Sword and Sworcery EP
was a massive success on iOS, especially by indie standards, selling over 300,000 units in the first 6 months, almost all at full price. But on the face of it, one might not have expected it to succeed, said Nathan Vella, president of Capy Games.
"This was an extremely risky project," he said during his talk at the Independent Games Summit during GDC China 2011 in Shanghai. "What we did was do exactly the opposite of what you're supposed to do when you make an iOS game."
The game is long-form, took over a year, targets a very specific niche, and "the budget was around $200,000, which when dealing with an iOS project is nothing to sneeze at." But at the same time, Vella says the risks helped Sworcery
stand out, and "had everything to do with the success of our game."
"When you're making a risky game, a game that sets out to do something different, you need to know it, accept it, and embrace it throughout the project," he adds. You should target that niche directly, and go for it aggressively. "I believe that iOS development, and specifically the scariest component of the massive success of iOS, is that it's taught everyone, especially independent developers, that you should target everyone," says Vella.
"I believe that when you're targeting everyone, you're really targeting no-one. You're not making it for anyone specific, so your target group is no-one." In this case, you're targeting a lottery, not a group of people, he argues.
"In reality, maybe one in 10,000 of those games will hit big. The rest of those will barely succeed or fail miserably. You can target a small component of everyone, and hit all of them." Capy's model was to target 100% of 10% of the iOS market, which is still a large number of people. Time proved them right.
How do you target a niche? "I don't think making a sports game is a niche game," he says. "I think that's too wide. I think it's important that you make a game for a specific group of people, and that you are included in that group of people. We knew that if we got 100% of the people that were like us, we'd at least break even."
Targeting a specific group also lets you focus the project. "It means you're making design choices that are uniformly informed," he says. 99% of the games are trying to hit everyone, and are competing against each other, says Vella.
This means that "the different, risky, unique, and focused games really only represent 1% of the games on the App Store, so you're only competing against that 1%. ... It also gives you a chance to be noticed by Apple, which is the single most important thing about getting sales on the App Store."
If you target a niche, you can also speak to that group in a unified PR voice. "Every time the game was shown, talked about, or in articles or screen shots, it was all coming from the same perspective," says Vella. Instead of the game informing PR, they had the original vision inform the PR.
Vella urges developers to maintain a distinctive written voice for web, PR, trailers, and social media, sharing color palettes, fonts, and sound effects with the actual game.
Hiring PR firms, "especially for any game that's trying to stand out, is a huge mistake," he says. There's going to be a lot of passion and vision lost when the person who is promoting the game isn't making it. "Sword and Sworcery
doesn't have key features. It has key ideas, and I don't think any PR firm out there is prepared to market key ideas."
"Traditionally independent developers are known for their risky games. Why are there so few independent developers taking risks on iOS?" Vella concluded. "I think risk is one of the most critical steps to making money. Just make sure the game is great."