September 19, 2017

From Zero to 15M Downloads, an Indie Dev Journey

I've been an indie developer for two years now. My initial goal was to experiment, learn, and have fun as a mobile game developer, and for the lifetime of Part Time Monkey I've been able to do so. Here's a look on what has happened during that time, from oldest to newest.


-----------

TIM - THE UNSATISFIED ARTIST
Goal: Experience the Process
Dev time: ~3 weeks
Downloads: ~50


At the very beginning I wanted to know what it takes to start a project from scratch and have it published on the App Store and Google Play. There was no expectation of reaching lots of downloads or revenue, so I just basically cloned Flappy Bird with a slightly different control mechanic.

I learnt a lot about programming, as I hadn't done any real game programming before, and got to familiarize myself with the platform portals and tools (Google Play, iTunes Connect and XCode). The project was a success for what I set out to do.


-----------

MONKEYRAMA
Goal: Make a Premium Game
Dev time: ~1,5 months
Downloads: ~200K


The idea was basically to mimic Boom Blox and Angry Birds in 3D, and see how a premium game ($0.99) is received on the stores. Initially the game didn't get much featuring, to which I think the reason was that it didn't have much features overall, and no platform-specific features at all. As a premium game it didn't get many downloads, but it was very well received by the players who ended up buying it - with avg. rating of ~4.7/5. 

I eventually made the game free with one rewarded ad placement, and as such it's gotten ~10X downloads and revenue compared to it's premium life cycle. So it was pretty obvious that my games would be free with ads from that point on.

At that point I still didn't feel very confident as a programmer, so I couldn't implement many of the features I would've wanted to.


-----------

Image result for party soccer part time monkey

PARTY SOCCER
Goal: Experiment with local multiplayer
Dev time: ~2 weeks
Downloads: ~5K


I had a bit of spare time while waiting for Monkeyrama to go through the review process, so I had a little bit of fun making a local multiplayer soccer game for just iPads. It didn't have any monetization in it, but helped me learn more about programming and to again experience the process of launching etc.



-----------


PROTOTYPES
Goal: Find the next game
Dev time: ~1.5 months


After Monkeyrama's failure I started prototyping a bunch of different things. I had recently watched Star Wars, the one with the pod racing bit, which served as inspiration for the prototype. The meta-design on that became too much of a burden, and the level design required too much manual labor, so I ended up dropping the project.

I had also played Hill Climb Racing, and I figured I could basically do the same but in 3D, prettier, and with physics. It was fun, but as people tested the prototype, their initial comments were along the lines of "so this is just Hill Climb Racing?" which was enough of a hint for me to drop the project. Not cool to be a rip-off developer.



-----------


SPACE BANG
Goal: Monetize through F2P
Dev time: ~2.5 months
Downloads: ~100K



Through the previous prototyping phase I ended up with a space shooter game. I figured to dip my fingers into "real F2P gaming" and for the first time implement IAPs, social features, multiple rewarded ads, infinite gameplay, upgrades and whatnot. The "test" here was basically to see if the market is so f*cked up that it's enough to make an OK game with lots of monetization possibilities to become rich. Thankfully, I found out that it's not enough.

The game was fairly well received and got a bit of featuring, but still wasn't enough to keep on updating forever and make a business around it.

To this date, though, Space Bang is the game with the highest LTV ($0.2) of all my games, so from user acquisition point of view this would've been the thing to keep on doing. However I didn't feel like I want to keep on doing games like that, as in very basic gameplay with no real excitement and the focus on milking the players.


-----------


GTA EXPRESS
Goal: Make an endless playground-game
Dev time: ~1 months


I had played too much GTA 5. I figured I could do that for mobile, with cartoony graphics. I didn't have a clear design for it, so I just started making all kinds of features. In the prototype you could 
- do missions as a policeman, fire fighter, gangster, pizza delivery guy
- gamble at the casino
- buy and drive different kinds of vehicles
- race against AI
- visit the movie theater
- buy properties that generated money
- receive text messages and phone calls through your mini iPhone
- and whatnot

The player's goal was... uh. I don't know. It became a big blur of stuff, so I just dumped it.


-----------


SUBCONTRACTING
Goal: Make some money
Time: ~4 months


I did a bunch of prototyping for other companies such as Ubisoft, Rovio and Armada. I got to learn a buttload about making games of different genres, while someone else was paying for it! I even got to do a 3-week gig in Ubisoft Romania, which was a great experience.

