《Dangerous》开发者谈Google Play的优越性

标签: 资讯频道 Google Play的优越性&认识误区 《Dangerous》 平台运作模式 | 发表时间:2012-08-13 10:04 | 作者:suyane
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出处:http://gamerboom.com

作者:Linh Ngo

目的

自我们的游戏在各应用商店问世6个月以来,我们积累了众多宝贵经验,其他开发者也许会觉得这些非常有用。有些内容属于常识,而有些则会令你感到惊讶。值得一提的是,有许多关于Google Play(就是之前的Android Market)的认识误区。虽然我们的经验算不上经典,但我希望这至少能够多少阐明不同应用商店的神秘运作方式。

历史过程

Binary Helix是个小型的二人组合公司。幸运的是,我们有独立的网页发行和软件开发业务,这负担我们游戏开发过程中的多数费用,虽然我的确因为了填补差额而负债。从中我们能够将多数时间投入于游戏开发当中。

“Dangerous”是游戏的名称及主角。游戏本身是个融入史诗故事的单人开放式3D太空战斗RPG游戏。这像是分解《EVE Online》、《Elite》和《Freelancer》内容,同时融入《X3》的帝国创建和《质量效应》的对话和共犯元素。就如你可以想象的,这是我们工作室的首个重大商业项目——现在回头看,我会劝那些有抱负的游戏开发者不要这么做。更重要的是,我们得确保能够在移动和桌面平台表现得同样出色。我起初认为这会是持续6个月的项目,最糟就是1年。但这个项目对我来说非常重要,因此功能蔓延问题就不可避免地显现出来。

Dangerous by Binary Helix from androidls.com

Dangerous by Binary Helix from androidls.com

《Dangerous》的最初版本耗费我们约两年半时间,我们还投入另外6个月持续修复及添加内容,形成当前的1.1.0版本。所以这是个悲惨而又激动人心的3年旅程,我们在将游戏发行至iOS、Android (Google Play和Amazon)、Mac(Mac App Store和 MacGameStore.com)及PC平台的过程中积累许多经验。我们还从我们的网站whoisdangerous.com直接出售桌面版本。

游戏版本

起初游戏只有《Dangerous》和《Dangerous Lite》演示版本。这些是标准画质(SD)的游戏版本。当我们发行1.1.0版本时,我们还添加《Dangerous HD》和《Dangerous HD Lite》版本。《Dangerous》目前在移动平台定价4.99美元,《Dangerous HD》定价7.99美元。高清版本(HD)目前只在Google Play发售,还有就是我们网站的桌面版本,但这很快就会出现在iOS、Amazon App Store及Mac App Store上。

用户预期和销量

在Google Play,《Dangerous》的售价自发行以来始终维持在4.99美元。这更多像是融入桌面游戏深度的细分作品,较高定价有其合理性,因为其销量相比休闲游戏会有所减少。在于Android平台发行游戏之前,我们没有进行任何的营销投入。我们非常幸运,有位购买游戏的粉丝发布了droidgamers.com网站的信息,这迅速带来新闻宣传效应。各类其他新闻整合器开始选取他们的消息内容,几乎就是复述,但这些网站的名气似乎显得微不足道。我们获得70份日销售量,这在随后几周里逐步下滑至每日十几份。但销量随后又稳步提高至每日25份左右。

目前没有玩家呼吁或等待“不可避免”的价格下跌(游戏邦注:就如我们在iOS平台所见)。即便在免费Lite版本中,也没有玩家抱怨完整版本的售价。作为实验,我某天将SD版本的价格降至2.99美元,想要看看这会给销量带来什么影响。我没有发现任何变化。我以为会吸引众多时刻关注应用价格的买家,但也许并非所有用户都关注《Dangerous》。或者相比iOS,Android的价格监测现象并没有那么普遍。

在Amazon App Store,游戏的日销售量最多是个位数水平。争取曝光度非常困难,缺乏初期阶段的兴趣激发,游戏似乎日渐衰弱。也许我们即将开展的营销闪电战能够有所帮助。

通过Android积累的经验教训是:降低价格对于《Dangerous》之类的细分作品来说影响不大。玩家愿意付费购买有深度的游戏。促使我们取得成功的最关键因素是,维持平稳销售水平,直到谷歌算法开始将《Dangerous》的买家及观众同其他游戏联系起来。

在iOS平台,我们以促销价格4.99美元发行作品,1个月后将价格提升至常规的6.99美元。我们很不愿意降低价格,因为我们觉得自己的作品属于细分内容,不想进行低价角逐赛。但只要日销售量变成个位数,我们就只有一个选择:坚持下去,也许会“挨饿”,或就价格进行试验,查看市场反应。价格降回至4.99美元颇受欢迎,但最后,销售也逐步下滑。

我们初次将价格由3.99美元降至4.99美元时,吸引来众多买家,但几天后这种现象很快就消失。由于iOS App Store的应用层出不穷,玩家通常会依靠价格监测网站。我们在iOS设定的最低价格是1.99美元,这同样带来短期效应。我们随后提高价格,将其设定在4.99美元状态。在遥远的未来,我们也许会在iOS平台采用99美分或免费模式,但只是为了推广若干其他相关产品,或是建立粉丝基础,也许是在推出续集的时候。

