Curmudgeon Day 2013

Stay home, stay safe, and do what you wish.

Stay Home.  Do What You Want.This is the tenth year I have written on this blog about Curmudgeon Day, the Friday after (US) Thanksgiving Day which is traditionally observed by refusing to leave the house, instead staying home and doing whatever activity you choose.  The day has been recognized for decades, and others have tried to misappropriate it, especially recently, attempting to rename it and twist it to their wicked ends.  Nevertheless, I remained committed to the original intent and observe faithfully.

Click here for more information on Curmudgeon Day.

Alas, I awoke this particular Curmudgeon Day with a headache, probably due to too much poor television before bed time, but that problem is resolving itself now.  This post is the first significant thing I am doing today (after sleeping in), though I did some design for a project that is near and dear to my heart at the technical start of the holiday (before going to bed), and I plan to revise the design more and then work on implementation.  Since I actually under-ate yesterday, I am looking forward to lots of very tasty leftovers, too.

If you support the idea of Curmudgeon Day, please like our Facebook page.

Our local NPR station just referred to today with the words “traditional holiday” and then, in dishonor of those who are shopping, played the ominous Night on Bald Mountain, by Modest Mussorgsky. 🙂

A Dozen Days of Disappointment

Results show few opportunities for optimism.

When I wrote an earlier blog post, FTP: Early Results, I stated that it was too early to draw any conclusions from the very early data from Demolish! Pairs FTP.  However, now that we have almost two weeks of data from Demolish! Pairs FTP on the App Store, the results are beginning to look more conclusive.

Day-to-Day Play-by-Play

Here is a rundown of the basic results since the app has been available:

Day 1: [baseline]

As previously reported, the first full day of downloads was Thursday, November 7, 2013, which provided more downloads, from 24 different countries, than we had sales of the “paid” version, Demolish! Pairs; therefore, I will use that number as the baseline figure for downloads (i.e., 100%) and all other percentages are relative to this figure.

Day 2:

On the second day, we did not do any additional marketing in order to determine the approximate natural fall off.  The icon was no longer visible on either of the game category pages (and certainly not on the main game page).  Downloads were at 72%.

Day 3:

We announced the release (again) on the Digital Gamecraft page on Facebook, this time using ‘Boost Post’ to promote the message to two countries, the United States (our biggest market) and Australia (an unrepresented English-speaking market).  For $51.69, we “reached” 30848 Facebook users.  Downloads: 64% (none from Australia)

Day 4:

We stopped the Facebook post promotion and allowed for residual effects to accrue, which they did by virtue of Australian downloads outpacing US by one.  Downloads: 37%

Day 5:

This time, we tried a targeted Facebook ad, selecting for puzzle game players, in (6) English-speaking countries, who used iPads.  (Oddly, I could not find a way to target only mobile users, so some views would be on desktop systems. 🙁 )  Facebook reports our total reach to be 50541 (about 3% of the selected audience).  Downloads: 20%

Day 6:

After stopping this latest Facebook ad, there was an unexplained “blip” in the results, which could have been a residual effect.  Downloads: 27%

Day 7:

With the slight increase in downloads on Day 6 (and, frankly, with other priority tasks), we decided to wait another day to see if the upward trend would hold.  Unfortunately, downloads plummeted to the worst level yet:  Downloads: 4%

Days 8 through 12:

Risking “zombification”, we left the game alone to simply observe.  It continues to draw low levels of daily activity.  Downloads: 4%, 3%, 6%, 4%, 2%

Three Strikes

Clearly, the download figures were destined to drop toward a minimal level, with the Facebook marketing making no discernible difference.  However, there are three worse facts that make a big difference here.

First, although the number of iAd requests climbs steadily, the number of ad impressions is phenomenally low (as the fill rate remains below 3%), so advertising revenue is essentially non-existent; it has not yet eclipsed the $1 mark (total).

