As this will be the last dev-blog in 2012, we thought it would be nice to give a little recap of the 2012 year at Slick. Before I talk about the year, it’s probably a good idea to start with a nice picture, since the recap got kind of long. Here it is, our Slick Entertainment Holidays Card that you can print yourself! Click HERE to download a high-res printable version.
If you’re not sure how to do Holiday cards, here’s an instruction manual:
Ok, so here goes! (it’ll be long)
The 2012 year started off with a bit of a shake-up. My business-partner-since-2007 Kees decided he wanted to find different challenges, and January was when we settled the breakup. It was a completely amicable breakup, there were no fights or anything. It was just sad to see him go, he’s a very talented guy, and Autodesk is very lucky to get him on board!
For me Kees’s departure meant having half the money in the bank, and no artist! What to do now? Luckily I became a regular at the Full Indie meetup, where I met Jesse Turner. We got along perfectly, and after discussing things over a few (read: many) beers, he decided to come work for me. It was a bit daunting having somebody on payroll, knowing that the current cash amount in the bank would only last about a year, but looking back it was totally worth it. Jesse proved to be super productive, and his art is awesome too boot. Also, if it wasn’t for him insisting on setting up this dev-blog, we wouldn’t have gotten to number 43, let alone releasing it every week without interruptions! Thanks Jesse!
The next few months we worked on developing Shellrazer, and we joined up with Shane Neville and Jennifer Lewis to finish it off. Shane did an awesome job on the tuning and talking to the press, and Jennifer did an awesome job on the audio! Jennifer was able to hire two VFS students to create the music for Shellrazer, which turned out awesome. Things progressed quickly and at the end of July, after about 6 months of work, we shipped the game on iOS!
We got featured in the new and noteworthy section by Apple and because of that we decided to lower the price to 0.99 instead of 2.99. We were amazed by the number of downloads in such a short time! Shellrazer climbed the charts quickly, and we were in the top 5 in the US, Canada and Australia for a while. We recouped the salary investments and office lease in about 8 days, which in my book is quite bad-ass. After we dropped out of the featured lists, the sales dropped significantly. There is a HUGE difference between being featured and not being featured, it’s about a factor 100 to 150. So when your downloads are 15000 per day when featured, after not being featured for a while they will be around 150, and this happens over the course of a couple of weeks. We were used to AAA sales curves from our previous experiences, but the App store seems to be a highly accelerated version of this. The other thing we noticed is that getting great reviews seems to almost do nothing for your app sales, when comparing it to getting featured by Apple. We got a great review from one of the big app review sites, and on the sales graph it was literally a tiny bump. In the end it’s difficult to say how the people currently buying our app found it, so it may still be related to the great reviews we’ve gotten.
After the successful release, we decided to start work on a second world. It took a bit longer than we expected because we were updating the app at the same time to fix a few bugs, and I was working on the Android version of the game as well. Also, I think we were a bit burned out on Shellrazer, and we were eager to start something new. When we were finally done, we released it and celebrated by making the app free. The barrage of downloads we got in that one week was absolutely stunning. On average we got around 70,000 downloads per day for that one week, which is insane. Most of these downloads came from China by the way, which I’ll get to in a bit. Since Shellrazer has in-app purchases, we thought we’d make some money that week, but we weren’t sure how much. The conversion rate for in app purchases had been really high when we had the app at 0.99 cents, but we had a suspicion that it would be a lot lower when the app was free. We weren’t sure how much though, and after the week was over it turned out it was quite a lot lower than we expected. The daily revenue was still about 400% higher than before the free week, so in the end it was still great. When we were at $0.99 every person that got the game spent another 50 cents on average. During the free week, every person that got the game spent about half a cent on the game. We did get 500,000 new players though, and when we put the price to $2.99 after the free week, this is paid off. I guess people are talking about the game, and showing their friends, and this resulted in the daily revenue to be about 500% higher than before we did the free week, which is awesome!
There is one thing I wish I had changed before the free week. I put this ‘send feedback’ button that opens up the mail app with our Shellrazer email address already filled in, ready for the person to give feedback. About 99.9% of the email I get through that email address is either an empty email, or an email full of garbled letters, probably because some toddler somewhere is just hitting the letters and sending it off. Kind of funny, but it did result in hundreds of emails every day to go through and filter out the people that actually were sending feedback. I even gotten a bunchs of email with family photo’s and light ‘nature’ photos sent to our Shellrazer account by accident (I hope… ?). I’ve since changed this in the most recent update where I just present the email address rather than opening up the mail app.
With the world 2 update we also added Google Analytics to see how many people are playing the game every day, and where they are coming from. It turns out that our game is VERY popular in China, even though we’ve only sold a couple of thousand copies there. Weird, they must all be sharing an iPad, and do shifts in playing. How else can this be? Oh well, I guess that’s just the way it is.
While all this was going on, I’ve been working on the Android version, which encountered a few snags here and there. Things are done a bit different on Android, and debugging a C++ app on Android isn’t the easiest. One major difference is pausing and resuming the app. On iOS there’s nothing you really need to worry about, but on Android all the OpenGL and OpenSL resources are (possibly) flushed from memory, so this required a bit of a redesign. Luckily I am still using my mmap (see here) method of loading, which is so quick that I can simply reload on resume. You do have to tell the ant build step to not compress certain files, otherwise it won’t work at all. Not compressing my data file meant that the game package got really big, so I had to add some on-the-fly-decompression for textures to deal with this. Now we’re back at around 35Mb for the entire game, which I’m pretty happy with. I’m slowly getting to the point where the app is actually done for Android. I’m trying to put in in-app-billing now, and hopefully we’ll be able to ship early next year.
And, of course, we’ve been working on StarRazer (working title!), which we’ve been blogging about recently. I’ve just put in an awesome line of sight system, and I am working on getting a nice modular behaviour system for the enemies in the game. Jesse’s been cranking out awesome art for it, which we can’t wait to show you, but it’ll have to wait for a later dev-blog otherwise we’d have nothing to show you!
Our dev-blog will resume normal service in the second week of January, as we’re sunbathing and thinking of everything but making games!
Happy Holidays everybody,
Nick – Slick Entertainment