[Jeremy Alessi has been developing iOS games since the inception of the platform -- and his latest effort, friendly.dots, takes into account shifts in the market and all the lessons he's learned. As he strives to make the game a hit on the App Store, he's writing a monthly column for Gamasutra about the data he's collecting and the resultant changes in the game. You can find the first installment here.]
Last month we left off with friendly.fire functional, but not doing so hot. After its first month on the App Store, it had only collected around 150 registered users and it was failing in all regards: the number of downloads, the conversion of downloads to registered users, and the conversion of registered users into retained players.
While the prior article was primarily concerned with the back story behind friendly.fire, we did cover one significant post-release change in the game. By switching the order of two buttons and changing some wording, we nearly tripled the number of users who registered for the game.
One of the primary reasons for this series of articles and for the approach we're taking to the development of friendly.fire is to monitor percentage gains enabled by small changes.
During the second month of release, we released three updates for friendly.fire. Within each of these updates there were valuable lessons for what to do and what not to do with an asynchronous, community-based title. We made some huge gains this month, but we also made some potentially disastrous blunders.
Just as our first month report was published on Gamasutra, version 1.03 was approved for distribution on the App Store. One of our prime concerns last month was that our UI just wasn't doing the job. Version 1.03 of friendly.fire addressed our initially clumsy UI with a variety of improvements.
Here's the progression thus far:
The original version of the menu
The new version, with "Play Online" changed to "Play With a Friend", and buttons reordered
Version 1.03, with no in-progress games
Version 1.03, with games in progress
As stated in last story, we switched the order of our play online button and our local play button. In addition we changed the wording from “Play Online” to “Play with a Friend”. This minor adjustment changed our registration rate from 4.8 percent to 13 percent.
Beginning with version 1.03, we actually switched to a mandatory registration. The registration process thus now occurs before the primary title screen pictured above. Interestingly enough, switching to mandatory registration only increased our conversion from download to registered user to 20 percent. Upon further inspection, we found that our implementation lacked Unicode support, thus many of the foreign language downloads we saw were unable to actually register for the game.
The addition of a categorized game list is an important feature of the UI that has improved the overall quality of the experience. Prior to 1.03, we simply gave the user a long list of their active games; the games were labeled as either "their turn", "your turn", or "you won". We also cleaned out a number of redundant screens, while at the same time dividing up some of our more confusing elements into more clearly defined screens to clarify the intended functionality.
Overall, version 1.03 represented a vast UI improvement. In terms of the game itself, the only major addition was new backgrounds. We had developed the concept of different backgrounds and customization for the friendlies, but we weren't able to execute on them until this version. So in addition to the UI looking fresh, the game also finally had some variety -- which was great for posting new screenshots in our App Store listing.
Speaking of screenshots, one of the features added to version 1.03 that I thought was neat was a screen-sharing feature. With the addition of backgrounds and character customization, user creativity was starting to play a larger part in the game.
During one testing session, we began recreating scenes from movies and seeing if the other player could guess what we had made. Ultimately, this concept fell short, because the character customization options were so limited. Nevertheless, it opened the door for great future potential and we managed to implement a variety of social screen-sharing features, including Facebook, Twitter, and email options.
Needless to say, we were very excited by version 1.03. Upon release, though, I was shocked when I downloaded the app and found that it was an earlier development build that I had thought I had replaced with the correct version. Apparently, I must have accidentally uploaded the same development build twice (or there was a database error).
As a consequence, a number of features in version 1.03 were not present. We created a new icon that was visible in the App Store, but as soon as the app downloaded, it reverted back to the old icon. A number of UI enhancements were lost, too. But worst of all, the build connected to our development server! This meant that users would not be able to access their accounts, and that new users would not be able to connect with old users.
Luckily, switching domain pointers quickly resolved this issue. The worst of it was that we had to manually move over about 10 users who got registered with the wrong server. We briefly considered simply pulling the app from the App Store, but by thinking quickly we managed to capitalize on the release -- which was ultimately very successful, relative to this project. We managed to grow our player base by 300 percent with version 1.03, despite the release hiccups.