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Zombie Ball: Rise of the Free

By on October 25, 2011
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This is a guest post by Ivan Vucica of Croatian games studio Hindarium.

It’s been a while since the first article about Zombie Ball (Launching an iPhone game: what we got wrong) on GamesBrief, and the team has decided to continue sharing our story. I’m grateful to Nicholas for both opportunities.

As noted in the first article, we did a few things wrong with the marketing. Since then, our strategy has changed, we have released a free version supported by in-app purchases, and we are still certain that things would go much better if we did what we are doing now right at the launch of Zombie Ball.

To remind you, we saw between 30 and 60 daily sales for first two weeks after the launch on May 26. Unfortunately, we don’t have saved daily reports before July 6, so the graph doesn’t look as pretty as it should. First week shows smaller average than it should be, since we launched on Thursday.

We are really thankful to everyone who reviewed the game: Bulletproof Pixel, AppAdvice, Paranerds and DigitallyDownloaded.net. Only the AppAdvice review gave us a small bump, but joining Bulletproof Radio for an evening was a beautiful experience, too. The TiPB mention brought a small bump. We didn’t recognize it as such, being disappointed even with the income in first two weeks — those are the days that we can now call “good ol’ days”.

As soon as Apple removed us from the “New & Noteworthy” list, sales dropped dramatically.

Experimenting with free

Zombie Ball: Lifetime sale count overview, per day

Numbers in the following months show a sad story of dropping down to zero to one copy sold daily. Seeing the disappointing numbers, we were not particularly inspired to make an update, and the summer brought vacations and summer work.

We finally decided that we have to launch the free version of Zombie Ball, supported by In-App Purchases. I also contacted Nicholas to ask about writing a story about our results so far, including the exact numbers. His suggestion was to experiment with dropping our existing game’s price to zero before writing the article. The date was randomly picked as September 20. Promotion lasted between approximately 7 P.M. until September 22 around 9 A.M. Reports say that we sold 414 copies up to that date.

What happened was astonishing. Since we counted on marketing being our biggest problem, we thought that there wouldn’t be much difference in download count.

Zombie Ball: Download count during promotion


It appears that web sites that track “apps recently made free” are really popular. In one and a half days, we got 4427 downloads. That’s over ten times the sales so far! It was an extremely pleasant surprise. The game, however, had no ads and no In-App Purchases. We dropped the price with full awareness that we would not be able to turn any success into income.

Saved by the free?

Zombie Ball: Daily sale count just before and just after the promotional period

Dropping the price had a lasting, visible and surprising effect.

The total number of sales since the promotion is 75, with an average of about three sales per day. Immediately after the promotion period, we switched over from $1.99 to $0.99. After the release of the freemium version, we changed the price back to $1.99. It doesn’t seem like the price has had a major impact on the download rate.

It is still not sustainable, but at least the “binary days” are behind us. For the time being.

As of ITC reports of October 15, total revenue over lifetime was $493. Total revenue after going free was $31.90.

A small note: we were also somewhat “betrayed by the free”. Exactly 4900 downloads over lifetime of the paid version have generated over 6700 players on Game Center. The paid version was cracked by several people, and as a result, at least 1800 people are now pirating the game. Even the availability of the free version did not reduce piracy. Developers, read up on how to detect whether your game was cracked and add some tracking. Limiting the game several days after the release (or even by activating a remote switch) would be an interesting way of telling the pirates what you think about what they’re doing. A killswitch is not a solution since it would be easily removed by a capable cracker, and neither is limitation of a game immediately after the release of an update. (Editorial note: see also Game theft affects the bottom line)

We don’t have any anti-piracy code in place, but we’re looking into developing a solution that would make sure the pirates know that we disapprove of what they’ve done.

Freemium!

GamesBrief pronounces a lot of love for the freemium business model, so I’m happy to say that since the launch of Zombie Ball FREE! on October 3, it has brought much more revenue in two weeks than the full version has brought in a few months. It’s not much, and I can’t fill a tub with these $78 (except, perhaps, if we used pennies), but it’s still better than not going free at all.

Zombie Ball FREE!: Number of IAP sales per day

Instead of rewarding the player with progressively unlocked gadgets and skins as we did in the paid version, we reward the player with “Supplies” that can be used to “build” gadgets. In case the player wishes to unlock all the gadgets more quickly, we offer them several packages: 100 Supplies ($0.99), 350 Supplies ($2.99) and 600 Supplies ($4.99).

The above is the only change we have made to the core gameplay: zombies drop Supplies, and gadgets and skins are unlocked using Supplies.

Sales are going pretty well, and I’m happy to confirm that even with our less-than-modest sales, the most expensive pack brings the most revenue.

Zombie Ball FREE!: IAP revenue per day

As of ITC reports of October 15, with 12 sales, the 600 Supplies pack has earned $41. This makes up a staggering 52% of the revenue. In comparison, the 100 Supplies pack has brought in $23 with 33 sales.

Let’s compare the performance of a game-gone-free with a freemium game. While the free version currently does have 5833 downloads, the full version has taken only day and a half to reach 4427 downloads during the promotional period. People do follow web sites that track price changes of apps, and they seem to value the games going free a lot more than new releases of free games.

Revenue generated with Zombie Ball FREE! seems to be on its way to match or exceed our first month’s performance of the paid version.

Future is free

For us, the writing on the wall is clear.

Any future game needs not only to include a free version; it needs to have an IAP-supported free version.

We will also focus on developing future games for multiple platforms. OS X’s App Store and other game distribution mechanisms are untapped resources for us. This way, we’ll aim for developing games for a wider variety of audiences.

I sincerely hope that the future brings us better successes, and that the game development work we do will eventually become self-sustainable.

About Ivan Vucica