Second, despite the number of downloads, nobody has purchased any IAP product at all.  The game is being played, as shown by the iAd requests, but the conversion rate is 0.0% as everybody plays only for free.

Third, the existence of a free-to-play version has cannibalized “paid” sales.  Not only is nobody paying for any IAP, but sales of the original edition dropped to zero when the FTP edition was released, and it has not sold a single unit since.


Although I still have some things to try yet, my recommendation to anybody considering the mobile games market is not to waste any time on it.  In fact, I would suggest that anybody who is looking to begin a career in game development right now strongly consider a different line of work entirely.

Note: This is blog post number 405, which is the HTTP status code for “Method Not Allowed“.  Coincidence?  You decide.

FTP Design Thwarted

Problems with our free-to-play design emerged.

As we analyze the results of Demolish! Pairs FTP, the free-to-play edition of our fun arcade/puzzle game, Demolish! Pairs, this is good time to review the basic design of the IAP (In-App Purchase) products and other options we provide for continuing play.

The Original Design

The first complete plan included the following four IAP products:

  • Golden Ticket  [$3.99] – This product permanently removes all game restrictions and all advertising, providing the same unlimited experience as the “paid” version.
  • Silver Pass  [$2.99] – This product permanently removes all game restrictions (but leaves the advertising in place).
  • Express Pass  [$1.99] – This product permanently removes all advertising (but leaves the game restrictions in place).
  • Two Day Pass  [$0.99] – This product would offer a 48-hour subscription, or a 48-hour extension to a subscription, with no limits or ads.

As we considered the various views that might be necessary to provide notifications of game limits, as well as how we would offer products to eliminate ads, it became clear that one unified store view, which doubles as a notification message, would serve the purpose nicely.  (We plan to refine this idea further.)

Additionally, we added the idea of a button to extend play, for free, which can only be used once each 12 hours.  In practice, we implemented the countdown timer to only begin at the next restriction notification, to make the idea of “appointment” gaming work for us more clearly.  We also limited the extension to the current game (for each player).

The First Hurdle

In an earlier post, Free-to-Play Take 1: Rejected, I documented the initial rejection of Demolish! Pairs FTP due to the fact that the 48-hour subscription was against App Store guidelines, which require all subscriptions to be at least one week.

The original IAP was designed together, as a unit, so each of the buttons would function in conjunction with the others to create the desired “menu” of offerings.  The most expensive (read: still really inexpensive) option was deliberately the same price as the original (“paid”) edition.  The crucial part was to have a cheap option, at only 99 cents, which provided some value, and then another option at each pricing tier.  Once a player commits (mentally) to spending (less than) a dollar, it is only another buck to reach another level of value, and again and again, up to having it all for only $4.  A customer can purchase a middle level of value (Silver Pass or Express Pass) and then, later, obtain the equivalent of a Golden Ticket by purchasing the other one, but the ultimate price difference ($0.99) is the incentive to go for it all at once.

When the lowest tier caused rejection of the game, we quickly removed it, accepting that this destroyed the carefully considered equilibrium of the menu of purchase options.  Also, because of simple mathematics, we could not drop prices and make it work correctly.  We have now designed a replacement (non-subscription) product to provide that least expensive option, though that will take a little more implementation time.

The iAd Problem

As mentioned my last post, FTP: Early Results, the only thing that was absolutely wrong was that iAd had not started serving any ads, so that completely messed up the IAP design.  The Express Pass was pointless, and even looked like some kind of idiocy, because there were no ads to remove in the first place.  On top of that, of course, that also relegated the Golden Ticket to the same value as the Silver Pass, so essentially our whole menu of IAP products had been reduced to merely one logical choice.

Two or three hours after I posted that article, iAd suddenly began serving some ads.  I actually discovered it while playing the game on my iPad just for fun and, unexpectedly, getting an advertisement for Small Business Saturday, after which I was able to confirm a handful of ad impressions (for thousands of requests).  I had never been so excited to see an online ad, and it briefly looked better.

