Over a year ago I released my first Android game after a few months of working and posting my progress on wykop.pl with #odzeradogierdevelopera hashtag. with literally no prior knowledge in gamemaking, I've managed to create a simple game which has been positively acclaimed.
Now, having gained a lot of experience and with a slightly new vision and approach to mobile gamedev, I'm publishing my fourth game - MiniCab: Animal Express. I'd like to briefly outline the differences I notice regarding my actions and choices.
When I was releasing my first game, I had no marketing knowledge whatsoever. I was driven by the presumption that a good game will sell itself. But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, even the best, the most innovative game with poor advertising won't be a success or, what's worse, a well marketed crappy game may be a hit! That's the problem with the mobile games market. Flooding the market with garbage which cunningly imitates popular games or films by using strikingly similar graphics, using keywords (so-called ASO) and so on. A large part of such games are completely unplayable. What's more - they shouldn't even be called games at all, although they hold higher ranking positions than true games simply by misleading those less-aware gamers who are oblivious to such trickeries. Of course, everything is done in accordance with law, because there is no direct copyright infringement.
Back to reVoid marketing, which was pretty much non-existent, the only publicity and marketing was achieved through my reports in a form of posts tagged #odzeradogierdevelopera on wykop.pl. The summary post has been upvoted by over 1000 users. That contributed to a high ranking position on the first day after publication in the Play Store and a high download rate, although it has dropped and now the game is downloaded by a few users a week.
In total, the game has been downloaded 34,878 times, 20% on the first week, and 60% of the downloads were from Poland.
reVoid - total downloads
A few months after reVoid release I started thinking about a new game. I thought that it'd be cool to make something quickly, try to meet a certain short deadline. I settled on 14 days and after those two weeks under low workload I released a simple game without any marketing coverage. I've only made one post on wykop.pl/mikroblog about the release. How many downloads? A little over 900. The game didn't really catch on. Yes, maybe it wasn't the most remarkable game, but first of all it was pretty much unheard of :) It's important to note that every day app stores are flooded with hundreds of new products; over 500 new apps are added to Play Store each day! That's why it's impossible for a potential gamer to find a desirable game on their own - they need help and that's why marketing is so important.
Fly! Fly - total downloads
After Fly! Fly! it took me quite a long time to bring myself to start another project. I made a few prototypes but none of them were suitable to become a legitimate game. Then wykop.pl user @Oskarek89 suggested that we cooperate on production of a football-themed game. The cooperation was based on the premise that I manage the development and he makes sure that the game sells out, using his fanpage and connections. It was a good decision, because I was able to focus on game making without bothering with the marketing.
On the first week, the game has been downloaded 14,000 times and after that it skyrocketed to a high position in the ranking. Though it was downloaded mostly in Poland (86%), it was virtually non-existent in other countries. And that's the next issue: when a game gains popularity on the biggest market - USA - its popularity rapidly spreads throughout other countries through the media. In the case of Poland, everything stays here and, for all intents and purposes, restricting the marketing only to Polish market makes our game unavailable to other markets.
In total, Hools Run has been downloaded 25,337 times, 51% of the downloads happened on the first week.
Hools Run - total downloads
Minicab Animal Express
At the beginning it was supposed to be a project similar to Fly! Fly! - a simple pixel-art game about driving a taxi created in no more than 3 weeks. I ended up making it for nearly three months :) It was all because in the course of its production I found that it's not a good idea to release the next game as soon as possible, since no one is chasing me. I realized it'll be better to apply myself, work a little longer and release a game which is much better than every next pixel-art shitty game. I also implemented some changes in terms of marketing. I started to show the game in its various stages of production, not just on wykop.pl, but also on foreign sites, i.e. on reddit or Twitter. The game hasn't gained much popularity on those sites, but with each new post it piqued the interest of several people who praised some of its aspects, asked about the release date and so on.
I prepared a presskit with the most important information, screenshots and gameplay, and I sent it to Polish and foreign gaming and Android websites, hoping that they will publish some information about my game in the form of news/reviews. This kind of marketing costs nothing, and can really give a lot. Most of these sites warmly welcome any information about the games directly from their developers - this way presskit news are almost ready, and the journalists who are reportedly always very busy, are very eager to indulge in the opportunity to use any free stuff. Of course, provided that the game is good enough and worthy of publication :)
With that in mind, it's important not to be overeager, no one likes spam in their mailbox. The message must be sent once, to a proper address. Some newsrooms have a separate box/forms to contact the developers or specific individuals on tech websites who specialize in gaming.
Mobile gamedev it is not, as I discovered, a simple matter, especially for someone who works alone, dealing with all the aspects of production: starting with graphics, through gameplay, to the marketing. During this year of game dev, I've learned many new things, but still I barely even touched on the subject. It is essential for every developer who works alone (and who has no intention of going to any publisher and would rather release their own game by themselves) to start showing it to the world as soon as possible, gather opinions, comments and ideas. Reddit, twitter, gamedev forums, groups on Facebook, itch.io. It's also a very good idea to start a devlog e.g. on Tumblr (example: http://jettoast.tumblr.com/). If someone starts to show their game two weeks before the release, they can be sure that it won't succeed. Building up the position on the market starts long before the release of the game, especially if you don't have millions for big advertising campaigns.
The second issue is building a community. This is important, because faithful and devoted community surrounding a particular game can, in addition to support during various stages of production, yield a nice profit and provide free advertising. The third issue is the search for new opportunities. Instead of doing everything by yourself, you can hire a person or company that specializes in independent game marketing ($$$ needed) or you can contact a publisher. Nowadays, more and more publishers are running special programs for independent developers where they offer technical, financial and marketing support for the game in exchange for share in profits (examples: http://www.11bitstudios.com/pl/launchpad/ or http://www.publishing.vividgames.com/). Then there is the question: will I earn more by publishing the game on my own or with the help of a publisher who will want a large portion of the profits in return? Everyone has to answer that by themselves. I am guided by a simple principle: it is better to get 10% of something than 100% of nothing :)
What about my finances? How much money have I managed to earn in this multi-billion-dollar mobile gaming market so far? A little less than 250$. All of my games are 100% free and the only way of monetizing is through the ads. My games are, what's very important, released only on one platform - Android, which is mainly due to the lack of funds for investment in iOS platform on which the entry threshold is much higher than in the Play Store. I'd rather not talk about Windows Phone platform.
And this way I've described my first year of amateur gamedev. In this short text I failed to cover all the aspects and details, so if you feel unsatisfied or have any questions, feel free to discuss, at the same time I encourage you to download my youngest child: MiniCab Animal Express :)