Bounty Hunter Postmortem: Cowboys and Fails

This is the story of the successes and failures of Bounty Hunter, the first iOS game of my own that took 2 years in development.

In 2011, after several years developing iOS apps and games for our customers, we decided to create and launch our own game. It had to be something that would make the player move a little and develop their reaction, too. The first thing that came to mind was drawing guns and shooting. That made the cowboy theme pretty obvious. So the concept of our first game, a cowboy duel simulator under a working title “Bluetooth Duel”, was born.

1. Thousands of Downloads vs Monetization and Updates.

As the name suggests, our game used bluetooth to connect the players. Inspired by scenes from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” & Co, we tried to reproduce a classic cowboy duel: the one who draws the gun and shoots faster survives. The first drafts of the art were styled as old Wild West photos. That’s how they looked:

Finally, the game was ready and uploaded to App Store as a free app. We were looking forward to user response, which was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. Without any advertising or promotion we got around 2000 downloads daily! The biggest fans of our duel, for some mysterious reason, were Arabs: Kuwait beat the download record, leaving other countries drag behind. And that would be perfectly fine, but... anxious to launch our firstborn, we totally forgot to monetize it. Thousands of downloads didn’t bring us a dime. Our Arab fans wouldn’t install the updates, and we didn’t have automatic updates either.

2. Loyal  Players vs Game Center.

Bluetooth Duel remained appealing for players, especially the Middle East ones. Apparently, there was something in it for the cowboy theme fans, because people still play that first version!

Still, we were looking for ways to improve the game and finally decided bluetooth connect was really limiting its functionality: there was no possibility to connect with a rival online. Consequently, the player could only challenge someone who was in the same room.

We wanted to change that, and in November a new version with Game Center connection was released. It wasn’t before the game was uploaded to App Store that we realized it was another fail: to connect and start a duel via Game Center, the players had to press “Play” simultaneously, which was very unlikely.

3. Great Art and Features vs “Deck Appeal”.

We continued working on our shooter, and in 2012 showed our draft version to Chillingo. They replied with some useful improvement suggestions, which we started implementing. At the same time, we were designing new art that was drastically different from the previous one. We decided to go in a more cartoonish and colorful direction, and here’s the result:


The new version was released in August and called Cowboy Duel. This one had Internet connecting and, of course, monetization: players could buy weapons and defense. Cowboy Duel also had other cool features like real Old West gun models, Facebook integration (leaderboard and posting achievements to players’ timelines), and lots of other stuff. We created a promo website for the game, and even shot some promo videos, starring in one of them ourselves. It’s hard to say how effective that video was, but becoming the characters of the famous “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” was pretty awesome!


No matter how hard we tried, Cowboy Duel never got very popular, not even as popular as its predecessor. Not all Bluetooth Duel players wanted to download the new version. Chillingo wasn’t enthusiastic about it either, and passed on the deal, saying that the game lacked “deck appeal” and it would be very difficult to monetize it.

4. Fresh Plot and Gameplay vs Wrong Time and Placе.

The user response and feedback from publishers made us wonder if we should make a 180 degree turn in the plot and gameplay of our duel. This time we found inspiration in the  hot-from-the-oven Tarantino western “Django Unchained”, and in January 2013 the third version of our game, named “Bounty Hunter”, was released. 

We added the plot that we loved: a slave starts a sort of bounty hunter apprenticeship, and, competing with outlaws in shooting, wins freedom and a new social status. The players connected via the Internet, so the “bad guys” our character was after were real people, who were after him, too. We decided to quit the gun simulator gameplay, as it seemed a bit monotonous, plus we wanted players to compete not only in shooting speed, but also in accuracy. Instead, we decided to use augmented reality technology. Our cartoonish opponent showed up on the camera view background, so the player had to find the rival “in their own room”. Here’s how it looked:

We all loved the new game and couldn’t wait to see it in action, so fingers were crossed and the game was uploaded to App Store and shown to Chillingo. And... we couldn’t be more disappointed. With the recent shooting incidents in US schools, there was no way our shooter could be approved by the publisher or App Store. The theoretical possibility that the player would aim and shoot at real people in the camera view, not the cartoonish character, made our Bounty Hunter an outlaw.

5. Fountain of Ideas vs Registration Bug

To stay away from trouble, we quit the augmented reality idea, too. Instead we designed a panorama:

Besides, we got tons of new ideas: one of them is character builder, where the player could pick looks and buy clothes and guns for the money, earned in the game.

This version was also uploaded to App Store and, this time, approved. Downloads followed, and so did another fail: because of a Facebook registration bug, only 200 players out of 2000 could actually register and play.

We fixed the FB registration, and the app is slowly gaining popularity in App Store. We still have numerous ideas to improve gameplay, art, plot, as after 2 years of development we grew really attached to the game. With sufficient investments and a good publisher Bounty Hunter could probably be a hit in the cowboy niche. At least we like to think so!


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