通过iOS平台积累的经验教训是:iOS的降价策略能够吸引众多留心价格变化的玩家,但影响不会持续很久。我认为,通过评论或产品更新获得关注是是更可取的长期战略,这能够带来更持久的销售效应。我们从未取得能够同其他知名应用共同入驻“Customers Also Bought”列表所需要的销售数量(游戏邦注:也许将游戏转变成免费模式或售价1美元能够实现预期目标)。

我们怀着较高期望于Mac App Store平台发行内容。毕竟,融入此等复杂性的游戏更适合桌面机制。这最终惨淡收场。发行前1天,我通过prmac.com提交新闻稿。我们在oneclickmac.com获得一个评论,是2颗星评级(共计5颗星),但我觉得评论者并未给予游戏公平待遇,我们进行繁琐的邮件沟通,以换取他们的信任。销量处于个位数水平。虽然我们处在RPG和Simulation子类型的首页,但销量依然处于虚无状态。免费Lite版每天有数百次下载量,但这鲜少能够转化成真正的销量。

我们没有得到苹果的推荐,因此不清楚这会给销量带来什么影响。价格是个考虑因素。我们觉得我们的游戏丝毫不逊色于售价19.99美元的作品,但其销量要低很多。只有当我们置于10美元和5美元之列时,游戏的日销量才有显著改观。没有知名工作室的宣传推广相当于没有销量。

几个月之后,当我们在MacGameStore.com发行内容时,我们提供较大折扣价格,但目前,销量并不可观。和Mac App Store类似,我认为一定程度的推广和营销活动对于成功来说必不可少。随着我们逐步在版本1.1.0中加大宣传力度,我相信这两个渠道的销量将有所改善。

通过Mac App Store积累的经验教训是:在子类型中获得较高排名不会自动带来更多销量。即便是降低价格也只能带来不尽人意的销售成绩。即便是免费Lite版本的数百或数千次下载量也没有带来更多销量。这至少需要配合额外营销活动。或者你足够幸运,获得苹果的推荐。

你逆向运作!

是的,我意识到,早在最初发行作品前我们就应该开展营销活动。我希望产品的力量能够协助我们顺利渡过下个阶段。此外,我觉得新版1.1.0更新内容最终将带来简化UI及美观图像,这足以让《Dangerous》带来最佳的第一印象,因此我们现已能够结合早期用户反馈信息。我们将会看到我的想法是多么的愚蠢。

Dangerous by Binary Helix 02 from androidls.com

Dangerous by Binary Helix 02 from androidls.com

Android过于分化

就Android设备的数量来看,情况的确如此,更不要说OS的安装版本纷繁复杂,小型开发者无法在多数设备上进行测试。因此由于Android的既有分化问题,开发者非常不愿意参与其中的角逐。从某种程度上来看,这给予我们帮助,因为较少竞争者会花费多年时间开发他们的游戏。所以关注细节及《Dangerous》的稳固内容促使作品从中脱颖而出。

分化问题可以通过运用Unity之类的交叉平台架构得到缓解。这不仅令移植工作变成小菜一碟,你还可以利用Unity的开发者支持社区,解决你的分化问题。你更多依靠Unity,但开源协议也具有可行性,若你有足够资金及这方面的意向。我们两个条件都不具备。

此外,若你打算高价出售你的作品,提供免费演示版本供用户在设备上进行测试非常重要。我通过免费SD和HD Lite版本,供用户在购买前进行试验。这捕捉多数支持问题,因为在确定内容能够顺利于设备运作前,用户通常不愿意花7.99美元购买一款手机游戏。必要的投入程度还能够给《Dangerous HD》的评论分数带来积极影响,作品获得4.5颗星评级。

Google Play存在讨人厌的文件尺寸限制

我们遇到的最大技术问题是,Google Play无法让你上传容量超过50 MB的文件,游戏手机恐怕只能够处理30MB下载量。《Dangerous》的1.1.0版本约是200MB,《Dangerous HD》是500-900MB,这取决于平台或设备。这意味着将文件分解成可执行文件和数据块会破坏运用Unity之类便携式架构的意义。幸运的是,我们找到自动完成操作的用户贡献解决方案,所以我们不需要针对Google Play重新设计我们的游戏。

(游戏邦注:注意Amazon Android App Store没有此文件大小限制)。

遗憾的是,此解决方案最初需要在我们的服务器上托管数据。这一问题在我们随后推出包含数百兆额外纹理数据的HD版本时进一步恶化。在亚马逊云端托管数据的宽频成本是每月600-800美元。这更加糟糕,因为盗版和免费Lite版本目前其实需要耗费我们的资金。直到最近,我们才能够将数据移植至谷歌的服务器中。

Android的支持成本

在iOS App Store平台,苹果处理所有销售问题,包括各种收益。在Android平台,你会得到各购买活动的交易收据,其中包括邮件和买家名字。你还需要直接应对所有不满用户。额外支持会累加,是小型开发团队“不幸”的机会成本。

这是Mika Mobile(《僵尸小镇USA》开发商)停止进一步于Android开发内容的主要原因。他们在没有支持竞争的iOS平台赚取更多资金。对于像我们这样少有名气的开发者来说,这只是在Google Play运作的成本。此外,从某种程度上来说,这让你能够更密切地同用户进行互动,也许会带来终身粉丝。