Unfortunately, though ads are being served occasionally, the fill rate is still far below 4% (i.e., 1 ad for every 25 requests), which is almost worse.  Now, the very irregular ad appearances make them almost novel, so there is no real incentive for an Express Pass (nor for choosing a Golden Ticket over a Silver Pass), and there is no indication that the fill rate is going to improve substantially.  As an unexpected twist, most of the few ads that do show up look fine and unobtrusive; in fact, the blue and gold of the most common banner, from Progressive Insurance, almost matches our menu color scheme exactly.

The Next Step

Our next step will be analyzing customer behaviors to see if we can glean any useful information from the limited number of downloads so far.  We have a custom analytics package (that I developed) built into the app but we were waiting to see how the initial release progressed before “flipping the switch” to begin actual reporting.  It now seems fairly clear that our server will not be overwhelmed…

FTP: Early Results

In a word: Inauspicious. 🙁

On Wednesday, Demolish! Pairs FTP was released on the App Store.  Here are the initial results for this launch, keeping in mind that, so far, it has been fairly low key to remain in line with the initial launch of Demolish! Pairs to allow a comparison between “paid” and “free-to-play” editions.

Day 0: partial day

The app was first available on the (US) App Store shortly after 5:00pm EST, and it became searchable/discoverable about a hour later.  Therefore, the results, which are reported around 7:00am the next morning, represent only a partial day.  I am not sure when a “day” actually ends in Apple-land, but I assume it is around midnight in the Pacific time zone (3:00am here), so this data probably represents about a third of a full day.  Also, this also means that the release only hit part of the globe in prime app time.

That last part proved particularly true, as all downloads for the first (partial) day were from only two countries, the United States and Mexico.  Interestingly, and disappointingly, when compared to first day sales of the “paid” edition (at $1.99 each), free downloads only exceeded this figure by ONE.  This is, of course, an apple and oranges comparison, but I still would have expected more downloads.

One primary reason for the low download count was the huge number of “free” releases every day (even relative to paid submissions), so while Demolish! Pairs FTP was on the category front pages, it was beyond the “fold”, so users would have to scroll right to even see the icon.  I also discovered that, unfairly, the free releases are not put in chronological order, but alphabetical order, so beginning with D put us off the visible part of the main page, and the poor bastards whose apps start with I through Z never have them appear on the front page at all.  This meant that, while the “paid” version had a couple of days visible on the main category page, the FTP edition never had that at all, and partway through day 1, it was swept off the page entirely by the next group of freebees.

Day 1: first full day

As stated, day 1 (Thursday) was the first full day of downloads, and things looked a little bit better.  The first indication, via hourly iAd updates, was that the number of countries requesting ads went up significantly throughout the day.  When the final results came in, there were downloads from 24 countries, which exactly matched the iAd country count (though, oddly, iAd also had a few “unknown” requests).

In sheer numbers, downloads for the second (first full) day were up 544%, which was more than double the expectations if day 0 were 8 hours (and downloads were level), so the trend is positive.  Also positive (I guess 🙂 ) is that the number of day 1 downloads exceeded total (lifetime) purchases of the “paid” version, which means that our free-to-play edition is now in more hands than the original (and, as iAd shows us, almost all of them have been played, not merely downloaded).

Now the Bad News: I have not mentioned IAP sales because, thus far, they equal precisely $0.00, so our game is being played more, but nobody has paid us anything.  Of course, some of the incentives may take a while to work, so I am not jumping to conclusions yet.  Not at all unrelated (as a causal factor) is the fact that iAd has received thousands of ad requests yet has served exactly 0 ads.  None.  Nada.  Not one.  I have lots of strong words and strong feelings about this, but I will compose them (and myself) in my next post.


