If you build it, they will come, Or not.

Hello there, welcome back. I’ve started receiving some feedback from you guys and I appreciated it. As always, you can find me on Twitter.

In keeping me honest, I’ve not had time to focus on my game or the Entelect R100K Challenge this weekend. Instead, I worked on a project that is not game related at all. I’ve you are into devices like the Arduino, then I might just have something of use to you. It’s still early days for the prototype so I’ll update you as and when I have more.

I suppose after looking at Stray Cat you will agree that the game targets a very specific audience. At the time of it’s release I was still high on the fact that I had just released a game on the App Store and I didn’t hit the ground running. Not as much as I could have, or should have, that’s for sure. So needless to say I didn’t act quick enough or with enough skill, after all, I was new to all of this. I still am new to this.

To be honest, the kids who played it seemed to like it throughout testing and I’ve found my kids playing it without me asking them to. So a little history here, I didn’t want to make the game free because I felt that I needed to make some kind of revenue to help pay for the costs of making the game. I also didn’t want the game to be supported by Ads as I’ve heard horror stories of things kids have discovered through Ads. So I decided to charge $0.99 for the game and that’s where my learning curve started.

The problem is, most kids aren’t allowed to load games from the App Store by themselves and they are certainly not the ones who make the “buy or don’t buy” decisions. This presented me with a problem, I need the parents to see the game and buy it for their children. The problem is, Stray Cat doesn’t attract the attention of the parents because it’s not a game for adults.

Facebook Friends

I’ve always heard the investor talk of sourcing your funds through “friends and family” so I thought that since I have lots of friends on Facebook I’d see some downloads if I mention the game there. After all, my friends would support me, right? How wrong was I! My downloads following the release and the Facebook post was limited to me, my wife and one or two people at work who also started their own game development journeys. My wife had more facebook friends than I did, so she did the same. It barely made a difference. So the first lesson learnt, it doesn’t help to just rely on your Facebook friends to get the word going. Ok, so that was too obvious, I know.

Twitter

I mentioned the game on twitter, but I had so few followers I wrote twitter off almost before I even made the post. If you can tell that I was even new to twitter at this point, bonus points to you, I was a complete rookie. If you’ve picked up that I’m being very vague in terms of exactly how many downloads were linked to which Facebook or Twitter post, then you my friend are at the boss level of the game. You don’t need bonus points, you need to start spending them!

The fact is, I missed a huge trick.

What I didn’t do, but should have done

There is this site, called TapStream and they offer a free service to shorten your URL’s. This sounds very silly initially but the beauty is that they also track how many people have opened the URL! So on my facebook post, I posted the URL to install Stray Cat and the URL pointed straight to the App Store. Had I shortened the URL in TapStream and posted that shortened URL, then any user who clicked the link would still go to the App Store, but they would be sent there VIA TapStream. Why, I hear you ask? Well, simply then I’d know that if I had 10 downloads and 5 clicks on my Facebook specific TapStream url, then I know that 5 of my 10 installs were as a result of my Facebook post.

Why is that important, you ask? Well, I need to know what is effective and what’s not effective. I need to advertise and mention things where people actually listen or are interested. Lesson learnt again.

App Store Stats are Delayed

With Stray Cat, I realized that the game targets a very specific audience. Kids mostly. How do you get your target audience aware of your game. At this point I hadn’t heard about things like TapStream so I was flying in the dark. Another thing is that the Apple App store only updates data around 12:26 PM South African time. That means, if lots of people download my game right now, I’ll only know about it tomorrow. There’s a little trick there though, the App Store doesn’t update stats at the same time every day, it seems to vary by a small margin. AppFigures has a handy little site that lets you check on this.

Lets start marketing!

Facebook allows you to link your advertising campaign to your app on the App Store. This is problematic because it makes using TapStream a little difficult. But, at this point I wasn’t using TapStream in any case, so my problem was simple yet the same: if you ran multiple advertising campaigns you have no idea of knowing which campaign resulted in the downloads. I decided to keep things simple, to do a Facebook advertising campaign for the iOS version only. I had high hopes of some results.

The beauty of Facebook Advertising is that you can be very specific to target your audience based on information people share freely on the site. This is scary for personal privacy but great for marketing! With my target audience being children, I targeted parents. Parents, who have purchased something online recently, who has an iOS device and are from an English speaking country. I was very specific with my audience to have the best possible chance of showing my ad to someone who is likely to buy the game. The you set a budget to limit your spend. Facebook charges you every time someone clicks on your add. Simple enough but again, this costs money which I don’t have lots of. I set up my campaign to run for 24 hours.

For the actual advertising content I made 3 ad images. 1 with the main title image and 2 with in game screenshots. That was it. So once you start you Facebook advertising campaign, it takes a while to get going but once it does, you can periodically refresh the page to see the performance of you ad. My advertising campaign was up and running and I had my eyes on it, nearly even seeing every character in the counter manually change. It’s like watching paint dry.

Within the first few hours I realized that the in game screenshot ads proved so ineffective compared to the full screen ad that I disabled their ads halfway through to rather focus on the main title image advertisement.

Stray Cat Title Image

The most effective advertising image

 

Stray Cat In-Game Screenshot

Not nearly as effective as the Main Title image, but still not completely useless for advertising.

