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Spilt Milk Studios Development Diary 12 – Hundreds and Thousands

By on September 2, 2011

I’ll not bother with a roundup intro, as the lovely girls and boys at GamesBrief have done a lovely job of putting all the articles so far in their own meta-page. Go check it out.

Despite the game being out for over 2 months now, we’re still seeing the odd review pop out of the woodwork. Tap! Magazine gave us 4 out of 5 this week, and a few small non-English sites are still covering us too. It’s nice from an ego-boosting point of view, but as previously discussed the impact of reviews on sales is minimal to the point of being irrelevant for Hard Lines.

Lifetime sales figures

Free game downloads

So then, the juicy stats and thought provoking insight starts here. We were fortunate enough to be featured as the FAAD ‘Free App of the Day’ on Monday the 15th August 2011. We turned the game free on Sunday to make sure there were no hiccups, and below you can see a nice chart that shows how many people downloaded our lovely little game Hard Lines. Over 190,000 downloads during the 5 day period means we reached more potential customers in that week than we had in the entire time the game had been out. So does that mean free is the only way to go? Certainly in our case, I believe so. It’s a new game, original IP, first from the studio, and it’s styled in a way that means the appeal of the game is difficult to convey in screenshots or even video. That’s why we try to be funny every step of the way, but that doesn’t quite sell it in the same way an iconic character or license would.

So we had a great start to the week – the first day saw over 82,000 downloads. A really strong start, and we were hoping to carry on at roughly that level for the week. Silly of us to think that way really. That was the only day we got exclusive promotion, and the downloads fell quite swiftly afterwards. Not as sharply as when we went back to paid, but more on that later. Day two of the FAAD promotion saw the downloads drop to around 60,000, then by day 5 we were as low as 7,000. Not quite the long tail we’d been told to expect. Regardless, that’s still more than we’d ever sold on a single day at any price, so I was optimistic going back to paid for the weekend.

Downloads during FAAD

Paid app downloads

Again, my optimism was misplaced. A recurring theme? Yes, and beside the point. After the very rapid fall off in downloads over the week the fact that during the day we switched from free to paid we went from 7,000 to less than 500. A big drop, and bigger than we were told to expect. Well, since then we’ve found out a lot of developers see the same thing, but we hadn’t done our due diligence. So after a week of rising up the free charts and riding high on fan mail, twitter buzz and a ton of user reviews we were brought back down to earth with a sharp bump. Still, those figures might hold up right? Positive word of mouth from those tens of thousands of new users would most definitely see Hard Lines in the charts and some success off the back of that? Well… the short answer is no. There seems to be some sort of hiccup on Apple’s end for that day as there is no ranking data available for that day (nor for the next except for iPad) but the Sunday sees us back down to roughly our normal sales level – around 50 a day.

‘Free App of the Day’ is not the Paid App of Tomorrow

So what does that tell us? It seems that, unlike the previous (Birthday) free spike, this one did not increase our daily paid downloads by one iota. It’s puzzling to me, but I can offer some ideas as to why. Essentially the FAAD program is aimed at, primarily, cross promotion and users of their own app. Users who, by the very fact that they have the FAAD app are only interested in free apps. As soon as a new free app is out, they’ll get that and move on in droves. Every day sees a new one, so even if something is rubbish (or good!) they don’t have long to wait to fulfil a yearning for that next new free game. The FAAD initiative does get some mainstream coverage, but frankly it’s not something we’re likely to do again without a much more sticky and IAP-laden game ready to take advantage of the influx of new users.

FAAD ranks

Above you can see the rankings for the FAAD week – while it was nice to get high up it clearly had no lasting effect on our sales. Still, reaching 8th in (Free) Arcade Games, and 47 in All (Free) Apps in the USA is a nice claim to fame for the game. Speaking of which, I should probably go and add that to Hard Lines’ store description!

In app purchases

So how did our (limited) IAP fare during that tumultuous week? Our iPad ‘HD EXTREME’ mode is sold in the game via IAP and you’d expect we saw a fairly chunky rise in sales for that period, at least keeping in trend with the sales we see when we’re not reaching 190,000 new gamers.

Fooled you! Of course it didn’t. Clearly the IAP is not signposted very well within the game, and users are finding it confusing as to what the update offers. Sales spiked a tiny amount during the week, but it only doubled for the week. Not complaining – sales are sales – but it would’ve been nice to see a slightly bigger spike.

The aforementioned poor visibility of Hard Lines HD makes me think we might be better off releasing a standalone Hard Lines HD binary. I doubt it’ll hurt the IAP sales, and it’ll certainly give the brand a little more visibility. There could be a lot of reasons why our HD mode isn’t selling particularly well – naming it ‘EXTREME HD MODE’ may be different enough from the standard ‘Hard Lines HD’ that it is lost on most consumers. Only time (or an experiment) will tell. Watch this space.

Updates and In-app Purchases during FAAD

Developing new in-app products

Moving into the future for Hard Lines, I’ve spoken a bit about our IAP plans, but not much about why they’re taking so long to come to fruition. The reason is as simple as it is unavoidable – we have no fulltime coders on the project. It’s a shame but we’re coping! Part of that coping is to release a bunch of IAP – both consumable and non-consumable – in time for the net FAAD-like promotion we’re involved in. OpenFeint are featuring us in the free app promotion at the end of September and that gives us (we think) time enough to get some really fun IAP into the game. I talked about the Daily Challenge mode last time. We’re hoping this makes the game more sticky, and more prominent in people’s daily gaming habits. That way they’ll earn more Hard Cash, hopefully want to spend what they have more often, and maybe start buying the currency to save time when they really want what’s on offer.

I’ve no idea if FAAD is more or less successful in general terms than OpenFeint’s equivalent. But there can be no doubt that a big push akin to that we saw a week ago, accompanied with decent amounts (and variety) of IAP, will see a revenue spike of some kind. I hesitate to predict anything about the size of the spike, but there should at least be one. You see, my optimism is being tempered LIVE over the course of writing this piece. Real-time character development!

Making an Android app

But we’re not simply counting on one platform and the lure of IAP anymore. Oh no. We’re looking at releasing Hard Lines on multiple platforms. First up will be Android – we’re looking at a pre-Christmas release (vague I know!) for this, and it should have feature parity with the iOS version (except online leaderboards… which, for a variety of reason, should arrive post-launch) and should add a small amount to our monthly income from the game, while also raising its profile for the other opportunities I’m looking at. I’ll not spill the beans quite yet (I’d at least like some screenshot proof to accompany any more announcements along those lines) but bear with us. Grand plans lay ahead.

Downloads after FAAD

So overall I’d classify the last 2 weeks as follows: FAAD has been a mild disappointment (though we’ve still got a fair chunk of active players), as have the iPad sales. We’re taking our sweet time with the next update but it will be worth the wait, and the future is looking fairly rosy for Hard Lines.

Would the FAAD week have been different with more ‘social’ features or more IAP in the game? Maybe. Hopefully we’ll have an answer when we get involved with OpenFeint’s efforts in September.

Next fortnight is likely to be fairly quiet but intense one for us as we update the game with our IAP and prepare for that free push. Bear with us for more intrigue, stats and who knows… maybe even some murder (of written English, more than anything).
See you in a fortnight!

Fun facts:
Active users, right this very minute – ~50,000
Most popular Hard Lines mode – Survival, with over 3,000,000 plays
Least popular Hard Lines mode – Time Attack, with just over 118,000 plays
Amount of people who’ve watched the credits – 61,102
Time it took me to write this – ~1hr

About Andrew Smith