“Sheep Dreams Are Made of This” Post Mortem – The Pay What You Want model on Mobile

Abstract

In this article I will be sharing my experience using the Pay What you Want model in a mobile game. The game I tested on is called Sheep Dreams Are Made of This, a story driven platformer/runner with unusual mechanics and a weird vibe. A user review on the store described it as “a mix of Catherine and Cannabalt”, and I like to think it’s on point, Catherine was actually an influence since I was playing it while working on the initial concepts for this game and it made me realize the whole dream/nightmare thing would fit the mechanics I had in mind really well. Plus, I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and H.P. Lovecraft, so the theme really interests me.

The Problem

Sheep Dreams was a project I sat on my drawer for more than a year, we (me and one friend) began working on it with the idea of it being a “one weekend” project, but we worked on it for one day and never touched it again. Got busy, contract work came up, that sort of things.

It was supposed to be a small game from the start so we actually did a lot of the work on that one day: animations, background, level design and most of the mechanics.

 

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Initial character drafts

 

I really liked the idea of the game so one year later I decided I would finish it and release it. The artist was busy at the time so I took upon myself the stupid idea task to do everything else that was missing, including the art.

What is this game?

The elevator pitch goes something like this: Sheep Dreams Are Made of This is a looping platformer about recurring nightmares, you control a man that wakes up in the same nightmare, every night, for the past 16 years. As you navigate the labyrinth levels you collect memory fragments that help the character remember things about his past, and your goal is to collect them all to uncover what has been causing the recurring nightmares, but you have to do it before he wakes up.

YsD2wE

When I sat down to start this game, my initial goal was simply to try and make a game with no death and no enemies. An endless runner seemed like a good option, and later on turned out to work really well with the recurring nightmare theme.

As I was finishing the game I decided it needed something to make it more compelling. I was dabbling with the idea of a time based mechanic from the beginning, so I thought it would be interesting if the game had a time limit of 8 hours, representing a full night of sleep. This would be 8 hours of real time, so it would count even with the game closed. Not only it made a lot of sense given the concept of the game, but it also would make players stick with the game a little longer and present more of a challenge. Of course some people did not like the idea (I’ll get into details later on) but they were far fewer than I expected.

The Initial Launch

Finishing the game ended up taking a little more time than I expected (as it always does), but I was satisfied with the result. It wasn’t looking as cool graphically as I initially hoped, but I was happy with the camera tricks, and the very happy with how the story turned out.

Here’s how the game looked upon launch.

 

The original trailer is still up if you want to check it.

If you  look close you will notice what elements I drew (platforms, doors, cubes…) because they don’t look as good as the sheep and the background. I thought it was good enough since the main thing about the game was the concept and story, and I was really curious to see if the mobile audience would like something like this.

I decided to publish the game initially in two places: itch.io and Windows Phone.

Itch.io because I never released a game on PC and I wanted to get some experience, also makes it easier to show the game to other devs and get feedback.

And windows phone because I had a great experience with my previous game, great community and all.

Why not release on Android and iOS as well? I was still very unsure about this project, specially on mobile where players are more casual, I thought everyone would hate a game that was trying to tell a more deep and serious story. So this way I would able to test it first.

But I still had a big problem: monetization.

How the hell do you monetize a story driven endless runner? There are no power ups, no coins, no costumes. I only want the player to experience the story with no hurdles. Ideally this would be a $0.99 game, but I was sure that would flop, releaseing a paid mobile game without being known is tough. I bet Simogo would be able to get away with it, for instance (they are my favorite mobile dev btw).

So as I was getting to know itch.io better I saw the “suggested donation” thing, and I really liked that, that could work. But how would I do that on mobile? Would App Purchase work?

After a bit of research I found out that you are not allowed to get donations inside an app, if you are selling an IAP you have to give something to the player, otherwise your app will be refused. So I went back to the model I didn’t really want: ads with IAP to remove it, but instead of charging a flat $0.99 I gave the option of paying $0.99, $1.99 and $2.99.

