Launching a game in the Indie mobile sector is hard. And while there are notable exceptions, we often don’t have the money or the marketing know-how to pull off a truly successful launch. We’re our own self-appointed Leonidas at Thermopylae, attempting an against-all-odds scenario. But we have to paint ourselves as a Leonidas, a Boadicea or a Hiawatha, attempting to overcome and incredibly difficult and overwhelming force. If we didn’t, the sheer unlikelihood for success would have crushed our hopes and motivations long ago.
When we launched our latest title, Go Go Armadillo, we envisioned the launch as a battle to keep our morale high. The game took a total of 8 months to create and we knew full well going in that it could all amount to nothing once we launch. This post is like a ‘battle diary’ of sorts; it details our pre-launch plans and our first few days of the launch. We’re by no means experts: in fact we’re actually still pretty green, but hopefully this will help some Indie developers who are planning to launch their games soon.
When you do launch, it feels like your game is dropped into a sea of other potential candidates, all jostling and fighting each other under the crust of the ‘featured’ list. Every game appears equal under the banner of obscurity, but we are all hoping to be plucked out or to push through. At it’s best, some could argue that it is a form of ‘Game Darwinism’: with the great games getting ‘discovered’ and being featured while the awful games are doomed to forever sink down the rankings chart to die. At it’s worst, it’s a primordial mess with good games getting stuck in the tar and remaining undiscovered while the lucky Flappy Bird’s get heralded as the stewards of our gaming generation.
But before you launch you need a plan. And like any battle, a good plan can mean the difference between success and failure.
Without a plan, your game will be ambushed and trampled by the many other developers who actually thought about what will happen once their game goes live.
For our game, we had a moderate amount of pre-launch materials secured:
This is definitely not enough to guarantee a successful launch, but we were reasonably happy with the materials we had managed to secure with the money and contacts we had.
The last point on the list may seem small but it was actually extremely important. We were incredibly touched by how many old friends actually shared and downloaded the game. It was also a big morale boost to see those friends get back in touch and say how much they enjoyed it.
We had one more trick up our sleeve that is both a blessing and a curse. We released the game for free with in-game adverts. This is great mainly because you can turn to any friend, or even any stranger, and ask them to download the game. However, it also drops you into a much, much bigger pond that requires thousands more downloads to reach the same ranks as a paid app. Whether this has paid off only time will tell.
With these preparations in place we nervously awaited our 1st of August release date…
Day 1- App Store Invasion
The first day was a rush of adrenaline and panic as we flooded our contact list with requests to download the game. As mentioned, many happily agreed to and gave positive feedback. We (stupidly) hadn’t integrated any real-time data feedback into our game, so we would have no idea of the results until iTunes and Google Play updated their statistics.
Where we could see statistics from was the advert we placed iPhone game review app. By the end of the day, we had over 4,000 users see our ad with an above average 2.5% CTR (Click Through Rate).
In addition, the Android reviews went live and gave positive scores: an 8.5/10 from one and 4.3/5 from the other, not bad scores for the first day. In addition, the YouTube walkthrough was professionally made and in-depth.
Overall, the first launch day seemed like it went well. When we were finally able to see download figures we had managed to get over 200 downloads on Android and 463 on iOS. While these were not exceptional figures we managed to get to rank 156 on the strategy category on iOS.
Day 2- Post-Invasion Lull
From here on, things seemed to go from bad to worse. Our daily download ranks began to plummet on both iOS and Android. We were also burnt out from the previous day and the lead up to launch. We continued to evangelise the product on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else we were allowed to shout about the game. Apart from this, most of the day was spent checking statistics on App Annie and the app store development consoles.
Day 3- Guerrilla Tactics
Day three’s download trend continued the downward slope. We started resorting to Guerrilla tactics. We began handing the business cards out to our local pubs: they could give them to regulars who used their phones while having a pint. We also started to give them out during our part-time work at a local restaurant. We even resorted to getting people to hand out cards at a family fun day nearby. We also did another press-release blast to any contacts who hadn’t replied yet.
Day 4- Signs of Improvement & Resource Management
On the fourth day we finally saw an improvement: a slight increase in downloads from the previous day! Oddly, most of these were also from China, where we have placed no marketing. In a last ditch attempt to boost downloads, we decided to cancel all our ongoing Facebook advertisements, gather what little money we had left, and focus it all into one large Facebook advertising push targeted at iOS users. Whether this pays off remains to be seen, but we decided that a focused advertising push is better then spreading our resources too thinly.
So after five days the game’s success isn’t exactly secure. Should we have given more time to get reviews and features ready before launch? Probably. The two reviews and the Let’s Play we managed to get were not enough to secure us stable downloads.
Could we have done more to get ourselves ready for launch? Honestly, I don’t think so. Neither of us have worked as long or as hard as we did with this project. Go Go Armadillo took eight, long, intensive months to complete. On the lead up to launch, we have sent a combined effort of over 2000 emails, 400 tweets and hundreds of Facebook messages to get people interested about the game. We worked through the night trying to secure reviews and articles and planning where to best spend our budget.
Later on in life, when I look back at our production of Go Go Armadillo, I can safely say I have no regrets. We tried our hardest and created the very best game we could. At the end of the day, what else can you ask for? Perhaps this is why we need to feel like an underdog, a Leonidas or Boadicea. We appoint ourselves as these heroes against the odds because when we look back at what we created, we need to know we were doing it for something.
But the war is not over yet... In the grand scheme of things it has only been 5 days, and while our morale may be low and our download figures even lower, we’re not going to let this be our Thermopylae. Stranger things have happened in this industry, and like any other Indie dev we all have a chance at success. So as we look forward to see what the next day of downloads bring, we must remember: we are all the underdogs in the mobile world, and sometimes, just sometimes, the underdogs win.