For a few months late last year I spent all of my free time working on an iPhone game by the name of Bullseye Factory. Making iPhone games is just a hobby, but this time I really liked the concept I’d come up with and I was very passionate about seeing it through. I convinced my sister to do all the graphics while I did all the programming, etc. and we ended up with what I think is a pretty polished title.
Now, in the past I’d put out a few other smaller games that I released into the AppStore with very little fanfare. But based on the effort we’d put in, and the feedback I’d been getting (even unsolicited from strangers who happened to see me playing the prototype), I felt like Bullseye Factory was in a different league. So I wanted to market it the “right” way. There are all kinds of blog posts out there that all talk about mostly the same strategies, involving things like posting on the gaming message boards, doing a “media blitz”, creating a trailer, etc., so I figured I’d put together a list of the techniques that I employed and discuss how they worked out.
Oh, (spoiler alert) I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that Bullseye Factory sells approximately zero copies a day.
Things that worked
Things that did not work
Posting on message boards
Most of the major iOS gaming message boards have a section where developers are “allowed” to announce the arrival of their games. This is convenient for gamers as they can just avoid this one section altogether.
I contacted all of the iOS and mobile-centric blogs I could think of (around 40 of them), telling them about Bullseye Factory and providing them with promo-codes for a free copy. I heard back from exactly zero of them, with the exception of a few auto-replies asking me to pay for a “review”. However a few weeks later SlideToPlay.com, a rather prominent mobile-gaming site, posted this review of Bullseye Factory, which was actually very positive. That was one of the coolest things to happen during this experience.
I was excited to see how that would affect the sales. The next day I woke up to see that two people had downloaded it. Hmm… Well, it’d been posted in the evening, so perhaps the next day’s sales would be better after the review had been on the front page of their site all day. The next morning I awoke to find zero downloads.
Although it didn’t lead to any downloads, getting mentioned on a large gaming blog did lead to one thing: ever since that day I started getting google alerts about downloading the cracked version of Bullseye Factory. I didn’t take it too hard, though; at least I’d finally made something that people thought was worth stealing. Kind of a compliment.
Using new technology
When I first got an iPhone 4 and tried the first gyroscope games, I was pretty much blown away by the accuracy of control that it allowed. But there weren’t many games out there that utilized it. So when I started writing my next game I thought that perhaps this was an angle I could use to try and stand out a bit. Well, I promoted the gyroscope aspect of it everywhere I could, and I was able to determine pretty conclusively that I’m the only person in the world who cares about the gyroscope. So, in the end all I really did was just limit the size of my potential audience.
In order to get footage of the game in action, oftentimes people will just play the game on the simulator and use screen-capture software to get the video. I’ve done this with previous games, and it works fairly well. However, since there’s no way to simulate the gyroscope, that method wasn’t an option. I ended up finding an app which allows jailbroken iPhones to screen-capture video of whatever app is running. It was incredibly slick and at the time I was very pleased with the result. Looking back at it, though, the framerate it was able to capture wasn’t very high, so anybody who hadn’t seen the actual game in motion (read: anybody who’d be watching a trailer) would probably think it looked kinda choppy.
I also put together another trailer using footage that was gotten by just holding the phone in front of the camera. That showed off the smooth gameplay, but I think there’s something inherently amateurish about videos taken in that manner. I would’ve hired a hand model, but they all suck at videogames.
Releasing in December
As the project kept dragging on, consuming my evenings and weekends, I finally gave myself the deadline that I wanted to release before Christmas so people could play it on their newly received toys. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure everyone else in the world had this same idea. Certainly it’s hard to stand out in the clutter of the App Store at anytime of year, but I don’t think that releasing in the midst of the firestorm that is the holiday season helped matters. Although, it didn’t hurt matters either, as the day after Christmas, when Bullseye Factory sold 4 copies, still stands as the only proof I have that there isn’t some bizarre bug affecting my sales reports that is capping the numbers at 2.
Presenting at a developer demo event
One of the developer groups that I follow here in the Twin Cities was hosting an event where people in the area could come and give a demo of their mobile apps. This was not the easiest thing in the world for me to sign myself up for, seeing as how I usually tend to avoid going places where there are likely to be people (not a big fan). However, somewhat bizarrely, I do enjoy public speaking, so I decided to give it a whirl. And, I’m really glad I did because it went really well (I think) and I met a bunch of cool people.
Conversely, while I was demoing, I asked the audience how many of them had a 4th generation iOS device (capable of playing my gyroscope-based game), and about 40-50 hands went up. That was way more than I expected, and I was looking forward to seeing the sales numbers from all of those hackers who surely would part with a measly 99 cents to support one of their colleagues. The next morning I woke to find a big two had been sold. Now, at this point I’d been waking up to a sales figure <= 2 for a few months in a row, so I'd gotten fairly used to it -- but this was an especially difficult "2", as I'd spoken to three people the night before who told me they'd already downloaded my game.
Posting on HN
HackerNews is one of my favorite websites because of the fascinating community they have there that’s filled with people, like me, who get restless when they’re not working on some kind of project. One of my favorite things about the site is that oftentimes people will submit their apps or other side projects to get the opinion of the community. I don’t think I’m alone in this, as “rate my app” posts always tend to be fairly popular. Except for when I did it. It shot right off the front page of the new section faster than a speeding TechCrunch article and only elicited one comment.
That was rather disappointing, as the denizens of HN aren’t much on sugar-coating, so I was looking forward to some real critiques and, optimally, theories on why sales were so slow. Perhaps this post will have better luck.
Now, I realize that this post is mostly negative, but I don’t want it to come across as a “woe is me” kind of sob story, or a hit-piece on the AppStore. This is just a list of things that haven’t happened to work yet. It only takes one Apple employee putting Bullseye Factory on a featured list to completely turn things around. And this experience certainly hasn’t dissuaded me from starting on my new project, so look forward to news on that and, with any luck, updates on Bullseye Factory’s circuitous route to success.
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