Money and the App Store: a few figures that might help an indie developer

Posted by on 01.11.12
 

Emeric Thoa is the creative director and co-founder of The Game Bakers, an independent game studio that recently released the turn-based action RPG SQUIDS on iOS. Twitter: @emericthoa ; company twitter: @thegamebakers _ _ _ _ _ Eighteen months ago, when I left Ubisoft to start an independent game studio and focus on making my own games, I looked online a bit to get an idea of how much income I could expect to make as an indie. At Ubisoft I used to work on big AAA console games, and I had some figures in mind, but I knew they wouldn’t be relevant for my new life: $20M budgets, teams of 200 hundred people, 3 million sales at $70 per unit… I knew being an indie developer would be completely different, but I had very little information about how different it would be. Angry Birds had taken off, Plants vs. Zombies was already a model, Doodle Jump was a good example of success, and soon after I started my “indie” life, Cut the Rope was selling a million copies a week. But except for what I call the “jackpots,” there were very few public stories or numbers on the web, and this meant we were a bit in the dark when we started SQUIDS. I have been tracking figures since then, and I’m writing this article to share what I’ve learned with my fellow indie dev buddies who might be in the same position I was, a year and a half ago.  

The App Store myths

In this article, I will present all of the post-mortems and figures I’ve found interesting, and I will also explain how SQUIDS fits into the overall picture. But first, I would like to quickly give my opinion on few of the App Store myths you may believe if you’re not an experienced iOS developer. There are plenty of ways to view the App Store, but my point is that you might be a bit surprised by what the App Store really means in terms of money.

Myth #1: There are so many iPhones and iPads out there that any decent game can make you rich.

This is an easy mistake to make when you try to do the math with your dev buddy during a coffee break. “Okay, there are 200 million users on the App Store. You just need to reach 0.1% of them with a $1 app and you’ll make $200k!” My warnings:

  • A lot of iOS users don’t have a credit card. Think kids and teenagers with iPods, for instance. They just download free apps.
  • 88 % of games downloaded are free. And when people say that Angry Birds has reached 200 million downloads, remember that this includes their Lite and Free versions. (I won’t cover freemium models in this post, but don’t expect freemium to be easy, either.)
  • Never forget Apple’s 30% cut. $200k = $140k in real life.

The point here is that the user base might be huge, but a lot of people never pay anything on the App Store, so don’t get blinded by the potential and stay rational.

Myth #2: Making an iPhone game is fast and cheap

Compared to making Assassin’s Creed or Red Dead Redemption, this one is actually true. Making an iPhone game shouldn’t cost $50M and take 4 years. (Well, neither should a console game, if you ask me.) But unless you’re aiming for a Doodle Jump clone, it’s still a bit of work. If you make it cheap, you’ll have a very small team (say 2 people), and it’ll take AT LEAST six months to get something polished out there. A quick estimate of an iOS game budget:

  • 2 salaries x 6 months
  • A freelance contractor for sound design
  • A trip to GDC or some other event to meet journalists
  • Hardware to work on (a new computer, or a hard drive, or an iPad)
  • Some software licenses, because software devs need to earn a living, too
  • Maybe a website or a Dropbox account
  • You’ll do the QA yourself? All right then…

All in all, you can’t be serious about making games and “earning a living” out of it without at least a $40k budget. (And I’m really being cheap here; I think to be competitive today on the App Store you need $100k.)

Myth #3: Updating your game will make your sales increase over time (also known as “the Angry Birds fairy tale”)

This is probably the story that most people have heard and that everyone keeps telling you about at parties. When you tell someone you just made the move to become an indie and develop for iOS, they usually put an arm on your shoulder and say, “Hey man, it’s very different from the traditional game industry. Even if you fail at launch, if you keep updating the game it’s gonna take off eventually. You’ll earn more money after six months than during the first week after launch. Look at Angry Birds, man.” Well, this might have made some sense two years ago, but it’s not the case anymore—unless your launch fails. If you really mess up your launch but you keep pushing for the game, then it will probably get better, that’s true. But you don’t really want your launch to fail. There is a “launch effect” on the App Store, now more than ever. Your initial launch—along with special events like being featured by Apple, or promotions, or winning an award and getting some sweet coverage—that’s what will make your downloads go up. Content updates won’t (unless they are crash-fixes). Content updates like new levels are good to secure a user base and to build a community, but they don’t increase the user base. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do content updates, but don’t expect the wrong benefits from them.

Myth #4: Being visible on the App Store just takes a good post on reddit or a good viral video

Once you have a good game, the key to success is visibility on the App Store. Another tale I’ve been told many times (and that I actually wanted to believe) is that you can leverage big communities with a nice forum post or a cool and cheap video. I believe now that this is a waste of time. You can’t influence a community unless you’ve already been in this community for a long time. And viral videos suffer even more from the “jackpot syndrome” than the apps themselves, in the sense that you can’t at all predict if they will get 12 million views or 300 (although 300 is more likely). Just accept it: being visible will be a long and tough battle that you’ll have to fight from the day you start to code, to a year after the launch.

Myth 5: Getting featured by Apple is completely random

Some indie devs think getting featured by Apple is a bit of luck. I don’t think so. Sure, the guys at Apple are honest folks who showcase the games they like and think are quality products. But like any publisher, they have their editorial line and they manage risks.

  • They showcase games that match up with their main audience (meaning a good educational product for iPad has more chance of being featured than the 2412th endless runner game)
  • They showcase games that will sell more devices and use their latest features (if you can use the new iOS 6 feature, good for you)
  • They showcase games that come from reliable developers / publishers (if you previously published a millions-grossing app on iOS, good for you)
  • They showcase games from people they know personally (because even in 2012, real life relationships help you trust people)

It’s not random that Infinity Blade 2 was featured at launch: it comes from a well known publisher, it’s a sequel of a hit, it’s an iPhone 4 showcase app, and Chair/Epic have probably had beers with folks from Apple more than once. On a scale that’s more relatable to an indie developer, the same rules apply to Jetpack Joyride, coming from Fruit Ninja’s devs. Or Tiny Tower (the Pocket Frog devs). Or even Bumpy Road (the Cosmo Spin devs). The point is: if you are an indie with no publisher backing, if it’s your first game and if it doesn’t particularly show off the new features of the iPhone 5, you won’t get featured. The good news is, it’s actually a VERY GOOD THING that App Store featuring isn’t random. That means we can do what it takes to reach that goal.  

And now what?

Knowing that the App Store is not a mine full of gold ready for the taking, there are still ways to earn a living with that dream job of being an indie game developer. So let’s take a look at who is successful on this distribution platform.

