I started building Almost Impossible! for iOS on the 22nd of September. I didn't know what I was building, I was just tinkering about as I often do. After a few evenings it became apparent that I'd actually built a pretty fun prototype of a game. I started thinking perhaps this was something I could finish up and ship if I put my mind to it.
I ended up submitting Almost Impossible! to the App Store just 31 days later on the 23rd of October. A week after that on the 28th of October it went live in the App Store.
Building and shipping a game in your spare time while running a company is not something I'd advise doing. It was fun to start with, but then got increasingly more stressful towards the end. I had to finish the game, build the website, put together a mailing lists, sort out screenshots, trailers, and the list goes on…
I recently read an article about the struggle app developers are facing on the App Store, and the following part really hit home:
"In the past four weeks, there were 45,000 new apps submitted to the iOS App Store alone. The chances that any of them will ever break into the top 1000 are effectively 0%, and even if they did, they’re still not seeing any amount of traffic to build a successful business." — Alex Austin
Yikes, 45,000 new apps in the last four weeks! If I wanted any chance of recouping the money I'd spent on development I was going to have to market the hell out of it. And no, that does't include buying ads or installs, that's really not my bag. I prefer the good old fashioned PR route.
So, let's take a look at the launch and see if Almost Impossible! managed to beat the odds…
My original plan was to make the game free with ads. I wanted to see how it compared to shipping a paid app. I got as far as adding iAd and AdMob into the game. It seems to be the standard to put in multiple ad platforms to take up the slack if your primary platform is not providing the fill rate. So basically if iAd failed to supply an ad, AdMod would step in and provide an ad.
The following screenshot was a work-in-progress version of Almost Impossible!, notice the little remove "Ads" button in the top right and the "Restore Purchases" button.
However, while I was testing and playing the game I just hated seeing the ads, it just made the whole thing feel cheap. So in typical indie fashion, I removed them.
The funny thing is, a week later I added them back in again thinking I should see this through. It's what everyone was telling me to do. Right at the last minute I chickened out and removed the ads again. So yeah, I ended up shipping the game in the paid category. I went with a price of $1.99, but I did still include an IAP for 99¢ to skip a level if the player gets stuck. At this point, I guess the game is in the "Paymium" category.
Still, it does pave the way for me to change the game to freemium in the future, should I have a change of heart.
Just over a few weeks into development the game was starting to shape up nicely. If I wanted to ship before the end of October I knew I'd have to start thinking about marketing. I made a quick to-do list, with the following items on it:
- Teaser website (inc. subscriber form)
- Game trailer
- Find and invite beta testers
- Send early beta builds to Press
- Give Apple/App Store Team a heads-up on my launch plans
- Make a list of YouTube Gamers and email them pre-launch with a promo code
- Find all iOS game sites and email them pre-launch with a promo code
- Ask someone to post it on ProductHunt at launch
This is a pretty typical list, it doesn't include everything, but the important points are there. I've be doing more or less the same thing every time I've launched a product for the past few years. The YouTube part is the only part that's new to me. However, I did wonder if this could perhaps be applicable to normal app launches too (I plan to try this with future launches).
All of this was done around 1-2 weeks before launch. In a typical app/game launch you should start this much earlier, but seeing as the whole thing happened in around a month I had no choice.
Teaser Site & Mailing List
Putting together the teaser site was pretty easy as I used RapidWeaver (it's one of the apps we make over at Realmac), I also used Stacks and the Foundation stack. I've written about building an app landing page before, and I pretty much followed the same recipe. A good app teaser page needs to have the following: App name, icon, launch date, subscriber form, teaser video, screenshots, press kit, and contact details. You can see the Almost Impossible! landing page here.
It would have been nice to do this earlier in the process but due to the tight schedule the game just wasn't polished enough to record. I only just about got it finished a week before launch. The pre-launch trailer ended up being pretty much the same one as I used for the App Store. The only difference is I removed the crazy voice-over for the App Store version.
The launch trailer on YouTube has had almost 10,000 views, so I'm pretty pleased with that. Here it is, incase you've not yet watched it:
I used QuickTime to record the footage, and it was all edited together in FinalCut Pro X. If you want more details on how to do this, you should read the getting started with app previews article I wrote awhile ago.
Contacting the Press & Apple
I have a fair amount of contacts in the press, but most of them are focused on more serious apps, not games. Unsurprisingly when I emailed some of them to see if they were interested in covering Almost Impossible!, they said they weren't, some didn't even respond. I don't take it personally, it's just business. I know the press get pitches all day long. If it's not what they cover then I probably shouldn't have even emailed them but I did anyway just on the off chance they would.
Because I've been building software for a long-time I have a few contacts on the App Store Team (as well as the main email address that's floating around, check the final slides at the end of the WWDC App Store Marketing sessions). I emailed them to let them know my plans a few weeks before, this was purely so they knew about the game and could judge if they thought it was good enough to be featured.
