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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How to take a mobile game live

Hello everyone!

I apologize for the long delay in updates - but it has been a busy last few weeks. I am just going to jump right into it. On Monday of this week I attended a workshop on how to take your mobile game live. I was expecting much of what you see on the internet (all the common sense stuff like make a good game, spend a crap ton of money, get lucky, indies can't make it anymore, stop making games, etc). However the information they presented was very valuable and helpful (some of it still was common sense). I'll go into everything I learned shortly...but first... The Burgal's Bounty updates!

Total downloads: 829
Active Installs: 173
Percentage of active users after 30 days: 20% (One of the things I learned, is that this is exceedingly high. It is typically 10% for a casual game and 5% for a mid tier or hardcore game.)
Total revenue from ads post go live: $8.35
Total IAP revenue: $3.98

All in all, these numbers are not as bad as I thought they would be given how long the game has been available, and the standard stats on Google Play or the App Store. I was rather excited to hear that we have a 20% retention rate which is really good (this is all information I have learned at the workshop I mentioned earlier).

Next thing I need to talk about is that Phat Games will once again be at PlayCrafting showing off Burgal's Bounty, so if you are in the New York City area, please join us! Tickets are selling out quickly and can be purchased here.

How is the iOS release coming along? We are a little bit behind where I would like us to be. Unfortunately there won't be much to show at PlayCrafting, but we are not far behind on our schedule. The game is coming along really nicely and should still be on target for a fall release! :-)

Now what everyone is likely ready to read about...the workshop on how to launch a mobile game successfully. Some of what I am about to type will sound like what has been said a 1000 times before on the internet, but there is some new information available that I received that does give some of us indie some hope and optimism.

1. You need to make a good game
I am just going to gloss over this one. We all have heard it a 1000 times before and we all believe the games we make are of good quality.

2. You need analytical tools
These tools include something to track crash reports, game usage, revenue, etc. This is all necessary so the game can be improved during the soft launch phase (and earlier).
Burgal's Bounty uses the following analytics tools:
a. Splunk Mint for user retention and error reporting
b. Chartboost for advertising and video ad publishing
c. Vungle for ad publishing
d. To track how far users play in the game I have been using Google Games to tell me where engagement falls off. I will be improving this for the iOS version
The iOS version will be using TapJoy to help out with a lot of the usage tracking so I can tweak the monetization side of it and have more control over it.

3. You need testing tools (and testers)
The workshop didn't mean complicated automated testing tools. It meant ways to distribute your game onto multiple devices for testing. If you are deploying to Google Play it is exceedingly easy. Google Play allows for alpha and beta testing using Google Play and Google Groups for the distribution. Apple is not so straight forward. HockeyApp is a popular one to use for iOS. There is also TestFlight which is now owned by Apple. This one does require the app to go through Apple's certification process though.

4. You need a soft launch...and a soft launch budget
This is where some indies might start swearing. According to the Pollen VC (the group that presented at the workshop), a soft launch period can last up to 4 months and cost between 15 to 20k for user acquisition. This allows you to get a good volume to gather analytics on user behavior. The game can be tweaked to engage users more fully and make more money. It can also be used to find bugs that will inevitably pop up. It is also suggested that the soft launch be done in a small subset of countries. Pollen VC recommends Canada, Australia and New Zealand for this as they average out to mimic the behavior in users in most tier 1 countries. Other options for a soft launch and user acquisition are Facebook. Ultimately, if you don't have that kind of money (which most indies do not - including us), you will need to rely on the slow, cheap, organic / grass roots approach. It's still not easy for us, but there is hope that it is getting easier. (read on!)

5. Launch - so you actually made it to launch
Once a game launches it is not necessarily going to get featured and getting featured should not be your only approach. You will need to continue your user acquisition efforts during the soft launch - whether it is buying through advertisements, or through an organic approach (social media, an established community fanbase, etc), as that will help. Higher rated games with more downloads are more likely to get noticed. For some companies this does effectively mean "buying your way up the charts". Having an Apple of Google rep will help out significantly. How to get these? Networking. Going to meet-ups helps as you may get a connection to someone at Apple or Google, or meet someone directly there. If you have a popular game Apple and Google will reach out to you - but you first need a popular game.

Now that I have scared you, and effectively made you feel like making it as an Indie is impossible, I am going to give you some hope. It is true, the top 100 games in the store do make all the money. But Apple and Google are doing things to make it easier to get there. According to Pollen VC, recent research is showing that the distribution of game revenue is getting distributed among more and more game companies. There has been a 40% increase in the spread of who is making money in the last year. Also, Pollen VC did quote another study saying that over 2000 indie studios did gross over a million dollars each in the last year. Depending on the studio size, that could be not very good, or it could make a couple of people very happy for a little while.

Overall, my advice, (which has changed over the last few months) is still to follow your dreams. Try and try hard, because it will eventually pay off. Making it in this industry is now like any other artistic pursuit whether it is music, art, fashion, or film. It involves skill. It involves luck. Most importantly it involves passion. So, to my fellow indies out there, don't stop pursuing the dream...but also, don't quit your day job.

- Blair

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