Lessons learned - Brood post-mortem

We managed to launch Brood, but with (thankfully only) one day of delay. The first lesson we learned during launch is that you check your Google dev account to see if it is a professional one if you need it to be. Ours wasn't, and fixing it at the last minute was an avoidable headache.

So after the game was public, the next hurdle to cross was getting the word out. And here we learned some useful things. We had spent some money on Facebook advertising starting the middle of February. That means all of these expenditures are post "we are going to show fewer brand posts to our users". Different campaigns with different settings showed us that advertising on Facebook can be tricky at best. You never know what results you'll get before time, and usually, the estimates are way above what you'll actually get.

We started with a campaign to get more likes to the Saffron Streams Facebook page, and then once the game launched, we tried getting the word out with a direct link to the Play Store page for Brood. First, it turned out that Facebook's new policy made it so that our announcement of the game's launch stayed hidden from most of the page's followers.

Whatever else is posted on there, the main reason for having the page is to tell people about the game and where they can find it. We've seen many other creatives mention the same problem, and it seems to us Facebook took their rebalancing a bit too far.*

We tried a campaign on Instagram and other Facebook group channels, but it seems we had zero success with that too. On the whole, we spent between €40 and €50 on Facebook group advertising, and as far as we can tell it got us zero actual downloads. We did quintuple the number of fan page followers and suspect there's value to that in the long run. Still, if you're tight on budget, Facebook advertisement looks like it's not the way to go.

We put $25 on a Project Wonderful account. That's a website where you can bid on advertising space. You see exactly what space you're bidding on, and what traffic it gets. The advantage is that you can get pretty good bang for your buck. The downsides are first that this is a very time-consuming way to advertise and second that the project seems to be found less wonderful than it did a few years ago. Nearly no sites with any traffic are still on there, and if they are, the actual spots where your ad is shown is often out of your way. Still, about 10$ (I haven't spent the whole budget yet) got us about 5 to 10 downloads.

We were hoping to get an advertising promotion for Google Adwords, and did, just in time. We got the type which seems best for the humble starter, the one where you need to spend €25 to unlock €75 of budget for free. The numbers here are very good. We have spent roughly €50 at this time and got 300+ downloads. Also, it seems we got the promotional budget before being charged the budget we had to spend to unlock it. So we might not be charged until after going past €75 in expenditures.**

Facebook (et al):     € ∞ /download
Project Wonderful: $ 1-2/download
Google Adwords:   €0.16/download

So second lesson learned is that Google Adwords seems to offer the best value for money when you're looking for actual downloads of your Android game. There is some value in increasing your "brand presence" as well, no doubt, but it is difficult to translate into anything concrete, especially with the new policy, so we'll leave that to others to discuss.

So how is the game performing then? We currently stand at 432 downloads, about 326 through Google Adwords, let's say 10 through Project Wonderful, less than five by "organic acquisition" through the Play Store. That leaves about a hundred that found the game another way. A big part of it will be acquaintances and friends who downloaded that thing out of curiosity for what we made and kept posting about. And another part will be those who read about the game in paper media.

That's right, we sent out a press release, which was picked up by three local organizations. One dealing only with digital/online articles, and two newspapers, which both scheduled an interview and put it up both online and in their physical paper. It's hard to say how many downloads this added, but a rough estimate (looking at the time of posting, which was a bit after friends and acquaintances had probably downloaded the game) would be between 20 and 40. However, the difficult to enumerate added value with physical media is surprising your mother by having your mug turn up in the local newspaper.

The other number you see is the number of active users. 121 Out of 432 means that not even 30 percent of those who downloaded the game still have it installed. The game does not score well on player retention. A majority of players do not finish a playthrough of the core game (20 days). Lesson learned is that you need to think about long-term user engagement at the beginning of development. For this trial game, we'll admit both retention mechanic and monetization were thought about and introduced way too late.

Talking about monetization, how much revenue did the game make as of yet? There are two sources of revenue in the game: InAppPurchases and ad placement. We offer a purchase to make the game ad-free for €1.99 (converted to local currency and with VAT added where applicable) and a support purchase for €1.00 (for those who would like to support Saffron Streams more after making the game advertisement free). We have one sale attempt for those, but the user's credit card was rejected. We would indeed guess that freemium games only have a few pay conversions for every thousand users.

The game has produced about 1000 ad views over the last month, which has earned 60 euro cents. The payout for ads has a €70 minimum, so the game will probably not actually earn us anything over its lifetime. We must admit that, even for this first game, we had thought that it could earn enough to break even for the investments that were made. Say, €1000 over the course of a year. So we're a bit disappointed in the results.

At the same time, making games is still on the developer's mind, first and foremost, and it brings him joy being able to do this, despite the lack of financial punch of this debut. The games industry is a tough business, but we're lucky to be in a situation (half-time paid employment) where we don't need success to be able to continue, even though at the same time this means our programmer/artist cannot fully commit himself to development and we have to watch our expenses more than we used to.

So does this mean we will work on a second game after Brood? It does. In fact, we've already started working on it and we're trying to incorporate what we've learned. The next game, code name Beacon, will differ from Brood in a number of ways. We've started thinking about monetization and retention from the early stages of development, and are focusing more on making the game we want to play ourselves but can't find in the Play Store.

We're also going with a different approach to marketing. We will no longer give you guys an in-depth view of the development for Beacon.*** Updates will be sparse and less information filled. They will probably focus on building up story or atmosphere around the game. We also decided to switch our communication from first person singular to plural, have you noticed?**** Looking more professional already, right? 

That's it for this final Brood update. We'll see you back later, to pique your interest about Beacon, if it's still called that by that time.

* The problem, we would say, is not that users see too many posts by brands/artists/causes they chose to follow, but how easily it seems to be to use personal data (in law there is still such a thing, even if not in practice; and GDPR might change that) to influence elections and referenda (always for the worse, by definition).
** Looking at our revenue, that might not happen until the second game is out.
*** No release date for the game yet.
**** Even though there's still just one person typing text or code and making assets.