The Blockbusters

Exactly like in the console game industry, there are certain games that are simply too big to fail. Most of the time they are made by a small dev team but backed up by a big publisher, securing the Apple featuring, PR support, and press coverage. Here are a few examples with figures: Infinity Blade: developed by Chair and backed up by Epic. $10M in 7 months with 40% coming from iAP, according to Epic. In January 2012, the Infinity Blade franchise (1+2) reached $30M in revenue. Cut the Rope: developed by Zeptolab and backed up by Chillingo. They did everything they could to make it an Angry Birds killer (they even made a better game), but “only” managed to sell 3 million games in 6 weeks. Jetpack Joyride: developed by Halfbrick and backed up by Fruit Ninja’s notoriety. They had 350k downloads in a week and we know it was the start of a long-term success. Order & Chaos: developed by Gameloft (and inspired by WoW). They made $1M in 20 days with a $6.99 game, which comes out to about 7,000 downloads a day if we exclude iAPs. These examples are what make many people think that, when well done, an App Store game is bringing in a lot of money. There is no doubt these games are profitable, but even if $1M in 20 days is certainly a lot of money, I bet O&C cost more to develop. These games are the Call of Duty and the Skyrim and the WoW of the App Store, but they don’t bring in as much money, even proportionally to their budgets. Along the same lines, there are some games that are truly indie successes but that can be considered blockbusters because, as opposed to Jackpots, you could tell they were going to be massive hits before they even launched: World of GooLink to World of Goo post mortem

  • iPad version released 2 years after the critically acclaimed PC/WiiWare versions
  • Released at $10, then dropped to $5, where it had more revenues at than it had at 10$
  • Got featured by Apple. Sold 125k in its first month (iPad only!). Comparatively, the best month on WiiWare was 68k copies, and 97k on Steam.
  • Recently hit the one million download mark on the App Store (iOS+Mac)

Tiny Tower

The HeistLink to The Heist post mortem

  • 500k sold in one week
  • Had a 500k user database that received a newsletter at launch
  • Not really related, but the same devs also have a successful app called camera+ that reached 3 million sales, and they revealed that being the #3 paid app in the US means around $30k / day. We learn here that being In the Top 10 means around $15k / day.

So yes, it’s possible to kick ass on the App Store, but if you start from scratch, you probably won’t achieve the same figures—unless you have a “jackpot” app.

The Jackpots

Here are the real winners of the App Store lottery: the Jackpot games, the ones we could have expected to

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make a decent success, but not THAT INCREDIBLE a success. Angry Birds is of course the most famous example, but Doodle Jump or Fruit Ninja are crazy jackpots as well. Here are two others worth mentioning: Tiny Wings: developed by Andreas Illiger. Sold more than 3 million copies and took first place in the US for more than 2 weeks. It’s any indie’s dream: a great game, great critical reception, a great commercial success. A game made by one guy in 7 months. It was well done from start to finish, but try to mimic it and I bet you won’t end up at #1. It’s the reference jackpot. Trainyard: a puzzle game that made a crazy streak to first place for a little while and made us all dream. The dev wrote a super post-mortem here, and as you will see at the beginning it was not all that successful. He also gave the interesting figure of $40k to $50k a day if you’re the #1 paid app in the US. I’ve been looking at the French App Store charts for almost 2 years, and Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Doodle Jump, and their spin-offs have not left the Top 25. What that means to me is that even Tiny Wings and Trainyard didn’t manage to stay in the Top 25 despite their great success, and that no game since 2010 has made it, either. It might happen again, but I feel that App Store “brands” have been created already and it will take new tech or a new feature from a new Apple device before newcomers have a chance of staying high in the charts for a long time. Maybe the next killer app will use Siri (haha).

The real world

This leaves us with the real world. The world you and I play in, with all the other indies and the other lesser publisher-backed games. Here are some numbers and stories I found that might help you. I want to thank all the devs who posted these post-mortems—it really helps guys, so thank you! Hard LinesLink to Hard Lines post mortem First week:

  • 14 reviews, all were good
  • 22 user ratings, all 5 stars
  • 452 sales in 8 days, grossing a total of $292

Then got featured by Apple (not Game of the Week, but New & Noteworthy). Other interesting facts:

PortaballLink to Portaball post mortem

  • 4,000 sales ($0.99) from Sept 2010 to August 2011. Highest one-day sales: 160 at launch
  • 56k downloads during the free promotion period

Punch a HoleLink to Punch a Hole post mortem

WooordsLink to Wooords post mortem

  • Reviewed by TouchArcade
  • Featured in New & Noteworthy on iPad. Made around 1,400 sales a day for two days
  • Peaked at #21 overall in US iPad
  • Sold around 700/day during the first 20 days, then fell to 100/day

DappleLink to Dapple post mortem

  • Cost $32k to develop, sold for $4.99 at launch
  • Reviewed by Kotaku
  • Highest downloads peaked at launch day, then fell to fewer than 10/day. 131 copies sold during the first 24 days.

FishMotoLink to FishMoto post mortem

  • $182 grossed after 20 days

Flower GardenLink to Flower Garden post mortem

  • Made $21k in 8 months from April 2009 to January 2010
  • Added iAPs and free version and made $30k in one month
  • Average income is $1500 a week

Big Mountain SnowboardingLink to Big Mountain Snowboarding post mortem

  • Released in December 2009 with no buzz
  • $50/day during launch week, then dropped
  • N&N feature made the sales climb to $80/day, then back down to $10
  • iPad launch gave sales a small boost, then they fell again
  • Added ads: makes about $4/day (44918 requests, 946 impressions, so about a 2% conversion rate)
  • Android version makes $5/day

Ow My BallsLinks to Ow My Balls post mortem

  • 14k copies sold in one year, grossing $10k
  • Reached #1 free with free promotion and had 233,124 download in one day. Then reached 1.1 million downloads.
  • The day after the successful free promotion, they made $600.

QuizQuizQuizLinks to QuizQuizQuiz post mortem

  • Featured by Apple
  • Made around $70k in sales, mainly at $0.99
  • Main success in Europe, only 9% in the US
  • 23% of players were on pirated versions as of August 2010

Some conclusions after reading those post-mortem:

  • Being featured by Apple has a great impact on downloads
  • Being covered by big sites like Touch Arcade has a strong impact
  • Being featured by sites like Free App a Day can lead to an incredible number of downloads that don’t translate into big sales right afterward (the impact on your game’s reputation remains unclear)
  • Free promotions might make your ratings go down because you reach a lot of players who might not be your target

 

Conclusion

Dapple’s dev Owen Goss did an interesting survey about App Store game revenues. The findings are exactly what I expected when we created The Game Bakers. Revenue per number of games by developer 1) The more games you make, the more money you’ll earn from one game. Meaning experience matters. Distribution of revenues per developers 2) 80% of devs earn 3% of the revenues. Meaning there are about 20% of developers who can earn a living from their games, and 1% of them have a very nice car. Edit: a pretty good analyse from Owen Goss research by Dave Addey here. Says that 19% of apps make $24k. 80% $300. Seems realistic.

What about SQUIDS?

Taking risks to reduce the element of chance Our strategy with SQUIDS was super bold. We would spend more to develop it than Angry Birds, and earn less. That was the plan. We would also spend more than Tiny Wings and earn less. We knew that and we aimed for that from the beginning. But what we wanted was to remove the “lottery” factor. The strategy was pretty simple:

  • Make a high quality game with a big scope (we knew it would be expensive, but this would differentiate us from the average $0.99 iOS game).
  • Target a “soft gamer” audience. People who were playing casual games but wanted a little more depth than Angry Birds. The next step in iPhone gaming, basically.
  • Create a community, and big user base of real fans who would help to build the brand. This meant going with a low price point despite the game’s scope.
  • Make it multiplatform. Because the game would be high quality with a big scope, we could then make it multiplatform and release it on iOS, PC, Mac, Android, PSN, XBLA, and so on.

