My original marketing plan involved timing everything for the release but the game was completed and I had nothing ready. So I released the game anyway. Initially I was annoyed the FAAD promotion was a month out but then I realised it was actually an opportunity to do a big marketing / pr push on a specific date with enough time to prepare. With that extra time I was able to prepare a media kit, do a gameplay video and start approaching(stalking?!) writers.

Free App a Day

There are many free app promotion sites but with a limited budget I decided to go with FAAD. I searched for other people’s experiences with them and they were quite varied. Some people raved about them and others thought that it wasn’t worth it. Some of the quotes I read from people on twitter even reached $15K.

My opinion is that the variation in the actual result of the promotion is probably best explained by the of the quality of the games. Your game is either a wet blanket or a petrol soaked rag, FAAD is just the match that lights it. Natalia Luckyanova of Temple Run fame thinks its the way to go so if it doesn’t work I’m thinking either your game sucks or it’s not suited to that audience.

They don’t publish prices on their website so I expect their quotes really depend on how much money they think you have and how many bookings they have. The price they quoted me was exactly what I had budgeted so I felt it was a fair price. You will be able to see the results as I will be publishing my download & sales stats here. If you want to know how much I paid FAAD please follow me on twitter, ask and I will reply in private.

FAAD best suits games with in app purchases as the download spike can be huge while it’s free but that doesn’t translate to a large impact on sales after the promotion ends. Having in app purchases mean that the huge volume in downloads in sales may translate to some good sales.

Indie Game Marketing Tips

While researching how best to do marketing and pr for indie games I found this fantastic video. Ben Kuchera(@BenKuchera) writes about games and shares his advice for indie game developers including; marketing best practices, how to deal with press, and how to get your indie game to can stand out.

I really recommend watching the whole video but if you have ADD here are my notes ;)

  • Covering big name games is boring
  • Smaller games are more fun when there is something new
  • You need to surprise
    • Need a angle/hook, something new/unique
    • Asthetics, gameplay
  • Describe it in 3 sentences
    • Subject line / body clear & well written
  • More art than science
    • Pick writers you like
    • Pick writers who write about games simliar to yours
    • Need to find a way to get their attention
      “Hey I just read your story” is a clique but it can work
  • Have enough that it should be ready
    • Needs a video of gameplay
    • Put video on youtube, multiple resolutions & easy to share
  • What does it take for a writer to respond
    • Have art / video & screens
    • Good grammer
    • Video with innovative art style & mechanics
  • Timing
    • When you start contacting the press be sure it’s ready to use / play
    • Reach out when you are ready to make the biggest impact
  • Be willing to talk about
    • Where you came up with idea
    • How execute
    • Where working
    • How much working
    • Need a story / angle
      • Story / background / hook > click through
      • Grab interest pull them in
      • 2-3 sentences about
      • Youtube video / web page / gallery
      • Good headline
      • Make it easy to get hold of me / press section
    • Front load your communication with it
  • Viral
  • Finished Game
    • Hold reviews until the game is out
  • Don’t Get Discouraged

I found this advice to be very useful. It’s concise, specific and really highlights where you should focus to give your game the best chance of getting a look in.

Have you had any experience with FAAD that you can share? Do you agree with the marketing tips? Is there anything you think was missed?

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First Game Published: Monster Splash

I missed my last post as we were in the final stages of finishing our first game. Now the game has been published so I’m busy putting together all the marketing material before it goes live. There is only a few days left to get everything organised so for this post I’m sticking to the facts :)

Year in Review Post

If you missed my year in review post here are the highlights….

  • I’m making an average of $500 / month from my current apps
  • My goal is to make $50K this year and by the end of the year make an average $5K / month
  • The plan is to do this by :
  • I’m going to publish all download and income stats for all my games here

Monster Splash

Our first game is almost live yeah!! Here are the gory details….