Ultimately I figured that as the prototyping was going so well, I could perhaps form a business around just that; prototyping for others. However, in the end I had to be true to myself and keep on fooling around on the indie frontier.


-----------


KIDS DISCOVER DINOSAURS
Dev time: ~1.5 months
Downloads: ~100K
Goal: Experiment on kids' games


During my time at Romania I met a dude who really wanted to form a business around kids' games. He had a prototype and most of the art already done, but needed a developer to take it til the end. I figured why not try out what it'd be like to do games that are completely different from what I had gotten used to - on design, monetization and target audience. 

It was fun to do, and a key learning for me was that even though this kind of games rarely get featured, they could potentially be a real business. The conversion rate from a downloading user to a paying user is insanely high: it's getting downloaded from 50-100 times a day, but the one IAP that it has is being purchased 5-15 times a day. That is somewhere around 10% of downloaders also use money on it. Obviously it is the parents who buy it for their kids, I hope. The game was launched a year ago, but this phenomenon is still steadily happening.

So, I would imagine, that there would be a real business, quite "effortlessly", to make quality kids games, re-skin them with different themes, and ultimately generating a nice steady revenue stream that isn't affected by the same rise-and-fall syndrome than "normal casual games."


-----------


BREAKOUT NINJA
Dev time: ~3 weeks
Downloads: ~2M
Goal: Minimalistic approach


I had played a lot of Ketchapp games, especially Ketchapp Summer Sports, and really got hooked on it. The control mechanic was fresh to me, so I wanted to try it in a different environment, and add vertical movement to it. 

I also wanted to approach a visual style that is fast to do and easily transformed into different themes. I ended up going with a silhouette approach where the silhouettes can be just re-colored through programming.

This game was my first mega-hit on my scale. 2M downloads and more than a year's worth of income. It was the first moment where I felt that I could do this full-time without the constant fear of soon having to think about getting a job.


-----------


SPACE BANG (published by iDreamSky)
Goal: Publisher experience
Dev time: ~3 weeks
Downloads: ~100K


After Breakout Ninja I was approached by a lot of people, including publishers. One of them was iDreamSky, who had previously launched games such as Subway Surfers and Temple Run on the Chinese market. They wanted to publish my previous game Space Bang in China, which sounded good to me.

I ended up getting a lot of experience on what it's like working with a publisher, and implementing external SDKs. The game wasn't a huge success, so we didn't continue to update it, but nonetheless a great and eye-opening experience.


-----------


SPACE FRONTIER (published by Ketchapp)
Goal: Publisher experience
Dev time: ~2 months
Downloads: ~11M


Through my subcontracting phase I got to know the founder of RedLynx, Antti Ilvessuo. RedLynx and Ketchapp were both acquired by Ubisoft. Antti is a big fan of Ketchapp's games, and so am I. Through the acquisition of Ubisoft-Ketchapp, Antti had an idea to publish a game through Ketchapp which was partly done within Ubisoft, and he was looking for a developer partner which ended up being me.

Antti was in charge of game design and getting the deal done, while I was in charge of the development. We had the game mostly done in the beginning of year, and ended up working on it on-off throughout the first half of year implementing SDKs and so on. Finally it was released in the beginning of August, and became an immediate hit.



-----------


SILLY WALKS
Goal: Publish a "Real Game"
Dev time: ~4 months
Downloads: ~2M


I had been searching for a second Monkey Man to join me in my adventures. There was quite a bit of interest and I eventually started a project with Asmo Jussila from Ragemode Entertainment, a fellow Finnish indie developer who had released a bunch of games with minor success.

Silly Walks is based on one of Asmo's prototypes, from which the control mechanic is taken. We designed the world around it and figured out our roles; Asmo would work on game and level design, and I'd work on design and implementation. Together we came up with the visual look of the game, and ended up finding Simo Kovanen, a great artist to take it to the next level and to do all the assets that we'd need.

While this game was a big success on its launch week, and still is doing OK, it seems like it may be a better idea to focus on the next games instead of keep on doing infinite updates.

-----------


Summa summarum

I set out to experiment many different things, and ended up going through many variations of the opportunities a game developer has. 

I learned that the "luck" behind becoming a successful mobile game developer isn't just about a single game's success on launch, but instead picking the right opportunities wherever you go, and keeping at it.

February 3, 2017

The Search for the Second Monkey Man

The initial search for the second Monkey Man has started. The role is rather vague on what I'm looking for so let's see where this post takes us, if anywhere.

