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Spilt Milk Studios Development Diary 18: Christmas Roundup

By on December 21, 2011
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This is one of a regular series of guest posts by Andrew Smith (Twitter). Feel like you’ve missed something? Then go and check out all the Spilt Milk Studios Diaries.


I thought it’d be nice (and a bit of a reassuring cliché) to do a roundup of the Hard Lines story so far, and take a look at some of the interesting facts and figures that have come to light since we launched Hard Lines in June of this year. Of course this would be redundant without some sort of insight from me that wasn’t revealed before (or has simply occurred to me in the time since the original posts) so you’ll still learn a few things I’d hope.

It’s been a pretty amazing few months, and I’m sure there are plenty more to come. The power of twitter has been fully revealed to me, the Android market has been dipped into with a tentative toe, and all kinds of fun, interesting and friendly people have been met. So sit down with a mince pie, some mulled wine, and read on.

Launch weeks

Within two weeks of launch, Hard Lines had 470 sales, 14 games press reviews, and average rating of 9/10 from the press, and an average user rating of 5 stars. All of this critical praise seemed overwhelming, and is still a source of great pride, but obviously it didn’t really translate into sales to speak of. Unless I release a game without any PR at all I’ll never really know if the PR and reviews helped boost it over the norm, but I’d also be very worried if a new game has sold less than we did just for being ‘new’.

Then of course got featured by Apple in the New and Noteworthy section. As we all know now, this is the way to get the kind of sales that can support a small studio like Spilt Milk. For three or four weeks we saw the benefit of this promotion. Each week we’d move a ‘page’ away from the front, and each week we’d see a drop of about 200-300 sales each weekend. This regular and distinct correlation is very interesting, and not something we saw with any other promotion we received (from Apple or otherwise).

We saw a peak of about 650 sales per day during that first week, and then each successive week we dropped down to 450ish, then to 150, then the weekends dropped down more slowly. First 120, then 105, then sub-100 sales per day for the weekend. At .99c/59p you can tell we needed a kick to really make this financially viable.

Sales since launch

Freemium is the best way forward

Many see the race to the bottom for prices on the App Store as a one-way route to failure. Even though the occasional success story like Whale Trail seems to buck the trend, I’m pretty confident that the only reason I’ll launch a game paid on iOS will be because a) it’s aimed at an established audience (branded or uber niche appeal) or b) it means it gets more reviews, as it’s seen as a more ‘serious’ game or c) I want the bots and twitterverse to give me more PR when I swap it between paid and free alternately over the lifetime of the product.

So, what is the answer? IAP and freemium is the best way forward. Not only is it an interesting design challenge, you allow your game to reach and appeal to a much wider ranging group of people much more easily. If every barrier to people spending money on your game is one worth destroying, then surely the first and most important is the upfront price. With no demos and the trend for Lite versions seemingly less prominent, making your game free is a no-brainer.

We introduced IAP into Hard Lines in late July, first with the iPad version and then later with powerups and in-game currency. We’ve seen some good success with the IAP and will be sure to both expand upon and tweak the existing stuff in Hard Line, but also include it in all of our future games, from launch. It’s a lot harder to incorporate sensible elements post-release that actually enhance the game unless it’s planned from the start. Sounds obvious, but it really should be hammered home. It doesn’t mean you must strip out features to ‘sell’ later, but rather think of ways that players would potentially be interested in expanding their experience. Also, never charge for stuff that cannot be ‘bought’ for free. That just alienates consumers in the blink of an eye.

As reported in the last diary, our IAP breakdown is as follows:

Game sales: 71.3% (£0.69)
Small IAP: 1% (£0.69)
Med IAP: 3% (£2.99)
Large IAP: 7% (£5.99)
Huge IAP: 18% (£54.99)

Big IAP

Download – play ratios

So here’s an interesting brand new bit of info. We went free twice, with two different promotion – Free App A Day, and Free Game Of The Day. The first was considerably more effective (peaked at 82k downloads in a day, versus 8k) but that’s not the stunner.

Comparing our Flurry stats for the week of the first promotion to the number of actual downloads, we see some interesting stuff. Looking at the first two (and the biggest) days, plus the week as a whole, we can see something a bit odd.

On the 15th August, we had 80k+ downloads, and 60k+ plays.* That week starting the 15th August, we had 195k+ downloads, and 166k+ plays.(*here I’m guessing the 65k plays on the second day, outnumbering the downloads, is down to a hangover from the previous day, as well as the fact that the ‘plays’ are not unique)

This tells us that way more people download these free apps during promotion than play it, even once. There is a significant amount of people out there who will download something that is free, and then simply not even use it.

At a minimum, we’re looking at 25% of the people who take advantage of the free promotions do not even open the game once. The percentage is likely a LOT higher than that too, as the plays are not unique users. I don’t know about you, but the word that popped into my head was ‘oh?!’.

So I thought I’d spend a few words addressing something that’s bugged me since launch. We’ve constantly said we’d do tons of new content and features, and despite how it may seem from the consumer’s point of view, the rate at which we’ve released new stuff (patches, modes, new features) has been terribly lacking and it’s something I hope to rectify in the future. Who knows what will happen and when, but I can say with honesty it is my intent to change this side of development as I believe it’s one element of self-publishing games digitally that we’ve severely under-exploited.

Until next year, Merry Christmas one and all!

Fun facts:
Fact 1 – total downloads to date 258,262
Fact 2 – total plays to date 1,818,591
Fact 3 – total 5-star user reviews to date 177
Fact 4 – Metacritic score: 86%
Fact 5 – total refunds to date 22

About Andrew Smith