Hamster Chase Released: How I got ten thousand downloads in eight days
Hamster Chase is the story of a family of happy hamsters trying to make their way home while on the run from evil Sour Puss. You help them get there by guiding them around obstacles by tilting your phone -- think of it like multiball Labyrinth meets puzzle game.
I developed Hamster Chase for iOS and Android in my spare time throughout most of 2012. The artwork was created by Meta3D studios, the music and sound effects were purchased from AudioJungle, and Novy PR did the press release and provided helpful advice during development. Testing was done through iBetaTest. I did the rest of the work using the Unity engine.
The game was released on January 15th as a free Android app, free iOS app and 99 cent iOS app without ads and all special features unlocked. The reception was better than expected; the game received 4.64 stars on Google Play and 4.5 on the App Store! There were also a number of positive reviews from players and professional reviewers alike! Both the iOS free and Android free platforms followed identical trends: 800+ downloads per day for two days, and then 200-700 each subsequent day. I attribute this to the way news and reviews trickle out slowly over days. The 99 cent iOS full version got 48 purchases in the first two days, and now averages 2-4 per day.
What I think went right
- I identified the weaknesses from my previous games; mainly art and marketing, and made it a point to commission seasoned professionals to help me in those areas.
- The release wasn't rushed. Technically I could have delivered in December, but it would have been in a sea of other releases. January is a relatively quiet month, and waiting gave me extra testing time too.
- I used a robust game engine, and had the game well tested. Of the over 4100 Android players, only 3 crashes were reported to my Google Play portal in the past week. I've also had less than a handful of bug reports; none of them worthy enough to crash-and-burn the game for everyone. It was pleasant to not have to spend release week fixing things and scrambling to get updates out.
- This is my first game with a cartoony look and feel. It really adds to the immersion and fun factor! The game even has a Hamster Cage with playful hamsters which serves no purpose but to make people laugh and go "daaaaaw!"
- Simple controls, simple tutorials...but challenging levels.
- At least one major feature planned in a future update; already half-finished. It would be a shame to release a game, find it to be popular, and then realize you have no reason to make an update! Sooner or later people are going to stop playing the campaign; give them reasons to keep coming back!
- A professionally managed press release. Luis Levy from Novy PR was instrumental in not only helping to get word out, but for helping me make decisions during the game's development cycle which made the game much better (and his job easier). You can credit him with suggesting the cat "Sour Puss."
- Social networking check-ins from within the game. I don't have a way to measure their impact, but every Tweet and Facebook check-in helps!
What could have gone better
- I accidentally released the iOS free version with just one screenshot. That's what I get for thinking "I'll put the screenshots in after I wrap up my last few bug fixes." I can't fix it until the next update is out.
- The art is great, but some players thought it could be better. I recently saw my screenshot next to that of another game on the same webpage...it was the same top-down-like perspective, but theirs was much more detailed, happier and stylish. It's my fault for not taking more time to review other games for artistic inspiration and ideas.
- Monetization. Hardly anyone bought the 99 cent version, and ad clicks don't bring in much. I really didn't build the game around earning a profit, and it looks like it will take quite a long time to break even unless something changes. Maybe if I sold hamster hat accessories, I could have earned all the investment back by now. In-app purchases seem to be the way to go these days
- More pre-release marketing. I'm terrible at blogging and tweeting; I'd rather use the time to program. If I had kept a steady stream of news going, maybe I would have had an audience of people waiting to download it.
- I like to quietly develop on my own, but I think the game could have been better if I worked on it in a small dedicated team. It's tough to write a puzzle game alone because the difficulty curve is based on your and -only- your skills. Someone else may have found better concept art, better obstacle ideas, and shared some of the workload.
The release is still new; so I need to keep a continuing eye out for bug reports from users and reviewers, finish my secret upcoming feature, and be more engaged in both the gaming and development communities. I'd love to get your feedback, too!