  • Started the project on the 16/11/2011
  • Cost of development was around $3K
  • Expecting to spend about $1K-$3K marketing
  • Published to the app store on 4/2/2012 so I expect it to be ready for sale around the 20/2/2012
    UPDATE: Its live, get it here. It just went live now after only  5 days in the approval process.
  • I’ll announce it through the following channels (some of these are still a work in progress!)
  • Download and income stats will be published here

What Worked

  • Was done quickly
  • High quality game (I’m probably biased!)
  • Very low risk
  • Much better quality than if I did it myself

What Didn’t Work

  • I’m lacking a good story both in the game and for my company
  • Balancing difficulty and progression in a game isn’t easy

I’ll do a proper post mortem once it’s live and the dust settles. Wish me luck :)

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Monster Splash – Gameplay Video 2

Here is a much better resolution video with most of the gameplay finished.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

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Outsource Your Mobile App Business

If your goal is to make a living from selling apps then outsourcing aspects of your mobile app business could be the single best decision you make. Through outsourcing you can execute more effectively than is possible on your own.

The aim of this post is to give an overview of why I outsource and an introduction of how you can do it yourself.

Outsourcing allows you to :

  • Grow your business to the next level without significant risk
  • Spend more time doing things you like or are good at
  • Spend less time doing things you don’t like or suck at
  • Still do important activities even when you lack the time or skills(marketing anyone!)
  • Improve your management skills
  • Get access to skills currently not in your team

As an indie developer you most likely work alone or in a small team with very limited time and resources. It is not uncommon to hold down a full time job, look after small children and meet other significant commitments while also trying to start and grow your business. The risks to your business are huge. For every developer who is making a tidy income there are many more who fail to achieve the success they were looking for.

Once you get the hang of outsourcing and make some good contacts you will be able to focus your time and energy on the strategic aspects of your business while your freelancers execute on your vision. Scaling your business is easier as you don’t need to clone yourself to grow.

Why Do I Outsource

Over the last 10 years I have outsourced around 20-30 projects. Including SEO, content copywriting, wordpress websites, c# web app development and a variety of other work.

Just over a week ago I started my first mobile game – Monster Splash. I used to play games alot when I was younger but I have never made a game in my life. Now I have a busy full time job and a toddler. I surf, socialise and exercise whenever possible. It’s a great life but it doesn’t leave much time in the day to learn game development.

My wife is a graphic/web designer so the original plan was to have her do the art but that quickly fell apart. She stays at home looking after our toddler and also has no experience playing or designing games.

To make Monster Splash successful I decided to best approach would be to hire a game developer and a game artist. By outsourcing the development my focus can be 100% on marketing(including writing these posts!).

Did I mention that we have a big fat mortgage(woohoo!), so money is also very tight. Luckily I have a few apps in the app store which are simple but they earn me $500 / month. This doesn’t provide me with enough to live on but after a few months it is enough to invest back into new projects.

For this project I prepared 3 documents(with Google Docs) :

  • Game Specification
    This contains the objectives, gameplay elements,  non functional requirements, guidance and a list of resources. This is the main reference for the developer. This took me about 6 hours to prepare.
  • Game Design Elements
    This contains a summary, inspiration, screen dimensions, in game graphical elements, out of game graphical elements. This is the main reference for the designer. This took me about 4 hours to prepare.
  • Marketing Checklist
    This contains 4 major stages: pre announcement, announcement, launch day & post launch. This is what I am focused on and where possible I will allocate tasks to my personal assistant.

I will be blogging about the development, marketing and finances of Monster Splash as it progresses if you are interested in finding out more.

What Should You Outsource

As you can see from the things I have outsourced it really depends on what it is you need help with. How you choose to spend your own time has an enormous opportunity cost. Being able to leverage other peoples time allows you to focus on the things that really matter.

To determine what you could or should outsource start by writing down the activities that you and you team are currently doing each day. Also list activities that think you should be doing but don’t have the time, skills or patience to do. Take this list and start to categorise them into the following groups:

  • Things you want to do or are good at
    • These are probably the things that you should try to keep doing yourself
  • Things you don’t want to do or aren’t good at
    • You shouldn’t really do these because if you aren’t interested or don’t have the skills then you will do a bad job
  • Things you don’t have time to do or are time consuming
    • If it’s important but you don’t have the time to do it properly then you are taking a huge risk.

