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Marketing On The App Store: The Cautionary Tale Of 100 Rogues
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Marketing On The App Store: The Cautionary Tale Of 100 Rogues

February 3, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Pricing and the New World

Rumors about App Store top-heaviness and prices racing to the bottom began to surface, but I thought "Well, an exceptional game might be an exceptional case!" I've learned since then that for someone trying to get by the old-fashioned way, the App Store is every bit as rough a place as you've heard. What I'm pondering now is... Maybe that's not the App Store's fault. The world is changing in a way that is beyond anyone's control.

The way I see it now, the problem was simple: pricing. While our game was a break in tradition for most players and critics, when it comes to the game's development, team, marketing, and planning, 100 Rogues is very much a traditional affair. It was a bunch of guys getting together and making a game the old fashioned way: a design doc, a ton of pixel art, and waves of iterative gameplay testing over the course 18 months.

Very few iPhone games have taken anywhere near this amount of time, but for traditional computer games this was a pretty normal development schedule.

Since the dawn of the computer games industry, the model has been the same: spend all the time that you need (or all the time you can afford to spend) completing the game and making it shine, and then release it and hope that the sales roll in.

That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to be like our heroes, and we walked in their footsteps all the way to our completion. Unfortunately, as so have noticed, the world is changing dramatically, and this model may prove less and less feasible as time goes on.

With that in mind, some may be wondering how we're supporting a game with balance and content patches -- and how that affects sales post-release. We have released two massive patches to the game, as well as about two patches a month for smaller fixes and additions. One patch was the "Hell update" (Version 2.0), which added an entirely new world to the game, for free.

Falling into Hell

More than simply adding more levels to the game, a world in 100 Rogues is a really big deal. Worlds in 100 Rogues dictate monster type, tile set, music and even item drops, so making a new world basically means generating about 30 percent more content than we had at launch. This means tons of new Hell-themed monsters, several new songs, and a new animated Hell tile set, as well as several more monsters for other worlds and new items. Basically, it was almost like an "expansion pack", and we gave it away for free.

We expected a lot more of a response from this than we got. Part of the reason was that most of the Hell content was late-game, and so maybe not all of our players even got to it. Really, I had just hoped that this would show our fan base that we really, really care about the game and about our players, but I'm not sure that the message got through.

I guess it just wasn't clear to people how hard we worked on it -- or perhaps we worked too hard on stuff that people don't care about as much as we thought they did. Prioritizing and properly presenting your content is of utmost importance.

The second massive patch released our first in-app purchase -- a new playable class called the Skellyman Scoundrel. Now, classes in this game are huge in terms of gameplay; they totally dictate not just your strengths and weaknesses, but also the actions that you can take. They're also huge in terms of how much work they take to create.

Between all the custom character animations and balancing all of the abilities, as well as promotional shots and cutscene artwork, it really adds up. So we charged 99 cents for the Scoundrel, and dropped the price of the game down to $1.99. As with all of our promotions and patches, the sales spiked, only to settle back down to very low numbers after just a few days.

The Ups and Downs of Guerilla Marketing

We also attempted several contests and other forms of guerilla marketing. I think at this point we've had about three contests, only one of which has actually gone anywhere. One was a "remix contest"; people could submit their remixes of our soundtrack and were offered lots of prizes.

That one went nowhere at all; only one person responded by sending me a totally original song that had nothing to do with our soundtrack. Then we had a Screenshot contest that offered no prize at all, which seemed to anger some people, who said "it sounds like you just want us to do your marketing for you".

Finally, we had the "Design-A-Monster" contest, and I cannot tell you how much of a smashing success this was. We had dozens of submissions from all sorts of people, ranging from young children (one child submitted a monster idea called the Psychotic Robotic Wolf) to professional comic book artists (one of which won with his submission, the Jani-Taur, a Minotaur with a mop). It was a real blast and people seemed to have a lot of fun with it. Our prize for the winning submission was simply that we'd implement the monster into the game (which we still have to do for the Jani-Taur).

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