我们设定宽容政策,尊重任何退款请求,即便是在谷歌的15分钟窗口之后。玩家只需向我们发送电子邮件。我们尝试解决他们的问题,如果这一切都失败,我们会很愿意进行退款。我们尚没有发现有玩家滥用我们的善意。

误区:Android盗版问题非常猖獗

事实上,盗版也许真的非常猖獗,而不只是个误区,但就我们的经验来看,这并没有比iOS平台更糟糕。因此无论从哪点来看,这都是个误区,或者至少不是个困扰普通开发者的问题。

但在我们的游戏发行时,它们会从我们的服务器上抓取每日消息(MOTD)。这让我们能够同玩家展开沟通,告知他们最新更新内容,邀请他们评论我们的游戏等。我们还能够粗略估计,每天有多少玩家体验游戏。在初期阶段,每天约有3000名不重复玩家,这随后降至每天1000名(注意我们是通过IP进行统计的,因此数据多半会因ISP的IP共享/NAT而有些偏低)。俄罗斯和中国的网络达到上万峰值,但这并没有相应提高销量,因此这是盗版高峰时期的用户数量。但运用这些数据无法有效判断盗版问题,真实数据也许要高很多。坦白讲,对此我并不在乎。关键数据是收益,这呈现上升趋势。

下面是我们收到的邮件内容:

“主题:非常惊人

我很遗憾,下载了《Dangerous》的破碎版本,但游戏的成果、深度及质量令我印象深刻,我因此决定立即进行购买。其他游戏大多在2分钟后丧失新鲜感,在我看来,它们的价值远不及免费flash游戏。我期待购买你们未来的作品。”

所以显然存在盗版问题。但用户愿意在试验完演示内容或破碎内容后高价购买作品的事实与认为独立开发者无法在Android平台高价出售内容的观点不相符。若减少盗版现象,我们能否赚取更多?也许有可能,但盗版同时也将我们的游戏呈现给更多潜在用户。那么为什么要抵制此军备竞赛?我们更喜欢针对付费用户完善游戏。

此外,我们可以通过许多方式处理盗版问题,且避免以软件中的限制性DRM(数字版权管理)阻碍用户。另一热门桌面独立游戏《太空海盗和僵尸》在游戏初始时向玩家展示一个注释,请求玩家不要盗版内容。在我看来,这有点太过咄咄逼人,因为我觉得合法玩家无需查看这一内容(这和电影中的FBI警示类似),我选择通过大型图像和文本强化致谢版块,旨在告知玩家更多有关Binary Helix和我们外部合作者的信息,他们是作曲家Sean Beeson和美工Kip Ayers。要让玩家知道,我们不过是在于项目中投入多年时间后希望通过诚实方式赚取收益。想要赋予开发者和参与者人性化内涵。我们不清楚这从真正意义上来讲是否具有可行性,但我更倾向选择这种方式。在我看来,每位付费玩家都是个奖赏,我不希望将他们卷入任何麻烦中。

事实上,我们的Lite版本相当宽容,在此从理论上来说,你可以完整完成游戏。整个游戏被融入Lite版本中。他们只限制你所能够花费的XP数量。这一限制可能会造就一款非常复杂的游戏,若他们冒险来到安全性较低的区域,但聪明玩家会利用众多游戏机制取胜,类似于“Ironman challenge”通关。Lite版本还有云端保存/加载功能,这也许会以类似方式被滥用。但就我来说,玩家要能够以自己预期的方式体验游戏,即便他们无法打破开发者设定的限制。

此外,自发行以来,我们还持续完善和更新游戏。这令正式版本包含更优质的价值主张,玩家无需持续追踪盗版更新内容。

误区:在Android平台,你需要将游戏设置成免费模式或售价99美分,通过IAP挫败盗版内容

Dangerous from igf.com

Dangerous from igf.com

Google Play的《Dangerous》定价4.99美元,游戏自发行以来都未实行降价策略。《Dangerous HD》定价7.99美元,现占据总销量的2/3。我们是家名不经转的工作室,我们HD游戏的售价高过Gameloft、EA和Madfinger等大型发行商和开发商的多数付费游戏,甚至高于《Minecraft: Pocket Edition》。这不是有意为之,我不过是将HD版本设定在我认为“公平”的价格水平上。当然,我们的销量远不及其他游戏,但在去除谷歌分成后,我们7月份的收益有望达到4000美元。鉴于我们没有开展PR和营销活动,没有获得任何评论,对此我着实没有什么可抱怨的。

是否真如他人所述,盗版问题的出现几率高达90%?我不清楚。但我不这么觉得。若游戏售价1美元,多数盗版者都不会购买我们的作品,所以利用这些虚假数据具有欺骗性。我们的焦点在我们的用户身上,我们在将发行的版本中添加语言支持。这有望提高德国、俄国和中国等大型国外市场的游戏销量。我们抵制盗版问题的方式是,持续给予玩家他们所期望的内容。尽早更新,经常进行更新。我觉得用户会很乐意支持这类公司,而不是依靠也许包含恶意软件的可疑盗版网站。

