Today's post is inspired by Mike Pinto’s recent Gamasutra blog about his game, Bik. Mike wrote “it is good for the community to have access to such [sales] figures,” and I agree. Back when I first started developing my game, Freediving Hunter, I searched high and low for information about indie game sales and found almost nothing (with the exception of Amir Rajan’s outstanding chronicle of A Dark Room). It was frustrating. Now that my game has been in the App Store for 8 months, I’m happy to tell my story with the hope that it will help new developers, and hopefully inspire other published indie developers to share their game’s details, too.
ABOUT THE GAME:
Freediving Hunter is the world’s first freedive spearfishing game for iOS. It is available only on the App Store. I’d planned to offer it on other platforms but I haven’t made enough money to justify spending more time on it. I priced the game at $1.99 with no in-app purchases required because I wanted players to feel that they got a great value. Player reviews have been extremely positive.
I started making Freediving Hunter in August, 2013 using Unity. I am a solo developer; I did all the coding and art myself. I didn’t want to mess with crowdsource funding for this game, so I continued with my day job as a freelance 3d modeler/animator and then worked on the game at night. As time went by, I worked my day job less and less and devoted more time to making the game. My wife’s steady income kept us going during this time; it was pretty lean around here, though. I slept about 4 hours a night. This lasted for 8 months until early April 2014, when I woke up one morning with heart attack symptoms and ended up in the hospital. I was only 43 years old but my blood pressure was off the charts. I wasn’t eating right or exercising; all I did was sit at my desk, eat crappy junk food, and work on the game.
This heart attack scare was a real wakeup call for me. I was trying so hard to make the game perfect that there was no end in sight, and the stress was too much. By now the game was bug-free; all I was doing was adding feature after feature after feature, and the pursuit of perfection was stopping my progress. When I got out of the hospital, I decided that the game was good enough to release. I could always tweak it later through updates. It was important to my physical and mental health to just get the thing out there.
The game debuted with zero fanfare; I had no marketing budget or marketing skills, so I hadn’t done any pre-release promotion. I didn’t know anyone in the industry or have any connections in high places (and I still don’t). I did send out some press releases and got nice coverage from the local newspapers and radio. I saw a slight increase in sales following this, but nothing earth shattering. I joined online spearfishing and freediving forums and spread the word there, which was very helpful. I definitely recommend connecting with potential players that way, especially if you have a niche game like mine. And I started a Facebook page, Twitter feed, and a website for the game.
I also sent out a ton of emails and promo codes to game reviewers. I hit a brick wall for four long months. Finally I got a response from a reviewer in the UK who decided to make Freediving Hunter his Indie Game of the Week. All told, I managed to attract a grand total of four game reviews. That’s it. None of these reviewers were affiliated with the major sites; they were all relatively new to the game journalism world. The good news is that they were all positive reviews, and I’m very grateful to those folks for taking the time to try the game and write about it. But unfortunately, I didn’t notice any increase in sales after these reviews went live.
I bought a $250 ad in a regional fishing magazine and saw no return on that investment whatsoever. My sister gave me $200 for an iAd and I got no return on that, either. I seem to have gotten the best return from the time I spend on my Facebook page. I’ve “boosted” a few posts (at $20 a pop) and saw sales and page Likes increase enough to justify the expense. I also saw slight increases in sales every time I did a game update; I’ve done six of those.
The highlight of this whole thing (so far) came at the end of July, 2014 when my wife woke me one morning with the news that Freediving Hunter had just hit #9 on the US iPhone sports game charts. We were like, WOW! To break into the Top Ten in the US, we must be selling thousands of games! We went out for a champagne lunch to celebrate. The next day we checked our sales numbers on iTunes Connect and found we’d sold just 473 games the previous two days.
Here’s a VERY ROUGH breakdown of what it has cost me* to create and promote my iOS game:
Part-time (and eventually, full-time) game development for 8 months, based on my typical day job income: $32,000
License, software (I already had 3dMax and Photoshop): $1,950
Assets (sound fx, music): $100
Promotion (ads, website): $850
Approximate Total: $34,900
And here is that all-important App Store lifetime sales data, from April 24, 2014-January 12, 2015:
6,480 units sold to date = $9,060.00 USD
So as you can see, I pretty much lost my ass on this game from a financial standpoint. Still, I would do it all over again because:
- It was a dream come true to single-handedly make a video game that is loved by players worldwide.
- I have learned so much about game development.
- I have learned so much about healthy living. I’ll never go back to my old sedentary, junk food-fueled lifestyle again.
- I continue to get recurring income in the form of tiny checks from Apple.
My plan for the immediate future is to start developing my next game while continuing to nurture Freediving Hunter for as long as it makes sense to do so. Freediving Hunter will always be my baby, but it’s time to move on.
I hope something I've written here resonates with you and helps you in the development of your game. Good luck!
*Your mileage may vary