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Spilt Milk Studios Development Diary 14 – Part Man, Part Machine

By on October 7, 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.

It’s been a mad 3 weeks since last time! Last week’s update got delayed because of all of the catching up that I needed to do after spending 4 days at the Indie Games Arcade stand in the Eurogamer Expo. We got Hard Lines in there to demo on iPads and accompanied by free (self-decorated and Hard Lines-branded) cake and a looping trailer amongst other things. It was great fun, we showed the game to quite literally hundreds of passionate gamers and even made quite a few on-the-spot sales!

Before getting down to business though, first we had a bit of fun when a fan on twitter spotted Hard Lines at the iPhone 4S Keynote! Doubt it’s going to do anything for sales but it helps our egos. Please note we’re under ‘popular games’! That means it is official. Apple says we’re a popular game! Ahem.

Eurogamer Expo

By applying some time back in June (not far from our launch, actually) Eurogamer’s David Hayward essentially hand-picked the independently developed projects cool, fun and downright awesome enough to be shown off in the Indie Games Arcade. We got told with very little warning (maybe a week?) that we’d been successful, and so I put my thinking hat on. We needed a gimmick worthy of the show. Something that would tear gamers away from free OnLive boxes and playing Battlefield 3 all day long. The answer was as obvious as it was tasty. Cake! So we took cake and papercraft, ran competitions, and generally tried to be as approachable, interesting and ‘indie’ as we could to get attention. It seemed to work, we got video interviewed about 4 times, plus I was asked to appear on the Eurogamer Expo’s Behind Closed Doors Indie Q&A, with the illustrious and hilarious Sean Murray from Hello Games. But enough name dropping!

Another thing we did, other than just be handsome and give people cake, was to show Hard Lines to people in queues. Alexander Aitcheson (Greedy Bankers) did it first outside, admittedly, but as is our style we took someone else’s idea and heaped innovation on it in spades. Essentially we just took one of our two demo iPads out on the show floor and showed it to the queues of bored gamers waiting for their turn on Star Wards or for their free OnLive box. Weirdly we found the most new fans and on-the-spot sales in the Battlefield 3 queue! People who are there to shoot each other, and strangers, in a violent recreation of war… playing, enjoying and buying a new version of Snake. Who would’ve thought!

Promotional competition

Amongst the networking parties every evening and the endless traipsing of potential new customers we actually hit upon a bit of a marketing ploy that might just work. The aforementioned papercraft was of my company’s cute little logo and had been used in a competition before… but it hit me that getting people to take the little guy (we spent a lot of time gluing them together on the show floor) out on the show floor, and then taking photos of him in funny spots would be a good idea. The offered prize – being a character in my next game – seemed to get a lot of the gamers excited and so here I am waiting to see the results drop into my inbox. We’ve had a few sent in already, but I know for sure there were tons more out there! By the end of the show stewards and staff on other stands had apparently seen the logo about (so surely the public had as well), and we were known as the ‘cake guys’. Mission accomplished!

So was there a nice boost in sales based off our shameless self-promotion? The image below shows we got a pretty decent spike over the weekend, but again it didn’t really last. Seems visibility trumps word of mouth (or everyone who bought it hates it!). I’m being trite – we actually have seen a lot of new fans on twitter, lots of people talking to us, and lots of positive feedback; if not for the game by way of sales, then at least for the brand.

Eurogamer expo sales

Porting from iOS to Android

And what better way to extend the brand than by porting a hit game on to more platforms? As you all know by now we’ve just released an Android version of Hard Lines, to great success so far (is three days of sales too early to call it? No, because I’m in a good mood.) with an 8 out of 10 review under our belts and even a feature on Gizmodo. In line with what the iPhone version showed us I’m fully expecting to see very little sales impact from these but it’s always nice to have your work validated and eventually the groundswell becomes big enough to support continuing, decent sales. That’s the plan, at least.

So we used a great company called Jakyl to port it across. Well, they approached us to be fair, but the agreement sees them take all the hard work of porting to Android (with all the handsets and expense and complication it’s not something we’re big enough to deal with effectively on our own) and we split the money from the sales – and all the time we keep the IP. I said yes as soon as I’d heard reassuringly good things from a few of the other developers they’d already worked with, because we had no Android plans until then. Money for nothing doesn’t come along very often. It seems to be doing well among players too, with 48 5-star reviews already – ahead of the curve we set on iOS way back in June!
This entry was a bit short because, and I’m sure I’ve said this before, next time we’ll have more details on Hard Lines’ iOS move to IAP. We delayed the submission because we had a few key bugs emerge during the Eurogamer Expo (another good reason to go to these kind of things) but also because we got a delay on the next ‘free app’ promotion… it should all come together timed nicely for the update – it just means you guys have to wait a bit longer! Sorry! Of course we’ll also have some actual Android figures for 3 weeks or so of sales, and that’ll be revealing too.
Fun facts:

Android sales in 2 days – ~100
Hard Lines Album Sales – <100
Days till first Android patch (after launch) – 1
Android ‘Hard Lines HD’ Price – £1.99
Android version lag behind iOS – ~2 weeks

About Andrew Smith