The second two groups in this will help you identify activities that would be good candidates for outsourcing.

Where to Find Freelancers

Now you have a list of things that feel could/should be outsourced. You will need to do some preparation before posting a project and hiring someone so I suggest having a look first to see if there are people there you feel have the skills you need.

There are many freelancing websites but the ones that I use myself and had success with are:

I also used http://bestjobs.ph/ to find my personal assistant but this is just a job posting site with no freelancing features.

Some of the benefits of using the freelancing websites rather than just posting on a job board are:

  • Reputation
    Each freelancer has a profile and gets a rating and feedback for each project they complete. Where possible you should try to hire someone who has a high rating and has very good feedback. Read through their feedback for projects which are similar to yours. Try to avoid using people with no feedback and definitely don’t hire people with bad feedback.
  • Protection Through Escrow For Fixed Price Projects
    If you chose to do a fixed price project then you agree on a price with the freelancer. Before they start work you will have to put the money into an escrow. This protects the freelancer as they know there is money for the project. It also protects you as they won’t get the money until they complete the project(or milestones within the project).

How to Outsource Work

This is where you can hone your management skills. When you have people working for you they need to know exactly what to do next and have everything they need to be able to do the job. If you can’t spend the time and effort to be able to communicate what needs to be done and how they need to do it then there is a good chance that your project will fail.

  • Non Disclosure Agreements or NDA
    I purchased the “How to Make iPhone Apps With No Programming Experience” which contains an NDA. There are many free ones on the internet so just do a search.
  • Google Docs
    I make extensive use of Google Docs its a great collaborative environment where I can share it with freelancers and update it through the project.
  • Skype
    Most freelancers will communicate through skype chat. Video chatting is very rare.
  • Version Control and Bug Tracking
    I couldn’t live without using version control and task tracking. Emailing source code around sucks. When you have more than one developer you need it. I currently use Repository Hosting but can also recommend Codesion.

How to Succeed Outsourcing

In my experience the keys to successfully outsourcing work are:

  • Be Prepared
    Prior to hiring anyone you need to put your boy scout hat on and do some hard work. This usually means providing them with a spec. for development/design work or step by step instructions of what you need them to do for more general tasks. If the instructions you give them are unclear then you only have yourself to blame when the project fails.
  • Choose Carefully
    This person needs to have the skills for the job, time to do it and be an excellent communicator in a language you are fluent with. If they lack any of these then there is a good chance it will go pear shaped. Ideally select people who have a near perfect feedback score in projects similar to yours.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
    Assuming you have given them clear instructions and you have chosen the right person then you now need to monitor their progress. Set milestones for them to reach by a specific time and always be available to discuss the project. Your job during this phase is to remove anything that is blocking them and to provide feedback and guidance of their progress.There is no need to micro manage but you need to keep checking in with them to make sure they are on the right track.
  • Nurture the Relationship & Provide Feedback
    As with all people who you work with you should give them praise for doing things well and give them constructive feedback when they aren’t. Avoid insults or rude behaviour even if you feel they have let you down.
  • Give them a Great Review
    Where possible you should rate the freelancer and it possible give them good feedback. They will also rate you as an employer. Your reputation as an excellent employer will make it easier to find quality, skilled workers for future projects.

Things to Watch Out For

I’ve been burnt a few times outsourcing work so don’t leave here feeling like it’s all roses. Some of the things that I have experienced are :

  • The Developer Didn’t Have the Time or Skills
    On a fixed price project the developer made a good start on it but never completed the first milestone. This project dragged and dragged. While this was happening my money was stuck in escrow so I couldn’t just repost the project and get someone else to do it. I got it back eventually but it was probably 6 months later

    • Lesson Learnt: Be more careful about who I chose and set an small early milestone so they can demonstrate they have the skills
  • I Paid $350 Upfront Without Using a Freelancing Website(ie. Paypal)
    What was I thinking!!! This was someone I found through the bestjobs.ph website for doing SEO work. They sounded great, I paid the money and then never heard from them again.

