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Selling an iPhone game: The sales figures in detail

By on August 2, 2011
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Paul Johnson is the co-founder and managing Director at Rubicon Development. He’s give us his insights in the sales figures for Rubicon’s latest title, Great Little War Game, currently available on iOS.

This post originally appeared on and is reproduced with permission.

Great Little War Game has been out on sale now for about three months. It’s available in HD format for iPad and Retina devices, and there’s a low definition version for 3GS phones too.

We just passed a milestone income from Apple of $150,000

Development costs were about $100,000 so we’re already in profit which is kinda cool for our first serious outing into genuine indieland.

Getting the right pricing model

We’ve tried pricing all over the place. The odd thing is that the income remained fairly consistent at about a grand a day come what may. We’re currently on a price of $2.99 and $4.99 which I do think is probably fair in comparison with other titles on the store.

These are hardly Angry Birds numbers but I’m pretty happy with them. We spent some time at the top of various charts, but have plummeted out of the important ones since we upped the price, as they’re based on downloads and not gross.

The effect of chart position and reviews

An interesting observation is that being outside of the top charts has not affected our sales in a noticeable way – chart position doesn’t seem to reinforce itself with positive feedback, and I’d go so far to say that charting is actually irrelevant to sales. That goes against everything I thought I knew and certainly sounds dodgy, but the numbers don’t lie.

We have 930,000 “players” right now, but 750,000 of those picked the game up free when we went with FAAD for a week. That kick-started sales of the non-HD version of the game and because we have a couple of good value in-app purchases, is netting a worthwhile sum by itself – both in new sales and in-apps from previous freebies.

We hit the holy grail a few days after launch – the front page “all categories” version of New and Noteworthy. We were doing about $700 per day before that and it quickly peaked to $6,000. Sadly that only lasted a few days before a fairly rapid drop off, even though we were on N&N for a full month. I guess the money that made is nothing to cry about but tbh we were surprised and disappointed that this bubble rapidly burst – originally we were hoping to do those figures each day for the whole month.

The spike in the pic where the green dots are indicate when we got a five star review from the biggest iOS games site on the net – TouchArcade. You can see a nice spike there, but it didn’t last long and didn’t exactly exponentiate. Seems that “big” reviews are handy but not something to fret over either.

The magic formula

I hope some of you can get some use out of this. If you can deduce anything from it, please share it with me. Having tried a variety of things from reviews, Apple features, sales, giveaways, etc. I’m no closer to having a magic formula than I was on March 20.

In summary, I consider this project a success. It’s not going to buy us any Ferrari’s, but it is actually turning a profit big enough to carry our wage bill while we develop the next big thing, and hopefully that’ll continue for some time. There is an Android version imminent and PS Vita version whenever they release the bloody thing, so maybe by then we’ll be making some proper dosh.

About Paul Johnson

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  •  Hello Todd,

    I’d love to know more about your business, so I can share more of this idea with readers.

  • Todd

    Hi All,

    Question – where is the best place for my company to offer to purchase games from independent developers? We have our own stable of characters and want to “re-skin” existing game play, modifying to suit our set of characters. Instead of hiring deevelopers and building from scratch, it seems there are plenty of great developers out there with quality games. Any help would be great. [email protected]

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  • Paul

    Nothing to add beyond my original post tbh. Keep at it with the review sites would be my advice. Once you get one the others seem to see you as more credible.

    We’re having our own struggle getting people to noticed our free “yahtzee with friends” game – Yachty Deluxe right now so are in the same boat.

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  • Elif

    Hi Paul,
    Just saw your post, and thanks for the info! As a game development studio, we have the most difficulty in finding numbers from colleagues on iOS. 🙂
    We are about to publish our second game on App Store, and our first game dissappointed us in terms of sales. We kenw it would be difficult, but didn’t picture the path like this. 🙂
    Our problem was and still is getting in top 300 in US. DO you think there is a way to provoke this?
    We have heard about right keywords, reviews, etc. and tried many things. Still nothing.
    Many pals from the industry suggested to be patient and wait, cause it takes time.