(Click for Bigger)


















THE ROLE

To start out you need to be a great artist with a passion in game design and content creation. You don't necessarily need to have much experience on making games as long as you have the enthusiasm and eagerness to learn for it. I will teach and help you to become a solid pro in Unity and design/content creation in general. You will need to have 3D experience as Unity works in 3D environments, and that will be your main tool. When we make games together, I'll provide the tools for content creation and we'll further design and iterate them together.

You don't have to do any UI or programming if you don't want to, as I get the kicks out of those. However it's not a negative aspect if you have the desire for them too.

There will be miscellaneous tasks to share with me, too. Such as communicating with players, making videos, cleaning up player data, updating websites, QA, "marketing", etc. They don't take much time though, and are very adhoc usually.

To "market" this to you, this is not a normal job where you do shit and then get paid. Instead it's an opportunity to learn how games are really made inside out from an expert (yeah, I count myself as one!), and eventually become a partner in Part Time Monkey.

THE DEAL

The deal would start out as a freelance gig with something like 20€/h with a revenue share deal on all the games we collaborate on. We'll raise those figures as we go and the more certain we are that we're a match made in heaven. Eventually, ultimately, the goal is to make you a full-on partner in Part Time Monkey with shares, benefits and whatnot.

The hours will likely vary quite a lot, as there might be times that not much is going on and times that all hell is broken loose. Eventually I will include you in all my projects (other collabs and subcontracting gigs etc.) if you want.

At first we'll work at our homes, hopefully having face-to-face meetings every now and then. Most of the communication will happen through Skype or similar. Possibility to work together at my home studio also exists.

THE GAMES 

We will focus on creating small casual games with short development times (max 2mo per game). When something flies, we'll keep doing updates for it with dev times ~1-2 weeks. The games don't have a specific genre, so anything goes, really. The design should always start a portrait game with one-button mechanics, and elaborated later if seen fit.


Send all queries to contact@parttimemonkey.com or ask in the comment section.

February 2, 2017

Breakout Ninja, the Tail (+ v1.1 Update)

As promised, here's "the tail" of Breakout Ninja, i.e. "What happened to the revenue and downloads after the launch week." It's not very surprising though.

(click for bigger)








Between 5th and 7th the launch with the feature spots happened, so the revenue started streaming in, with the highest paying day being the launch week's Sunday.

Between 13th and 15th the feature spots updated again, and Ninja wasn't very well featured anymore, which led into the noticeable drop in revenue.

The latter part of the tail seems to be shrinking slowly day-by-day. I'm a little surprised it's still doing about $100-$200 a day, as I assumed it'd soon go down to a few bucks per day.

The download counts follows pretty much exactly the same curve, being now at a pretty constant 1K - 1.5K a day.

Total revenue now: $36K
Total downloads now: 865K


MONKEYRAMA RISES FROM THE DEAD

What I definitely was not expecting during this period was a feature spot for Monkeyrama in China. My guess it has nothing to do with Breakout Ninja, and everything to do with the fact that the "Year of the Monkey" in China is ending, as the feature spot was in a category called "Quit Monkeyin' Around." 

That spot ended up more than doubling the download amount of Monkeyrama, which is now 156K.

Monkeyrama has no IAPs and only one incentived ad-placement, which can only be used when failing a level. I find it quite interesting, because the spot also ended up more than quadrupling the revenue of Monkeyrama, being now at $11K + IAPs.


BREAKOUT NINJA UPDATE (v1.1)

After the holidays I had about 3 days to make the first update - if I wanted to stay in schedule. The last 3 days have been quiiiite a busy time, as I've clocked in about ~14-16h per day. But now it's done.

The update has pretty much a completely new design. It has 4 "Infinite" levels, 4 "Three-Star" levels and 12 "Hard" levels. It's also got iMessage Stickers, a new menu system and a bunch of improvements here and there. The IAP also now unlocks all the levels on top of removing the ads.

The update will be out next week's Thursday (9th of Feb).

Here's a sneak peek video, which only shows some parts of the "Three-Star" levels.


January 13, 2017

Breakout Ninja, first week

Phew, what a week!

Breakout Ninja's success was obviously a big surprise to me. I figured it'd likely do a bit better than Monkeyrama, but this was very unexpected. The original plan was to release it, get the few thousand downloads and be done with it. Obviously now I'm very enthusiastic about releasing the next update!

If you haven't downloaded it yet, do so now
https://itunes.apple.com/app/breakout-ninja/id1181855058

As with my previous games, I wanted to share the numbers and details behind the first week, as I believe this is something that interests at least many indie devs and can be learnt from, to some extent.