    • Lesson Learnt: Don’t be douche. Avoid paying upfront, especially for people you don’t know & trust. Use the freelancing websites until you have a relationship and trust them.

I hope this gives you some insight into outsourcing. Personally I find outsourcing enjoyable and rewarding. Please share your experiences below, would you trust your critical projects to freelancers?

Want more details? Ask me on twitter @scott___bradley

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Monster Splash – Gameplay Demo

This video shows the gameplay of Monster Splash. The resolution is no good but you get the idea.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

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Game screenshot

My developer sent me a low res video of the gameplay today and it was clear we got our wires crossed. The graphics & art are beautiful and the gameplay is good but he made it very similar to the standard platform jumper style. We discussed it some more and he is now going to make the changes to be more like what I wanted.

Here is a screenshot of the game in it’s current form. I’ll post the video as soon as he makes the changes.

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Coral reef background…

Here is a first draft of one of the backgrounds for our upcoming game.

STOKED!!! This is the first piece of work I’ve received from the game artist that I have just hired so I’m really excited.

I will be receiving a gameplay video later this week so I’ll post that as soon as I get it.

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Our first mobile game…..

On Monday we make a start on our first mobile game with a plan to release in mid Feb 2012.

It’s a fast, fun endless game with graphics inspired by the Octonauts(my daughter’s favorite show!).

I will be using this blog to talk about the game itself and also the business of developing, marketing and releasing it… hopefully for a profit :)

Here is one of the concept drawings done by my lovely wife:

While you are here please make a comment or suggestion.

You can also email me at scottb@freefallapps.com or find me on Twitter @scott___bradley.

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How To Pick A Good Idea For Your Next App


Choosing an idea for your app is an exciting and frustrating time.

After spending what seems like forever thinking of ideas you reach a point where you feel you should just start on something. If you happen to pick a lemon your journey begins on the wrong track from the start.

In this post I will take you through some techniques for generating a much larger pool of ideas and then how to filter that list to find the diamonds in the rough.

Your Ideas Are Worth Nothing

From a business perspective your ideas are really only a small percentage of the value. Actually, before the app exists your ideas are worth nothing. The real value is generated in the successful execution of that idea. To take that idea, create a product or service that meets a need and to market it for a profit.

For your idea to go from nothing to something you need to choose the right idea for your business given the time, resources and skills you have available to execute on it at this point in time. In 6 months or a year your situation may change which will open doors to other options but right now you need to be realistic about what you can achieve.

How Most People Choose An Idea

Now when I say “most people” I was firmly in this category for a while so I’m not bagging it. It’s just less likely to get the results that you want.

The way most people approach choosing an idea is to compile a list of ideas based on their own experiences, passions and interests. With a little competitive research they then start building an app. Often the app is released with little or no marketing and then reality kicks in.

Yikes….. you’ve just invested a stack of time and money into this thing and your still not even sure if you will break even.

Apart from the experience you got from it you would have been better off on the couch with a beer watching the football.

This simple example highlights some of the problems you will face :

  • The pool of ideas to draw from is too shallow
  • You don’t know how much demand there is
  • It doesn’t focus on the customer and what their needs / wants are
  • It doesn’t solve a problem / make things easier / cheaper / entertaining
  • You don’t offer something unique from the competition
  • People don’t know about it or understand why they should get it
  • You don’t have the time, resources or skills to execute successfully

Brainstorming App Ideas

During this stage of the process it’s important that you aren’t critical about good or bad ideas, record each and every idea and filter them out later. An idea that you think is a stinker might just shine after you do your analysis.

Many people will suggest that you should start a business based on your interests or passion. While this is ideal it also restricts the scope of your ideas. It’s easier to build apps around things you know and are passionate about but chances are they are also already very competitive areas.

If you are determined to build a business around apps my recommendation is that you keep an open mind and just see where your brainstorming takes you.

