Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Recap

January turned out to be a better month than expected. The first week started out below the average for the previous month. Sales, especially in Dominoes, started to decline. I thought maybe I'd reached some kind of saturation point for the game. But this last week has been the strongest ever in sales, and I'm going to be very close to last month's total. For the first time in a while, sales revenue is going to beat ad revenue, which has been pretty flat this month.

The free version of Golf Solitaire has the lowest click-through rate of any app, and that'a probably because I don't serve ads on the same screen where the user is playing. They only see ads on the title screen, the high score screen, and between holes. There is now support for large ads that take up the bulk of the screen, to be used as transitions between content. I was toying with the idea of using them in GS, but I think a lot of people might not be happy with such a change, so I'm going to leave things as they are for now.

This month I released both free (ad-supported) and paid versions of Puzzle Lords. It's been well-received, with over 4,000 downloads of the free version and a 4-star rating. I didn't want to release a paid version right away, because I knew there would be some major kinks to work out. There was a memory-related bug associated with the looping music track that was causing a lot of crashes early on, so I just removed combat music. For Android games in the future, I think I'm just going to stick with short intro themes and sound looping tracks. I had a request for a colorblind version, which was pretty quick and easy to institute and seemed to make the colorblind customers happy. But the biggest request was to be able to save dungeon progress. That was the last pretty fundamental functionality. At this point, there seems to be sufficient demand to add more content, and hopefully a bit more polish. The game is still rough around the edges, but then again, it is both a puzzle game and an RPG (albeit a very scaled-down one). Still, the local version was essentially implemented by one person (me), and even implementing a small number of elements (equipable items, enemies, quests, classes, spells, etc.) is extremely time-consuming.

Hopefully in the next month I'll have the time to implement several more dungeons with at least a couple of unique enemies, another boss, and more items. So stay tuned.

January finished strong, so I'm hoping that will carry on through to February. Work on the multiplayer framework is coming along. I'm now thinking of possibly first implementing a turn-based word game as the first game in this framework, since I know there is high demand.

Also, I'm going to dabble a bit with the XBOX 360 game development framework, since I have worked up a game design for a cooperative platformer...working title: Awesome Alpine Adventure. By the way, does anybody reading this blog know how to yodel? Or know anybody who can? I'm not joking...I really need a couple of yodelers, one male and one female.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Golf Solitaire Resurgence

The perceived wisdom for smartphone app sales is that most of your sales tend to come in the first few days of release, when the app is most visible. Subsequent bumps are generally due to other factors, like releasing a free demo version or getting featured somewhere.

Fortunately, my overall best-selling app, Golf Solitaire, has bucked that trend. Here's a chart of sales since the game was released in May:

Sales have steadily increased month over month...a very nice trend. And you'll notice that I already have over 300 sales this month with about a week left.

I believe the highest rank it achieved was #3, before sliding back down to #9. But it never fell out of the top ten and as of this writing it has managed to climb back up to #4. I was resigned to see it slide down the rankings, replaced by newer apps, but it just keeps on keeping on, which is very satisfying.

I've added a mulligan feature (which unfortunately had a scoring bug), but that's now been fixed. People seem to love the game, and I hope it keeps on performing well throughout the year.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Golf Solitaire on iPhone

I've worked out a deal with Kenny and the folks over at In A Day Development for an iPhone port of my popular app Golf Solitaire. I originally designed the game for the 480x320 resolution of what was then the only Android phone on the market, the G1. This is the same resolution as the iPhone, so in terms of graphics and their placement, the game should port relatively well to the iPhone and look pretty good on that platform. IADD has a screenshot of the title screen in an iPhone skin...looks nice!

They're estimating it should take them about a month to do the port, but it sounds like the approval process isn't that bad these days, so hopefully Golf Solitaire will be available on the iPhone before Spring.

