Still alive!

A few years have passed since the last post here, but my game development is still alive and kicking, and here I am writing after a pretty long time!

A lot of things have changed in these 4 years. After "Tiny Stack", I've released two more small games for iOS: "Pigs Run!" and "Pixel".

If you've read my blog, you know that Tiny Stack uses Ogre3d to render graphics. With "Pigs Run!" the challenge was to build a game engine from scratch instead, including graphics, mainly for learning purposes. So I've ended up rolling my own OpenGL 2D engine capable of running on mobile and PC, and decided to make a game with it. It was hard and time consuming process, but definitely fun! With some more polish, I may decide to make the engine available to the public someday.

You can check out "Pigs Run!" here.

The second game I've released, "Pixel", is a puzzle game made with Unity.
Before that, I've also released a "Tiny Stack" port in Unity for android (made to learn more about this popular engine), but downloads on the android google play store were much worse than expected so other than learning purposes, it wasn't much worth the effort!

Regarding the business model, I'm now mainly releasing the apps for free, showing an AdMob advertisement once in a while. I can barely make enough money to pay the Apple yearly fee this way, but at least that's better than how much I was earning with the premium model ;)

Since I now work in a well-known japanese game company, I have less time to dedicate to my indie games than before, but I'm doing my best to continue this fantastic hobby.

I'm currently finishing the development of an utility app I've started some time ago and once I'm done with it, I'll make my next game, so stay tuned! ;)

If you have some topics you are curious or interested in, let me know and I'll consider writing a post about it!


Premium Vs. Freemium

If you read the title, you probably know what I'm talking about: two of the most discussed models in the mobile gaming world.

In case you don't know what these terms mean, I'll give you a brief explaination.

Premium are games which you buy upfront and play as much as you want (This is what you're used to do if you play console games, or PC games).

Freemium are games which are free, but during gameplay you can purchase virtual currencies, power ups or other goodies which usually let you advance at a faster pace than you normally would. These are called IAPs in the app store (Which stands for In App Purchases).

A quite recent article from App Annie shows that Freemium is generally much more profitable than Premium in the App Store. This means that, strange as it may seem, free apps are making more money than paid apps. Why is that?

I think the reason behind this is that people before iPhone and Android came out weren't really used to pay to get games on their phone. On a console, instead,  it sounds pretty natural to buy a game before you can play it. And it's not suprising that the majority of today's console/PC gamers hate freemium while mobile gamers generally dislike premium: they just want to play on their phone for free and if they like the game they'll end up spending money on IAPs.

The main problem with Freemium is that it's extremely hard to balance. Gameplay may suffer for being too much crippled or slowed down in order to make space for IAPs and players can easily get annoyed and give a bad rating to the game for being too much IAP heavy, even if the developer thought the balance felt quite right.

Another model which is kind of a middle way between Premium and Freemium consists in giving the app for free and offer a "full" version or additional content as IAP. This is what games like Pangolin, RuzzleHardest game ever and many others are doing. I personally believe this kind of IAP is the fairest and I think I will take this route for my next game and see how it goes.

If you have any thoughts as player/developer feel free to leave a comment below! :)


Best App Ever Nominations

Every year the folks at 148Apps hold the Best App Ever Awards, in which users can nominate what they think are the best apps in different categories. If you enjoyed playing Tiny Stack or you feel it is deserving, please consider voting it in one or more of the following categories! :)

If you wish to vote, just click these buttons then "Nominate" (No registration is required)

Nominate Tiny Stack for Best Puzzle Game
Nominate Tiny Stack for Most Addictive Game


Tiny Stack sales data exposed!

As promised, today I'm here to talk about the sales data of Tiny Stack. If you are a developer I hope this post will help you as much as reading about other indie developer's sales has helped me!

Almost one month has passed since Tiny Stack's launch and I've tried different marketing techniques to promote my game during this period. I will talk about what actually worked and what failed miserably.

So, let's jump to the sales data:
First Month Sales

Tiny Stack has sold a total 62 copies so far and if we consider its free downloads and the lite version, the game has been played by over one thousand people worldwide.

Sales started with an initial launch spike (A), with 21 people downloading the game thanks to the launch buzz on social networks. After losing exposure on the "New releases" list, sales had quickly dropped to 2-3 units a day. Then we see a spike in (B), which i believe was generated by reviewers tweeting about the game on Twitter.

The next Spike is (C), when the game was covered on iPhone Italia, an italian tech blog. Actually, this is the only one who wrote about Tiny Stack out of the over 80 review sites I've contacted with promo codes!