我们将添加IAP (In-App Purchase)内容,但只针对装饰道具和积分,针对想要支持Binary Helix的用户。游戏可以在不融入任何IAP内容的情况下顺利完成。你可以购买包含不同颜色方案的船只,但其功能和你在游戏中获得的船只相同。此外,我们将给我们的免费版本添加广告元素,这旨在进行试验。目前,免费Lite版本没有广告元素,只就玩家能够花费的XP数量进行简单限制。

误区:你需要持续开展PR活动,方能带来销量

这是我们从Android平台学到的惊人经验之一。除在droidgamers.com的新闻内容被提及(游戏邦注:这带来日销量70份的高峰水平)外,我们没有从“主流”Android评论网站获得任何评论。这部分有意为之,部分是因为Google Play不像iOS那样能够发送促销代码。我想要推迟进行PR推广活动,直到游戏达到令我引以为豪的状态。

(最初为什么发行作品?只是因为我的时间和资金都耗尽,觉得经过2.5年的开发,游戏应该非常不错。我们持续催眠自己,游戏再1个月就会完工。)

我们从玩家身上收到许多反馈信息,我觉得游戏能够且应该变得更杰出。这是项心甘情愿的工作。所以我们吸收所有反馈信息和批评意见,约6个月之后,我们发行版本1.1.0。这是令我感到自豪的游戏版本,我会尝试将其提交至更热门的网站,争取他们的评论。搜集到数据后,我会进行追踪分析。

那么我们如何在未得到Google Play推荐,及开展任何广告、PR或社交媒介活动的情况下持续获得用户?这多半是通过口碑传播,根据我的判断,还有谷歌在用户浏览或安装其他类似游戏时提供的自动链接。游戏经历几个月的零星销售阶段,但随后就有许多用户浏览或下载游戏,促使我们被列入“Users who viewed this also viewed”和“Users who installed this also installed”版块。

若干更热门的作品能够链接回我们的游戏:《死亡空间》、《Dead Trigger》、《地球与传说》和《Mass Effect: Infiltrator》。这些其他游戏有更多的安装量和更庞大的用户基础。我们无法简单判断哪些游戏会提供反向链接。奇怪的是,从《Dangerous》链接的游戏似乎没有提供反向链接至我们的游戏。

但不要让这一误区成为你的指南。这里的经验教训是:虽说最好是同社交媒介建立联系,要从尽可能多的网站中获得预览和评论机会,以提高创收水平,但不这么做也不是就会自动被判死刑。优秀游戏迟早都会找到用户。目前,Android的竞争性低于iOS,因此高质量的游戏更容易崭露头角。

误区:支持成本会促使Android不堪一击

我们是个双人工作室,我处理支持工作,以让我们的编码员能够施展自己的开发魔法。当游戏发行时,我们收到许多支持邮件,约是每天2-3封,这逐步减少到每隔3-4天1封。通常,如果我无法解决他们经历的问题,我会非常愿意提供退款。我们在Google Play的应用描述页面在15分钟后会显示退款信息。我们没有发现有玩家滥用此权限,只有遇到少数请求。收到退款的玩家心存感激。这里的经验教训是:相信你用户,善待他们。若你运用Unity之类的最佳平台,这能够让你快速进行测试,无需依靠编译周期,你将收到更少的支持邮件。

Google Play明显打败iOS App Store的地方

1. iOS的应用审核时间目前约是10天。Google Play的更新内容同一天就会发布。这让我们在处理严肃问题或漏洞时享有足够灵活性。iOS平台的漫长等待意味着,玩家也许已在Android浏览到若干更新内容,而iOS玩家依然在等候陈旧修复内容。我们没有试过苹果的紧急更新程序,但这多半用于消除漏洞,应利用于非常有限的情况下。Amazon Android App Store通常花费3-4天时间审核我们的游戏。

2. Google Play在当月结束几天后就会向你支付费用,而在iOS平台,你需要多等30天。

警示

我们尚未发行游戏的较大更新版本1.1.0,这包含iOS商店的全新HD版本,这部分是因为滞后的iOS审核过程,所以其接受度可能比Google Play要高得多。尤其是因为我们积极争取获得评论等。但虽是这样,但这依然无法消除这样的事实:在HD版本之前,我们的SD版本依然呈发展趋势,在Google Play的销量依然高过iOS,约是3倍或更高水平。

另一发挥重要作用的因素是,《Dangerous》最密切的竞争者(游戏邦注:Fishlabs的《Galaxy on Fire 2》)似乎入驻更少Android设备。例如,《Galaxy on Fire 2》并未出现在我的HTC EVO 3D和Kindle Fire设备上,它无法顺利在我的Android HP Touchpad上安装数据(《Dangerous》能够运作于上述3个设备,同时还入驻Amazon App Store)。在iOS平台,情况则颠倒,由于需要就逼真世界进行更多背景处理,《Dangerous》只运行于后代设备中。

此外,虽然我个人非常满意于每月从自己的作品中赚取5000多美元的收益,但我依然无法就3年的开发成本达成收支平衡。收益依然无法支付完整月薪及业务开支。但我们享有许多创收机会(例如,海外应用商店和PC的数字推广),我们有望将自己塑造成专攻尖端高质量手机游戏的合格微交易工作室。我还会联系传统发行商,进军其他平台。