That leads me to two other models I want to bring forward that don’t fit into the Blockbuster category or the Jackpot category. Although we didn’t base our strategy on their models at the time, I can say that these guys go where I want to go with The Game Bakers. They make deep games that target a niche audience and end up hitting much more. Great Little War Game by Rubicon Development These guys used almost the same strategy we did. They made a very good game with a big scope for an iOS release. They targeted the turn-based war game niche. They took a little bit less risk in their setting and title than we did (little soldiers might have a bigger mainstream appeal than SQUIDS, but I love my Squids nonetheless). Overall, they managed their brand smartly and have recently launched on Android with great success, taking the spot Nintendo refused to take with Advance Wars on smartphones. Link to Great Little War Game post mortem

  • Released in March 2011 and had generated $150k in income by August
  • Development costs were around $100k
  • Appearing first in “New & Noteworthy” earned them $6000/day sales, but these quickly felt back to less than $1000/day

Sword & Sworcery by Capybara Games and Superbrothers Capybara and Superbrothers did everything right with this game. They did the exact opposite of what you’re “supposed to do” and made it a hit. They released a teaser a year before launch, they targeted a niche of click-and-play retro gamers, they priced the game high ($4.99), they didn’t have any iAP, they released on iPad only. The budget was $200k and they took a big risk overall with the game’s context. It’s as if they were indie PC developers who mistook the App Store for Steam. And yet they sold more than 300k in 6 months and won many awards, making it both a critical and commercial success. Respect.

SQUIDS numbers

My little addition to all of the post mortems listed above:

  • SQUIDS was developed in 10 months and released October 11, 2011. At the time of this writing, it’s spent 92 days on the App Store.
  • The core team of 6 people is scattered all over the world, but the head office is in France. Several freelance guys helped (audio, animation, story), and we worked with a QA company as well.
  • SQUIDS’ lead iOS version cost more than $100k to develop.
  • We put a lot of effort into marketing and PR, including traveling to GamesCom in Germany and PAX in Seattle, making two trailers, and hiring PR reps and a community manager. Total marketing / PR budget around $30k.
  • SQUIDS was reviewed by more than 200 sites and blogs at launch. Almost all reviews are excellent except for three that are unfortunately some of the main websites (Touch Arcade, Edge, and Slide to Play). Touch Arcade and Edge liked the game but felt there was a problem in our in-App Purchase design.
  • We currently have 5-star ratings from a crazy 84% of users (1,373 5-stars out of 1,634 ratings total). We have had only one complaint about the iAP model in all 1,634 ratings.
  • We were featured in New & Noteworthy for 2 weeks. Our biggest grossing day scored over $6,000 with the app priced at $0.99.
  • SQUIDS was the #1 paid app in France for 7 days. This translates to about 1,700 downloads per day. Best rank in the US was #33, which grossed a little more than #1 in France (D’oh!). SQUIDS ranked #1 in the RPG category in 51 stores, including the USA.
  • SQUIDS grossed nearly $75k in its first month, with nearly 100k downloads, then fell off the charts with all the big Thanksgiving promotions and Christmas releases.
  • iAPs represent about 10% of the revenue. These were designed to be shortcuts for players who didn’t want to replay the levels to earn stars that give virtual currency; the iAPs were not designed to be the revenue model.
  • We launched an update to Universal on December 2, alongside Infinity Blade 2. (No fear!) Even though we did beat IB2 on the iPad’s French store, this only made a very small sales impact and brought in about $1,500 the week of launch.
  • SQUIDS is localized into 7 languages (EFIGS + Chinese, Japanese, Russian)
  • We have had a wonderful support from fans who keep writing great reviews and sending nice emails. Thank you guys!

Even if the App Store is not a goldmine that will turn any game developer into a billionaire, it is still a revolution in the industry. It has allowed very small teams to make fun games relatively cheaply and commercialize them in a very simple way, potentially reaching millions of players. Never before have we seen so many indies and such a great creativity in the indie world. SQUIDS will very soon release on PC, Mac, and Android, which was part of the plan from the beginning. In my mind, being multiplatform is really where the indie developer has a future as a studio. As for the money itself, even though SQUIDS hasn’t made us rich so far, revenues from the iOS version have almost covered our development costs and we are confident that its upcoming release on other platforms will make the game profitable and allow us to develop a sequel. And for The Game Bakers, that’s what all of this is about: in the end it’s not about getting rich, but about being able to make the games we want to make, independently. Get in touch: Twitter: @emericthoa ; company twitter: @thegamebakers



115 Responses to “Money and the App Store: a few figures that might help an indie developer”

  1. John Francis dit :

    This is such an inspiring (and sobering) post that helps us really set reasonable expectations. I’ll be following this blog regularly and hopefully we can use some of your insight in our upcoming launch. Thanks so much and expect another US purchase of SQUIDS today.

  2. Nick dit :

    This is a very nice and instructive post.
    I hope people get notice of this post before doing the big step and making an iPhone/iPad app thinking that they will get rich in one night.
    At least by reading they will realise how things are.
    I myself and a very small team i got are thinking of developing an indie game / educational (a bit of both) and we never realy knew how the things turn out in sales at the AppStore, ofc we do realise that a good review from a big site or making to N&N matters a lot but we never knew how much it matters in numbers.
    Thanks for your post you just opened my eyes.

    P.S even tho i heard of your game before i never rly bothered taking a look at it, but i just checked it again right now and i am downloading it (you just got +1 download for today :P)

    P.S 2 i am a big fan of indie games and now i hope to see more of your games

    P.S 3 sorry for my bad english its not main language

  3. You are awesome. This is such a fantastic article. As a fellow indie gamedev with dreams of striking it rich in the « app store goldmine » I have been searching for and reading every post-mortem « numbers » post I can find. The data you’ve collected here in one place is of great value to someone like me. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

    I no longer aspire to make millions in one launch week but instead hope to follow your lead and develop very cross-platform games (ios, andriod, win, mac, web) that I can sell for long periods of time rather than betting the farm on a « hit ».

    Here’s hoping you sell a bazillion copies of RPG SQUIDS.

    Kind regards,
    Christer Kaitila – @McFunkypants

  4. Ricky79 dit :

    Good story!
    I think what’s important to mention is that even if a title sell for a dollar or 2. Users are expecting a lot from it; nice polished title, fun gameplay, lasting a few hours. Appstore customers are also extremely picky, other platforms such as Android (Marketplace) are a lot better in terms of rating since they dont have as much quality games on there.

    From your game list we can literally see the progression of the quality level from the first game up to SQUIDS which looks awesome. I am sure a lot was done differently on the marketing side for that one but quality is probably the main factor for sales performance if you compare your first and last game.

    Another thing you dont mention is ad revenues, placing ad banners and using system such as iAd and mobclix within Lite versions generated for us as much annual profit as the paid version. This can be a great additional source of income, on our end we are talking about 15-20K monthly of only ad revenues. So for an indie developer, its pretty amazing.

    I think any indie developers sort of need to experiment and find his own receipe since it can vary by game style, type, 2d, 3d etc. Once you have success once, it’s fairly easy to follow the receipe and produce other good selling titles. You can definately generate enough for a small indie studio and cover a few salaries, by only having popular titles without ever having a block buster.

    Cheers and keep up the good work guys.

    Félicitation et c’est beaucoup plus le fun (meme si c’est dur/stressant parfois) de créer c’est propres jeux au lieu d’etre l’employé 648 d’une grosse boite. :) kudos

  5. Doug dit :

    Excellent article. A bit depressing but realistic and fair. I have to enjoy what I’m doing because I know my chances of making it big in the app store are slim. I had apple contact me once for feature artwork, but nothing ever happened after I submitted it to them. In the 3 years I’ve been doing this I’ve made 20K on the 4 pay products I have. Probably pretty typical.

  6. jeff dit :

    What a great read!

