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Platforms move in mysterious ways

By on September 4, 2012

This is a guest post by Derek Reynolds from Perceptive Pumpkin Productions.

Hello, I’m Derek Reynolds, and I’m co-owner of Perceptive Pumpkin Productions, along with my wife, Tiffany.  We’re an independent game development company, writing games in our spare time for mobile devices, browsers, and PC/Mac.  We started writing our first puzzle game, Villagers Vs Vampire, back in November 2011 and it was released in late June 2012.

What we learned developing our first game

During this adventure, we’ve encountered three major surprises (and many smaller ones).  The first surprise was that writing a game takes a lot longer than you realize up front.  Even with 25 years of programming and software development experience, I still underestimated the time it would take by about half (normally my estimates go the other direction).  The second surprise was the way in which Unity “just worked” across devices.  By primarily developing in Unity, we were able to distribute our game across several different platforms with relative ease.

Surprise number three was our sales.  Not the quantity of sales, necessarily, but rather where our sales are coming from.

Which games platform performs the best?

We released Villagers Vs Vampire to iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and directly on our game website at  Amazon and iTunes both carry our free and paid ($0.99) versions with in-app purchases enabled, while our website and Google Play host the free versions with no IAPs.  The prevailing wisdom of the mobile app market is that you’ll make way more revenue on iTunes than on Android.  The Flurry blog reports as much, stating that developers can expect to make more than 4 times the revenue on iTunes than Google Play.  While that may still be true for the greater Android market, it hasn’t been true for our Amazon experience.

In short, we’ve had 2.4 times the number of sales on Amazon as we’ve had on iTunes.

Sales figures over time on three platforms – click to enlarge

You can see that both Amazon and iTunes sales results ramp up quickly upon release, then level out over time.  This is expected.  But even early on, Amazon had nearly 3 times the sales of iTunes.  This trend has more or less continued since initial release.  It certainly surprised us, as we were expecting the opposite behavior.

The downloads of our free version (which includes ads for the paid version) tell a slightly different story:

Downloads over time on four platforms. Click to enlarge.

The iTunes store represented the majority of the free version downloads for the first month, increasing rapidly during the first week of release.  However, even though the number of downloads on iTunes was much higher than that of Amazon, the free versions didn’t really translate into purchases.

Another interesting bit about the data is the download behavior.  The free version on Amazon has been steadily climbing in downloads, at a higher daily rate than iTunes.  If you add the Google Play downloads to the Amazon numbers, total Android downloads of the free version have surpassed iTunes, and continue to climb.

Downloads per day. Click to enlarge

The spike in Amazon downloads on 7/29 is somewhat of a mystery to us.  The only thing we did differently on that day was write a post on our Facebook page, detailing the recent app updates we had released during the week of 7/23.  Our Facebook page has less than 30 followers, so that doesn’t fully explain the 6X increase in downloads for that day.  We’re currently on Amazon’s “Popular Games for Android” list, but we don’t know if being on the list was a result of the increased downloads, or if the extra downloads occurred because we were listed for some other reason.  Being on the list has not appreciably affected our daily download rates on Amazon since then, however, as the downloads have settled back down to previous levels.  Such is the adventure of independent game development!

Why has Amazon marketplace been so good for us?

We’ve been trying to puzzle out why our experience differs from other developers we’ve heard from, so prepare for some wild and baseless speculation (or as my wife says, “over-analysis”).

  • We’ve been running advertising across several sites, but these campaigns haven’t been targeting any particular device.  Some of our ads may have been featured on Amazon/Android-centric sites, which could account for the extra activity.  I don’t think this one holds much water, though.
  • It could just be a matter of numbers.  Since our sales are so small, we may be seeing greater fluctuation as compared to the larger market or a higher-selling game.
  • It could also be that Amazon is simply a smaller market to compete in.  Fewer games and less competition may have lead to higher sales for us than the crowded market of iTunes.  My wife is also active within a Kindle community, and has posted about the game and answered user questions since the game’s release.  These users may be a slightly different demographic than “regular” gamers – they are primarily book readers, who happen to have the Android-based Kindle Fire and may be more comfortable with purchasing digital content from Amazon.
  • We just got lucky/unlucky and released at a good/bad time for Amazon/iTunes.  Fence-sitting at its finest.

Whatever the reason, we thought this data was interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive, so we’re happy to share these results with you, even if the numbers aren’t very high.  Since it’s just our first game, we’re not too concerned about the actual sales, as we both have full-time jobs and we know each subsequent game we write will be better than the last.  I’m always interested to see real-world numbers from other developers, so hopefully our numbers and analysis have been intriguing for you as well.  Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!

About Derek Reynolds