We released our game Let There Be Life for Android just over one month ago. This article is about the highs and lows that have followed.
A bit of framing so this article has more meaning: Let There Be Life as a project lies in a strange middle-ground of paid independent mobile games: it was not made in a month or two, nor was it made by industry vets with the connections/pedigree/PR-skills necessary to garner media interest. Its relatively long (over a year) development has made it a well-polished, but risky release.
So here we go…
Week one: We sell 3 copies of our game over the first two days. This is not reassuring, so on day 3, when we sell zero copies, we fall into a panic. We look into the most popular Android app websites, and find that most demand $100 or more to guarantee a review. We find and reach out to the website Newswatchtv.com because they are seeking apps to be featured in their “Appwatch” television segment. They reply with interest, call us on the phone, and offer to feature us for the tidy sum of $4000 dollars. In desperation, we almost agree, but bail out when we find that other games previously featured had very few actual sales.
The rep from Newswatchtv keeps calling and emailing to convince us to change our mind. By the end of the week we have 10 sales.
I prepared myself to start off with weak sales (maybe not SO weak), but I wasn’t really prepared for how obsessive we would get over reaching every little milestone. 5 sales. 10 sales. Our first rating (the anticipation of which was terrifying because, what if the first review was negative?). I was refreshing our sales figures and store entry at least every hour, usually more. It was crushing to see absolutely no change over-and-over again.
We were also unprepared for just how many cancelled sales of the game there would be, sometimes appearing instantly in large clumps. We quickly realized that these are (most likely) from pirates hacking our game, as LTBL began to show up on site after site offering it for free (I suspect with viruses/malware as an added bonus, since the download sizes are larger than they should be). Some of these sites even feature pornographic material alongside our all-ages game about nature.
My wife was mortified.
Week two: Sales finally begin to pick up the second weekend, peaking at 5 for two days in a row. Seasoned professional game developers may snicker at getting excited over so few sales, but when you’ve been averaging 2 per day, 5 seems pretty magical. We get twice the number of sales this week: 20.
We got our first rating – 5 stars with a write-up! This however, did not quell our milestone demons. We began desperately wanting to reach 100 sales, presuming that visibly higher sales benchmarks would ‘legitimize’ our game. We were also nervous that, with only one rating, people would think the reviewer might be a friend or family member (not to mention that a single bad rating would tank our average).
We began a massive email outreach to the press with entire days spent just writing (and re-writing) targeted messages. We provided links to our store entry, trailer, press kit, and a free review copy of the game. Over 50 venues were approached…but only two mentioned us on their site. I am left to wonder if the problem was in our messaging, the lack of an iOS release, or perhaps the (relatively) convoluted process of downloading and installing a review apk of the game (Google does not implement review keys).
Week three: Our previous highpoint of 5 sales in a day is now being surpassed by even our lowest daily sales this week (6 units). Inexplicably, we peak at 19 sales on Tuesday, rather than any of the weekend days, which are typically our peak sales period. Also, we get a couple more 5 star ratings(!). Our sales triple over the previous week, adding up to 60.
At this point, we’re getting close to 100 downloads, and are aching to cross that barrier. For the first time, we are getting optimistic about our sales trajectory.
Week four: Our biggest week so far, but we have yet to reach 20 sales on any given day. Also a week of highs and lows – sales go up and down daily, and we get our first ‘negative’ rating (3/5). Generally, we are upbeat…until the last day of the week when we earn a meager 4 sales. Nevertheless, our total for the week is 97.
What stands out in my mind from this stretch is swaying back-and-forth between thinking “we’re gonna make it!” and “whelp, I guess it’s over.” Confidence seems firm one moment, only to be dashed the next. Highlights include becoming the #1 “Top New Paid” Family Game, and being in the top 20 of all Paid Family Games. Unfortunately, such high rankings don’t necessarily mean you’re earning a lot of money.
We've just ended our period of inclusion in the "New" charts and at this point, we are left with more questions than answers:
It may very well be that we’ll soon need to take on contract work to support ourselves. I don’t know yet - ask me in another month…