  7. Daniel Shelly dit :

    Excellent Article w/tons of data points! Every indie iOS developer should read this. :-)

    The one « lite » area might be the covering of Free Apps generating ad revenue. As a single person « indie » developer shop, I’ve been amazed to see how many days the « Lite » version of my App completely out performs the more complete « Full » version. I use both iAds (by default) and Google’s Admob ads when iAds can’t (or won’t) serve up an ad.

    Another consideration is localization – when to do it, when NOT to do it. My little train game is localized into English, French, German and Spanish and while the US will always be the « Big Dog » in terms of App purchases, I have recently seen more steady usage in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, etc. Put that together with Google’s Admob Ads (iAds still misses most areas outside the US) and this provides a small but consistent revenue stream.

    When NOT to localize? I’m dealing with that now. Building a spelling App for pre-schoolers that will initially just come out in English. I’ll keep you posted as to whether that was a good decision. :-)

    Thanks for gathering and passing on such excellent and vital information and helping de-bunk numerous App Store myths for all of the indie developers out here working to earn a living at the craft we love!

  8. Samo dit :

    _Most_ of those games look f*cking ugly. Well guess which apps sell well? The ones where the screenshots already sell them.

    This is like Dell lamenting that Apple outsells them in the computer market. If you’re not even able to compete on looks with your game, then all the other metrics are not very meaningful either, as you’ve already put up the first barrier preventing downloads yourself.

    Duh.

  9. Thanks for this great article. There are still a lot more to learn…

  10. Jason M. Hirst dit :

    VERY interesting read, have book-marked for future reference.

  11. Luis Antón dit :

    Totally agree with your numbers and your experience! Our second game, Oddy Smog’s Misadventure, sold a few thousand units thanks to being featured by Apply and some nice reviews. But our third title, Rain,Sand,Stars, even when it was featured in the games/child category, has much more modest numbers.

    I guess it’s just a matter of keeping working: create nice products, sell them. One of them will work, sooner or later. At least try having fun while creating them : )

  12. Xavi Colomer dit :

    Thanks for this great article!

  13. Very down to earth and insightful info. Best of luck on the sequel looks like you’re on track to building a very successful brand!

  14. Many thanks for the amazing article. It would help a lot of people if more sales figures like these were made public!

    These are the trends I see in these types of articles:
    -number of released games matters a lot.
    -being « featured » by apple matters a lot.

    On the other hand, it scares me to death to think that indie games these days cost 100k to make.

  15. nah0y dit :

    Wow! Awesome blog post!

    Merci :)

  16. Yuri dit :

    Great article! Thank you very much for sharing the data. Good luck with your project!

  17. Joey dit :

    I have to disagree with Myth #3 – We’ve steadily seen about a 50% increase in sales every time we update our games.

  18. Incredible and usefull information for new iOs developers.
    Retweetet the post. ;)

  19. jimi dit :

    looks like freemium is the way to go from the examples of other games stories

  20. Predrag dit :

    Amazing article!
    We are on the same fire too, with our first game Tweens, we make many same mistakes, but as you we must push forward. Your article is great support for all small and indie developers.

  21. Thil dit :

    This is a great article, I don’t usually read long articles but I read all of this. It’s great you’ve condensed reality in a nice and simple way, along with the figures. Really well done.
    I’ve played and completed squids on iOS, I think it’s fantastic. It’s really unique and shows that you’re really thinking about a style of gameplay for iOS. I wish you guys all the best and I’m looking forward to your other products, maybe the PC version.

    I’ll do you a favour and tell all my friends.

  22. Good analysis, but you’re missing a very critical aspect to success in this market: indie « cool » cred. Capybara have it in spades. Those guys are great at networking, they know everyone, and they have a lot of friends in high places. Nathan’s always running off to this or that expo or event. They have worked very, very hard to build up their social support system, so that when they do release a game, all of their high-profile indie pals and journalist friends talk them up. A LOT.

    (Wanna know how i heard about Squids? Nathan tweeted about it, so i bought a copy.)

    There is SO much cachet to being part of the indie elite, and the journos are so important as kingmakers, that i’m inclined to say that – as with marketing and being attached to one of the « brand » publishers like Chillingo – being part of the indie in-crowd is CRUCIAL to one’s success.

    In fact, i’d be really interested to know which came first in a lot of cases. Were today’s success stories already cool indie scene kids who eventually released a game, or were they welcome into the fold *after* releasing a successful game? What does your research say?

    - Ryan (of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure pseudo-fame … 494 copies sold at $2.99, iPad-only, sold while the game was simultaneously available to play for free online)

  23. Carlos dit :

    Great post. Very informational and honest, thanks for sharing.

  24. Clint Hocking dit :

    Impressive research and analysis Emeric. Very cool of you to share this information and insight. I’m happy to know you have found a path to making it work as an indie. I’ll go buy SQUIDS now :)

  25. Emeric dit :

    Thank you all for the great comments. Lots of good insights and cheerful thoughts.
    I’ll be at GDC if anyone wants to have a beer…
    @ clint: hey! Thanks. Too bad i crossed your path only once at ubi.
    @ ryan h. c: 100% agree. It’s my point about communities. Capy isn’t born with sw&s. They were here before. I’m glad to start as an indie with squids and this post. I like this life. I like this community. I’m so proud to be part of it. My Sw&s is coming, just wait 2 more years.

  26. Benoit Perreault dit :

    Great game and great article! Kept me awake super late last night. You’ve answered many questions I wanted to ask you.Thanks for sharing.

  27. John Freeman dit :

    Thanks for a great article. The advice here could be applied to other App genres – there’s useful advice on marketing I’ll certainly bear in mind as a digital comics publisher and for our own game plans.

  28. Robert dit :

    It is nice article about appstore. I have seen Squids game upon release and I knew it can be a great hit in appstore. Graphics is too good and gameplay is also nice. You did great job on this. I hope you will have success also in other markets.
    I also did a game and just got return on investment, though my budget was quite low and not comparable to your budget. I completely agree that 30k USD is minimum to make a good game. Also we must not forget about marketing, as Angry Birds is marketing success (not so much about the game) in my opinion.

  29. Ken dit :

    Thank you so much for this article. I think i understood much of the market dynamics, but the numbers and cases/post mortems here have enlightened me with knowledge i assumed i’d have to gain through bitter experience.

    really appreciate this, hope to see more!

    cheers

  30. Chris dit :

    Emeric,

    Being an industry developer like yourself as well as wanting to break away and start my own indie studio, articles like this are invaluable. Thank you for sharing your observations and experience.

    Chris

  31. Sarah dit :

    Great article.

    -I’m not sure I understand your conclusion that getting featured in TouchArcade as a big impact.
    -can you discuss localization? did you ever consider only translating the app store page
    -can you talk al little about your initial thoughts on Android

    I’ll be using it a lot at appbackr to work with developer to figure out how much to raise for their apps. Thanks for the help.

    • Emeric dit :

      I’ll probably write an article about localization. We had planned to localized in EFIGS from the beginning and we added Chinese, Japanese and Russian with the universal update. It’s pretty hard to say in terms of numbers if localization makes a huge difference or not. In our case, the decision was purely motivated by our will to have as many players as possible to enjoy the game in their own language.

      One number I can give that might be related to localization (but no only), is that although the US is SQUIDS’ first country in terms of sales, Europe is the first continent by far with more than half the sales. But the cultural influence behind the game might be the biggest reason for that.

  32. Dave Lock dit :

    Thanks Emeric, a nice story I enjoyed reading.

