April 21, 2014 10:00 PM | John Polson
While digital marketplaces like Apple's App Store have given game developers a wider reach than ever before, getting customers to actually find your game on crowded storefronts is a major challenge.
Apple recently tried to help out with the issue of discoverability with App Store's first Indie Game Showcase, which featured award-winning developer Simogo's games, including Year Walk and Device 6, plus a few of the studio's favorite App Store games.
But even getting a prime feature spot on the front of the App Store didn't boost sales as much as you might expect. Data shows that installs for Indie Game Showcase titles peaked initially, but ultimately ended with games returning to App Store obscurity.
On March 21, the iTunes App Store revealed Simogo was chosen for the first in the Indie Game Showcase series. Along with Simogo games and the developer's picks, it included a brief explanation of why the studio was noteworthy.
Twelve games were included in total, all of which were featured on the iPhone App Store. Six of the seven games were universal apps, with Helsing's Fire HD rounding out the iPad App Store showcase. The original Helsing's Fire was also featured as part of the 12 on the iPhone.
Simogo was hesitant to reveal the inner dealings of the showcase, saying they weren't sure what they could discuss in terms of how many games they were allowed to pick. They weren't sure how long the promotion would last, either. As of this week, it is no longer in the featured nor games sections, but it is still available via this link on iTunes.
When asked about how the showcase has affected Simogo's sales, the studio's Simon Flesser said, "We're never keen on sharing specific numbers about our sales unless we hit big milestones. But, of course it's been positive, especially for Device 6, which was especially visible." Simogo tweeted on March 27 that Device 6 has sold over 200,000 copies total on the App Store, a week into the showcase.
Fortunately, several featured developers responded to a request to discuss how the showcase impacted their own games, and their data is presented below.
ZONR, 99 cent universal app
ZONR developer Matthew Hall of KlickTock said that the only activity he did in relation to the promotion was a 'Thank you, Simogo!' tweet.
He noted that ZONR is his most "indie"-centric app, and that there was not a lot of cross user base between ZONR and KlickTock's well-received Little Things Forever. He also noted that during the showcase, there was no movement on his other titles. The App Store promoted its Indie Showcase again on the evening of March 26, possibly attributing to ZONR's slight bump on March 27 in Australia. Hall stated that there is still no way to track links to the store, so developers are left to speculate about those analytics.
The geographic breakdown in the graph shows that promotional sales originating in the U.S. were the lowest of those mentioned, but Hall said that was contrary to his total income, with around 50 percent of that coming from the U.S.
By the end of the showcase, Hall said, "ZONR has already shrunk back into the shadows, but is now earning on average a couple more sales each day."
Bad Hotel, $1.99 universal app
Lucky Frame's Yann Seznec says the showcase came as a complete surprise and that sales went up dramatically for Bad Hotel.
Lucky Frame's other games weren't really affected by the showcase, as Seznec says, "We haven't really noticed a spike for other games or platforms, though. I think that iTunes store sales are a bit of a bubble, they don't tend to spread to other things."
When asked how to fix this bubble or improve discoverability, Seznec said, "I'm not entirely sure... I think a lot of the lack of cross-app-success might be our own fault, since our games are quite different from each other. I think the best way to move beyond the bubble is to make yourself well known as a studio, so people will buy your games no matter where you release them. Very few indies have managed that, though."
With the promotion over, Seznec reflects, "It was certainly very nice, an unexpected bonus. Overall it netted us an extra £700 or so. That's lovely, but is also not really very much money at the end of the day. It covers 1.6 months of office rent, or (more depressingly) less than half of one month's taxes for a three-person company. Not that I'm complaining! We're living the dream."
Stickets: $2.99 iPhone app
Wanderlands' Harry Lee, developer of puzzler Stickets, had no idea his game was involved in the showcase until he was contacted for this article.
His sales increase was more modest than others. Towards the end of the showcase, daily downloads dipped extremely low, but began to rise again, similar to its success before the showcase.
This behavior could be attributed to a number of factors. The most likely cause may be its "premium" price. It was part of only one-third of the games priced at $2.99 or above, along with Taito's games and Hook Champ. Stickets was also on iPhone only. When asked, Lee also felt it may have been a combination of higher price and the type of game.
Cool Pizza free iPhone app
Even free games have a hard time getting downloads, but Secret Library's 2012 hit Cool Pizza saw at its peak a 7,000 percent increase in daily downloads, from 30 a day to over 2,100.
Secret Library also didn't know about the showcase ahead of time, nor did it do much in terms of promotion, said developer Nick Ralabate. As the showcase feature ended, daily downloads even for their free game crept closer to zero.
Gauge - Game, free to download, with $2.99 full unlock universal app
The Game Atelier has been focused on its Flying Hamster II Kickstarter while its Gauge - Game was a free-to-try game that took advantage of the showcase in both iPad and iPhone stores. Developer Fabien Demeulenaere noted, like other developers, that there wasn't any uptake for their other games.
Profit for the game, while up over 2,000 percent, averaged at 7.3 euros a day, meaning only three out of the 600 downloads a day paid to unlock the game. As the showcase's feature ended, the graph shows downloads heading back to low numbers.
Critter Panic, universal app discounted from $1.99 to $0.99 when the showcase started
Critter Panic developer Frank Condello of Chaotic Box said sales "haven't been earth-shattering, but considering it was selling 3-5 copies per week just prior, it's been pretty great." He echoed that the promotion had "zero effect on my other games, and it had a negligible effect on the free version of Critter Panic (which does pathetic numbers regardless, typically less than 20 a day)."
Condello said he only does "passive cross-promotion" in his games with a "more games" button. "The only time that has affected sales is between similar games or sequels."
He added, "The original Nozoku sold better than it had since its first week, while Nozoku Rush was featured in 'Best New Games.' Everything else continued to stagnate. Here again the numbers weren't staggering but I suspect this is the reason you see so many sequels, spinoffs, and ripoffs in the App Store. People buy what they know."
Critter Panic sold 325 copies at 99¢ during the month, he said, compared to typical monthly sales between 10-20 at $1.99. He put the price back up to $1.99 the night of the 13th and hasn't seen any sales the following days. "I would've actually preferred if they had promoted the free version, but beggars can't be choosers," he said with a smile.
As far as changes to the App Store to help this, "I'd like to see the top-grossing lists replaced with daily, weekly or even monthly top lists. Basically anything that'll show 'fresh' content more prominently. Search sucks, but I have no clue how to fix that. I also hate how user reviews are essentially wiped out for simple point releases. And it would be nice if the submission guidelines were followed more strictly and consistently. The glut of clones/ripoffs/scams/crap would be cut down significantly if Apple simply followed their own guidelines.
"Then there's Game Center. I don't even know where to begin. It's just awful."
While not accounting for total sales of each game before the showcase, it may be a worthwhile frame of reference that as of November 2013 (pre-holiday), there were an estimated 420 million iPhone and 170 million iPad owners, which doesn't account for applicable versions of the iPod Touch. Of developers contacted for this article, the highest game's daily download reached around 2,600 across devices, which is roughly 0.0004 percent of these estimated iOS users.
Reviewing the six charts of downloads above, aside from Stickets, the App Store's Indie Game Showcase initially brought a strong burst of installs. However, the ending raw numbers show the apps don't maintain this success long after being featured.