This is cross posted from here, and it was recommended that the greater Gamasutra community would find it beneficial and interesting. Some edits made for a broader audience.
I released my game ~2 weeks ago. At first, it was doing ok, hanging around the top new free listing, and reached as high as #57 on the top new free puzzle list. If I'm going to be honest, the game isn't going anywhere but down, unless some miracle shows up to save it. It's mostly my fault.
Here's everything I did wrong for my game "Find Yo Nuts"
I didn't talk about the game enough publicly. The only following I had was the 10-20 personal friends who would check it out. Talking about your game on a few reddit threads just isn't enough.
I picked a confusing theme that didn't go with the game play. What seemed funny at the time of choosing, it didn't pan out over the time it took to create the visual look. At that point, there wasn't a lot of motivation to change the art on things to a new theme, so we just kept with it. Would have been better choosing what was good on the market, instead of what we thought was funny one night. You are really limited to how often you can go back to the drawing board when you're indie.
Made a game with a unique/different gameplay. I know you're thinking this isn't a mistake, and is much needed in the world of games. While it is a noble ideal among developers, the market as a whole doesn't always like "brand new" ideas for core gameplay. This decision meant trying to explain a new puzzle game, which later proved difficult. You can't rely on association of "it's just like game X". As an indie developer, you don't have the budget to spend on teaching new mechanics.
Too much biased play testing early on. I'm adding this here, because while it's hinted at elsewhere, it is needed to be clear. Yes, the game was play tested before art and theme was chosen. That game play testing was done by people who already understood the mechanics. The feedback was biased, because it was mostly friends/family who played it. Had we done it differently, we might have realized earlier the challenges ahead on trying to communicate what sort of game it was.
Getting feedback was easy. The "GameDev" sub-reddit was helpful. There were metrics in the game early to help us identify trends on those who played. The mistake was ignoring what the data was telling us. There is so much the data told us, but we ignored it all. Ex: The early data showed only 1% of players even touched VS Mode. Should have cut the multiplayer, because it is the source of most of the application permissions. Apparently the market likes a game with minimum permissions. The point is, lots of things needed to be changed and or cut, but we didn't react to it. The product there right now isn't as good as it could be.
On ignoring data, it was clear just about everyone was opting out of the advertisement reward. While you get those articles/stories where the community loves that you gave them the option and then clicks the advertisement anyway because of good will, the metrics showed that portion of the community is actually small. Which was the mistake, we implemented a poor advertisement and monetization strategy.
We spent too much time on art and level design, without knowing if it was actually "fun". My professional background in game development skewed my vision on indie development. There's literally just two of us. There isn't a whole team working on this stuff. Just two of us. Instead of cutting back, we went ahead and made 50 nuts you could collect. Again, ignoring the data, as no one was even attempting to collect them in play testing. Ignored the data again, most players weren't progressing through the challenges. So we created all this content, that the metrics showed people didn't care about. Wasted time and effort there. In professional development, a producer/manager would have cut those features after the data said it was bad, and we would have hated him for it, but came out with a better game. It's sad to think that only 5 people will ever see all 50 nuts and all 100 levels, and those people are the ones that made it, and our spouses.
One thing I didn't screw up was QA on the game. It runs solid, and we tested on a variety of new and old devices. It's compatible going way back. Except, maybe that didn't matter because less than 100 people downloaded it, and almost none of those downloads were on older devices. Mistake spending that effort to make it run nice on older phones and tablets instead of on making it more fun. Maybe if the game went viral it would have mattered more? However, that goes back to ignoring the data, as that doesn't happen to most games.
Going back to in-game advertisements, another mistake made was testing the the game using exclusively the sample/test settings. Those test ads are like ~10 seconds long, and pretty innocuous. The REAL advertisements were loud and ran like 30+ seconds long. Was not expecting that big of a change. Made a quick patch to reward more coins for watching an advertisement to completion, but really almost turned off advertisements entirely. However, damage to the games reputation was done early on.
Having zero experience with PR, and being so bad at it that even trying to figure it out I was still making mistakes left and right. It was something my partner was suppose to be better at, and if you know the post history I've made regarding this game, you know he died before we finished it. But wow, I am terribly bad at PR. The first versions of my video, screenshots, store page and requests for reviews were bad.The current versions are still bad as the #1 feedback from it is that people don't get how to play or what the game play is from the content. Once they play the first bit, it's totally obvious, but displaying that has been difficult. Remember that decision to make a unique puzzle game like no other? Remember how I ignored data about the game? I made a difficult PR job even harder.
