My first mobile game on the iOS apple store, Play the Field, was a great learning experience in many ways, but to be honest the number of downloads was quite below my expectations, especially considering it was free. I knew the mobile game market was dog-eat-dog, but nevertheless I think I was still a bit too naive.
I still feel the game is a lot of fun, and at least one person who tested the game for me (who had experience with RTS games) said he felt it was enjoyable to play. But it’s pretty clear to me neither the gameplay nor the difficulty was the main factor in the small number of downloads. I’m pretty sure the game’s simple, unrefined visuals, was the real culprit. Although I tried to market those as “retro” or “minimalistic”, the actual number of games with visuals that simple that become popular seems pretty small. The game’s unfamiliar genre (“casual” RTS) may also have been a factor in the lack of popularity.
While I have recently done some experimental advertising for PTF, and may continue to do so in the future, I have decided on spending the biggest chunk of my time on a new mobile game. It’s something along the lines of a puzzle game influenced by classic games.
This time around I have a different set of priorities, the most important being to spend a greater amount of effort and time on polishing the visual and UI aspects of the game. In all my game projects up until now I’ve always went the path of least resistance (meaning I spent the most time of my time on other elements such as gameplay, AI, level design, difficulty, etc.), but this time I will shift that balance.
Since my lack of artistic ability isn’t likely to change anytime soon, I’m making the best of what I have – still trying to keep to simple visuals while adding things here and there to please the eye. In particular I’m trying to add more animations to the game, for the background as well as at the start of each level. In between each player’s turn there is also a special animation I’ve spent some time refining.
Besides this emphasis on visuals, I’m hoping my decision to make a more standard puzzle game will give it better chances at popularity, while acknowledging that genre is extremely competitive.
The final thing I’m planning on putting more effort into is making an enticing preview video, since I feel that’s one of the most important things determining whether a user makes the jump to actually download an app or not. Of course the screen shots are also important, and since animations won’t show up in these I’ll have to pick what to showcase wisely.
I’m aiming at the somewhat arbitrary figure of 2x over my previous game’s downloads, though part of me is hoping I can get at least 10x. Even 100x wouldn’t result in a famous game, but if I can see concrete progress in some form it will motivate me more to keep along this route. Otherwise, I may chose to devote my time elsewhere.
Programming is great fun, but there’s nothing quite like the thrill of real users around the world downloading your mobile game, with a great degree of unpredictability around what will be popular and what won’t.