Stray Cat In-Game Screenshot

Completely ineffective for advertising

 

The Numbers

Stray Cat - Advertising - First Campaign

Stray Cat’s First Facebook Advertising Campaign Results

 

In total, my advertising image was shown to 7,785 people (432 + 183 + 7,170). Of those, 102 people (5 + 97) actually clicked the link to go to the app. Of those 102 people, 1 actually installed Stray Cat. So my conversion rate of people clicking on my ad versus those buying the game turned out to be less than 1%. Pretty disappointing, right?

I thought so too. Back to the drawing board I went…

My first look at iOS vs Android vs Microsoft

Welcome back. I’ve been hard at work on my new game, but more on that when I have something more to tell.

The story continues with Stray Cat, the first game that I managed to get through the submission process and onto the App Stores. It’s available for both iOS (iTunes) and Android (Google Play and Amazon)

Android: A story of Ice Cream Sandwiches, Jellybeans and KitKat’s

Initially I had pinned my (Android) hopes on the Amazon App Store but to date have yet to see any movement whatsoever on it. So is it alive, does it have a heartbeat? Maybe I’m missing the plot but I think it’s a dead rubber. I’ve stopped checking on it altogether, in fact I’m considering just pulling the game off the Amazon store altogether.

So Amazon isn’t the way to go and Google Play doesn’t pay to South Africa, so revenue is pretty much non-existent there. The only form of revenue to be made from Google Play is advertising. In the end, I added AdMob advertising into the Android version and released one for free on Google Play. This was a problem for me, as it meant I had gone back on my ideals of not releasing add supported games.

I spent lots of time pondering on it and spoke to friends and asked questions and in the end, I realized that I can live by my ideals or I can try to make things work. It turns out that being adaptable remains the one thing true to an indie developer. I also realized that people are not keen on spending any money whatsoever on a game they know nothing about, made by someone they known nothing about. Of course, I had done fairly little in terms of advertising at this point, but I’ll share my advertising findings in another post.

The final moment of irritation was that we’ve tested a lot on a Samsung GT-I9500 and I know for a fact it works. Yet I have people contacting me saying it doesn’t work at all on that exact model. I also found that things that generally worked rather easily on iOS always took a tweak or two more on Android. I can’t help but see flashbacks of the nightmare that was developing for Nokia’s Symbian OS.

You might not remember, but if you wanted some game to run on your Nokia, you had to choose the exact version that was specifically made for your exact phone model. The same game had various versions for various phones and if you picked the wrong one it wouldn’t work. I’ve not had any similar issues on Apple’s iOS. Things just generally seem to work. Also, Apple just has the recipe right in terms of hardware which just seems to perform much better than even the top of the range Galaxy Tabs. I’ve not collected an extensive set of data on it, but certainly on our tests on frame-rate and processing rates at least it seems to hold true.

Apple, yes just Apple

This hasn’t put me off Android, but combined with the very poor download stats compared to iOS’s pretty low total, I’m not going to focus as much on Android for the time being. If I made games full-time, I would still focus just as much on Android as iOS but since I have to split my time, it’s Apple first. So my plan is to make the games for iOS, then to migrate them to other platforms afterward, rather than doing it all at the same time.

Microsoft, still in version 3.11, alpha.

Bring on the Microsoft store and in true form, what just works on the other App Stores is a complete headache here. If you are lucky enough to figure out how to navigate what I can only describe as the worst program flow ever, then you are probably going to realize that just after you’ve paid your subscription fee that you’ve done it to the wrong store. You paid the Windows store instead of the App store. Of course that’s what you meant to do, right?

Enter the App Store and Windows Store confusion. Yes my friends, lets cross brand, cross name and ultimately confuse the crap out of everyone. Once you are in, you’ve sorted out your payment mess, you create your application profile and then you are stuck. You notice that you can’t do anything until Microsoft Verifies you. HUH? 7 Days of waiting for, erm, nothing to happen. Apparently, they didn’t need to verify me? WHAT? I’m confused.

On the next step I learnt that I need to configure the BETA testers using a box that I couldn’t use because it’s all greyed out. So, after much searching and struggling with horrible KB articles that seem to be a circular reference to themselves and mention just about every Microsoft product under the sun, I figured out that there is no good reason why I can’t simply delete and recreate my app. Oh yeah, you guessed it, in true Microsoft “reboot” it style, I could progress to the next stage with the newly created app profile. a Few weeks wasted. I have lots of spare time, right?

Microsoft, promoting the use of aspirin worldwide.

Hold on to your horses, that’s not it yet either. So I get that there is a need for things like content ratings and PEGI and so on, but by comparison, Apple asked a few questions about my game and rated it accordingly. So did Amazon, so did Google Play. No my friends, not Microsoft. They provide you with a list of all the approvals you need from all the Countries to accomplish the same thing and even though their vastly confusing KB articles stated that I don’t need to complete all those forms, the fact is you need to spend a serious amount of time to do what the mainline app stores do for you.

And the verdict is?

If Apple was my primary store and Google Play was my secondary store, then Microsoft would be somewhere between I’m bored, it’s 3am and I can’t sleep and I’ve already finished my book so “hey, lets see if I can make some progress with Microsoft” and well, nothing really. I can’t imagine anything I’d rather want to waste my time on. Skip, at least until I have much, much, much more time available!

So that meant the end of my initial App store experience. I had created and launched my Game and now people would start to download it.

Until we meet here again, in a few days perhaps?