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07 Dec 2011

War on Terror app - first week post mortem

Gallery snapshot. View gallery of War on Terror app - first week post mortem

It's been just over a week since the launch of War on Terror, the application. And what a long week it was. The list of things to do seemed to grow, hydra-like, with every new thing we crossed off. So we thought it would be a good moment to reflect, to share what we've learnt so far and to wheel out some juicy stats and figures. Everyone loves statistics. And graphs. Ooh yeh.

Going into this, we were working pretty much in the dark. There's a wealth of information about getting your app noticed (which all boils down to some marketing and PR basics) but not much in terms of solid advice and figures. The best sources information we found were case studies that other developers had written up, so we're doing the same here in the hope that someone will find this equally useful.

So we uploaded our finished binary around the 5th November and set the live date to 25th November. Initially, we had set it to go live as soon as Apple approved it, but after reading around, we realised the benefits of being able to set a firm date and build some marketing activity around that date. Even still, we felt a little handicapped and we definitely held back on the marketing front while Apple delayed our approval and told us they would require extra time. In hindsight, if we weren't so near Christmas and at risk of being engulfed by seasonal bullshit, I would have put the live date right back another couple of weeks or so, just to give us the certainty of a live date we could rely on.

Like the opposite of a roller coaster: exhilarating on the up curve and slightly nervy on the way down. Apple approved our app on 17th November and that's really when we started emailing people and giving out some advance codes. Note: your promo codes work the minute your app has been approved, even if you haven't set the app to go live on the App Store.

While we're talking about promo codes – they're a big pain in the ass. Apple (and after much thought I'm still at a loss as to why) have decided that you only need 50 promo codes per release. Most people on the web seem to say “that's fine, quit bitching” but we used these up virtually in the first week. Having produced solid products for years that literally cost us money to give out, we have accepted that you can't be stingy with these things. Freebies grease the dirty cogs of PR and there's no getting away from it, so don't fight it. Now we have a digital product that costs us nothing to give out, with a beautiful, immediate and free mode of delivery – and our sales agent limits the freebies!? That's bonkers. Apple, you are MENTAL. Let us publishers do what we want with our own games please.

If that weren't bad enough, Apple provide no administration of these codes. Once ordered they expire in 4 weeks and there's no way of knowing who or when the codes were used. In our research, we unearthed about 212 viable review sites that might be interested in our app. We could cover a quarter of this list and then …. wait...? Luckily, there is a type of arcane ritual that you can go through and manually check each promo code using iTunes, as explained here. It's annoying and slow, but better than nothing.

The first thing we learnt – all those promo codes we gave away in newsletters, tweets, forums etc. - total waste. We should have set up some kind of promotion where first responders were gifted the app. Promo codes, once you work out how to track them, are invaluable because they tell you which of the mythical review sites have actually responded to your desperate email. Because let me tell you now, it's pretty much like shouting into the void. Even the biggest review sites are getting by on what can only be described as a skeleton team. You aren't going to get a response. Even if they like you. So the only indication of success might be whether that promo code has been redeemed or not. Now we have to write to reviewers saying “we'd like to gift you the game if you send us your ...” No dice. It's an extra step they have to take and when inundated with requests, guess where ours goes?

Anyway, the first week went astonishingly well. As you can see from the screengrab to the left, we even secured a coveted "thumbnail" place for a short time in 'top grossing UK Board Games'. (Yeh it's pretty niche but we were proud).

We actually hadn't set up any goals or expectations (we had nothing to go on!) but we have a broad ambition (and I hope it's realistic) to sell 10,000 games total. After tax and Apple's cut, this gives us and our developer a non-laughable amount for the year's work we undertook that would encourage further work and collaboration.

Although we didn't get the coverage we were hoping for, our launch was still fairly well anticipated and eventful, thanks mostly to you, dear readers and supporters. There's no doubt we were at a massive advantage with an already existing customer base. Some pre-press from the likes of Forbes and the front page of our own local newspaper didn't harm any either.

We secretly moved the live date forward a day, the evening before just so we could satisfy ourselves that everything was as it should be and there were no hitches. Also, insanely, this was the only way we could preview our app in the iTunes store. Apple don't provide this functionality in any shape or form. Again, mental.