当然你多半会对此持保留态度,因为你的历程多半有所不同。我们也许只是出于幸运,数据也许明天就出现下滑。预期的PR闪电战也许无法显著推进数据。但我相信,玩家会意识到这是款出自于满怀激情的开发人员之手的高质量作品。我给新工作室的一个建议是,将你的功能列表减半,转而优化游戏内容。

总结

因猖獗盗版问题或认为不知名工作室无法同大型品牌公司进行抗衡而放弃Google Play的开发者观念有误,就如《Dangerous》的销售成绩所清楚说明的。Android玩家显然愿意付费购买高质量作品,就如我们售价7.99美元的HD版本所示,这一价位高过许多大型开发者/发行商的付费游戏。虽然盗版问题存在于所有平台中,但我们不会浪费时间同此进行抗争。相反,我们会着眼于向付费玩家提供最优质的体验。

最后,虽然项目耗时3年时间,我很高兴自己能够在移动和桌面平台推出这样一款有深度的沉浸性游戏。我们朴素的营销方案也给我们带来出乎意料的积极成果,这粉碎若干老生常谈的Android误区。查看PR和营销闪电战之后的游戏表现将是个有趣过程。(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,拒绝任何不保留版权的转载,如需转载请联系:游戏邦)

Google Play Is Better Than The iOS Store (In Our Case): A Dangerous Post-Mortem

by Linh Ngo

Purpose

In the 6 months since our game has been live at various app stores, we’ve gained valuable experience that other developers may find useful. Some of it is common knowledge while others may surprise you. In particular, there are some myths about Google Play (formerly known as Android Market) that we want to share. While our experience may not be typical, I hope it at least sheds a little more light on the mysterious workings of the different app stores.

History

Binary Helix is a tiny two-man company. We fortunately have a separate web publishing and software development business that ran on autopilot and paid most of our expenses during game development though I did go into debt to finance the shortfalls. We were able to devote most of our time to making our game.

Dangerous is the name of the game and the main character. The game itself is a single-player open and living universe 3D space combat RPG with an epic story. It’s as if you mashed EVE Online, Elite, and Freelancer while adding elements of X3′s empire building and Mass Effect’s dialog and sidekicks. As you can imagine, it was a hugely ambitious first commercial game project for our studio—which in hindsight I’d tell aspiring game developers not to do. Even more, all this was to run equally well on mobile and desktop. I initially thought it was going to be a six month project, possibly a year in the worst case scenario. But since this was a project near and dear to my heart, feature creep inevitably crashed the party.

Dangerous took us about 2.5 years of development for initial release, with another six months of ongoing fixes and additions to reach the current version 1.1.0. So it’s been a harrowing but exciting three year journey, and there are some lessons we’ve learned by releasing our game both on iOS, Android (Google Play and Amazon), Mac (Mac App Store and MacGameStore.com) and PC. We also sell the desktop versions directly from our website at whoisdangerous.com.

Versions

Initially, there was only Dangerous and the Dangerous Lite demo versions. These are the SD (standard definition) versions. When we released 1.1.0, we also added Dangerous HD and Dangerous HD Lite versions. On mobile, Dangerous is currently priced at $4.99 and Dangerous HD at $7.99. The HD version is currently only available on Google Play and on our website for desktop, but will soon be available on iOS, Amazon App Store, and Mac App Store.

Consumer Expectations and Sales

On Google Play we’ve kept the price of Dangerous at $4.99 since the launch. It’s more of a niche game that has the depth of desktop games, and higher prices are generally justified due to the expected lower volume of sales as compared to a casual game. We made no real marketing effort prior to releasing the game on Android (my reasons are explained further in the document). We were lucky that a fan who bought the game notified the droidgamers.com website which posted a quick news blurb. Various other news aggregators picked up their posting and more or less repeated it, but the popularity of those other sites seemed mostly insignificant. From this, we received about 70 daily sales that petered out over a couple weeks down to the low teens. But sales grew steadily from there to around 25 sold per day.

So far, no players seem to be clamoring or waiting for the “inevitable” price drop as on iOS. Even on the free Lite versions, none have complained about the full version’s price tag. As an experiment, I dropped the SD price down to $2.99 for a single day to see the effect on purchases. No change was observed. I was expecting a rush of buyers from app price monitoring consumers, but perhaps Dangerous just wasn’t on anybody’s radar yet. Or the price watching phenomenon does not seem to be as popular on Android as it is on iOS.

On the Amazon App Store, the daily sales were typically in the low single digits at best. Discovery is hard, and without some initial seed of interest, the game appears to be languishing there. Perhaps our upcoming marketing blitz will help.

Android lesson here: price drops don’t do much for niche games like Dangerous. People are willing to pay for deep games. The biggest factor in our success was achieving consistent sales until Google’s algorithms kicked in to link purchasers and viewers of Dangerous with other games.

On iOS, we launched with a “sale” price of $4.99 and raised it to the regular price of $6.99 a month after launch. We were loath to drop the price since we felt our game was rather niche and we did not want to play the race to the bottom game with price. However, once daily sales hit the single digits, we were left with a stark choice: stick to our guns and possibly “starve,” or do some experiments with price to see how the market responded. The price drop back to $4.99 was well received, but in time, sales slowed.