It is actually far too early for any conclusions (except that the iAd 0.00% fill rate is a major problem), but the data is enough to decide to delay the next marketing step for at least one more day, to see what kind of falloff we get for a full day with Demolish! Pairs FTP not on the front pages of each category.  After that, experimentation continues!

For the scientifically-minded of you, please do not worry about skewing our data, and just download Demolish! Pairs FTP from the App Store already. 🙂

Demolish! Pairs FTP 1.0.1 for iPad

Our first “Free-to-Play” game is now available in the App Store.

Demolish! Pairs FTP, the free-to-play iPad version of Demolish! Pairs, our hit arcade/puzzle game, has now been released on the App Store.  Price: FREE

Demolish! Pairs 1.0.1 for iPad

Download and play Demolish! Pairs FTP here (no charge).

This version is our initial (and, perhaps, terminal) entry into the mobile free-to-play marketplace.  We would truly like to see this fun game in the hands of as many players as possible, and if we can recoup something for our efforts (on a simple game that took more than a dozen years, during which time half of the development team died), that would be nice, too.  Seriously, it is important to us to get this product as widely spread as possible for the integrity of the data/results, which I intend to (mostly) share on this blog.

Download and Enjoy…  and then please Rate and Review it on the App Store!

Charitable Results

Our late October promotion flopped.

While we wait for Demolish! Pairs FTP to be reviewed (currently on Day 8), I figured that I would write about some results we got with our tiny promotion that ended almost a week ago, attempting to earn some money to donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  The basic numbers are based on tracking provided by Facebook, so perhaps we should start there.

(Cheap) Advertising on Facebook

Back in late August, as an inexpensive experiment, we decided to dabble in Facebook advertising.  At the time, our Digital Gamecraft page had an embarrassingly low number of ‘Likes’, all from people who I knew personally.  In order to increase this number, I clicked on ‘Promote Page‘ to suggest this page to other people.  In conjunction with this, we created a short 75% off sale for Demolish! Pairs, to provide brand new content (and a deal) for the page.

The results of this “campaign” were fairly decent, increasing our ‘Like’ count to more than 50 (from fewer than 20) in just a few of days, and for around $15.  The real benefit, though, turned out to be the availability of Facebook Insights once we passed 30 likes; this puts a figure for the number of people “Reached” on each post, giving an immediate idea of how well propagated your message becomes.  That initial post reached fewer people than had liked the page, but it gave me data to consider.

The next step was making a new post, warning that the sale was going to end in 3 days, and then, rather than continuing the page promotion, I instead clicked on ‘Boost Post‘ to advertise the sale directly.  This appeared to be more successful in terms of sales, and also brought a smattering of new followers as well.  The reach of that post was 5862 people (a 27814% increase from the previous post).

The first campaign, to increase the number of page followers, was successful in its goal, with the added benefit of providing more marketing data, but did not increase sales much.  The second campaign was more successful with sales, but not quite enough to overcome the decrease in income from the sale.  Still, it was a good amount of experimental information received for only about $25 total, with costs offset by the minor sales bump.

With improved copy, a better plan, and perhaps a somewhat more profitable price point, Facebook advertising could prove worthwhile (or, at least, break even).

Game Promotion for Charity

Armed with little more than Facebook data and good intentions, I decided to make the offer to donate $1000 to JDRF if our game could sell 350 copies in the last week of October.  The target sales number was chosen to be feasible, if the promotion caught on, and would amount to a donation of all proceeds, plus a small additional contribution from us.  In truth, I would (and probably should) have gone further to authorize the donation of all profits from the sales to charity, but I wanted to see how a target number might work.

To “promote” this offer, I (only) posted it at the end of this blog post, on the Digital Gamecraft Facebook page, and on the Digital Gamecraft Google+ page.  From my personal accounts, I liked/+1’d and shared both posts, and then sat back to watch.  Though my friend (and indie game developer), Gianfranco Berardi of GBGames, shared the post on Google+, I am only using the Facebook numbers and total sales figures.  (You will understand in a moment why this does not affect the results.)