Create a spreadsheet and start capturing ideas. Here are some tools that you can use to start the process:

For games you could try the following resources:

Look For Demand

Now you should have a massive list of very diverse ideas with no way to rank them. What you need is some way to rank them.

Search engine traffic data is commonly used on the web to help webmasters identify what people are searching for. This provides measurable proof that there is demand. It would be ideal if you could see the search traffic for the app store but right now its not possible.

Using the Web search traffic is still useful to determine if there is demand. My argument is that if people are searching for it on the web then there will also be demand for an app. You can get the web search traffic using the Google Keyword Tool.

Enter your keywords into this tool and get the search traffic for your keyword list. Update your spreadsheet with these results. You can use this to help determine the relative demand for each of your ideas.

Now you can sort your list based on the volume of the searches. Start with the keywords with the most volume and analyse each one.

Important: Use the web search traffic as a guide only. It is useful to view the relative demand (ie. there are more people searching for xxx than yyy )

Analysis – Review The Competition

Load up iTunes or the Android App Store and enter in the keywords. Record the number that are returned in your spreadsheet.

The number of competitor apps is important because customers are more likely to choose apps which appear at the top of the search results. If you are number 201 then chances are you’re not going to get much of a look in.

You can now generate a heat map which will show you the keywords that have high volume but minimal competition.

Focus your attention on these first as they are the best candidates for a winning app.

Analysis – Determine Suitability

Now you have a smaller list of ideas where you can prove there is demand and limited competition. Focus your attention on these.

At this stage in the process you need to take into account your own situation and also whether there is sufficient need for the problem you are solving :

  • What Skills / Resources / Time Do You Have
    If it’s clear for a keyword that you need to implement a 3D game and you have never done one then it’s probably not a good match for you.
  • Does It Meet a Need – Make Things Easier / Cheaper / Or Is Entertaining
    Good ideas solve problems. If it isn’t clear what problem your app is going to solve then it’s probably not going to be very successful.
  • Choose An Idea That You Feel Confident You Can Execute On
    Similar to the first point really but worth reiterating. Consider the whole picture including the marketing. There are many different implementation options, so consider the pros and cons of each before choosing an idea. Start simple and work your way up to more complex. Great ideas don’t need to be complex.

I learnt this lesson the hard way when I was doing project hosting, I made the decision to write everything myself. I was competing against other companies who were using open source software. While holding down a full time job all my spare time was spent trying to implement basic functionality and fix bugs. What I wasn’t doing was spending enough time marketing.

Other Ideas

The approach that I have suggested is just one of many approaches. Some other ideas that you can try:

  • Keep track of things that suck
    During your work or home life if you find something that is very annoying or difficult to do then put it on your list. Ideas to remove this friction clearly meet a “make things easier” need.
  • Track your finances
    You can go through your home and work bank statements for items which you felt were expensive. If you think there is a possibility for “making it cheaper” somehow then put it on your list.
  • Check Out the App Store Reviews
    On the android app store you can see approximately how many downloads an app has. If you see there are many thousands then there is a reasonable demand for that type of app. If the reviews for the apps in that niche are getting low reviews there is an opportunity to provide a better app. Read the reviews and see what people want.

Summary

When starting any new venture the idea is critical but sadly most people don’t follow a process which gives them the best chance of choosing a good one. Building a very large seed list and then determining the relative demand, the competition and your ability to execute on it helps to narrow your focus on the ideas with the best chance of success.

If you have any tips or tricks for choosing a good idea for an app please comment below or tweet me.

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101 Mobile App Post Mortem and Numbers Posts

The post mortem and numbers posts are quite popular. I’m always referring back to them for lessons learnt and to link to from my blog posts.

For that reason I’ve created a Google Spreadsheet and made it publicly editable for future reference. Please feel free to add any that I have missed.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Am6qMQ2Z3YEadGwzb01uX29BM2tZdWFXcTJmQUt5N0E

Ok so there isn’t 101 yet (more like 40) but I’m going to keep adding to it and you can too.

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