The first time we dropped our price to $3.99 from $4.99, there was a large influx of buyers, but that quickly went away after several days. Due to the incredible number of apps appearing on the iOS App Store, players routinely rely on price watching websites. The lowest price we’ve set on iOS is $1.99 which showed the same short-term effect. We’ve since raised the price and left it at $4.99. At some point in the distant future, we may do $.99 or free on iOS, but only to promote some other related product and/or to build the fan base, perhaps when the sequel is out.

iOS lesson here: price drops on iOS will get tons more downloads from the price-conscious consumer, but the effect does not last long. I surmise it’s a better long-term strategy to get noticed via reviews or product updates which generate a more lasting sales effect. We also never seemed to achieve the critical number of purchases needed to be reflected in the “Customers Also Bought” list with other well known apps. (Perhaps making the game free or a buck for a week would do the trick.)

We released on the Mac App Store with high expectations. After all, a game of this complexity is better suited to desktop systems. It was a resounding dud. About a day prior to the release, we submitted a press release via prmac.com. We did receive one review on oneclickmac.com with a poor 2 out of 5 rating, but I felt the reviewer didn’t really give the game a fair shake, and we had a lengthy email exchange to their credit. Sales were in the low single digits. Even though we were on the first page of the RPG and Simulation subcategories (and reached nearly top-ranking positions), sales were virtually non-existent. Daily, there were hundreds of downloads of the free Lite version, but very few translated to actual sales.

We were not featured by Apple, so have no clue on how that might have affected sales. Price does play some consideration. We felt our game was comparable to other games at the $19.99 level, but got few sales there. Only when we were sub-$10 and $5 did sales noticeably pick up to a handful a day. No hype from an unknown studio apparently equals no sales.

Months later, we featured a substantially discounted price when we launched on the MacGameStore.com, but so far, sales have not really impressed. Much like the Mac App Store, I believe you need a certain level of hype and marketing to succeed. As we now ramp up the marketing with version 1.1.0, I hope to see improved sales through those two channels.

Mac App Store lesson: getting a high rank in a subcategory will not automatically result in more sales. Even price drops resulted in less than stellar sales. Even hundreds or thousands of downloads of a free Lite version did not result in more sales. This must be coupled with additional marketing at the very least. Or if you’re lucky getting featured by Apple.

You’re doing it backwards!

Yes, I realize we should have started the marketing engine long before initial release. I’m hoping the strength of the product will pull us through this next phase. Also, I felt that the new 1.1.0 update finally brings enough UI simplification and graphical beauty that it was worth holding off so as to present Dangerous with the best possible first impression now that we’ve been able to incorporate feedback from the early adopters. We’ll see how the folly of my thinking plays out.

Android Is Too Fragmented

There is truth to this since the number of Android devices, not to mention the myriad of installed OS versions, is absolutely bewildering, and a small developer has zero chance of testing on most of them. So because of Android’s perceived and real fragmentation, there is a reluctance from developers to enter the fray. To some extent, this has helped us since there are fewer competitors who have spent years developing their game. So the attention to detail and relatively stable releases of Dangerous help it stand out from the pack.

The fragmentation issue can be mitigated by using a cross platform framework like Unity. Not only is porting a snap, you can leverage Unity’s developer support community to solve your fragmentation woes. You are more dependent on Unity, but a source license is possible if you have the funds and inclination. We have neither.

Also, it is critical to provide free demo versions for people to test on their devices if you’re planning on selling at a premium price. We have both free SD and HD Lite versions for people to try before buying. This catches most of the support issues because people are not usually willing to shell out $7.99 for a mobile game without making sure it runs on their device. This required level of commitment also reflects favorably in the review score for Dangerous HD which sits at 4.5 stars.

Google Play Has An Annoying File Size Limitation

The biggest technical issue we ran into was Google Play did not let you upload binaries larger than 50 MB, and supposedly, some phones can only handle a 30 MB download. Dangerous version 1.1.0 is about 200 MB and Dangerous HD is 500-900 MB depending on platform and/or device. This meant breaking up the binary into an executable and a data portion which violates the raison d’etre of using a portable framework like Unity. Luckily, we found a user contributed solution that automated this, so we didn’t have to re-architect our game just for Google Play.

(Note that the Amazon Android App Store doesn’t have this file size limitation.)

Unfortunately, that solution initially required hosting the data on our servers. This was exacerbated when we released the HD version with hundreds of MB of additional texture data. The bandwidth costs of hosting the data on Amazon’s cloud ate into our profits by $600-$800/month. This was doubly bad since pirates and the free Lite versions were now actually costing us money. Only recently were we able to migrate the data to Google’s servers.

Support costs on Android

On the iOS App Store, Apple handles all aspects of the sale including any returns. On Android, you get a transaction receipt for every purchase including the email and name of the buyer. You’re also expected to deal with any dissatisfied customers directly. This additional support does add up, and is an unfortunate opportunity cost for the small development team.

This was the primary reason Mika Mobile, the developers of Zombieville, USA, cited for stopping further development on Android. They were making much more money on iOS without the support hassles. For less well known developers like us, this is simply a cost of doing business on Google Play. Also, in a sense, it gives you the opportunity to interact far more closely with your customers and possibly create life-long fans.