The official “launch” was really very exciting. We all had a tonne of work to do but I must have spent at least 4 hours sat on Twitter and checking the rankings in the App Store. As we climbed rapidly into the charts, I suddenly got quite nervous. We topped out at #6 in Board Games and #3 in Strategy here in the UK. Not expecting to reach the top 10 of anything, I was suddenly gripped by the fear that this visibility would be short-lived. I started viewing all the other apps in the top 10 with resentment and dismissing them out of hand. I fretted about what we could do to maintain and build upon this early success … Certainly, Seneca had it right when he said that you fear nothing only when you have nothing to lose.

The actual download and sales figures are compiled at around 8am PST the day following your complete day of sales. That meant we'd have to wait until about 4pm on Saturday to find out what this all translated to, but I have to admit, when we hit the #1 spot for top grossing Board Games in the UK and held the spot for 24 hours, I guestimated that this had to translate to over a thousand downloads – possibly thousandS. Alas, this was a gross over-estimate and surprisingly it turns out you don't need to shift that many units to get visibility in the App Store (at least in the sub-categories), which should be encouraging to all developers. However, one thing we got an idea for is the massive amount of resources, money and dedication that the larger publishers have at their disposal, shoring up their apps and ensuring not one place gets dropped without a fight. I can tell you this, if you get into the top 10 of any category, no matter how briefly, you've done a GOOD THING.

So without further ado … the graphs! Yay!

We sold almost 1500 games in the first week. Possibly it was a mistake launching on Black Friday, just before a weekend, but we have nothing to compare to.

As you can see we did well on home turf. The lack of industry coverage, combined with Thanksgiving and Black Friday probably didn't help things in America.

Succes was short lived but good while it lasted. The opposite of a roller coaster: exhilarating on the up curve and slightly nervy on the way down.

The highest we reached in the overall games chart was #45 here in the UK.

And the highest rank was achieved in the Strategy subcategory where we held #3 in the UK for about 12 hours. At least we beat Risk.

And that's about it. Simultaneously better and then worse than expected. Obviously if we could net £3,000 a week 52 weeks a year then it'd be very tempting to ditch board games altogether, but right now it feels like a daunting prospect maintaining that level of visibility. The app store clearly works very well for a small number of publishers. It'd be nice to see the curve levelled out a bit. Maybe an Indie Games subcategory (However you might define that)? Anyway, everyone who's bought the app, thank you and if you took the trouble to review or rate it, triple thanks. We count on you more than you probably know.


In other news ... we were meant to be in the Observer Gift Guide the other weekend but we got ditched unceremoniously. So we were left with having to do our own advertising this year instead. We made up a 6 metre x 1.5 metre banner and affixed it to the side of the road near a major roundabout on the way into Cambirdge. Look, it's beautiful:

In starring out the 'u', we actually thought we were being quite reserved for us. But within days, it had been vandalised:

Normally I'd get really annoyed at something so pointlessly petty, but it's actually pretty funny. I think it's the politest graffiti I've ever seen. They've taken the trouble to carefully censor two more letters from "fuck" (obviously there's nothing offensive about the letter 'k') and left the rest of the banner well alone. Not only that, but they've chosen gold spray paint which is not only pretty transparent but also adds to the festive air of the banner.

Still, I don't see anyone defacing any FCUK shop fronts. It is amazing the quiet authority millions and millions of pounds gives you.

Posted by Andy S on 7 December 2011 - 6 comments

Comments so far:

  1. Game looks awesome, I'm gonna download it :) Thanks for the writeup!Tyler from US - 8 December 2011
  2. Hey Tyler, really glad our write up was of interest - and thanks for trying the game out. Let us know what you think. Cheers!TerrorBull Games - 9 December 2011
  3. Nice write up Andy. As to who the censor/vandal was, I think it might have been the sheep.Robin from Brighton, UK - 16 December 2011
  4. Thanks for the write-up. I bought the game on my iPad. But was a bit dissapointed that it was only iPhone sized and quickly lost interest. Probably my fault for not paying enough attention. The iPad seems like a more natural form factor.Andy B from Swindon - 18 December 2011
  5. You would find that the Android crowd is much more welcoming, if you had an Android offering (hint hint nudge nudge...)Kevin C from Austin,TX US - 18 December 2011
  6. Android... Android... Android... (not having anything to do with the Facist State that is Apple...).MAJOR TOM from NOT BAGHDAD ANYMORE - 20 December 2011

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