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…

And so the second half begins

Hello dear friends. I hate to start off with an apology but I need to say that I’ve been way too quiet. It’s been nearly half a year and I’ve not been too active on my blog. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t active or didn’t focus, far from it. I am a lot more active on Twitter so if you want blow by blow updates that’s probably the best place to get in on the action. The things I learnt the last few months have made me feel like a ship, rising and falling in stormy waters. Wait, that sounds a little more gloomy than I intended, but still conveys the feeling of the roller-coaster ride that it is.

As it stands I have 2 games on the Apple App store and although I have been working hard on my latest [still unannounced] game, I’ve been busiest getting some form of a foothold in social media and some form of grasp on the murky waters that is advertising. I’ve also been following the FIFA World Cup, which is drawing to an end and that means it’s 4 more years before we see it again. Unless you support Germany or Argentina I suppose there isn’t much left in it for you, but I’m impartial because the South African side didn’t make the cut to begin with. So it is with very little fanfare that I can say I feel that Germany will take it and I’ll care very little if they don’t. Here’s to hoping it’s at least a spectacle, right?

So why the sport analogy? Well, with sport it is important to finish well. Sometimes when you finish well you can even make up for a poor start. But, there is absolutely no use starting off with a bang and fading in the end. Also, it is as much about the training before the game and the post match work as the actual match itself. I learnt a lot about that in the last few months in terms of game development too.

If you recall from The Challenge I made a game called Stray Cat. I thought getting it onto the App store would be the hard work; how wrong was I. Look, I always expected that it wouldn’t be that easy, but I never thought it would be this much work. Anyway, the point is, there is a lot more to making games than being creative, a lot more. While I’ve not nailed it yet, in fact far from it, I do have some ideas with what doesn’t work or at the very least hasn’t worked yet.

It’s quite a lot of information and I don’t want it to get lost in translation so I’m spending some time on the posts, so come back in a day or so and you’ll get to continue the experience with me.

I’ve also learnt that my day job expects me to blog and communicate with peers regarding my area(s) of expertise, so you’ll start seeing some of that come through as well.

As for now, I need to get more coffee.

The Challenge

Hello dear friends. January came and went, we’ve all hopefully survived the “post Christmas” period and are already questioning our sanity on how it can be February already.

I’m finding it very hard to keep my blog up to date with my happenings. Maybe there is a lot happening and I’m just not getting to it or my time management isn’t what is should be. January saw a whole host of changes to my development process and truth be told, I don’t know what to make of it just yet. One of my friends brought forth the prospect of a partnership idea. In this idea he and I will be the programmers and then he re-introduced me to a 3D artist, who also brought a colleague into the picture. For me, he brings valuable business experience and 3D Artists. I don’t mean to play down his skill as developer, but I’m looking to areas where I am lacking and highlighting them.

So one could become 4 really. Listening to my universe could mean that I no longer have to draw graphics pixel by pixel, so it is surely a path I need to explore if I have it available. We started off by throwing ideas around and I soon re-learnt that this is by no means an easy process when you can’t just do what you want to do or if you have a a raw idea. Zombie would simply take to long to re-work considering it has roughly 2500 images already.

In the end we came up with a pretty interesting concept and really started throwing ideas around. This would be a project of a few months and if done right, could work technically. We still had a lot of ground to cover to make up the concept to be sure that it will be fun yet challenging. I spent a great deal of time in front of my white board and we had quite a few long sessions of sharing ideas.

We tested our idea with everyone who wanted to listen and it turns out, everything we’re doing is adding complexity to an idea that is already fairly complex. So John and I challenged each other, could we each come up with a game in just a few days.

The challenge was simple enough: Create a one screen game that works with one finger input. It must be finished by Sunday. We had 5 days. It’s worth mentioning here that we are part time game designers, we have full time jobs at a large blue chip, so our time is very much limited. That means, we don’t have 5 days of 16 hours a day, or even 8. At best, we had about 2 to 6 hours a day to realistically work with. Of course Saturday and Sunday could be full days.

So on the Thursday, I started on a game concept I’d like to call “Stray Cat”. Our challenge was to have the game completed by the Sunday and then we could start the work with the artists to get the graphics out. My wife and I had plans to visit friends on the Sunday, so I had to finish by Sunday morning. Less time for me…

I did it though, I finished at about 9am on the Sunday morning. My game was fully playable, had fairly useful graphics and the sound I must admit is very cute. Since then, we’ve not grown the game that much, in fact, the only things we’ve been doing is test playing it and toying with the interface to make sure you can pick up and play without learning a whole host of fancy gestures. We’ve also been testing it on a variety of devices. I managed to talk Game into selling me a 7-inch “Me” Android tablet for the same price the sold it in December, which was R200 below the current listed price. To be fair, that was how much they said it was when I asked.

How this will turn out, I can’t really say. I’m hopeful that we can have nice and colorful cartoon graphics, make the game come alive in a way that would appeal to a younger audience as well.

Would anyone like to test it, if so let me know 🙂

And then came Flappy Bird…

This wasn’t the end of it though. Making small games turns out to be lots of fun and I can quite a lot in very little time. You’ve heard about Flappy Bird, it’s removal from the app stores and all the clones that popped up? Well, my wife really wanted me to make a true to the original clone, not some shoddy game that looks like the graphics came out of Microsoft Word. While I was waiting for my Stray Cat graphics to arrive I started working on a game I’d rather not name just yet, but it’s engine meant I could do a Flappy Bird clone rather quickly.

The creator of Flappy Bird openly stated he wouldn’t object to clones or sue anyone for cloning it. Or course, Flappy Bird is also gone forever. I would never dream to make a clone of a game that’s available.

So the Flappy Bird story being so unique and after some deliberation I submitted my version to the App stores last week and we’ll see what happens. I’m a little nervous about it, not because it’s a clone, it clearly is and I’m not hiding or denying that fact. Interesting fact though, Flappy Bird is not an original game either, it’s a clone of Flappo Bird for the Atari 2600 see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEi7_4FTG18. No my friends, I am nervous because it allows me to learn how the submission processes work for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. It’s the starting blocks for me, whether they accept it or not and lets not forget, the engine that runs it, was made for another [unrelated] game that I am working on.

a Clone, yes I know. This might sound strange if taken out of context, but I really do believe that the creator of a game needs to receive the benefit of it. Not the clones. In this case, the creator stepped away, played the clones and said he liked them. While we’re on the subject I’m also of the belief that games should be fun first and foremost. My daughter constantly cries when she plays The Sims or Theme Park on the iPad because she hits pay-walls that frustrates her game-play. In addition to that, as a parent I don’t want my kids playing games that run the risk of them clicking ads or buying in-app stuff without my consent (which happens, by the way). a Good friend of ours walked into her daughter playing talking Tom cat, except she clicked some link and now hard core pornography was showing on their tablet. I don’t want my games doing that, exposing kids to things they shouldn’t be. This also fits my model of 99c buys you everything. I am looking at a free model with ads too, and in that I might even include in app purchases as well, but if you buy my game outright, you have it all and no ads. I think that’s fair. I’m still busy with the ads though, so my Clappy Bird clone, if accepted will be 99c [US].

So lets see how this turns out. For the first time ever, my blog is up to date with where I am. That took some doing but hopefully I can keep it more up to date now and post more frequent “smaller” updates.