Sheep Dreams_2018-04-27-09-21-31

I also tried to make the ads not very intrusive, I did not want banner ads, so I chose to show full screen ads every once in a while, after the player goes through a  door and a story bit appears, since the game is paused on that moment. So I published the game and started the usual facebook/twitter/email marketing.

What Went Right

The Story

I really did not expect the mobile audience to be on board for the story, but I was really excited reading the reviews because people were really into it! I also got a lot of 1 star reviews saying the game was depressive or “don’t play this game if you’re feeling down”. I really don’t mind that people give it a bad rating, knowing that the story had such a string impact is more important for me, even if it made the person stop playing the game.

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 10.19.50 AM

Graphics

To my surprise, not only people did not complain about the graphics, but it got a lot of compliments! (Later on we updated the graphics a bit, we’ll get there)

The Name

Touch Arcade later used the headline “Sheep Dreams Are Made of This has a clever pun and a crazy gimmick”. It was the first time I got the attention of a big iOS website, and I think the name played a big part in getting their attention. My previous game had a very generic name that probably did not help at all (Tap Master Mondrian), e the following game I released also had this problem (Snap Quiz Challenge). They were also targeted to more casual players, but I think a better name would have helped them. I lost count of how many people made jokes quoting the Marilyn Mason song, and many people complained on the reviews that they wanted the song to be in the game.

Windows Phone

I tried using the “exclusive to windows phone” tagline when I release Sheep Dreams, since my previous game did much better on windows phone than iOS and Android. And this worked really well with the community, they loved to have a game that could not be found on the other systems, and it also work with the mobile sites focused on windows phone, most of the major ones did a piece on the new weird game exclusive to windows phone. The game also got some small features on the windows phone store. Too bad windows phone did not have a ton of users, and by this point the ad revenue decreased by half if compared to when I launched Tap Master.

What Went Wrong

As I said before, this initial launch (maybe you could call it a soft launch) was more of a test, here’s what went wrong :

Music (lack of)

This one was also a big experiment. I thought I’d make this a “silent game”, since it’s very common to have dreams where you can’t hear anything. There was even a point in the game where  the characters points it out in one of the sentences that appear when the character enters a door.

Of course it also made it a lot easier to make the game because I did not have anyone to make the music and sound effects, as I mentioned before, I was making this completely alone at this point.

What happened is I got a lot of 1 star reviews because people thought it was a bug! Later on I added music and sound effects, and of course it made the game much better. Still got some 1 star reviews complaining the music is repetitive. Oh well.

Menu (and very low IAP conversion)

I had this “great” idea of making the menu playable, so the character would have jump on the specific platform if he wanted to rate the game, see credits or buy the IAP.

That’s terrible. You really don’t want to make it hard for people to buy your damn game, or rate it.

Pay What You Want Menu

So I immediately made a quick update and added a button inside the pause menu that would rate the game, and another one to buy the IAP, except that this one was defaulted to the lowest priced one ($0.99), so it poisoned the stats that I will show later on, at least for windows phone, because I fixed it before launching on android and iOS by adding a separate screen with the 3 prices (which you saw the screenshot earlier when I was talking about monetization)

The Language Barrier

Looking at the average review score after one week or so I realized the game was rated considerably lower in countries where Spanish is the native language, compared to English and Portuguese speaking ones.

The game launched in English and Portuguese, and since the main element of the game is the narrative, it makes sense that people that don’t understand the language won’t like the game. Other places like Germany, Russia and China had also a good rating average, probably because most of the population understands English. On a later update I added Spanish localization, and sure enough the average rating for those countries went from 2.5 – 3 to above 4!

The Time Limit

The 8 hour time limit was not made very clear inside the game, specially when the time ended, it would just go back to the menu and reset the game, so once again people thought it was a bug that was making them lose all their progress, and there came a lot of 1 star ratings.

Sheep Dreams 2.0

After seeing how the game was received, specially how people resonated with the story, the original artist was excited about the game and decided to work on the art elements that were missing (the ones I had do draw) so we could make the game more presentable for release on iOS and Android.