    Our game was featured in 300 places on iTunes Store, so we got into the stores in many countries. But top 300 seems to be tricky. 🙂

    Thanks again for the numbers, and I wish you all the best with your upcoming projects.

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  • Thanks for sharing.  My first venture was free to download and 69p for the in-app purchasing. Sadly the game could be better (the controls are a it tough) and I gave away a lot of content for free.  I built the whole thing myself in my spare time:

    I spent longer writing tech and fudging art together than honing the game.  This time I am working with an artist I worked with back when I worked in games and we are using Unity 3D, so hopefully things will be different…  I am writing a lot less tech!

    Have just seen the review of Wire Whizz on iTunes, not so great! 🙁  I Guarantee he hasn’t paid any money for it! (only 3 in-app sales and I was one of those!).

    As I say, thanks for the info – I think we’d be quite happy with your numbers given the time we’ve spent on the thing and as it’s an after hours effort.  If it can fund a second project then that would be fab.

  • It was only a couple of days. Basically the first thursday that came along.

    We had a lot of “coming soon” threads going on at various larger iOS gamer sites like TouchArcade so that may have helped.

    Obviously Apple will have their own favourites as they pass them through their QA process, but they probably also pick up on general buzz too.

  • David Marino

    How soon after you released did you hit New and Noteworthy? Did you do anything to draw attention to yourself that contributed to you getting on this list?

  • David Marino

    How soon after you released did you hit New and Noteworthy? Did you do anything to draw attention to yourself that contributed to you getting on this list?

  • Next to nothing really. We got a video up on youtube and started a thread on TouchArcade’s coming soon section and that’s about it. Mailed a load of big sites etc but nobody was interested in yet another unknown dev launching another unknown game.

    We’re hiring a PR guy next time around to get a bit more buzz lined up before we launch. Prior to this we didn’t know if it would be affordable, but without the break that Apple gave us with a front page feature, it might well’ve been the case that we couldn’t afford not to.

  • Luke Kellett

    Great work guys!

    I would love some insight into what sort of promotional work you did before and after release date?

  • Huge thanks Paul for sharing the data…  great to have insight into the current market and see how you have fared with an absolutely gorgeous title.  Congratulations on the project; I’d call it a great success in a highly competitive landscape.

  • Thanks, and good luck with it…

  • Thanks so much for sharing this information.  This is an industry where there’s a lot of talk, and half the time all you need are some numbers!  I am planning an original iOS game so its interesting and surprising to see the long tail involved.  Congrats though a 50% gross is great!

  • Thanks so much for sharing this information.  This is an industry where there’s a lot of talk, and half the time all you need are some numbers!  I am planning an original iOS game so its interesting and surprising to see the long tail involved.  Congrats though a 50% gross is great!

  • I think that’s the only sensible/reliable way to look at the situation. Best of luck guys 😀

  • Thanks and you too.

    Agreed on the long tail point. Sales are dropping for us now, but thankfull fairly light/slowly. I guess if you have a moderate success then that can fund the next one and I can think of harder ways to earn a living. And that next one might always be /the/ one. 🙂

  • You’re welcome.

    Yes, the price it back at it’s natural $2.99 for the HD version. And as predicted, income is roughly the same as for $4.99!  Given the choices though, I’d rather more people play the game.

    EDIT: wrt in-app’s they’re lower than you might think. A vocal minority love them and we’re happy to oblige loyal fans, but they only really cover their costs. We’re doing the next one for free so might even end up in negative equity. You have to look out for your true fans though, they’re what allow you to keep going.

  • Thanks a lot for this. Very interesting.

    Have you lowered the price since writing this? It now looks like $1.99 for LD and $2.99 for HD?

    What’s your ratio of installs to in app purchases?

  • I’m seeing very similar results from Hard Lines – just no correlation between chart position, sales, promotions, ‘big’ reviews or anything like that.

    I’m worried it’s more zeitgeist-driven than I initially thought. Still, critical mass can be achieved at any point after launch – that’s the beauty of never being taken ‘off the shelf’ with digital goods.

    Best of luck with your next project(s)!