I'm very interested to see if the game performs well at all on that platform. It's simple, but I think simplicity often works very well for mobile games. On Android, the game has been my best performer overall between the ad revenue for the free version and sales of the paid version. Sales for the game continue to increase month over month, rather than fading away, which is nice. Currently, Golf Solitaire is #5 in paid Cards&Casino games and #75 in paid games overall. I consistently get comments stating how addictive the game is, and it currently has a 4.5/5.0 rating. Even if it is marginally successful on the iPhone, it will probably financially outperform the Android versions, but we'll just have to see.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Web Portals for Android

The best thing that could happen to Android right now is for Google to unveil a real desktop client for the Android Market that provides a live view of the market as if viewed from a phone, filterable by hardware configuration and carrier. Ideally it would also be integrated with Google Checkout so that users could browse and purchase apps from their desktop.

As of this writing, this is what the official Android Market site looks like, and it's pretty horrible. It's just a landing page with a few outdated featured apps.

At one point Cyrket provided a live snapshot of the market, but Google did something on their end to make the feed that Cyrket was using unusable. So it's been dead for a while. And AndroidStats, a great site that used the Cyrket feed, is consequently also dead.

For a while people touted AndroidLib as a viable replacement. But it is horribly slow on my machine (I think it's probably not scaling well). It only filters by time and rating, and is far from from a live view. I also really dislike the interface, full of feeds and clutter.

So far the most viable 3rd-party contender is AndroidZoom. They had a makeover recently, and the site looks very good. Apps can be sorted by All/Free/Paid and Newest/Popularity/Rating. The interface is clean and sharp. The information is a bit outdated (this again is probably due to the lack of a live public feed), but it's probably the best thing out there right now.

At last estimate, the Android Market had over 20,000 apps and was still growing fast. Searching and browsing for apps only on your device is not ideal, and shouldn't be the only option. Google really needs to put together an official web portal, or at the very least make the public feed available again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is Google's Strategy with the Nexus One?

So the Nexus One is probably the highest-end smartphone on the market right now. Google has branded it a "superphone". That's a bit much, but it is a nice device. Supposedly they've sold ~20,000 units in the first week, and there are issues with customer support and glitchy 3G service.

Ultimately, though, what was Google's strategy here? They risk alienating manufacturer partners like Motorola by directly competing with them. I've seen in several places on the web that the strategy behind the Nexus One was to attempt to change the entire smartphone market, and make it more like the television or PC market.

Right now, when you buy a personal computer, you don't buy it from your internet provider. You buy it from a retail outlet, then you go looking for internet service. You don't buy your television from your cable or satellite provider. You buy the TV, then go looking for cable or satellite service. But with smartphones, you're pretty much locked in to buying your phone from your carrier, since the price difference with and without a contract is usually on the order of $300 for most phones.

I bought my Droid off-contract for $529 and I'm going month-to-month with Verizon...mostly because I want the freedom to be able to switch phones and carriers if a device that I want is only available through another carrier. The vast majority of consumers are not going to pay the $300 difference to have the freedom to be off-contract.

Right now, you can apparently use the Nexus One on AT&T's network, but 3G is not supported. Again, most consumers are not going to pay $500 for a phone and whatever the monthly service is for AT&T for subpremium network speeds.

For all intents and purposes, the Nexus One is a T-Mobile phone. It is supposed to be available in the Spring on Verizon, at which point it will be a T-Mobile and a Verizon phone. This is not a game changer. I'm not even sure how it begins to shake up the smartphone business model.

To really shake up the smartphone ecosystem, Google would have needed to release a smartphone that ran on more than two major carriers, supported at least 3G connectivity, and could be purchased off-plan for far less than $500. As far as making it compatible with many carriers, the technology and infrastructure simply may not be sufficient for doing that. As for the price, Google probably needed to sell the Nexus One at an extreme discount, comparable to the contract price, say $200-300, and eat the difference as a loss leader. Google makes money off ads, and if they lost several million dollars up front to basically pay for Android adopters, it would probably be worth it.

As it is, I don't see the Nexus One changing the way business is done in the smartphone market. The device itself is a nice upgrade, and a welcome addition to the newest generation of Android devices. But the business model will not change anything without cooperation and standardization among carriers (not going to happen anytime soon), and not without a heavily discounted off-contract price tag.

I do wish it well. I'm just not sure the strategy behind it is all that sound.