We have a permissive policy of honoring any refund requests even after Google’s 15 minutes window. Players can simply email us. We try to resolve their issue, and if all else fails, we happily refund. We have not found players to abuse our good will.

Myth: Android Piracy is Rampant

Actually, piracy may be rampant and not a myth, but from our experience, it is no worse than on iOS. So for all intents and purposes, at least for us, it is a myth or at least something that shouldn’t concern the average developer.

When any of our games start up, they grab a message of the day (MOTD) from our server. This gives us a way to talk to our players to let them know about new updates and to ask them to review our game, etc. We’re also able to gauge a rough estimate of how many players are playing daily. Early on, there were about 3,000 unique players a day, and it has since dropped to about 1,000 a day. (Note that we aggregated by IP, so those numbers are probably low ball due to IP sharing/NAT by ISPs.) There were two huge spikes in the tens of thousands by networks located in Russia and China which didn’t see a corresponding rise in sales, so those were when piracy was at its peak. However, the use of these stats are unreliable for determining piracy, and it’s possible the real numbers are much higher. I don’t really care, honestly. The numbers that matter are the revenues, and those have been trending up.

Here is an actual email we received:

“Subject: Dangerously Amazing

I’m ashamed to say I downloaded a cracked version of Dangerous, but was so impressed with the effort, depth and quality of the game I had to immediately buy it.  Most other games lose their novelty after 2 minutes which is really not worth more than a free flash game to me.  I look forward to buy any of your future products. ”

So there’s no denying that piracy exists. But the fact that customers are willing to pay a premium price after trying the demo or a cracked copy belies the claim that indie developers can’t sell a game at a premium price on Android. Would we earn more if we could reduce piracy? Probably, but piracy also exposes your game to many more potential customers. So why fight that arms race? We prefer to focus on improving the game for the paying customers.

Also, there are different ways of tackling piracy without encumbering your customers with restrictive DRM (digital rights management) in software. Another well-known desktop indie game called Space Pirates and Zombies displays a note to the player upon start up that essentially implores players not to pirate. This was a little too in-your-face for me since I feel that legitimate players shouldn’t have to see that (it’s akin to the FBI warning on movies albeit on a subtler level in my opinion), and I opted instead to beef up the credits section with a large photo and text to inform the players more about Binary Helix and our external collaborators, who are composer Sean Beeson and artist Kip Ayers. To let players know we’re just a couple of quirky guys trying to make an honest buck after investing years on the project. To humanize the developers and contributors. No idea if this worked in any real sense, but I felt more comfortable with this approach. To me, every paying customer is a prize, and I do not want to subject them to any hassles.

In fact, our Lite versions are rather permissive in that you, in theory, could complete the game. The whole game is included in the Lite version. They only restrict the amount of XP you can spend. This restriction potentially makes for a very difficult game if they venture to the lower security areas, but a clever player could use many game mechanics to still succeed akin to an “Ironman challenge” play through. Lite versions also have the cloud save/load feature which might be abused in a similar fashion. But as far as I’m concerned, players can play however they wish even if they get their kicks out of beating the developer imposed restrictions.

In addition, we have been constantly improving and updating the game since release. This makes the official versions a better value proposition than players having to hunt down pirated updates all the time.

Myth: You Have To Price Your Game For Free Or $.99 On Android And Use IAP To Thwart Pirates

Dangerous on Google Play costs $4.99 and never really had a price reduction since release. Dangerous HD costs $7.99 and now accounts for 2/3 of the sales. We’re a completely unknown studio, and our HD game costs more than most premium games by large publishers and developers such as Gameloft, EA, Madfinger and even more than Minecraft: Pocket Edition. This was not intentional since I merely set the HD version at what I believed was a “fair” price. Of course, our sales are nowhere near those other games’ sales numbers, but we’re set to make $4,000 after Google takes its cut for July. Considering we have no PR, no marketing and no reviews, I can’t really complain.

Is piracy really rampant at 90% as others report? I don’t know. But I don’t think so. Most pirates would not buy our game if it were priced at a dollar, so using such spurious statistics feels deceptive. Our focus is on our customers, and we are adding language support in an upcoming version. This should hopefully increase sales in big foreign markets like Germany, Russia, China, etc. Our way to fight piracy is to constantly give the players what they ask. And update early, update often. I think customers will gladly support such companies rather than rely on dubious pirate sites which may include malware.

We are going to add IAP (In-App Purchase), but only for vanity items and credits, and for those who want to support Binary Helix. The game can be completed already without the need for any IAP. You’ll be able to buy a ship with a different color scheme but is otherwise identical in function to ships you can obtain in the game. In addition, we’re going to add advertising to our free versions as a test. Currently, the free Lite versions have no advertising with only a simple restriction on how much XP you can spend.

Myth: You Need Ongoing And Constant PR To Get Sales

This is one of the more surprising lessons we’ve learned from Android. Other than a single news mention in droidgamers.com, which resulted in a peak of 70 purchases in a day, we have had zero reviews by the “mainstream” Android review sites. This is partly by design, and partly due to Google Play not making it possible to give away promo codes like on iOS. I wanted to hold off on doing a major PR push until the game was in a state I was proud of (it’s the perfectionist in me, I suppose).

(Why release in the first place? Simply, we ran out of time and money, and felt that the game was good enough after 2.5 years of development. We constantly deluded ourselves into thinking it was always a month from being completed.)

