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Spilt Milk Studios Diary 9: the power of Twitter

By on July 22, 2011

Andrew J Smith is one-half of Spilt Milk Studios. He recently launched Hard Lines on iOS, and has been sharing his experiences with us all on GAMESbrief.

The past fortnight has been another interesting one. Nothing terribly shocking happened, but we’ve had a lot of things to think about. But first a recap.

Previously in Spilt Milk Studios diaries

Hard Lines came out on the 9th June. Apple featured us in the New & Noteworthy section for a few weeks, and since then we’ve dropped down into the What’s Hot (when you check via your iPhone, but not desktop). We’re expecting that we’ll drop out of that by the time you’re reading this but until then we won’t really know what level of daily sales to base our long term predictions on.

The amount of reviews we’ve been getting has slowed to a trickle. Although it is a paper-based trickle… the Guardian reviewed us for god’s sake. Out of the blue, too as I have no contact there to my knowledge. Which is great! We saw a sales spike (the correct guess gets a promo code!) but nothing ground-shaking. We’re still expecting a review in the Observer this Sunday, and the last fortnight has seen a fair few ‘best of June’ and ‘Best of 2011 so far’ lists which we landed fairly well in. It’s always nice to be featured again in roundups and fingers crossed we’ll see a few sales from sites like Pocketgamer and Quality Index doing these articles.

We’ve seen a fair bit more general exposure too. I’ve been quoted on both Wired UK and regarding Apple’s recent surprise re-jig of prices in the UK (and international) stores, and how it affects devs.

(For the record, I don’t see it as a problem. In fact I’m beginning to think, like Mills from UsTwo, that a bigger price hike may well have been in order, Appstore-wide. It’d be nice to be able to charge more for our game, after all! But that’s another topic for another day. I don’t see the small bump in UK prices affecting sales at all, and a fairer world market is something I am behind one hundred percent.)

Twitter as a marketing tool

Of course you’re likely wondering how it came to be that I was quoted? Well, being on twitter 24/7 helps. I saw Mark Brown of Wired asking for opinion, and stuck my hand up (virtually speaking). Simple as that. I even received an email asking specifically for something from Keith Andrew over at Pocketgamer – but even this is down to the fact that I’ve established a relationship with him – again over Twitter – that (I’m guessing) means he knows I’m happy to spout my opinion at the drop of a hat, and am fairly quotable. It’s a guess, but I can’t imagine the opposite being the reason for my opinion being sought. That said, it’s worth noting they made an open call on the article they published for iOS developers to come forward and give their tuppence.

Contacts matter. But so does a good game

I do believe there’s something else behind these portals taking notice of what I say though. I’ve got a high quality game backing up my words, and this is the only real way to test someone’s credentials in our industry. Until the world had played Hard Lines and it had been validated with the amazing critical response we’ve seen Spilt Milk Studios was a ‘nobody’. But by being a constant(annoying?) presence on Twitter and making a point of getting in touch with (stalking?) journalists I’ve not only met some really cool, bright and interesting people, I’ve arranged a set of hungry mouths around me. The good game wouldn’t be enough on its own, and nor would having good contacts. You have to have both.

It’s a shame there aren’t any tips I can give on making sure your game is good. Well, beyond taking your time, and reading a lot. And making a ton of games. And surrounding yourself with people more talented than you are.

Do competitions work as a promotional tool?

In a more proactive effort to get coverage, I mentioned last time we launched a papercraft competition to win one of ten Hard Lines codes on iPhone. The aim was for people to print out the papercraft plan of my company logo, glue it together, and then take some funny or cool photos to send our way. It was a combination of apology for the crappy update we released, as well as an attempt to get a bit of fun out of the situation.

Ultimately, we’ve had very few entries. As of right now (with about 8 hours left in the competition) I can count 9 individuals have entered – so everyone who entered will be getting a code. Yay for them! The fact is that I have no idea why we failed to get more entries – though the fact that only one site mentioned it as news may have something to do with the limited entries. That said, between those 9 people we have had 25 photos sent in, which clearly shows those that did engage with the idea engaged in a pretty big way.

The code itself as a prize may not have been enough. It has a pretty low perceived value to the consumer, but then again that’s why we tried to make the competition itself quite fun. Also it didn’t take much effort on our part, so looking ahead I think I’m going to keep doing things like this!

And the future?

Looking ahead to the next few weeks, we’ve got some reason to be optimistic. We’re deep into getting the iPad version of the game done (it’s all working and is very fun) and also adding Game Center support for the next update. We’re making the App ‘universal’ and even adding a bit of (paid) bonus for those iPad users who really want to see Hard Lines at its best. The iPad-exclusive purchase-able Extreme Mode makes the game space 4 times bigger, and scales up the amount of enemies and pickups accordingly – it’s immense, especially in Gauntlet mode!

ipad shot 02

We’re also seriously looking at an Android version (I’m a great believer of getting your product onto as many platforms as is sensible) in the near future which should see another boost. We’re already such a critically acclaimed game on iOS that in itself will be a kind of bargaining chip when it comes to getting coverage. Both the iPad and Android versions should see a nice boost in both visibility and sales – and I’m quietly hopeful that the care and attention we’ve out into the Universal version (plus all the tweaks and whatnot we’ve added) means Apple might take a bit more notice of us. We shall see.

So it’s been an odd little while. Sales have flattened considerably, and slightly lower than I’d hoped. We’re counting on a boost from the next update to carry momentum over into a few more exciting plans we’ve got in August and September – once we’ve got the next two large updates out I’m hopeful we can keep pumping new content into Hard Lines and that will see us, at the very least, get a bigger groundswell of consumer interest. Never stop thinking ahead.

Next time I’ll go into a bit more detail on the iPad and Android developments, look at the sale (flattening) more and of course talk a bit about the Develop Conference 2011.

Fun facts:
  • Downloads – ~9000
  • Updates downloaded – 7,003
  • Refunds – 16
  • Promotional codes used – 114
  • Favourite user review – “Imagine playing Snake whilst Riding a tron bike, whilst tripping your head off. That’s kinda what Hard Lines feels like.”
  • Least favourite user review – “Wish I didn’t buy it. – Controls are not great. More than half the time I die I blame poor controls.”

About Andrew Smith