Our second game, Cally’s Caves 2 released on July 1st, 2014 on the Appstore. We wrote extensively about the development of the game, and then wrote a bunch of stuff about getting mentioned in the gaming media, but we’ve never really taken a look back at some of the methods we used to promote the game and how they worked out. Since Cally’s Caves 2 is now a year old, let’s have a look at how it has done, and some of the lessons we learned about game development.
First off, let’s see the total download numbers:
Lesson #1: Featuring and Gaming Websites are Crucial
We ended up with 162,000 downloads of our free game (please note we scrubbed the money totals out of this image), and that was amazing. In the initial month of July 2014, we hit over 82,000 downloads, and we strongly believe that this was mostly due to some good reviews on sites like Toucharcade, Pocketgamer, and 148apps, and being featured by Apple. Although Cally’s Caves 2 was never featured in a banner at the top of the Appstore, we did get featured at the top of a good number of categories internationally, usually the “What’s New” or “What’s Hot” category. Apple featured us in various places for 7 weeks, and has continued to put it in feature spots sporadically ever since. It’s hard to miss that the graph takes a big dip right around September 2014, so Apple featuring the game clearly had a huge impact on downloads.
Lesson #2: Make a bigger splash on the charts by being prepared
We had a pretty good start, but the good reviews that we got came out about 3 weeks after the game actually released. With Cally’s Caves 2, we rushed the release schedule by simply releasing the App as soon as we were able to do so (after Apple had finished reviewing it). When you are a no-name indie developer like us, and you email a big gaming website, there is usually very little chance of getting a reply or coverage out of it. We released the first Cally’s Caves with big hopes of reviews and coverage, and got none, so we learned the hard way that getting coverage of an indie game is tough. We were very lucky to get coverage for Cally’s Caves 2, but we timed it poorly. We had a game that was available to the public, and we were giving it to the websites with promo codes just 2 days before release. The first review hit about 3 weeks after the game came out, and we saw a spike in downloads, but at that point the app had already fallen from it’s peak position on the charts. If we had only allowed ourselves the time to send the game to the press a month before the public release, how much would that extra attention have helped us on the charts?
Lesson #3: Word of mouth is really, really important
We’ve heard and read a lot about how app downloads decrease over time, and that has certainly been the case with Cally’s Caves 2. We have also learned that with a little bit of word of mouth, Youtube videos, and forum threads, we can still have some decent download activity. This chart shows the downloads for Cally’s Caves 2 in June 2015, the twelfth month after Cally’s Caves 2 came out.
So even though our game never hit #1 on the charts and wasn’t a viral sensation, we can still have days where we do over a hundred downloads, and we still got over 2000 downloads in that twelfth month. To a big developer these numbers would be shameful, but when you are 3 people making a game for free and just hoping people will play it, they are pretty awesome. If we had monetized Cally’s Caves 2 better it could even have even helped contribute some revenue towards the development of Cally’s Caves 3, which brings up the next lesson we learned.
Lesson #4: Offer more stuff for people to buy
We had an amazing number of downloads, but our sales were pretty horrible. Our in-app-purchase in Cally’s Caves 2 sold about 1300 units, and we made a similar amount off of ads. Needless to say, not even close to enough to live off of and make games full time. Part of the problem was our strategy and implementation of the in-app purchase, and part of it wasn’t offering more options for people to purchase stuff.
To a certain degree, how free Cally’s Caves 2 is was the result of conscious decisions on our part. As aspiring game developers, we didn’t want to put in pay walls or anything that would be irksome to gamers, including actually just charging for content. We made Cally’s Caves 2 with trying to make a name for ourselves as the goal, and making money wasn’t really a priority. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the smartest decision, but we have a chance to do it right with our next game, Cally’s Caves 3. In Cally’s Caves 3, we will be offering gamers the exact same amount of free content that you could get in Cally’s Caves 2. You’ll play 110 levels across 8 zones, and fight 8 crazy bosses. To make buying something more attractive, we have put a huge focus on our New Game + and Survival modes, as well as higher tiers of weapons. So you can still level your weapon up to level 10, just like Cally’s Caves 2, but if you buy the New Game + mode, you’ll be able to level it up to 20, where it gets really crazy. We are aiming to offer the same amount of free stuff, but also give people more options to buy something.
Lesson #5: Making games is the best thing ever, and you should do anything you can to keep doing it
We will be trying to make good on the lessons we learned from Cally’s Caves 2 when we release Cally’s Caves 3 on the iOS Appstore on July 21st, 2015.