I Made an iPhone Game and Released it on the App Store

astro bro iconSo, a couple weeks ago. I got a game approved in the App Store. It’s called Astro Bro: Engine Room Escape.

It’s a free game. It’s pretty fun. More information can be found on the Engine Room Escape page on AstroBro.com.

The Story

I’m not exactly sure what caused the app development bug to bite me, but it did. Here are some thoughts I had throughout the development process.

The “Brand”

I’m a big believer in branding. That’s why I wanted the games to revolve around the brand of a central character. I just kinda sat down and brainstormed a bunch of main character ideas. Eventually I landed (no pun intended) on the idea of a dude who flies around through space and stuff.

Astroman? Astrodude? Astroboy? All taken in .com, and I’d never start anything if I didn’t own the .com domain. Luckily, I found the domain astrobro.com available. “Astro Bro” I thought, was a perfect fit.

He’d wear a astronaut mask, sunglasses underneath (staring directly into stars and stuff can get kind of bright), and standard bro clothes. I communicated this (rather vague) idea to the designers I hired for the project, and surprisingly, Astro Bro turned out pretty well.

The best part is, he could be a part of multiple games. Although I’m just starting with one, more Astro Bro games are in the pipeline.

Gameplay

I’d never want to own a game that I wouldn’t play myself. I’m pretty old school when it comes to gaming, and don’t have particularly high standards when it comes to plots, cut scenes, complexity, etc. I don’t even own a single modern gaming system (aside from a Wii, which I primarily use to watch Netflix).

I just like games that are simple, slightly addictive, that I can use to kill a few minutes every now and then. I’m a pretty busy guy and don’t have time to complete full-on productions like GTA V.

I like to think a lot of other people share this taste in games with me as well. And that’s exactly what I had in mind when developing Engine Room Escape.

Some cool features which contribute to the above ethos include:

  • GameCenter integration – So other players of the game can compare their scores with each other, giving some added sense of competitiveness. I, embarrassingly, don’t even have GameCenter set up on my phone at the time of writing this (see sentence about being “old school” above), but it works!
  • Achievements – Which include several “bro” related terms when the player reaches certain milestones in a game, like collecting a certain number of coins or combos.
  • 30 stages, with “stars” – Basically this means, after completing each stage, you can earn 0/3 stars depending on how many total coins/combos you collected throughout. This gives gamers added incentive to go back and try again.
  • Endless Mode – Which can be played at any time, but becomes especially relevant when the previous 30 stages are complete and the gamer still wants to play more Astro Bro and compete against their high score (or others in GameCenter). Even when the game is over, it’s really not.

Monetization

I use three different ad networks to monetize. Two display intersital ads, one after the other, when the game first starts up, and when the game is over.

The other are linked to the “Free Game” buttons that when pressed, will link to another free game app on the App Store that I get a payment for if it’s installed.

They can get pretty annoying, so there is an option to remove ads at 99 cents.

The Feedback

I didn’t announce it at all at first, except to my Facebook friends. I tend to keep those pretty personal, as in only people I’ve met IRL.

Announcing to Facebook friends turned out to be a great decision. I got a lot of supportive comments, and more importantly, valuable feedback from people who downloaded and tried the game. Here are some takeaways:

The Game Is Too Hard

I got several of these comments. Some even said it was so frustrating that they “gave up” on it.

I didn’t quite get them at first because I personally think the game is too easy, if anything. Then again, it’s my game so I’m going to be a little more familiar with it to someone just picking it up.

Then I realized I had to put myself in the shoes of the gamer. There was no “tutorial” level. There were no instructions. I just kinda put it out there and hoped people figured it out. Well, that turned out to be a mistake, because a lot of people didn’t figure it out.

I ended up quickly publishing a quick guide through a Facebook post, and then a more detailed guide on the website (linked to above). One day, I should probably find the time to record some sort of screencast video which would best help the gamer visualize how to play.

The Ads Are Too Aggressive

Yep, I know. I did that on purpose.

In the WordPress community, we’d call this “freemium” although it’s pretty commonplace in the app development world as well. Basically, the game is ad-supported. I’d venture a guess to say that users almost expect free apps to contain ads. Gamers can pay (a reasonable 99 cents) to remove the ads.

I did pay a bit out of pocket to get these graphics developed (which I think turned out awesome and were worth every penny), so I feel the ads are justified, but I can probably do a better job in finding a more ideal balance between monetization, and not pissing off users.

Marketing

Okay, I made a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter profile.

Besides that, I had a pretty naively optimistic idea in my head that if I just got a game with flashy graphics approved in the App Store, the downloads would come naturally. Well, judge for yourself.

Astro Bro sales

Ouch. It peaked at a little over 80 downloads in a day, then dropped. Fast. Turns out it’s pretty much the same as good ol’ traditional web content. You actually have to, umm, promote it for people to find it.

Google?

I’m honestly not sure how I’ll go about marketing game apps. I’d equivocate paying for advertising on Google to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Basically, not a very efficient use of an advertising budget to pay for clicks, not for app installs. But maybe I’m wrong.

Facebook?

Facebook’s ads for app installs seems a little more intriguing, as you can specifically target people using the Facebook iOS app. I’m guessing this isn’t exactly a cheap option though, especially when you start getting a lot of clicks through these ads. Setting a low budget wouldn’t probably amount to much.

Mobile Ads?

Paying for advertising on mobile-only networks, especially game-centric ones like ChartBoost seem even more laser-targeted. You’re advertising to people who already play free iOS games. Although considering my only revenue stream are by displaying other mobile ads (like ones from ChartBoost), this seems like a pretty weak attempt at arbitrage.

Review Sites?

Then, there are app review sites. Some of these sites can be kinda sketchy with “paid” reviews. Still, paying like 60 bucks to get featured on a may get you a lot more bang for your buck than any of the previous options listed, assuming you manage to get an app reviewed.

I can imagine these sites get bombarded with review requests 24/7, so I’m not holding my breath on this.

What Works, What Doesn’t

I’ll probably test each one of these in small bursts to see which ones have the best effect on download counts, and more importantly, revenue numbers. Then keep doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. And then report on my findings.

The Future

While this is all pretty exciting, there’s still a lot more to look forward to with Astro Bro, and my app developments in general.

Looking Beyond The App Store

Let’s be real, not everyone double fists an iPhone/iPad combo at all times. I only really pursued iOS development because I personally own an iPhone. Ignoring the fact that there are other types of phones out there is just a narrow-minded strategy, and one that isn’t going to work in the long run.

Google Play actually has more total users than the App Store, so the App Store isn’t even the most popular app store out there. Developing for Android seems to be the next logical step. For now, I’m just getting my feet wet with iOS.

Are you giving up WordPress?

No.

I think my app development endeavors and WordPress development endeavors can completely co-exist. Heck, the Astro Bro website is powered by WordPress, powered by a theme that I coded myself (from a PSD that I bought on ThemeForest).

I consider a website a pretty integral part of any app marketing plan. Even if it’s just a brochure or splash page, it’s something that you can control, and build off of in the future.

I also work full-time as a WordPress developer now. This is more just a side experiment.

Conclusion

Anyway, I hope you found this interesting. I also hope to post more about app development here on the blog as well.

Also, if you have an iPhone or an iPad and tried out the game for yourself, I’d love to hear you feedback. Here’s the app store link again.

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