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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iTunes Sandbox Down

Last night I was doing some testing and found that the in app purchases had stopped working. There had been quite a few changes so I assumed that something was wrong with my code. 3 hours later, after regenerating all the keys, certificates & provisioning profile and going back to the most basic app I discovered on Twitter that the iap sandbox was down.

If you get stuck with IAP’s the first thing you should do is check this link:

https://sandbox.itunes.apple.com/verifyReceipt

If it doesn’t return a response then the IAP sandbox system is down.

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KISSing Games

Throughout the Noughties year after year, against all logic, the phones managed to get worse and worse. It was so bad that in 2008 I was longing for the Nokia I had back in 2001!

So it took me a while to realise that the iPhone was indeed the real deal. In fact, if it wasn’t for my wife who wanted to get one I would have probably continued to think that it was just more hype.

Luckily, I got my first iPhone in October 2010 and immediately realised smart phones were going to be HUGE. I bought a mac, signed up to the developer program and started thinking about what my first app could be.

2011 In Review

Goal: Earning $5K

My first app was to be a 3d game so I downloaded Unity and started planning. Having never done game development or 3d games I was WAY out of my depth. I was planning for the game to take about 3 months but the reality was that I would never finish it.

Just before starting the game I decided to do a “throw away” app with Titanium Appcelerator. We were having a baby* so we had recently bought all the baby names apps in the store. It seemed like an great starter so the “Unusual Baby Names” app was born. The app took 2-3 days to do and I really didn’t expect much from it.

From the first day it was on the app store it made $5 and since then it has consistently made on average $5 every day. Not amazing but not bad for 2 days work with no marketing or pr. It showed me the potential of the app store and also that simplicity was a virtue worth holding dear.

I had already spent 2 months on the 3d game and it was clear that the end was getting further away not closer.

My goals for 2011 were

  • to make $5K
  • to experiment with different mobile app development tools
  • to experiment with freemium apps

With that goal in mind I ditched the complex 3d game and focused on doing a few simple apps.

As of today I’ve received $4991 so I was close!

Bring on 2012

Goal: Earning $50K


Ok so $5K is great but it’s doesn’t go far in a western country. Some of the guys I work with have a $5K a year coffee addiction!

My financial goal this year is to earn $50K and to achieve this I need to do something radically different.

Since I’m very time poor and lack game development skills I decided to use the $5K I have earned so far and outsource 2 games.

I found a developer on oDesk and together we started development on my first game “Monster Splash”. Through him I also found an game artist.

These guys are awesome. They are professional, motivated, highly skilled and very hard working. Plus… we all get on well together. They each have 5 years experience working for a big game development company who was paying them very poorly. The developer has both 3d(unity & shiva3d) & 2d games experience.

Having outsourced many projects I know that finding these guys was a stroke of luck that alone could easily make the difference between the success and failure of my business. So on top of paying them for the game development they will also get a % of the earnings of the games we develop together.

Going Freemium

Goal: 2 Million combined downloads

“Discover-ability is a huge problem …… BUT …….  it’s only going to get worse. You should be doing everything you can now to build a large user base that you can cross promote to. Having a large user base will give you a competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive market.”

The biggest risk I believe our fledgling game studio faces is obscurity.

Freemium as a business model provides a powerful marketing / pr force which can get a game into the largest number of hands possible. It’s still relatively new but I expect that in less than 1-2 years it will be the norm.

It has been proven many times over that you can make much more through freemium so financially we have nothing to lose and the most to gain. Assuming we build an enjoyable game with lots of goodies to unlock we stand a good chance of at least breaking even.

However, there is a second more important benefit. With a large installed user base it’s hugely profitable to cross promote new games. Cross promotion is one of the most effective marketing tools there is.

For this reason I have set a goal to have 2 million combined downloads for all our games in 2012.

Regardless of the financial success of the games, by committing to freemium 100% we can build a user base which future games can be cross promoted to.

Transparency

Goal: Full disclosure of all downloads & income for 2012

A couple of my friends are also passionate about trying to build a passive income. For fun we all agreed in 2012 to disclose our passive incomes to each other. We’re all super competitive so it’s great for bragging rights :)

I’m going to go one step further and make publicly available the number of downloads & income for all our games in 2012.

GAMES Brief is an awesome website which focuses on the business of games. They provide a Free to Play Game Forecasting Spreadsheet that you can download for free. This spreadsheet helps you focus on specific metrics to measure and improve your free to play games. You need to record the stats it requires but by doing so you can see where improvements might make your game more successful.

I have imported this into an online spreadsheet which I will update with all my apps throughout the year. Each game will have it’s own tab in the spreadsheet with all the key metrics.

Throughout the year on this Free Fall Apps blog I will analyse the data and try to find opportunities for improvement.

KISSing Games

Goal: Release 4 games

Our first game “Monster Splash” will be released at the start of February. It is an endless jumper. I know, I know, not very original but the baby names apps has taught me not to underestimate the power of simplicity. It’s the right choice for where my business is at right now. I would probably still be building that 3d game if I had continued with it!

To reach my goals this year I have decided to keep it simple stupid(KISS!) and focus on :

  • 2d games
  • Beautiful art
  • Simple well understood gameplay
  • Lots of unlockables
  • Mass market appeal
  • Freemium

If all goes well and we reach our goals then I think we will be well positioned to take on the goal for 2013 …… $500K !!!

Thanks for reading. My Twitter username is @scott___bradley so come and say hello or stay tuned to the blog to see how we progress.

*Sadly we lost the baby during the pregnancy to some very rare unusual complication. It was one of the hardest periods of my life. Thankfully we already had one healthy, happy toddler which demands 110% of our attention so we could focus on her while dealing with this loss.

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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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