    I have 2 questions if I may. Firstly, regarding localisation, specifically how did the Japanese store do for you. I’ve heard other say that with the extra sales tax in the Japanese store & other issues making the language look ok in the app, that not enough extra sales will make the effort worthwhile. Do you agree?

    BTW, you’ve sold yourself short – doesn’t EFIGS+Cs+J+R = 8 languages? :)

    Secondly, can you (or anyone reading this) please explain this further « 23% of players were on pirated versions as of August 2010″. Is there a way to track/detect if users are using pirated version of your app?

    Nice story, thanks again. Best of luck with your games. :)

    Dave.

    • Emeric dit :

      The japanese loc was worth doing because I love Japan and that only was a good reason. In terms of revenue, I’m not sure as it’s relatively small compared to China for instance.
      About the pirate, I can’t talk for QuizQuizQuiz, I just reported they wrote in their post mortem. In Squids I didn’t do the percentage of pirates because I think it’s pointless, as I can’t do anything about it (or I don’t want to), but it’s pretty easy to do: you compare the sales from Apple’s reports and the number of users (if you use an analytics tool like flurry or google analytics).

  33. Igor Queiroz dit :

    Truly an inspiring post.
    I’m a brazilian Java programmer and an enthusiast of indie game dev. This post is quite the kind of text that I was looking for, I hope you don’t mind that I’m translating some parts of your text for my blog to help other people like me to achieve this goal.
    Long live the Indie games!

  34. j dit :

    I think this article is worth paying for.

  35. It would have been interesting to see if how much traction you could get on a site like KickStarter to raising the seed money to build the game. It seems like the kind of site that could help manage risk by gauging interest in the game before much development took place.

  36. Diane C. dit :

    Very well-written and informative article! I did have one observation from a game buying public point of view, where IAP’s are concerned:

    You wrote: “Almost all reviews are excellent except for three that are unfortunately some of the main websites (Touch Arcade, Edge, and Slide to Play). Touch Arcade and Edge liked the game but felt there was a problem in our in-App Purchase design.” …” We have had only one complaint about the iAP model in all 1,634 ratings.” “iAPs represent about 10% of the revenue. These were designed to be shortcuts for players who didn’t want to replay the levels to earn stars that give virtual currency; the iAPs were not designed to be the revenue model.”

    TA, Edge and Slide to Play are the sites that most influence what I will buy. I rely on them to point out the gotchas before purchase, having been burned by devs in the past who switched income models mid-stream, or used IAP’s to overcome pay walls built into game play. I removed Squids from my list of games to purchase after reading that it appeared to have an IAP-based game design. If I had purchased it prior to reading the reviews, I would have been one more user complaining about your IAP model, so perhaps you can thank those reviewers for saving you from complaining users. :)

    I am surprised to read your explanation of your IAP because you have NOT made that clear anywhere else that I’ve found, and I did look elsewhere for that information, or confirmation, before writing off purchasing SQUIDS for myself. Had I found that information, say, on the game’s description page in iTunes, I would have bought it. As it is, all I see is what appears to be a typical “money grab” list of IAP’s down the side: increasingly larger amounts of real cash for in-game-use pearls. That’s a big red flag to me as a user. I’m not against IAP’s outright. I have IAP’d in many games for additional content, like more levels or early unlock, but I am against using IAP’s to advance game play. As I said earlier, if I had known they were optional, I would’ve bought your game. So in a way, you blew this sale yourself.

    • Emeric dit :

      The iAP design is the same as Infinity Blade and JetPack Joyride. It’s designed to be shortcuts but you can easily finish the game without buying any. It’s just that if you really don’t want to be bothered by the difficulty, you can skip it by buying a bit of pearls. As IB and Jetpack didn’t « warn » the users that their was iAPs in their games, it didn’t occur to me that I would have to do that, plus I would feel a bit uneasy to write in the beginning of the appstore description « the iAPs are shortcut, you can finish the game without it ».

      And I don’t think that TA « prevented us to have bad reviews by warning off non iAP buyers ». The game doesn’t need iAP to be finished at all. If you really lack pearls you can replay missions to unlock stars or simply farm, which is the concept of JetPack Joyride itself, and for some halfbrick-reason, everyone is fine with that. I still have very little explanation about all this iAP mess and feel it’s profoundly unfair, but hey, that’s life, I’ll do a better tweak next time.

      I think my next article is going to be on iAPs :D

  37. Martin Grider dit :

    Add me to the group downloading your game in support of this article. Great writeup, and I wish you indie success!

  38. Pete G. dit :

    Nice post!

    Does anybody know the average fee of Free App a Day to promote a game/app?

    • I contacted FAAD with the intention of advertising my game Neon Thrust but they wanted £3,000!

      I decided to make it free anyway, with NO advertising and got 30,000 downloads in 3 days.

      After reverting the price back to 69p my average daily sales have increased from 1 to 5.

      I really don’t think FAAD would have made enough of an impact to cover the costs. There are many apps and websites that alert users to price changes so I think this is enough really.

  39. Dan dit :

    Thank you very much for this interesting article. We released our first app (BallAHolic) last year and experienced very similar things… :)

    I’d like to ask you one question that came up to me after I’ve read post:

    What do you think about the influence of the 20MB download limit on sale numbers? I was wondering why nearly all of the most successful apps are smaller than 20MB. This may lead to a second question: Are games like Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, etc. that incredibly successful because 2D games are more interesting to casual gamers or does the game size really have such an influence?
    Dan :)

    • Emeric dit :

      I have no experience in releasing apps below 20MB apps (Squids is way above). So just as a guess and from what I heard, yes, being below the 20MB limit will impact on sales. How much, I don’t know. My opinion about being within that limit or not is that it really depends of your target. If you aim for a true casual audience with your game, you should be below 20MB. It’ll be a small game, a game that one can download and play everywhere, for very short game sessions. If you target a more « gamer » audience like we did with SQUIDS, you’ll want to have more content, and gamers might be ready to download a bigger game for a deeper experience. But unless you’re a big showcase game like Infinity Blade, you will sell less. On our case we chose that on purpose, with the objective to please a niche of soft-gamers who want a simple but deep tactical RPG.

  40. Chris Gander dit :

    A fantastic post that smacks of truth. We build games for brands and are sometimes asked to make « amazing » games, with very limited budgets (less than $20k-$30k sometimes), and it’s often very hard for us to explain to these Marketing Managers that ‘Angry Birds’ was a one in a million. So many times we are asked ‘Can you make us an Angry Birds?’. Making « amazing » games for mobile devices is not easy and does require significant investment, especially if you want a high quality game that represents your high quality brand.

  41. Pierre dit :

    for the notice, you can also find a post-mortem about successful educational apps here :
    http://blog.lescapadou.com/2011/10/how-ive-made-200000-in-ios-education.html

    There are some numbers for US and french market (I’m french too)

  42. Avtar dit :

    Thanks for sharing the numbers! And all the best to you! May you make more money!

  43. Mark Kim dit :

    Thanks for shaing your great and very informative blog post, Emeric.

    Actually, I had translated your article into Korean all by myself and posted it on my site last night to share your great post with Korean developers and gamers. And the result looked like a Jackpot esp. with the Post-mortems. Great to discover this blog and hope to see more. Keep up the good work!

  44. I was so impressed that I sent the following e-mail to the Game Bakers:

    This is a GREAT article. I think that this is exactly the kind of article many people will need to read before they even CONSIDER going indie in the App market. You detailed it very well and explained all your points clearly.

