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Spilt Milk Studios Development Diary 13 – Bite of the Apple

By on September 16, 2011

This is part of an ongoing series of guest posts by Andrew Smith, who is sharing all the gritty details of iPhone game development at Spilt Milk Studios.

A confession. This fortnight has been very busy indeed with other work (new projects yay!) and while we’re busy making the next update for Hard Lines kick as much ass as we can, there’s only been one thing to talk about since last time, in regards to sales at least. As such, this entry in the diary will be slightly shorter. But next time, pos-update and IAP launch, will surely see a couple of bumper entries to make up for it. See, I’m even making the intro longer than strictly necessary to make up the bulk. I feel that bad about it.

Apple featured game

As I’ve said a lot (and it’s fairly common knowledge), when Apple features you, your sales rise in an entirely predictable and reassuringly reliable manner. Last time Hard Lines got featured it was in the ‘New & noteworthy’ category that is a permanent feature of the App Store’s front page. It was great for us being so new to it all, and the picture supplied below shows clearly the lovely effect it has on our sales. They jumped a lot from the usual daily churn – from ~100 per day to ~600 per day. As I said at the time, not half bad. That increased for the weekend, went back down for the week after, and we declined slowly while we moved off the front of the New & Noteworthy section. The third and fourth weeks saw further steady decline and ever since (bar the free promo’s) we’ve seen flat sales.

Best game you’ve never played

So out of the blue, as is Apple’s custom, I awoke one morning to find out we’d been featured (quite high up, at number 4!) in their new feature category: ‘The Best Games You’ve Never Played’. Let’s move swiftly on from what a back-handed compliment that could be seen as, and get to the effect it’s had. Like I said we weren’t informed beforehand so we couldn’t time any press releases or hike the price in anticipation of the sales boost but hey.

In fact, the first time we heard about it was from a couple of eagle-eyed fans of the game firing screen grabs at us on Twitter – which is flattering and wonderful of them. They know who they are but I was an idiot and didn’t take note of their names. Make yourselves known in the comments, lovely people!

So we saw a nice sales spike for the week – the game leapt up by about 16 times from the usual daily sales. It was constantly high for the whole week and weekend, and saw us gain a few more lovely 5 star user reviews too. Yet again we’re looking forward (some sarcasm there) to seeing how quickly the sales drop off next week. The promotion stopped yesterday (the day I’m writing this!) and I’ll take a bet with anyone that it’ll take two days at most to collapse back to the daily 30-or-so sales. I honestly won’t be surprised if it does it in one day.

HD iPad game sales

Notice as well – and this has been consistent – that our in-game IAP Extreme HD mode (the iPad version, essentially) sells very few, but the peaks and troughs mimic those of the core game very closely. That suggests to me that all the people who wanted to have already bought the upgrade, and only new customers are seeing (and buying) the iPad version.

Selling in-app purchases

So how are we moving into IAP, now we’re a bit closer to the launch of it all? I’ve mentioned the currency we’re adding, and the extra modes (with plenty more down the line) but we’re also adding powerups to mix the game up a little. We’re taking the opportunity to add a mix of consumable items (well, one) and several upgradeable aspects to the system. The idea is obviously rooted in the fact that we’re considering going free at some point, and we want to get the structure in there to support whatever we want to do in the future. That said, it’s also an element of the game we were considering adding anyway – powerups are a fun and light way of mixing up the rules across all the modes, at the player’s whim.

So powerups will need to be bought with the in-game currency (which you can not only buy outright, but can also be earned through general play) and then they sit in one of four slots in the HUD during most modes. Each powerup can also be levelled up in one of three aspects which allows players to really have something up their sleeve when they try for a mega highscore. I’ll name two of them: the Stupid Bomb and the Slowcoach.

The Stupid Bomb, when triggered, makes all enemy lines move in a straight line for a duration. It was felt that it’s a nice simple twist on the game, doesn’t really screw with the rules too much, and has a nice reward inbuilt – the longer into a game you leave it before using it, the better the payoff! That and it matches our pretty rock-solid belief that the thing our game has in spades is personality. The naming of Stupid Bomb suggests the enemy lines have an IQ and players will infer even more from that. It’s reinforcing one of our core strengths as a title.

Slowcoach is simpler still – it slows down the enemy lines for a duration. Again a nice and easy to understand powerup that provides a temporary boon to the player with just resorting to ‘kills everything on the screen’ smart bombs (though we may well have one of those up our sleeves too!).

So it’s been a quiet couple of weeks looking in from the outside, but changes are afoot and the biggest single shift in Hard Lines’ life so far is about to occur. Fingers crossed we’ve judged it right, and that we release it bug-free!

Fun facts:

Powerups in the update – 5

New quips per update – ~200

Number of other platforms Hard Lines is ‘in discussion’ about releasing on – 4 (depending on how you define platform!)

Twitter Followers since project start – ~800

Tweets since project start –  ~7,000

About Andrew Smith