Develop an almost successful iPhone game

Every creative person who respects himself (humor) has given at least a try on the appStore.
Digging for gold had always been fun after all.
But don`t get me wrong, i am not an oportunist.
I wanted to create a good innovative game and as the matter of fact i (we) did.
Here is my story about the way I managed to develop an almost successful iphone game.

November 2009 found me and my colleague J, both in a bad financial shape and unfortunately unable to support the creation of an iOs game while making our living at the same time.
As you can imagine developing a game is a full time job (if you want to end sometime soon) and a high risk investment if you throw every penny you have on it and wait to sell thousands.
Full of ideas though, we talked to a good friend – who happens to be financially comfortable – about our dream. His answer to the question if he was willing to bet some money on this, was “yeah, i prefer to participate to create a product, which i know it will be top notch cause i trust your job, instead risking money to some stock buying a bubble”.

Notes for the development of the iPhone game

So there we were. We had our fund ready and our heads full of gold!
I presented an idea to my partner programmer and he liked it.
Our main target was to create an arcade game, adjusted to the special characteristics of the iDevice (small size, low cpu power, touch screen, lazy users) which would bring back to life memories of good old classics like pacman, bubble bobble etc. Innovation and addiction were the two most repeating words on every conversation we had those days.

After some brainstorming (lasted less than two days) we finalized the concept.
Our game was just born.
Combining elements of timed tapping and color matching, it promises to offer a simple one-touch style of gameplay that is made infinitely more exciting and complex with dozens of unique bonuses, power-ups and challenges.

I will avoid the technical or the development details but after a long period of experimentation and beta testing we concluded that we had created a monster in an angel’s body. The guy that fund us was playing all the time (was the no1 fun of the game) and ourselves were pretty sure that this game would hit the charts if released.
HOW NAIVE we were back then…

Fault 1:
We played the game a lot while debugging and have to admit that it is a difficult game at first which you master every time you repeat it. We had reached hi levels of experience and skills comparing to a new (beta tester) player. When we gave it for testing to inexperienced people (that is to say women and kids) the feedback was that it was nice but difficult. We didn`t listen to them claiming that they have no idea. We were excited with our creation and our ears were closed to negative feedback!

Fault 2:
It was a first time seen gameplay. So the tutorials / introduction to the game had to be very well designed.
We put an interactive tutorial (text and gameplay) and an external video tutorial but not a real playground introduction. So at the time the game was at its peak, something was missing. A smooth, fast and self explanatory presentation for this first time seen kind of game.

Fault 3:
We first published the game with the rediculus name “Flying Discs” which was translated as “frisbies” by the gamers.

Fault 4:
We sent the game for evaluation to a strong publisher.
The feedback was not bad but we were asked to reduce some stuff.
We did it and sent it back for re-evaluation after about a month.
The second evaluation was kind of late.
So we did the mistake to self publish thinking that the publisher was n`t interesting after all.
The person I was talking with, used to answer immediately after 1, 2 days max.
We couldn`t wait any longer cause we were way out of timelines and budget.

Two days after the publishing, the guy from the publishing company sent an email saying that he had some technical problems with his emails. The verdict was that they liked the final demo we sent and that if we agreed to make some additions (a specific leaderboard platform and retina support) we could work together.
Unfortunately we could not work together at that moment as the game was already published. He proposed that we could colaborate in the future with a new game or a sequel.
I withhold this incident in my mind as A VERY BAD TIMING!

Anyway…

We got great reviews and comments from toucharcaders (toucharcade for those who don`t know, is the biggest forum about iOs games with thousands of hardcore and casual gamers).
But we needed exposure and the large blogs had made no reviews yet.
Almost 500 sales at first.
Black clouds for the team!
What if we managed to develop an almost successful iPhone game ?

Almost is not an option.
So we didn`t give up though. We picked up our pieces and gave it a second try.
We decided to hire a good PR company to spread the word.
They evaluated the game (they don`t promote whatever it comes up) and they proposed that we had to change name and main icon.
So we did. The new face and name of the game was sweet, mainstream and fresh.
The PR guys were positive that Apple was going to feature the game and send it to outer space.
Then the reviews came to seal the almost sure upcoming success of the game.
TUAW (daily app), CNET, T3 (it`s a marvel!), PCWORLD, MACWORLD, GAMEZEBO, APPADVICE, APPSPY, IPHONELIFE and many more (up to 23 positive reviews. The worst reviews we got was 4 stars out of 5, except the pocket gamer that rate it with a bad 5/10 because the reviewer never gave a chance to the bloody game – he claimed that it was random based and not skill based – an opinion that has nothing to do with the reality! ).
Despite all predictions, the sales were not good once again. Apple didn`t feature it homepage. It featured it in its category though but this was useless. This featuring is not shown on any list or inside the devices.
Someone was messing with our patience that period.
The game never made it to the charts and we were trying to figure out why.

Conclusion:
There are some “faults” mentioned above. None of these were really condemnatory.
Not the self publishing, or the closed ears to the inexperienced beta testers (or else the reviewers would have crucify us), not even the intro playground we added later.

The guys that PRed us, managed to make 100.000 downloads in 4 days to the next game they promoted. They were convinced from the first day they saw our game that it was a golden egg. They are too experienced to make such wrong prediction.

I will say this to close this post.
If you don`t have the luck factor with your side, you are doomed. The universe didn`t want this game to succeed at the specific period it got published. So besides a good product you need some luck to get it going.
Now about a year after its last update, the game sells 0. It is invisible.
Does it deserve it ?
According to the professional reviewers and the people that gave it a chance and tried to beat it, it doesn`t. It is a good addictive and challenging game.
Perhaps one day Bill Gates will play it, twit it and make us rich, beautiful and famous.
Who knows !

Until next iOs try
Farewell guys :)

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