    I actually just downloaded SQUIDS last night, because I thought the idea of an RPG about Squids sounded interesting. And I wasn’t disappointed either: it’s tons of fun. I tried to review it in the App store, but I feel like none of my reviews or ratings are ever saved for some reason…

    Anyway, it is a totally unique experience, and I really like how you merged different genres together and came out with something that works really well. I was especially a fan of the music, and have since contacted the composer to thank him for his music as well. I’ll be paying for the soundtrack separately. Hopefully this will help towards SQUIDS 2. :)

    Thanks again both for the game and the article. It’s always great to see developers interact with their audience.

  45. bill gates dit :

    Indie developers are @#$ed. It is game over. In the end it will be like the desktop market a few big guys, zero chance for the small guy.

    You can’t make money pretty soon people figure that out and stop doing it.

    • Robert dit :

      I disagree that indie developers do not have a chance today. I think big teams concentrate on big games, but you can do small games and do it well, and one of you games will have success.

      Robert

    • Vix dit :

      I will see your completely unsubstantiated claim, and raise you one ‘Spelunky’. All bets are off. Appstore millionaire feasibility or not, there has /never/ been a better time to be an independent game developer. Kickstarter, Appstores, Steam Greenlight, Humble Bundle, Wide and immediately ready access to both personal and corporately managed digital storefronts.

      • Emeric dit :

        I still have to understand how you could miss my point like this. I actually say that literally. The thing is, since IT IS possible to be an indie now, while it wasn’t ten years ago, there is also a huge competition. Making games and distributing them is easy. Being the critical and commercial success of Spelunky is not.

  46. Ludo dit :

    I was wonderingnif those PRs guy are good values and worth it? What do they do exactly and if they were good, can you email me their details please?

  47. Ed dit :

    EXCELLENT article.

  48. JT Klepp dit :

    Great article! Unfortunately the figures have been confirmed before, and the median revenue around $500 is quite accurate which I wrote about 1,5 year ago: http://bit.ly/xkRfZN

    What would be interesting in this post mortem figures is how much was spent on marketing? What was spent on search ads or mobile ad networks? What do developers typically devote to this part? For instance, going to a game show may be great to meet peers, but will it get you end users? How our indie developers versed in marketing their apps?

    Also completely agree with your conclusion about a wide coverage of platforms in order to realize your revenue targets. The folks at http://signup.appstoresubmissions.com/ are on to something there…

  49. JT Klepp dit :

    Actually, one especially interesting topic is in regards to in-app payments. Where in the game should you introduce the payment, and what price levels? Obviously depends on the game play, but there could certainly be some common traits that devs could learn from.

    Also, how do you figure this out? For instance, how many people track the open rate of their app? Is an app which is opened X times the first couple of days more likely to convert to a paying in-app user? Definitely interesting info in future post mortems…

  50. Alex Nino dit :

    Hi there, all I would like to say is… THANK YOU SO MUCH for all your time spent writing this article, good luck with your other platform releases. cheers!

  51. Michael Gee dit :

    This article is insanely useful for smaller developers. Respect, Emeric!

  52. Benjamin K. dit :

    Thanks for those valuable tipps.
    Will keep them in mind for our own game.

  53. francisco dit :

    Thanks emeric, this post is absolutely incredible. I work in a small company down in southamerica, we are starting to develop our first game. This info is very valuable for us and made us realize of lots of things.
    I have a little question regarding marketing & PR strategie, what is more important if it can be measured:
    reviewes on sites?
    ad mobile?
    ad networks?
    forums?
    anything else?

    For what i read this isnt the only way to get more sales but if you have a low budget for marketing where do u think your efforts may go for??

    Thanks again and sorry my english!

    Best regards!!

    • Emeric dit :

      I’ll write a longer post about what we did in terms of PR and marketing. We didn’t try any types of ads, mainly it was out of our budget and also we were advised not to do it. Apparently it’s worth doing once your brand is already strong (ads like banners on websites), but not for a launch of a new brand, especially if you have a small budget. I think in our case the most profitable thing was to go to Gamescom, PAX, and in Paris and London to meet journalists and demo the game. Meeting people in real life is still a big thing! Also, our american PR had good contacts so it helped us getting reviews. All in all, reviews are the thing that helped us have a pretty cool launch. But I still don’t have figured out the magic recipe to get fully visible on the App Store and the web…

  54. Idah dit :

    Thanks for telling it how it is. Your article was both supremely deflating and inspiring at the same time! Some great insights which might make many quit – only the most passionate (and/or cashed up) will survive!

  55. Julien dit :

    It’s already been done many times, but I’d like to thank you very much for a great post nonetheless :)

  56. Interesting article.  I included it in the first issue of iOS Biz Weekly (http://iosbizweekly.com/issue-1)

  57. Rahul Singh dit :

    Thanks for this detailed analysis Emeric.
    Everyone can see how much efforts you have put in collecting these post mortem reports and and sharing your insights and honest sales report about your own apps.

    All the best for your future ventures. :)

  58. Joe dit :

    Here’s an interesting note in response to your comment about « Chair/Epic have probably had beers with folks from Apple more than once ». I happen to be friends with one of the co-founders of Chair and can say that he personally met with Steve Jobs about marketing the first Infinity Blade game. It definitely helps to have some connections high up in the food chain. :)

  59. Seamus dit :

    Thanks for taking the time to post this.

  60. Derek dit :

    A great read, thank you. As an indie developer myself and the guy who will be doing the PR, this has been super helpful for me researching how other people have done it.

  61. Klim dit :

    Hey, Emeric. Awesome statistics. Thanks for article)) You said, that you spent 30 thousands on PR and conferences. I would like to find out more about how better promote games, to hear about yours expirience, especially how helped traveling to GamesCom in Germany and PAX in Seattle. This is really interesting) My skype is klym.zhuravlov. If you will have a little bit of free time – it would be awesome to talk)

    Klim

  62. vivek agar dit :

    Hey, Emeric. Thanks for such a Awesome article., while iam beginner in Gaming , will learn a lot from your exprience… keep it up..:)

  63. herve Tanti dit :

    great article Emeric,
    also for devs if not mentionned note that things are going really fast on this market.
    figure from 2009 2010 might just not be too relevant.

    In addition marketing your app is very important. the reviews really boost your sales ( and unless the game is just great, that s the only thing that will really boost sales ). you want to send PR a bit BEFORE your game comes out due to the large amount of PR received by sites.

  64. Ryan H dit :

    It does take time and persistence. I think the reviews at release are the best avenue for indie developers. Also, social media is a good avenue like Twitter and Facebook.

    My app Lazy Larry was a 6 month project at 1K most of it came from the graphics. The rest was from licenses such as the SDK I use and publishing to iTunes.

  65. Mathieu dit :

    Hey The Game Bakers

    I really enjoyed your game. And now enjoy the information you shoot.
    There’s a lot to learn for everyone: little indies as big publishers.

    So once again thanx guys!

    And good luck for the future releases.

  66. Passerby dit :

    Great article. Very inspirational

  67. Just as @Passerby says this is very inspirational. I’ve spent a large portion of this afternoon reading through the article and links out. Guess Bee Baby Games can be called Indie but it’s really just me trying to create games to promote my disabled wife’s art. It’s why I got into this whole iOS game scene.

    Luckily we don’t depend on iOS gaming for income. Maybe one day extra money from game or IA sales would be nice. Since I’m entering this game development game without expectations or monetary needs this ought to be a fun ride.