While it didn't get a feature spot, it did appear in the "Best New Games" category on the front of the Store. If I hadn't have emailed Apple, this wouldn't have happened.
Launch & Coverage
I worked super hard to get some pre-launch buzz going, this included posting promo codes to forum threads on sites like Touch Arcade. I also released the teaser site and video just under a week before launch. It worked out okay, but it didn't get as much traffic as I was hoping for, but hey, everything was a bit of a rush.
Here's the graph for website visitors, you shouldn't be surprised to find that it mimics the revenue graph later on in the post.
I managed to find over 25 websites that reviewed or gave some kind of coverage to Almost Impossible! — Thankfully, it was all extremely positive.
“Almost Impossible is addictive, attractive, and awfully fun.” — MacNN
“Catchy chiptune music, and addictive gameplay” — Beautiful Pixels
“Extremely well-polished, addictive and frustrating in the best possible way.” — Noted
AppAdvice, ProductHunt, Touch Arcade Round-up, Touch Arcade, MacNN, Gamemob, iPlayApps, TouchTaPlay, Trucchi e Soluzioni, and again here. It was also review by, Beautiful Pixels, Makemac, MaciLove, HipsterPixel , Noted, AppTestsss, Apprecap, en25Megas, szifon, Cool Smartphone, MyApple, Seth Lilly, iCulture, MobileFreq, Slide To Play, Apple World Today, The Apple Lounge, and PocketGamer
New game from @dancounsell is the next flappy bird. But with a badass soundtrack.— Zac Siegel (@zac_siegel) October 29, 2015
I did however miss out on a lot of the huge tech sites, but that's kind of to be expected. I released a game on iOS, that's nothing special or newsworthy. So anyway, where does all this coverage, website traffic, and a position in the "Best New Games" section on the App Store get us exactly? Let's take a look at the numbers…
App Store Chart Position
Almost Impossible! made it into the top 100 paid apps on the App Store. I was hoping it'd get into the top ten, but it ran out of steam and peaked at 58 in the overall paid chart. These are the chart positions from the US App Store.
- Paid Overall: 58
- Paid Games: 30
- Paid Games > Arcade: 4
- Grossing Games > Arcade: 84
Almost Impossible! went higher than this in a lot of other countries, but as the US made up most of the sales it's probably a moot point.
Cost & Revenue Breakdown
So how much did this all cost, and was it worth the time and effort? To date the game has made $9,370 (USD), but we need to take off Apple's 30% and the development costs. Here's all the numbers:
Development Costs: - $2,191.98
- BuildBox: $1,200 (12 month contract)
- Apple Developer Account: $99
- Domain name: $29.60
- Logo (via 99Designs.com): $285 (Didn't use, re-drew it.)
- iOS Icon: $350 (Didn't use, re-drew it)
- Game Music & SoundFX (via Fiverr): $207.38
- Voiceover for trailer (via Fiverr): $21.00
App Store Revenue: $9,370
Let's do the maths and see how much we're left with:
- Revenue: $9,370
- Apple's 30%: - $3,250
- Development Costs - $2,191.98
This is just the revenue to-date. I plan to leave Almost Impossible! on the App Store and it will hopefully continue to generate more revenue. Not much, but a little.
Google Play Store?!
I didn't release Almost Impossible! on Android because I'm an Apple kinda guy, and this was a "fun" side-project. While Almost Impossible! hasn't been a block-buster hit, someone assumed it must have been and ripped it off anyway. They basically re-built the entire thing for android, right down to copying the levels. How crazy is that?
But theft is not limited to the Google Play Store, a guy on iOS just "borrowed" the Almost Impossible! icon for an entirely different game. Classy.
Interestingly, we also had this happen with Clear. The Clear rip-off has been on Google Play for a few years now and has had somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 installs.
I'm not worried, and I won't be doing anything about these rip-offs. I have better things to do with my time than chase down people copying my work.
So What Now?
It was a huge amount of work to get everything built, shipped and marketed properly, and looking back I'm not sure how I did it in a month. Although, I do know that I didn't get much sleep. I was up till 1 or 2am most nights. I'm really glad things are back to normal now.
In the end I think Almost Impossible! was a net positive experience. I'm glad I did it, but I'm not in a rush to repeat the experience. I'm annoyed with myself that I didn't go all in on the freemium route, it would have been good to experience that side of things.
By releasing Almost Impossible! it also gave me more of an understanding as to why so many developers spam the App Store with games and apps. Each new app provides a hit of cash, not a huge amount, but enough, maybe a months salary each time (or more if they get lucky). I think anyone could do this full time and make a living from it. Would I want to do that? Probably not.
If you have any questions or feedback, please ping me on Twitter.