The results were notable.  The impact of an offer for charity seems to bring in views, as the reach of that post, without any paid promotion, increased 385% from the previous non-sales post (and 1724% from the first sale post).  That was promising…  until the sales figures came in.  Despite the significantly increased reach, not only did we not meet our target figure, but there was no discernible change in sales at all.

The Bottom Line

It is going to take a lot of community building and experimentation, and probably quite a bit of luck, before we start figuring out marketing and social media, but this is a start.

Free-to-Play Take 1: Rejected

The first submission of Demolish! Pairs FTP was rejected by Apple.

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to embrace the free-to-play concept fully (if perhaps halfheartedly).  Unfortunately, my first attempt for iOS did not result in reciprocation, as Apple reviewers rejected the IAP (In-App Purchase) products submitted with the product, Demolish! Pairs FTP.  (Alas, it took the product 8 days to get a review, which then lasted only 15 minutes before the rejection notice.)

I had designed what I thought was a well-balanced menu of (4) IAP products, ranging from a “Golden Ticket” at $3.99 (the current price of the “paid” game) down to an inexpensive “Two Day Pass“.  This last item ran afoul of a guideline I had overlooked:

Content subscriptions using IAP must last a minimum of 7 days and be
available to the user from all of their iOS devices

The inclusion of that product was intended to mimic a standard overnight video rental, which is a clearly established mechanism for viewing movies, instead applied to a downloadable video game.  I felt that the inclusion of a $0.99 item (subscription, in this case) was important to anchor the bottom end and provide a quick, low resistance, purchase option for the customer.  The economics also basically require that a product priced in such a manner be something of a standalone, since the gap between pricing tiers is 1 dollar US, so this lowest (non-free) tier does adequately fill the space between any two other tiers; the short subscription would have met the need quite nicely.

I accepted the decision (since I had completely missed this restriction in my earlier review of submission guidelines), but not without registering my thoughts on the matter:

I realize that you do not have the authority to overrule the cited guideline, but I personally feel that it is misguided and stifles innovation.  In particular, overnight rentals have been well-established in the video rental industry, and our “Two Day Pass” option was intended to be analogous.  Now we have no method to test the acceptability of this approach (to customers) under iOS.

Indeed, I do intend to experiment with this option under Android, if possible (and I will read payment guidelines with this in mind), since one major goal of this whole procedure is to learn what does and does not work in this arena.

Preparing a second submission

Clearly, Apple was not going to allow me to experiment with this idea (as is), and I was convinced that extending the subscription to 7 days would unbalance the design, as would increasing the price of what was, very deliberately, the most inexpensive choice.  Besides, the “Two Day Pass” idea was already engraved in button artwork. 🙂

Rather than taking a bat to my IAP product design and hoping it remained stable, or delaying release long enough for a redesign to accommodate a different low end option, I decided to simply remove the “Two Day Pass” entirely, initially offering only 3 IAP products for sale.  Although the anchor I wanted is no longer there, this whole exercise is somewhat experimental and, certainly, incomplete data now is better than complete data delayed (and, hence, no data in the interim).

It pained me, due to the many hours of design, implementation, and testing, but it was far easier to remove the option than to add it in the first place; the second submission of Demolish! Pairs FTP was completed on the same day as the initial rejection.

Planning for the future

The design for the free-to-play version of Demolish! Pairs already envisions several updates to the IAP system that were not (fully) implemented for the initial release.  A replacement for the inexpensive subscription product was just added to the list of features to be added in future upgrades, and an idea is already in the works.

With the removal of the fourth product button from the store page, the “hole” in that page looks even larger than it did previously.  However, the view actually contains (hidden) controls for some of the upcoming options, including the fourth product button, so the store will look progressively better as we roll out these features.  Of course, all of that is premised on the free-to-play edition actually registering on the income needle.

So, now we wait (again)…