The next mistake was where and when I decided to post the game around on reddit for some more organic traffic. It would appear the best place to post is /r/gaming with a short gif of your game and a subtle click bait title. Yep, I didn't do that until later, and my gif was bad. Remember that decision to have a unique new puzzle game mechanics from before? Yep, it came back to haunt me, because has been virtually impossible for me to explain Find Yo Nuts in a 5-10 second GIF.
Posting/Promoting at smaller sub-reddits and communities first. Yeah, I was testing the water, except, by doing so I was exhausting my self-promotion limits on reddit on small fish. Remember how I didn't establish a following or post history about the development of the game? Well, not having an established post history also puts a limit of how many self-promotion links you can post, and on how well received they'll be. Essentially, should have been posting at least once a week, and optimally a couple times a week to bump up your reputation and increase the amount of self-promotion you can get away with.
Late to contact review sites. My submissions were bad, my press kit non-existant. Apparently you want to contact them early, before release, and with a bunch of promotional materials, review codes, and what not. I contacted them after release, and with a terribly bad "sales pitch". Honestly what I sent wouldn't prompt anyone to go look at the game, let alone want to review it in retrospect. I still don't know what makes up a good press kit or review pitch to a website. My partner and lead artist would have likely done better here.
Too eager to hit that "Go Live" button. It was a long road to get to that point after losing my friend and art partner. I should have left it to stew another week. Get feedback on my PR packages, contact the press, etc etc. Nope, I hit it live as soon as the stability of the game was verified (read: it didn't crash in a burning mess). I should have waited, and had a moment of bad judgement.
Bad timing to launch. The end of the month is NOT a good time to release. It screws up metrics. If metrics are screwed up by a month roll-over, your ranking/position on the store pages is going to be wonky. And it was wonky. Find Yo Nuts was all over the place, despite not getting enough downloads to warrant a sudden jump to #57, it jumped there. The games ahead of me and behind me had 10x more downloads and players. Then it fell hard and fast into obscurity. Should have just waited 4 days and launched on the beginning of the month.
I didn't organize my friends/family and following very well. Remember that whole early launch thing? None of my friends/family knew I was that close to going live. Instead I should have gotten everyone rallied together, hit that launch button, and then have them grab it to give it an initial shot in the arm, instead of the trickle of downloads from friends/family that spread out over 3-5 days later. Maybe a beginning of month launch with a shot in the arm from my following would have jumped it higher than #57 and kept it there a bit longer? Maybe not, as the ranking system on the store is not transparent.
That nut theme closed doors and made PR difficult. I could have just made a cute theme, instead of the innuendo of tapping nuts. Could have gotten on the family friendly charts, and other places as well, but the poor choice of the theme closed those doors. Those early mistakes really makes things more difficult on getting the word out about the game.
Indie development is so much different then professional. In professional, you got people covering the aspects you aren't specialized in. I put the hooks in for metrics, but someone else is analyzing the data. I provide the tools for level design, and someone else is making a smooth level progression. If an artist leaves the team, a new one is hired to replace them. Losing my friend to death, I almost didn't release this game, and it's pretty clear where my poor art skills show. As the programmer, I finish and compile the digital package, but a marketing/PR guy is controlling what the store page looks like, backed up by an artist making good looking PR/presskit materials. Everyone is working a solid ~6-8hrs a day, and it's not a part-time effort. It is so easy to mess up important things when you're covering it all.
I already appreciated what the various people on a professional team did, after walking in their shoes so poorly, it really reinforced it.
I screwed up my first indie game launch, but I'll try again once I manage a new artist team up. Thanks for reading, I hope one of you folks going the same route can avoid some of these mistakes. My biggest failings were in the PR side of things, and I gave myself a starting disadvantage on that front by wasting time on features people didn't want instead of focusing more on the core.
Here is the game if you're curious. Maybe you'll disagree with some of my points about the game not being fun enough. You seriously have to play the opening tutorial to understand how to play if the video doesn't explain things well enough, and it takes like 10-20 seconds to do.