Reflections Part 3 – Lessons learned from releasing my first two apps.
This post is a summary of my journey so far, hopefully, someone will read it and relate to it, or better yet, learn something to help them on their own journey.
Be realistic about the amount of time it is going to take.
Originally I was EXTREMELY unrealistic about how long my first app would take, I planned to release it on the app store 6 weeks after I started. As it turned out it took 15 months for me to finish. I was much more realistic for my second game, I was only out by a factor of 3. I planned for it to take 2 months, in the end, it took about 6, but we had an addition to the family in that time so this was acceptable. Going forward I will try and estimate how long any game will take and then multiply this by 3, this will become my target.
Storyboard if well in advance, and stick to it.
For Truck Trials, I wanted to follow the process I teach, so I went and drew up a storyboard of what I thought the overall feel of the game would be. My problem was that this storyboard was not detailed enough, this allowed feature creep to take hold. My initial idea was for a simple platform game with simple puzzles, but while I am happy with what I ended up with, it is a mile away from what I originally planned.
Don’t get caught up in the geekiness of it.
I have a tendency to continually try and find better ways of doing things, which in itself is not a bad thing, however, I spent a lot of time during that first game refactoring code that probably didn’t need to be refactored all because I found a new more ‘geeky’ way of doing something. I think a better approach might be to learn new skills, apply them in future code, BUT, prioritize releasing the game over perfect code. If the game is successful then I can always spend time making sure the code is perfect while working on updates etc.
Feature creep, geekiness, lack of storyboarding etc, all meant that I was working with an always shifting set of goal posts, this made it extremely hard to publish my app. As it turns out neither of my apps have been the raging success I had hoped for.
In the future, I think I will aim to publish any game as soon as I have a valid and acceptable proof of concept and if the game gets any uptake I can work on improving/upgrading the game. This should have several advantages;
- I can take feedback on board which should allow me to make a game which is more suited to the market.
- I can do a soft launch in some smaller market This will allow me to test a lot of ideas before truly going live.
- This leaves me the options of trying to get an Apple feature in a bigger market (more likely to get an Apple feature if its a new release).
- I can move onto other projects faster.
Think about the money you spend.
When releasing my first game I followed a plan I found online regarding the steps I needed to follow. I felt that my chances of releasing a successful app were slim, but by making sure I did everything properly I increased my chances. This included;
- a trailer – still think this is awesome but it was my biggest cost. In the future, I will stick to simple trailers until I see there is a market.
- icon and main menu – happy with these and they weren’t that expensive.
- landing-page – made it myself, but used paid plugins etc. In hindsight, I could probably have got away with free stuff.
- a press release was written for me and distributed to news outlets – from what I can see this was a complete waste of money.
- ASO for Android and iOS – I have now learnt a bit about ASO and think that this was probably a waste of money. I am sure that had I spent a lot more money on this I would have got better results, but down at the lower end of the price range results are what you would expect.
- two paid reviews – complete waste of money.
- and a couple of other things that I cannot quite remember – once you have the mindset that spending is OK, it tends to just bleed out.
Although this investment obviously did not pay off, I am aware that any starting business is likely to lose money at the beginning so I am not totally against spending money in the future BUT I will be much smarter, there is no way I will invest this much money in one product without testing the market first.
You get what you pay for.
When finding someone to do my icon and Main Menu I used Fiverr. I started at the very low end of the price range and worked my up. This process took quite a bit of time as I had to cancel 2 or 3 orders before I got what I wanted. When I was selecting illustrators I based my choices on the quality of their previews and reviews. I managed to find quite a few that were very cheap but still had good reviews and previews, as it turned out, this is not always entirely reliable.
- The first person work was really really bad, nothing like their previews at all. They ended up canceling on me because I asked for too many changes.
- The second person used clipart. I was suspicious of their work so I used Googles reverse image search and soon discovered their images on some clipart website. He then tried to convince me that his friend had drawn it…
- The third person was OK, but just couldn’t quite get the style I wanted.
- I thought I was going to have similar problems with the fourth person, but she worked through all of my concerns and we eventually ended up with something I was quite happy with.
Start marketing early.
Recently I have spent a lot of timing researching the best ways for indie developers to market their products, I realize now that on both of my previous apps I made a huge mistake by starting marketing on the day I published the app. Doing it this way meant that I was always playing catchup. I have since joined a lot of facebook groups and followed a lot of people on twitter and I can see the power marketing early. Somethings I would like to take advantage of in the future are;
- Screenshot Saturday
- Release an early playable demo of the app
- Early trailers of the game
- Create a devlog of my game
I’m sure there are other things I can do and I will add to this list as I figure things out. All of this feeds into my next point.
Build a following and get lots of feedback.
I beta test my games, but these beta tests were primarily focused at finding bugs and not around the gameplay itself, this was my fault as this was the directions I gave my beta testers. I realize now that this was extremely short-sighted and stupid. Hopefully, by implementing the points above I can create some interest in any app before it is released, enabling me to get lots of feedback which can only serve to make a better app.
Find a way to manage the project that works for you.
When first starting out developing Truck Trials I was all over the place. I would be working on a piece of code -> discover a bug -> focus on the bug -> fix the bug -> find another bug -> get completely lost and not remember where I was. I soon realized that I needed a better way to manage the project.
I created a spreadsheet with a huge list of tasks that needed to be completed, I could add bugs to the spreadsheet and come back to them at a later date. Eventually, I worked out that this didn’t work for me as once I removed an item from the spreadsheet I could no longer refer back to it. In the end, I used a simple task manager called Wunderlist, this worked great as there is a website and an app. The app meant I could add ideas to a list when I was out (an indie developers mind never turns off). There are a bunch of other options out there such as Trello, or Hack ‘n’ Plan that I would like to try, I guess the important thing is to find a way to manage your time so you can be more productive.
Competitions are cool, but not a guarantee.
For Zero IQ Test, I thought that running a Christmas Competition would increase my downloads, even if just slightly. In reality, it had no impact what so ever, I think this comes down to the whole marketing thing and nobody really being aware that the competition was even going on. There is no one magic bullet, and success will require a strategic approach from all sides.
I’m an optimist and making games is fun.
Even though my first two games have shown no success, I still believe and will continue to believe that one day, one of my apps will make it. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy coding games, and trying new things. I have a bunch of ideas in my head, I just need to find the time to put these ideas into action. The day I become jaded by the whole process, doubt myself and stop enjoying coding is the day I will stop.