We received a lot of feedback from players, and I felt that the game could have and should have been even better. It’s also a labor of love. So we took all the feedback and criticism to heart, and about six month later, we released version 1.1.0. This is the version I’m finally proud of, and will try to submit it to the more popular sites for review. I’ll do a follow up post when those numbers are in.

So how did we get a steady stream of customers with no special mentions by Google Play, no advertising, PR, or social media campaign? Mostly word of mouth, and as far as I can determine, the automatic links provided by Google when people view or install other similar games. It took a few months of somewhat sporadic sales, but there came a time when enough people viewed or downloaded the game that we were listed in the “Users who viewed this also viewed” and “Users who installed this also installed” areas.

Some of the more popular games which algorithmically linked back to us are: Dead Space, Dead Trigger, Earth and Legend, and Mass Effect: Infiltrator. These other games have far more installs and a larger customer base. There is no easy way (as far as I know) to figure out which games link back. Oddly, the games that are linked from Dangerous don’t seem to link back to our game.

But don’t let this myth be your guide. Lesson here: While it’s always better to build interest with social media and get previews and reviews from as many sites as possible to increase your chances with financial success, not doing so is not an automatic death sentence. Good games will always find an audience sooner or later. And currently, there is less competition on Android as on iOS, so quality games naturally stand out more.

Myth: Support Costs Render Android Untenable

We’re a two-man studio, and I handle support so as to let our coder do his development wizardry. When the game launched, we received a number of support emails, probably 2-3 a day. This has dwindled down to one every 3-4 days. In general, if I’m not able to resolve the problem they’re experiencing, I’ll happily offer a refund. Our app description page at Google Play tells them to contact us for a refund after Google’s 15 minutes. We have not found players to abuse this, and have only had a handful of requests. Those that received the refunds were thankful (some even surprised we kept our word). Lesson here: trust your customers and treat them well. You’ll also have fewer support emails if you use a best of breed platform like Unity which lets you quickly test without needing a compile cycle.

Areas Where Google Play Clearly Beats The iOS App Store

1. The review time for iOS is about 10 days at the moment. An update to Google Play goes live the same day. This gives us incredible flexibility in dealing with serious issues or bugs. The long wait on iOS means players may have already seen several updates on Android while iOS players are still waiting for an old fix to go live. We haven’t tried the emergency update procedure that Apple has available, but it’s presumably meant for game stopping bugs and should only be used on a very limited basis. The Amazon Android App Store has usually taken about 3-4 days to approve our games.

2. Google Play pays you a few days after the month ends. You have to wait an additional 30 days on iOS.

Caveats

We have not released the latest update version 1.1.0 including a new HD version to the iOS store due in part to the laggy iOS review process, so it’s possible that it could be better received than Google Play. Especially since we are gearing up to finally push for reviews, etc. However, even if that were the case, it still does not diminish the fact that prior to the HD release, our SD version was still gaining traction and consistently selling more copies on Google Play than on iOS by a factor of 3x or better.

Another factor that may play a large role is that the closest game competitor (which is Galaxy on Fire 2 by Fishlabs) seems to be available to fewer Android devices than Dangerous. For example, GoF2 is inexplicably unavailable on my HTC EVO 3D and Kindle Fire, and it did not successfully install the data portion on my Android-enabled HP Touchpad. (Dangerous works on all three devices and is also available in the Amazon App Store.) On iOS, the situation is reversed, where Dangerous only plays on the later generation devices due to needing greater background processing with the living universe.

Also, while I take great personal satisfaction in earning upwards of $5K each month total from a game I’ve always wanted to make, we still have not come close to breaking even on the three year development costs. And the revenue still doesn’t pay the full monthly salaries and business expenses. But many roads lie before us in monetizing opportunities (such as overseas app stores and digital distribution on PC), and we have hopefully established ourselves as a competent micro studio specializing in bleeding edge desktop-quality games for mobile. I will also be reaching out to traditional publishers for other platforms.

Of course, you’ll want to take all this with a grain of salt as your mileage may vary. We may have just been lucky, and the numbers may go south tomorrow. The anticipated PR blitz may not move the numbers much farther. However, I believe players will recognize a quality product that comes from the hands of people passionate about their game. The one recommendation I’d make to any new studio is to cut your feature list in half and polish the heck out of the game instead.

Conclusion

So those who dismiss the Google Play store out of hand due to rampant piracy or to the notion that an unknown developer cannot compete with established brands are clearly mistaken as sales of Dangerous has demonstrated. Android players are clearly willing to pay for a quality experience as evidenced by our $7.99 HD pricing which costs more than virtually all premium games from major developers/publishers. While piracy exists on all platforms, we don’t waste any time trying to fight it. Instead, we are focused on providing paying customers the best experience possible.

In the end, though it took three years, I’m glad we have such a deep and immersive game for mobile and desktop under our belt. (But the next projects for Binary Helix will definitely be shorter in scope—fingers crossed. Though we have some great ideas for future expansions as well… Uh oh.) Our naive approach to marketing has also given us surprising and instructive results that shatter some well-worn Android myths. It’ll be interesting to see how the landscape looks after a hopeful PR and marketing blitz campaign.(Source: gamasutra

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