Here’s the new art and the new trailer

(If you open the trailer on Youtube, read the comment by Mustafa Sarkisla, it’s probably the first one. This is the kind of comment that makes game development worth it for me, I was having shivers when I read it. A lot of people send me emails with similar comments, or posted on the store reviews sharing their own story, and this made me really happy)

We also added music and sound effects.

Everything was set for launch, I posted the game on TouchArcade “coming soon” forums and something I did not expect happened: they wrote a post about the game.

It was a very short post, but even so it made me stop and think, because it was the first time they posted about one of the games I’ve worked on.

At this point I really considered making the iOS version paid, since I would get a bit of visibility from TouchArcade at launch (and looking back I wish I did, more on that later).

I posted on r/gamedev to ask for advice: “How do I monetize a story driven endless runner without enemies and upgrades?”

People suggested I should find a way to include a power up of some kind, something to help the user, make the game a bit easier. Took me a while, but I ended up finding a good solution.

The Alarm Clock and the Sleeping Pills

So the game has this 8 hour time limit, the “gimmick” touch arcade mentioned. I thought it was an interesting experiment to have the game “last” for 8 hours, I wanted to see how the people would react.

Of course not everyone liked this, and some people didn’t even understand (to be honest in the first version it was only explained well in the game description, and who reads that?). So I came up with the Alarm Clock.

TimeToWakeUp

When your time was up, an alarm would ring and the screen above would appear. The player would have the options to “snooze”, limited to 3 times, where the player gets to play 10 more minutes, or to get some sleeping pills . The sleeping pills being an IAP that would remove the time limit (the character would keep sleeping indefinitely). I thought it was clever, of course some people complained it was a ripoff, that the time limit was there just to force them to buy the IAP. But some people really liked that they could finally play on their own pace and finish the game, it ended up being the most popular IAP in the game, because that was the thing about the game, people got really curious about the weird story and they really wanted to know that happened: what the hell did this guy do? Where is this going?

The Launch 2.0

In some ways the launch went better than I expected, at least on iOS. It had almost 5k downloads on the first few days, which was much more than my previous game. But on Android it was a rough start, since almost no website had something about the game.

At some point (more than 1 year later) the game was featured on China for iOS, it was a very small feature, but the numbers are interesting, I wrote a post about it sharing the numbers. There were no sales of IAP though.

We also updated the windows phone version with the new graphics, of course.

Android Strikes Back

Very slowly android numbers kept growing, but it wasn’t until december 2016 that they really kicked in, and I still have no idea what happened. The app had around 3k total downloads at this point. It jumped from around 200 downloads a month in november to 1.200 in december, almost 6k in january and 13k in march, which was the best month. As you can see on the acquisition report below, most of the downloads were coming from organic views, and from Brazil (my home country). I couldn’t find any features, so I really don’t know what happened.

Through 2017 and until February 2018 the game averaged 3-5k downloads per month, which I thought was very good. Then, as quickly as they came, they went away. Coincidentally, as the game reached 100k lifetime downloads, the average daily download came down from 100 to 10. I guess maybe when the app changed to a new tier of download (in this case 100k-500k) it affects the app position and visibility on the store, but I thought it would affect for the best.

Here’s the total game downloads by platform as of April 2018

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 3.12.04 PM

Ok, so what about the “Pay What You Want” numbers I came here for?

I had 3 tiers of price, $0.99, $1.99 and $2.99. Looking back now, I could have made the difference a bit bigger.

What happened is very few people bought the middle tier. People either paid the minimum to just remove the ads or they really liked the game and paid the highest. That’s why I said maybe I could have made the tiers further apart, people who liked the game were really into it and wanted to show their support. Something like 0.99/2.99/4.99 could have worked better. 