    Thanks for taking the time to gather the resources that make up this article. It really is helpful – I’ll make sure to pass it along to others in the same boat as myself.

    cheers,
    macewan

  68. the article is amazing, full of great resources of knowledge, thanks for sharing

  69. Ian Hawley dit :

    Really interesting post. We’re working on our second iOS title now and I’ve learned a lot from the first, mainly that iAP isn’t necessarily a great mode, that getting the launch right is crucial and that the game has to be as near perfect as possible – I also gave too much away for free IMHO and was too burned out to push for the next level. Supporting 3G (non S version) was also a real pain in the backside.

    I also spent too long writing tech – I built a 3D engine from the ground up. It was a very basic engine and the game was a simple idea, but the execution wasn’t quite what I had in my head:

    Check it out here:

    http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/wire-whizz/id338251934?mt=8

    For game two I am working with a 3D Artist and good friend from the games industry – we used to work together – and we’re using Unity 3D. The project selection was wrong, in as much as we’ve been doing it about 20 months and scope has been tool large (3D, tile-based RPG), but we’ve recently taken back the scope reigns and are making excellent progress – we hope to release before the two year anniversary around Sept, hopefully before then though.

    Check us out here:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bovine-Software/111598388909033

    * * *

    I went into the iOS market part time (we’re still part time) with wide eyes at the potential. I think to be successful you need to a:) have a great game b:) get enough notice. It’s hard to achieve B and easy to mess up A, so after Wire Whizz, my dreams of retiring (the day job at least) are downsized to, well it would be nice to recoup the dev costs and maybe earn enough extra over the first year to say change the car for something modest (i.e. a 3 year old Honda CR-V say, so maybe £15K). 15K sounds a lot maybe, but it’s almost infinitely smaller than a £1million :o)

    I have to say though, that if we get launch right and enjoy similar numbers to some of the post-mortem peeps then I’ll be very happy – until any kind of success materialises however, I’m going to be tempering my expectations to a few thousand £ if we’re lucky :oD

    Thanks again for a great, long and information packed post. I’ve a few more ideas as to how we can try to get a good launch for Darkwurm now, so much appreciated and all the best with your next title(s)!

    Kind Regards
    Ian Hawley

  70. Get paid to dit :

    This post was very nicely written, and it also contains a lot of useful facts. I appreciated your distinguished manner of writing this post. You have made it very easy for me to understand.

  71. João Tereso dit :

    WOW. This post is awesome.

    I had already seen some of these numbers and read about Trainyard and Tiny Wings. Matt Rix and Andreas Illiger were a real inspiration when I decided to plunge into the depths of the App Store. I’m releasing my very own first game today, after months of hard work. I must admit, looking at the cold numbers… I’m screwed. Maybe I’ll send you a Zombie Fleet Post-Mortem one of these days… BTW, Squids looks absolutely f* delicious, no wonder you were successful, very impressive game.

    Check out my game, I’d love to get your opinion of it. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/zombie-fleet/id505464656?ls=1&mt=8

  72. hoover dit :

    Hey man… fantastic article for someone who is jumping into these waters for the first time. One thing that was void across the board was high volume advertising and brand campaigns. I run a large entertainment network (largely NSFW), but reach over 300K visitors daily on 12M+++ page views daily. In the past five years, NOT ONE SINGLE APPS DEVELOPER HAS REACHED OUT TO ME. If anyone got off their ass and tried to promote their brand, I would be more than willing to help drive millions of visitors monthly to apps developers. Since others are missing out on this cheap networking opportunity, I plan to leverage my own traffic to slam my iphone app with millions of eyeballs and hope to achieve great success – especially since traditional display advertising is totally dead!

  73. Amit dit :

    Nice read and it is important that those of us who have tried getting into mobile market share our experience realistically so others can do better. Great post! Keep it up!

  74. Dear Emeric,

    very interesting article and nicely writing. As apps creator with my brother, we also share our experience on our blog (in French) : http://appbasket.blogspot.fr/

    I will promote your article.

    Best,
    Jérôme.

  75. Dear Emeric,

    very interesting article and nicely writing. As apps creator with my brother, we also share our experience on our blog (in French) : http://appbasket.blogspot.fr/

    I will promote your article.

    Txs,
    Best,
    Jérôme.

  76. Very amazing article and detailed analysis. Thanks!

  77. You forgot to mention Geared, which I made on my own for almost no money, and has grossed over $700,000. :-)

    And you forgot Ugly Meter, which was made by two very dapper friends of mine from Arizona, made for no budget, which dethroned Angry Birds Space when it hit #1 Paid app in the USA this past month.

    • Ugly meter had a little ‘help’ when it got featured in either Conan or Leno. There was an article that mentioned that their paid downloads skyrocketed after the mention.

      Celebrity endorsements rock!

  78. vishal dit :

    What is that myth all about, its about apps than how to make it reality, if it exist than tell me, please keep on the work, i love to know about the rest

  79. McMaster dit :

    I’ve downloaded more than 5000 games on the appstore in 3 years. I never put a credit card, so spending is 0$ so far. I have over 30% of the top selling games, it just that you have to take them when they get free, so the idea is to download free games everyday but not even try them and then look for the one that will become part of the top selling selection and try them at that time.

    I always put the plane mode when playing. It’s not good to get microwave in the hand for no reason. So I don’t believe my playing time give much advertising revenue to developers.

    I think the AppStore is a giant gift made by Apple to all it’s users. The developers are creating so much great content paid with hope and dreams. The real money is for apple and 0.01% lucky one.

  80. Stingray dit :

    Thanks for the valuable information … now let’s try make a game :)

  81. m-spacemedia dit :

    I believe you have probably hit the nail on the head for the advertising ideas of developers… unless you make it that your app requires network connectivity – you can kiss goodbye to any ‘free’ version making money for Ad versions… Due to users switching off their network!

    I know, I had Asteroid 2012 3D available on iOS and Android as a ‘Free’ ad supported version – with well over 125k downloads – it makes approx $2-3 a day in ad revenue… lets just say I can’t live on that…

    However, I did a promo with Samsung on their ‘paid’ app store giving the app away free for two weeks – it received stupid amounts of downloads, followed by No.1 spot in the paid App chart for over two weeks… Sometimes giving it away works…

    Now if I only I could mimic that success on the iOS platform… dreams…

    Thankfully game dev is not a full time occupation for me – otherwise I would be facing bankruptcy… lol – well not quite :)

  82. Thank you for the in-depth article. It seems like you took your time to compile this data. We came across it a couple days ago and much of it hit home. There are also some valuable comments here as well. You should make an update with new statistics and current trends.

    We’re launching Zombie Rods in July. Check out our facebook page, or YouTube channel.

    http://www.facebook.com/zombierods
    http://bit.ly/PxqmmS – YouTube channel
    http://www.twittr.com/zombierods

  83. cb5x dit :

    Great article.

    When we developed and released our first game – Bungee Monkey – 2 weeks ago, we didn’t start talking about marketing plans until very late in the process. Pretty much botched the launch. We’ve got a great game, but very few people have found it.

    148Apps.com gave us a good review but it had no effect whatsoever on sales. http://www.148apps.com/reviews/bungee-monkey-review/

    That one review was a result of sending review requests to 17 different review sites. The other responses I got from review sites was asking us to buy advertising.

    I contacted freeappaday and was shocked to find out that they wanted $3000 to give our app away! Don’t think we’ll go that route.

    As we work on our second game, marketing is our primary focus. Every decision we make on game design will include a discussion of how it will effect our marketing plan.

    http://www.cloverleafmobile.com/BungeeMonkey

    good luck fellow indie developers!