Revenue Drop

Not good news. Yesterday was the worst day for net revenue in over two months. Sales have been steadily sliding this month and ad revenue is down. What's going on?

One possible explanation for the sales slip: the market is saturating, at least for my top games. Maybe most of the people who really wanted Dominoes have bought it by now. Sales for Golf Solitaire, on the other hand, are the highest they've ever been. There should have been an influx of new users from the Christmas holiday, but I've seen no evidence of a bump in sales due to holiday sales. Flurry has estimated Nexus One sales for the first week at about 20,000, which isn't that great, and as I mentioned in my last post, I'm not seeing many accesses to my free apps from Nexus One devices. Nevertheless, my rankings are staying fairly stable, which possibly suggests that everyone else is experiencing the same thing.

What about ads? Ironically, I'm experiencing higher and higher volumes of both views and clicks, but revenue is down. This could just be a result of lower rates for ads following the holiday season. Unlike sales, I would almost expect ad revenue to slide a bit after the holidays, though I was hoping the increase in views and clicks would offset the difference. I've got updates to both Golf Solitaire (now with a mulligan for each round!) and Spades (blind nil and multiple difficulty settings). Golf Solitaire will be updated this weekend, and Spades probably next week. Hopefully that will inject a little life into sales and ads for those two titles.

The numbers on both these sources will naturally fluctuate. The biggest dent currently is from the drop in sales of Dominoes. In the first 10 days of last month, I sold 353 copies of Dominoes. The first 10 days of this month, I sold 241. That's a pretty significant drop, despite the rating staying unchanged at 4 stars and the ranking holding steady at #2. At some point, if sales dip below double digits, I'll consider shifting the title to free/ad-supported, but we're not there yet.

Hopefully this will just be a dip before a generally larger surge. I don't necessarily anticipate that from the Nexus One, but the new Sony-Ericsson phone is coming out soon, plus a whole new bunch of phones from the likes of Acer and Dell. Plus, Android is coming to AT&T, so it will soon be all on carriers. Here's hoping that yesterday was the lowest it gets for the rest of the year.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Despite releasing several new utility calculators and the free, ad-supported Puzzle Lords, net revenue for this month has flattened out. Now, it's flattened out to a nice level, but you'd always like to see continued growth, especially with new devices coming out.

In the past week, there has been no Nexus One bump, as there was with the Droid. My own stats are probably not representative, but my two most popular apps currently have fewer than 100 Nexus One users. The top three devices on my most popular app (~24,000 active installs) are:

1) G1 (35.3%)
2) myTouch (14.8%)
3) Droid (13.9%)

The Droid has vaulted to third in a short couple of months, with users logging over 77,000 game sessions in that time. In the past week, Nexus One users have logged 79 sessions. It's still early, and I hope the Nexus One is a success...but from my perspective it's not looking great right now.

Anyway, currently Dominoes is still #2 in Cards&Casino and Golf Solitaire has fought its way back up to #6. Golf Solitaire sales have been up, but unfortunately the combined sales of Dominoes and GS has stayed flat this month.

We're starting to make some real progress on the turn-based multiplayer framework, though, which should enable reasonably quick ports of Dominoes, Spades, and Hearts to online multiplayer versions. I'm planning on all of these being ad-supported since, 1) Networked games are inherently more complex and I fully expect there to be all sorts of issues, 2) On top of that we're using Google App Engine as the backend, which is free up to a certain number of requests, then starts costing money. We can't afford to be paying for people with pirated copies to use our server, 3) Free games are going to have a lot more users, and a large user base is important for the success of multiplayer games.

There's also huge demand for a multiplayer Scrabble-type game, and that should be reasonably easy to implement. I've already done a simple word game that checks against a dictionary, and the graphics should be reusable.

I prefer to have a balance of paid apps and ads, but I think this is the strategy for the online multiplayer games, so if it ends up making a disproportionate amount of the income, so be it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Puzzle Lords is Out!

Last week I released the local adaptation of my ADC2 entry Relativia. It's rebranded Puzzle Lords, and it's a free RPG/puzzle hybrid that lets you create a character, fight enemies through a puzzle game combat system, level up, buy equipment, etc.