Then I wanted to try a strategy which is well-known on the App Store: Free for a day. Halloween seemed like the perfect day to try this strategy out! You can see the results in (D) with obviosly 0 paid sales. I thought this strategy would have helped the game to get a larger user base and some extra publicity, but I was partially wrong.
The game did receive over 200 downloads that day, but as you can see it also didn't help sales at all! I think that the only case in which this marketing strategy is effective is when you are promoting something else inside your app (E.g. a game sequel) or when your app is IAP heavy. Mine was neither of those so it was pretty pointless in my case. Fortunately, though, I didn't get any bad review in the process.

Finally, in (E) a lite version of the game was released resulting in a new spike. Unlike the Free-for-a-day strategy, the lite version had an impact on sales so it is definitely helpful. The lite version has been downloaded almost one thousand times and roughly 1 person out of 100 decided to purchase the full version. In-App analitycs shows that an high number of players (20 out of 100) press the "full version" button to see what it is about. :)

That's all for now!

Tiny stack has grossed around 40$ so far, but fortunately the costs for the development were as low as 200$, so it is not a big loss right now and I think the game may eventually breakeven in the feature :)

The costs were so low because I took care of graphics, programming and game design completely alone, using open source tools and frameworks (Yes, it was a lot of work but it was fun!). I spent around 160$ on sounds/music and the rest on advertising. 

While these numbers are far from stellar, I think they are pretty decent for a first project. But, more importantly, knowing that my game is being played by thousands of players around the world is an enough reason for me to stay motivated and keep doing what I love: Making games!


The Tough Life of an Indie iOS Developer

Hi everyone!

A little more of one week has passed since the launch of Tiny Stack, and a lot of things have happened since then. I've also learned a lot of lessons during the process, and I'm here to share them!

Lesson no. 1: Have realistic expectations
Fortunately I had realistic expectations since I started working on my project, but this is a mistake many newbie developers do: Fooled by past success stories they think they can become instant millionares building a quality app/game for the app store. Sure, you have to build a quality app if you want to become successful but there's a 99% chance your app won't sell as you thought it would! A survey states more than half of applications submitted earn less than 500$ through their lifetime.

Lesson no. 2: Make as many apps as you can!
This is very important and technically none in the app store become successful by just building one game. If you search for the most popular iOS games you will see they weren't their developers first application! Even Rovio has failed different times before the success of Angry Birds.

Lesson no. 3: Getting noticed is hard
The biggest challenge in the AppStore is not building an app, but getting that app noticed! Especially if your'e working as indie or alone. Your game will appear in the new released lists and maybe attract the attention of a dozen of people. The day after your app will be already buried in the list by the amazing amount of new apps being submitted.

Lesson no. 4: Getting your game reviewed is hard
I've learned review sites usually review only the popular game of the moment and the games they see in the top charts, which seems reasonable since those are the apps users are most interested in.
I spent a whole day contacting review sites and all I got were a lot of robot replies, a few human replies and no review yet. I still think contacting review sites is a must for a new indie developer, but unfortunately chances they will review your game are very tiny. If you want to get reviewed easily you have to be in the top charts, which brings to the question: How do you get there?
Another lesson: Send promo codes! Some people think sending unsollicited promo codes is a bad idea and a big waste. Absolutely not! By sending promo codes you've made extremely convenient for them to give your game a quick try. So my 2 cents are: Send promo codes unless the site explicitly states they do no want one.

Lesson no. 5: You have to give something for free!
It should be obvious that marketing a free app is much easier than marketing a paid one. People love free things!
iOS apps are ridiculously cheap nowadays, yet that small price is a big barrier between you and your customers. That sounds quite crazy, but people won't spend a buck they spent for a coffee, for an iOS app which lasts a lot longer and is generally more useful. Angry birds became truly successful only after a lite version was released. Other successful games like Doodle Jump and Cut the rope provide a free version. Tiny Tower and Pocket Frogs use the freemium model which has proven to be successful too, because it's based on something (more or less) free.

That's all for now! I may share the sales data of Tiny Stack in the next few months if they are interesting enough, so stay tuned! :)

Also if you have any tidbit to share, please post a comment below!


Available now on the AppStore!

Tiny Stack is now available on the App Store, and it costs less than a cup of coffee!
If you own an iPhone/iPad/iPod and bought my game I'd love to hear comments from you!
Follows the iTunes link.

Enjoy ;)



Tiny Stack out Tuesday 16th!

Okay, the wait is almost over! Tiny Stack comes out to the AppStore October the 16th!

Check out the game trailer above! ;)