  84. Mickey dit :

    I personally beleive that you have to take in account all the iphone games and apps that are stupid or rubbish, their are a lot of these out there which i homestly dont know how apple allows them, but then again its nice to have the freedom. U can always tell which games are going to make some sort of profit, me personally im lucky as i do everything myself the only thing im rubbish at is drawing but i can cheat with models, so as long as i make minumum wage for the amount of work ive done who cares, it beats working a 9 to 5 job. I will be releasing my first major release in a few months ill post some stats

  85. Dave dit :

    Great article guys. Downloading Squids right now. I’m about half way through developing my first indie game, this has been quite the eye opener. I’m looking at approaching some publishers to handle the PR, as I don’t know much about that side of things and honestly, I’d much rather spend my time developing than marketing. Do you know anything about what a publisher’s expected take of profits is? Obviously it would vary for each scenario, I’m just trying to get an Idea so I can weigh the pros against cons and be some what prepared when I begin to approach them. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Cheers

  86. Paul dit :

    Great read indeed! Kind of what we are also expecting as a startup indie developer.

  87. Richard dit :

    Your a fool for this article. You only hate on the dream because your app sucks. It doesnt hurt to have faith. You over analyse everything. Yes it is rare to sell that jackpot app but rags to riches stories is what inspires people to dream.

    • Emeric dit :

      You misread me. I left a very good job to make this game and I’m very happy with it. It was my dream and I made it happen and I highly suggest everyone to do that. I’m just sharing experience so that people with less experience know that they might not become rich while working on their dream-iOS game.

  88. Nelson dit :

    Great summary. I’m downloading your game now just to thank you for taking the time to write this wonderful piece.

  89. Dain dit :

    Wondering if the conclusion that « the more experience you have the more money you’ll make » might contain some hidden assumptions.

    Perhaps those that make more money in their early apps are more willing and able to stay in the business, thus creating the skew in the more experienced developers? The inverse of ‘beginners luck’ where people who do well at gambling their first time tend to have a good experience and stick with it, hence more people that are gamblers tend to be those that were ‘lucky’ in their first few games.

    I’m sure there would be some correlation between experience and return but just suspect it might not be as positive as it seems..

  90. Sean Sherlock dit :

    Great article. Bought your game as a small thank you.

  91. Dan dit :

    It’s very brutal, nothing sells basically.
    It’s all a myth. And it doesn’t matter how good you are and what you did.
    Some sell for millions = some win lottery too…

    It’s fun to write though, and make you look good before your friends.
    may be easier to get contract jobs afterwards.
    other than that, it’s all useless.
    I wrote a few apps for myself, that I use all the time. But trying to prove to others how useful they are – is a lost cause. The just don’t care.

  92. Ron dit :

    Thanks for this article!

    I’d like to add one more data point to this discussion:
    http://blog.squarepoet.com/post/35196629175/tiny-piano-sales-quadruple-due-to-apple-commercial

    (I cited your article as one of my « additional readings. »)

  93. White Lotus dit :

    I take everything this guy says with a grain of salt. He made an RPG game for the iOS platform. Of all the greatest selling games of all time on iOS like Jetpack Joyride, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, etc. none of these is an RPG. Who plays an RPG on their cell phone?!? You really have to question the strategy here. You guys spend tens of thousands on marketing for a what wasn’t a great idea to begin with. It’s not surprising your sales were lukewarm.

    People play RPG’s on their Playstation or their PC’s. That’s where you should have made your game. Now you’re gonna port an iOS game over to the PC? Is this going to be like MSFT porting Windows 8 onto the desktop? Are we porting a phone app onto the big screen? How many success stories have we seen with this strategy?

    • Emeric dit :

      That’s exactly where I disagree: try to mimic the success stories is the best way to fail. Especially on mobile where innovation is almost a must have. If you start thinking « Angry Birds and Doodle Jump are the success stories on iOS » then you don’t make JetPack Joyride or Temple Run. You are going to tell me that JetPack and Temple Run are not RPGs, but then what about Sword & Sworcery ? Where is the line between a game format adapted to mobile and another to consoles?
      Now, specifically about RPGs, checkout the success of « Battleheart » or « Order and Chaos » or the Zenonia series (they are at their 5th game! Must be successful somehow ;-). And most of all, we knew from the beginning that we would never be a « angry birds » like success. The goal is to build a franchise, not to win the lottery.

  94. Ralgaoud dit :

    Thanks for the detailed article. Just bought the game too. Lesson learned? Post-mortems increase sales (:p)

  95. Ruud dit :

    Thanks for the great article! Will download Squids as a thank you (and because I’m intrigued)

  96. sepych dit :

    I would like to share numbers from my indie game :)
    Tupsu – The Furry Little Monster
    Released in December 2012 in App Store and Google Play
    Downloaded about 2 million times, profit 2K

  97. @Mikey_PB dit :

    Thanks for an interesting and honest article! It’s good to see numbers supporting my assumption that having more games released will lead to greater sales. I’m releasing my first game in 2 weeks and expecting to earn to 80% – $300 from it, with a view to write to to experience and work on better, larger games in the coming weeks.

    Thank you so much for the time spent writing this – very valuable insight!

    Michael

  98. cristian heilbrunn dit :

    EMERIC…THANKS FOR YOU´RE ARTICLE..YOU ARE VERY UNSELFISH..TO SHARE YOURE EXPERIENCE..WITH ALL OF US…THE BEST OF LUCK TO YOU….CRISTIAN HEILBRUNN

  99. Thomas dit :

    I know I’m a bit late in the discussion, but I would also like to express a thanks for the article. I’ve applied to many positions over the past few years, but have been very unsuccessful at getting into the gaming industry. I have a BS in game and simulation programming and a MS in computer science, but I have not been able to get the experience I need to get through the door. So, I’ve recently decided to try it on my own. Unfortunately, I don’t have the recommended $40k for startup, but I’m going to go for it anyway. I’ve done a little tinkering with adobe flash and I think I’ve come up with something that would at least build my experience. I have a couple small flash games on my portfolio site, but there is not sound and the graphics are poor. I’ve never been that great at the art or sound portions of development, but I’m doing quite well with the actionscript. I’d say the game I’m working on now should be ready for launch in another month or two.

    Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much out of it. I just wanted to make a game and put it out there for people to play. After reading your article, however, I feel like there is a potential for my game to be viewed and played by way more people than I expected.

    I wish you all good luck with your future endeavors.

  100. Peter Butler dit :

    Thanks for this great post.

    Very informative. I worked in the games industry for 12 years. Our studio got closed down in 2011 and a lot of the people I worked with went out and set up their own studios, most of which are creating games on IOS.

    Creating a successful game from scratch is totally doable. All of the studios that formed after the closure are a still going. One was selected for a BAFTA in 2012 while another was bought by Mind Candy. A third Boss Alien went on to make CSR racing which was making $11 million a month at one point.

    So considering all of the people I know that went out on their own have had a success of some kind, I would definitely say it’s possible to be a succeed as an indie.

    I do agree that it must be a lot harder if you breaking into games for the first time and have no connections. You have to build connections that really is key.

    Good luck to everyone and thanks to Emeric for such an informative and honest post.

  101. priya dit :

    It would have been interesting to see if how much traction you could get on a site like KickStarter to raising the seed money to build the game. It seems like the kind of site that could help manage risk by gauging interest in the game before much development took place.

  102. tony bailey dit :

    thanks for such a great article. Ive been researching « What makes us pay real money, to play free games ». This article has been very useful in this aspect.
    Cheers
    Tony

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