LAUNCH METRICS (First Week)
  • 650K+ downloads
  • $1.1K+ revenue (uncut) from IAPs (No Ads IAP, conversion ~0.08%)
  • $23K+ ad revenue (~$18 avg. eCPM)
  • 4.5/5 average rating
  • Featured in multiple countries, most meaningful US #7 New Games We Love
  • Download chart achievements
    • Top5 Games in 12 countries, including US
    • Top10 Games in 30 countries, including Canada, Australia, Germany
    • Top100 Games in 110 countries, including UK and what have you
The game has been covered on multiple media outlets such as Touch Arcade, Pocket Gamer, 148Apps and Cult of Mac (see links at the bottom).

Yesterday Apple again updated their featuring spots (happens every Thursday) and it seems Breakout Ninja has vanished from all lists. It will be very interesting to see how the current chart positions behave in a scenario like this; whether the game comes crashing down instantly, and if not, how long of a tail does it get. Will make another post about this within a few weeks.

Another positive surprise arose from all of Ninja's success; the implementation of my cross-promotion to my other games seemed to have work well. Before Breakout Ninja, Space Bang and Monkeyrama downloads had dropped to 10-50 per day. Within the last week they've been downloaded about 10K times together, and have made about a fifth of the revenue that they had made in their entire lifetimes. So, cross promotion definitely pays off to some extent!


DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
The game took about 2 weeks and 3 days to finish, give or take a day. I used ~3 days on prototyping the game about 3-4 months ago and dropped the project, as I didn't think it was good enough to continue. About a month after that my girlfriend Eeva suggested (insisted) that'd I'd continue it since she really liked the game. I figured welp I have nothing better to do really, so why not. From that point two weeks later it was done and good to go.

The inspiration came from Ketchapp's Summer Sports. It has a similar mechanic but instead of circles they show where to tap on the ground. Figured it was quite fresh, and wanted to put it in use in a more fast-paced environment - hence the Ninja.


VERSION 1.1 (Planned Release 9th of Feb)
Breakout Ninja's first update, v1.1, will get 5 all-new levels with 3-star rating and a hard mode in each. Most of the "meta" work is already done, and one level almost finished. With limited user-testing it has proven to be even more fun and addicting than the endless game-play. A sneak peek will follow.

Unfortunately, as I didn't plan for the success, I had booked an un-cancelable holiday for two weeks starting from tomorrow - which is the reason for the late release date for the update. But after the holiday, with fresh eyes, the update will be better!


July 8, 2016

What now?

I'm not sure if just developing games by myself is the best thing for me. It's been fun for the past half a year, but it's unhealthy physically (daily steps around 500, between kitchen and man cave), and socially (only communication is with my girlfriend). It is also extremely hard to break through and start generating an actual income (doesn't mean one shouldn't try, though).

I've had the opportunity to work on a few interesting subcontracting gigs while indieing around, and they've been challenging and equally fun. I also made a prototype as a gig for someone else, which was kickassingly fun; I got to develop fast and only needed to deliver a good prototype; a week worth of work.

I've also gotten a few offers to join a company, or start from scratch and co-found a company with others. Some publishing deal negotiations, too.

However, even though I appreciate all of it and many of them are very tempting, here's a few things I've enjoyed the most and could see myself doing. Let me know if you know anyone in need of anything like below:


Helping Others
Whenever I get to use my knowledge of game development to help others, I enjoy it a lot. Whether its been in form of art direction, Unity lessons, programming tutoring, audio design, game design, or even game development mindsets in general. I'm not a master in any of the previous, but I believe I am at least okay or good in all of them, which makes me a good "game development generalist."

It would be awesome if it was possible to do this as a partial business, in form of private lessons, classes, or existing teams.


Prototypes
People keep telling me how fast I develop my games. I try to keep my feet on the ground, but I guess it's at least partially true, considering all my games' development times. As mentioned before, I recently made a prototype in less than a week for a company and they seemed very happy with it. They wanted a proof of concept. I really loved developing it, as it was a quick thing and it seemed to really help the other party.

This is definitely something I'd be happy doing for a living; someone having a high-level idea they want to test in action, and I deliver.


Small Games
I do still get the kicks out of creating complete games, too! But if the game takes more than 2-3 months to finish, or if it's too content-heavy, I tend to get bored with it. I would love to deliver complete games based on others' ideas as subcontracting gigs, as long as they are small and casual. The terms would be obviously negotiable, whether it's a 100% work-for-money, rev shares, or other forms.