There are a few kinks that still need to be worked out. Quite a few people were reporting crashes late in combat. On the hunch that the looping music played during combat was causing a memory leak, I disabled music during combat. Several people report that fixing the problem. I think going forward that I'll plan to have no looping background music for games...just short themes that signify the opening and ending of stages or rounds. The media player in Android is not that great, and the looping wasn't seamless anyway.

Also, at least one spell is still overpowered, giving you enough mana from casting it to endlessly recast it. I published an update, but it's still messed up, so that's on my to-do list, along with some general balancing issues (some users are reporting they are able to two-shot enemies at higher levels). Enemy HP is supposed to scale, but it's apparently not keeping pace with the damage scaling.

And of course people are already asking for more content, which is good. I think it got as low as a 2 1/2 star rating before the bug fixes, and now it's up to 4 stars. One user said they would have been willing to pay for the game, but was glad it was free. That's nice to hear, but since it was a relatively big, complex game (at least for one person to test and debug), I wouldn't have felt right charging for it out of the box. It's serving up ads, and performance is doing pretty well for the first week, so I'll probably keep it that way in the near term.

Anyway, if you've got an Android phone, check it out!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nexus One Launched

Google is currently having its press conference to announce its new in-house Android phone, the Nexus One. The new features of 2.1 don't sound all that earth-shattering (stuff like voice-to-text for all input fields). It looks like an incremental upgrade to the Droid, both in terms of software and hardware.

The site selling the Nexus One is now live:

The site's got a cool interactive demo of the phone and some of its apps. It's a little buggy for me, even in Google Chrome, but it's still kind of cool.

I'm not going to replace my Droid. If they happen to be giving them out at Google I/O this year, that would be great.

I'm curious to see how well this phone does, sales-wise. It's going to have the mighty behemoth that is Google handling the marketing and advertising, and that's what they do best. Of course I'd like to see them sell truckloads of these things, but time will tell.

Update: Interesting. I just looked at the purchase page for the Nexus One, and it's showing you can buy it subsidized with a contract from T-Mobile for $179, off-contract (to use with ATT) for $529. I knew that already. But there's a slot for using the Nexus One on Verizon, coming this Spring. I don't know how that's going to work. I thought a phone had to be either GSM or CDMA. Maybe there are two versions of the phone? I'd initially heard that Verizon wasn't interesting in supporting the phone. Guess that info was wrong.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Year in Review

I started selling Android apps in March 2009. I thought it would be a nice way to supplement my graduate school stipend. By the end of the year I ended up earning more from Android apps than I get from my stipend.

Here's revenue by month for 2009:

The summer months were spent working on my ADC2 entry, Relativia, with no new releases. Things really started to pick up at the end of the year. Three things happened:

1) At the end of September, I applied for and was accepted into the AdSense for Mobile Application Content Beta. Ad revenue started to swell.

2) In October I released Dominoes. It shot up to the top 5 in Cards & Casino and has consistently stayed in the top 1 or 2 position for the past month.

3) The Motorola/Verizon Droid was released on November 6th. On my apps with analytics, Droid users now make up over 12% of the user base. This is a pretty big chunk in less than two months. They're selling a lot of Droids.

Here is daily income for the month of December:

It's a pretty weird pattern, with a big spike a few days before Christmas, but flattening out on and after Christmas. I'm okay with the flattening, as long as the numbers stay where they're at.

Of course, up is always nice too.

Google has a press conference slated for Jan. 5th, where they're expected to publicly announce the Nexus One, which is supposedly Google's pure Android experience, not adapted by a carrier or manufacturer. The phone is expected to be supported through T-Mobile. Hopefully it will be as or more successful than the Droid.

Even if it isn't, I expect to see sustained growth in the Android user base. The new Sony Ericsson XPERIA is also expected to be a very nice device, and that's due to be released early this year. Acer apparently has a whole slew of Android devices they plan to release this year as well.

So I expect 2010 to be a big year for Android, and hopefully a big year for Polyclef. I've got tons of apps and games in the pipeline, while I continue to see an increase in both ads and sales revenue of my existing apps.

Stay tuned, and see you on the other side of 2010.