With work full steam ahead on Mystery Game No. 1, it’s easy to forget that I’ve got another baby to care about. Rocket Mail was launched two months ago, but of course the story doesn’t end at launch. In a sense, it only begins.
At launch, I spammed links to the game to as many places I could think of that would accept them: Reddit, IndieDB, TIGForums, Twitter, Facebook, perhaps even Google+ if I could be bothered. The result: about 50 installs. This grew over time to around 100, despite the fact that I wasn’t really pushing it anymore. The limited analytics in the Play Store tells me that this growth is from organic traffic, but it doesn’t tell me traffic sources or search keywords.
That’s not a lot. How about income? Do those 100 people at least click on ads, or even upgrade to the ad-free version? Not… exactly. So far, I’ve sold five of the in-app purchases, just barely enough to pay for a single pizza. The advertising revenue isn’t even enough to pay for the espresso after.
So all these numbers are too low for a sustainable business, even if I managed to launch 100 similarly-performing games. But I was expecting that: I’m in it for the learning experience, and view Rocket Mail as an experiment that I’m not overly attached to. So let’s go over some of the possible causes of low revenue, and what I can do to remedy them.
The game itself
Maybe this game just isn’t any good? But currently at 4.8 stars, several of them from people I don’t know, the data suggest that the game is fine. Reactions from in-person testers are also quite positive, although a grain of salt should be added because of the politeness factor.
If there’s any problem with the game, it’s retention. Some people definitely continue to come back to the game, with nearly 4 games played on average each day (total, not per person):
That’s higher than I expected, but it’s not a lot. That makes sense. Every game is pretty much the same, there’s not a lot of variation going on. I have some ideas that could make it more interesting and varied, but currently no time to implement any of them. And anyway, there’s no point plugging a leaky bucket if no water is pouring into it in the first place.
Compared to the in-game art, the store icon is actually pretty bland. The banner image at least has a parcel inside the rocket, and fire coming out of its behind, but the icon is just a stationary rocket:
I guess I let myself be guided by the Android icon guidelines a bit too much here.
Others have discovered empirically that a game’s icon is hugely important in getting people onto your Play Store page. This makes sense, because all you see in search results is the game’s name and its icon. Moreover, it is said that faces (especially emotional ones) attract more visitors.
So what I should definitely do here is make the icon more interesting and personal. I’m thinking along the lines of:
- make the rocket fly
- add a dark background
- add a delivery person up to their waist out of the window, smiling and waving (this could also be added to the banner image and in the game’s main menu)
The Play Store lets you do A/B testing on icons: half of the visitors sees the old icon, the other half sees the new, and you get to see which results in more clicks. So that’s definitely something I’ll be trying out. Changing the icon could be a really cheap and easy way to get more players.
Rocket Mail is an innovative game, which doesn’t neatly fit into any existing genre – it’s on the Play Store under “Trivia”, amidst games like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Eggheads, and hundreds of logo quizzes, but it isn’t really similar to any of these.
The “Casual” category might work, but is overcrowded. The “Education” category is dominated by Nickelodeon and will instantly scare off any adult. And anyway, do people look at the category of a game before they decide whether to install it? The Play Store doesn’t offer A/B testing here, but I could just change the category for a week and see if it makes a difference.
“Put your spatial insight and worldly knowledge to the test! In Rocket Mail, you deliver packages to anywhere in the world – by rocket!” That’s how the first two sentences of the app description currently read. Maybe they don’t resonate with people?
I don’t really know how to improve on them, but fortunately A/B testing is a possibility here too. So I could just write one or two different variants, and see if they perform better.
Once installed, there is an in-game tutorial that works very well from what I’ve observed. However, without showing it to people, it’s hard to explain up front in a sentence or two what the game is about. This might lead to fewer installs; some people like to try something random, but I suspect most will want to know what they’re going to get.
As a solution, it would be good to add a video, but just a video of the screen is not enough to demonstrate the compass pointing aspect that’s core to the game. So it would have to be a video in which you see a person playing the game, intermixed with direct screen captures. Since “learning to outsource” is on my list of objectives for this half-year, having someone record and edit such a video would be a great start. It probably won’t pay for itself, but it’s low-risk, and worth it just for the experience.
Currently, I’m not sending any personal information along with the ad requests. This probably means that players will see very generic, untargeted advertisements, and they’re not likely to click on them. (I’m writing “probably” because I’m not allowed to see real ads on my test devices. I don’t actually know what ads my game serves.)
Since the game does have the player’s (approximate) location readily available, I could send that along with the ad request. Since no other information is being sent, I don’t think this is a huge privacy concern. And it might lead to more targeted ads (e.g. for stores or events in your local area) and thus higher click-through rates (which is what I’m getting paid by).
Keep on trying
So, lots of work left to do. Look at me still talking when there’s Science to do: I’ve experiments to run, there is research to be done… Something I knew theoretically, but is gradually seeping down to the lower levels of my brain: the launch of a game is only the start!