Starting Up
Founding my second actual game company would be nice, but it is extremely hard to find the right partners. It's very unlikely this would happen anytime soon. But I'm open for discussions. :)


Aaaanyway...

It's been a cool ~8 months being an indie. Now it's time to take a break, do a little roadtrippin' in the U. S. of A. with my lovely girlfriend and friends, and just chill. Monkey out.

July 7, 2016

Unity + Asset Store = WIN

Recently I've had the chance to work on a cool project as a freelancing designer. We used a bunch of different tools - some in-house and some from Unity's asset store. I knew the power of asset store beforehand, but now it became even more clear.

There are TONS of ready-made tools, helpers, assets, effects, models and whatnot on the asset store for extremely cheap prices. I'll list my favorites here. I'm sure some of these will dramatically effect the development times of yours, too, if you give them a chance.

Dreamteck Splines (26.80€)
https://www.assetstore.unity3d.com/en/#!/content/61926

An insanely designer-friendly tool for creating anything with splines, including extruding meshes, placing objects, animating, etc. Almost any project can take some advantage of it.


Quickbrush (13.40€)
https://www.assetstore.unity3d.com/en/#!/content/15237

Designer- and artist-friendly tool to place objects on meshes with lots of customizability. An absolute must-have if you need to, for example, decorate your levels with prefabs etc.


I2 Localization (40.20€) 
https://www.assetstore.unity3d.com/en/#!/content/14884

I was worried that when ultimately I need to start localizing my games, I'd have trouble developing the tools for it. With a quick browse in asset store, I found this gem. Extremely easy and developer-friendly system with a complete localization implementation using either Google Sheets or local files.


Realistic Car Controller (44.67€)
https://www.assetstore.unity3d.com/en/#!/content/16296

For games that have cars, obviously. Again very designer-friendly implementation with lots of customizability. Includes not only the car behaviour, but also implementation for dynamic lights, audio, damage system, etc.


EXAMPLE TIME!


To give you an idea on just how powerful Unity can be especially when utilizing asset store, here's a game I made. It took about 3 hours from start to finish. It's not a shippable game obviously, but it has a lot of features that would take months to do from scratch if you wouldn't utilize the asset store.

In this game I used Dreamteck Splines, Realistic Car Controller, Quickbrush, and all the visual assets were bought, or downloaded for free, from the asset store. The visual assets I used cost about $3 to be precise.

The game required programming only to create the UI functionality and the finish line. Everything else was out-of-the-box ready-made Unity asset store magic.

Controls are WASD. It's an executable in a zip-file. Have fun!
http://parttimemonkey.com/private/AssetStoreRules.zip


April 14, 2016

Space Bang Launch Week

Space Bang has been globally available on the App Store for a whole week now. This post covers the key metrics and other information about the project and the launch.















LAUNCH METRICS (First Week)

  • 25,000 downloads
  • $219 revenue (uncut) from IAPs
  • $2,300 revenue from UnityAds (~$20 avg. eCPM)
  • 4.4/5 average rating
  • ~24% day-1 retention
  • 20% day-7 retention (might be flawed)
  • ~1.5 avg. sessions per user

Similar to Monkeyrama, people seem to dig the game but don't necessarily stick around for that long. 

The game got some featuring but not nearly in the best places available. The best spot it had was the iTunes Home Page, Best New Games position #12 in the UK, which also brought in a bit more than 50% of all revenue.












It also got 191 other miscellaneous highlights here an there.

Considering the fact that the project took about 2 months to develop from start to finish, the metrics are quite a positive surprise for me as an indie dev. The first update (out 5th of May) took 5 days to develop, and if it gets anything close to the launch visibility, I'm already running a "sustainable business"! That is, if I can survive with just noodles and live in a cardboard box.

It took me by surprise how well incentivized video ads monetize, and how high the eCPMs can get especially during the launch week.

Another nice-to-learn fact was that the launch of Space Bang affected the downloads of Monkeyrama, and even Party Soccer, too. Nothing major, but some.

With the two actual launches I've now done (Space Bang & Monkeyrama), I've come to learn that Apple really digs quality over anything else. Even though about 3500 games get launched every week, it's possible for indie devs like me to get visibility on their store fronts even without a recognizable name, high marketing budgets, large teams, or long development times.



And obviously, I've started the development of my next game already. I call it "GTA Express." More of that later.