2011
01.18

So! It is a new year!

We had a great year last year. Gamebooks went from nothing to something and we learned heaps about how to survive in the tumultuous waters of the iOS app store.

Now the new year dawns and we have a chance to take stock of the last few weeks of the year: the dreaded holiday buying season. Our numbers are in and they are not as good as we had hoped. Not bad mind you. We did OK. But we put in a huge effort to get all four books out on iPad for a big December release and it did not have the splash we had hoped.

Now, dont get me wrong; this is not all bad news. A slightly off release is not going to kill us. We have planned from the very beginning to focus on building a nice stable of quality niche games and not try to ride the hit-driven rollercoaster. As I mentioned, we had hoped for some nice big sales numbers from the holidays but that just didnt materialise.

This leads me to: what did we learn?

I think, as an Indie I can pretty much say that even if you try to be clever about release dates and press releases and all of that, releasing anything in december is a fools game unless you have a big marketing budget.

We planned for our iPad stuff to come out in early december to try and beat the rush, but even then we were swamped by all the other big players. In addition to the new releases we played the sales game to drive up our ranks and that worked pretty well. We hit some record highs for a few days during mid-december.

However, once the big players decided to come out in force, we could not compete. Huge sales by the likes of EA dominated the charts. All the review sites were awash with the chart toppers and the big names and there was little interest in our niche products. We had a bit of a blessing from Apple and GA4 got into the New and Noteworthy in a few stores for about a week, and that also helped, but it was still not enough.

This is not unexpected really. Throughout the year we are always trying to sneak in between the big releases, such is the nature of indie marketing, especially for a niche product like ours.

While our new releases did not get the coverage we had hoped, our sales definitely helped drive Gamebooks to a bunch more people. GA1 was at $0.99 for quite awhile and both GA1 and GA4 were $1.99 for most of the rest of december. With these prices we definitely had way more purchases during december than any other month. In terms of actual income, since we were selling GA1 at %80 off we didn’t make that much money, but we are thinking that as these people get into GA1 we will see some percentage of them becoming fans of the series, and they will pick up the other books. If that happens then the %80 off sale will have definitely been worth it.

All in all, even though we were a bit disappointed by the actual dollar values, I think the experience was a good one. Now that we have been through this season once, I think next year we will approach the holiday season with a very different strategy.

I imagine we will focus on doing our ‘final’ releases for the year in november, before black friday. Then during December we will may do some more big sales to try and drum up some more new blood into the series.

But who knows :-) In any case, we are excited for the year ahead!

What were your experiences from the big December buying spree? If you are a player, how did you find it? Could we as indies have done something different that would have reached you more efficiently? If you are a dev, how did you deal with the craziness?

Cheers!
-Ben

6 comments so far

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  1. It’s interesting.

    When I worked in the commercial games field December release was of paramount importance due to the holiday season.

    Seems this same push is to the detriment to the Indie game scene.

  2. Hey Glenn,

    Yeah, I guess we are getting sorta used to it as indies. We need to try and find the best times (ie slow news days etc) to do our releases because we simply cant compete with the big names. That is OK, so now we are just making sure to learn from our past experiences when those best times are.

    It turns out that december has almost no ‘slow days’ where we can squeeze in and get good coverage.

    Now that the big marketing season is over, all the big boys have turned off the big money taps and suddenly there is room for indies like us to get noticed by outlets like the Guardian and Le Monde! (http://tinmangames.com.au/blog/?p=1137) So I think it might pay for us to do a big marketing push in early 2012 next time around. (ie make sure we have a good selection of titles on sale and available for the holidays, but plan our big announcements and new stuff for either much earlier, or after the fury has died down)

    Cheers!
    -Ben

  3. There have not been a lot of sales in January, that’s for sure. It all seemed to happen in a big frenzy in the November-December time frame. The only really big release since the holidays that I can think of is “Dead Space” from EA.

    I bought a few games that were on extreme sale for 99 cents such as Mirror’s Edge for iPad, Fruit Ninja for IPad, Splinter cell: Conviction, and I bought Galaxy on Fire 2 for the introductory sales price, which was $6.99, I think. I really like it when a special introductory price is offered for early adopters, such as what you did for some of your new Gamebooks at $2.99.

  4. Hey Jase,

    That is very interesting. To be honest, I have been so busy with the non-marketing side of things now that the xmas season is over that I havent really been paying attention. But now that you mention it, it has been a very quiet month (in terms of sales and big releases).

    It might be worthwhile for us to focus all our efforts on the january lull next year.

    Cheers!
    -B

  5. I’m just hoping that you get enough Gamebooks released that a critical mass of fans of the series develops. You really have an outstanding product, you must know that. I’ve got to think that a tipping point will be reached in terms of having a much broader audience be aware of your product.

    I grew up reading the Choose Your Own Adventure Series. They were very popular at that time (late 70s-early 80s) I also had a few of the other Gamebooks that your product most resembles, such as the ones that were related to Dungeons and Dragons.
    http://www.gamebooks.org/show_series.php?id=79

  6. Yeah, we’re hoping that at some point we’ll begin appealing a lot more to the mainstream and that the magical “tipping” point will appear. That would be nice. Still a ways to go before we get there though I think and a lot of that will come when we start opening up the technology to other genre as that will interest a more varied readership.