Here’s the breakdown of tier % by platform

 

And Here’s the revenue comparison from Remove Ads and Sleeping Pills (the “cheating” IAP)

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 4.58.16 PM
Turns out a lot of people enjoy “cheating”

 

Conclusion

So, in the end, would I recommend “Pay what you want”? For most cases, yes. In my case, this increased the revenue in 37%, compared to if I had just charged the regular $0.99. Of course this will be different for every game, if I had tried this on the Quiz game I released later on, I’m sure this % would have been lower, because it’s very casual and has no story, so it’s harder for the player to be attached.

If you ever tried anything similar, please let me know how it went! If you have any other questions about number or stats that I did not include, get in touch on twitter @robsonsiebel or leave a comment below!

You can find the links to download Sheep Dreams are Made of This below:

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Surto Festival

A few weeks ago we were invited to participate in a print art festival called Surto, that features a small games section.

It was an amazing experience, we met some talented gamedev folks and had a lot of fun playing and watching people play our games. The sense of comradely among the devs is heartwarming =)

We took the opportunity to test the PC version of Sheep Dreams Are Made of This. We plan on adding a lot of new stuff to the game. Also the mobile version of Tap Master Mondrian.

 

We also made some prints of the new game we’re working on, a Choose Your Own Adventure set in a dark modern setting =)

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More information about our new game, and the PC version of Sheep Dreams coming soon!

 

Snap Quiz Challenge now available on Android!

Snap Quiz Challenge is now available on the Google Play store!

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Snap Quiz is a fast paced quiz featuring more than a hundred questions from 11 categories including movies, books, video games, geography, music, famous quotes and more!

 

Check it out!

If you have any suggestions for themes or questions, send an email to snapquiz@minichimera.com =)

 

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Why use .gifs?

Gifs are huge on social  media and are a great way to  share cool snippets of your game.  If you are a game developer you probably know that by now.

What’s also  cool about gifs is that they are really useful too, it’s an easy way to check on what’s happening frame by frame.

loop new record.gif
Looping gif  to see how the animations is coming along

 

I’ve been using a program called ScreenToGif, it’s very simple, does not require you to install anything, and can export to video or gif. It also has some neat editing features and effects.

gismaker

Another use I found for gifs is to show something to your work partner if you work remotely. “Hey, did that animation I send you worked well with the background?”, a gif is a quick and painless method of showing it, easier than sending a build and more efficient, maybe the person is on mobile and wont be able to check a build until later on.

What other uses do you have for .gifs?

How we created our logo!

Hello!

We decided to make a small post talking about how we created the logo (and  the name) for our company.

GIF-02

Alberto, our artist, was the one that came up with the idea of the “Chimera”, after we had a discussion about what was our vision for the company. Our goal was to make little experiments, games that are different from what you usually see. And not  only that, but we wanted every game to be very unique on it’s own, not a copy or sequel from the previous game. And that’s why we chose the “Chimera”, a fusion of different beasts that gives birth to a powerful magical creature.

Photo Post

So that takes care of the Chimera part, but why “Mini”? Well,  first of all, we had to be humble, we are just a two person team, so using the image of a big monster seemed a little off, like we are trying to compensate or something. And besides that, our focus is also on mobile, all our games fit on a small  device that you carry around in your pocket, so that seemed appropriate.

Of course the logo will change and improve over time, it is not (and should not) something set in stone. We even did an alternate creepy version for our second game.

Logo - Dark

Why releasing our game on Windows Phone was a great experience

1 year after launching our first game, we have 10 times more downloads on WP8 than android and iOS combined

If you’re a mobile developer, chances are you have your game on Android and iOS, and you never cared to port it to Windows Phone 8. Knowing the costs often involved in porting a game I can’t say I blame you for it, but I’d like to share my experience on what I think might be thes best place to put your game if you are a small independent developer that doesn’t have money to spend on marketing to compete with the big publishers.

I’ll get into the details of why I chose to make a game for WP8, what the download numbers were for the three platforms and how much money I made on each. I also talk about how I marketed the game and why I think the game ended up being way more successful on the arguably smaller platform.

Download links for the game can be found here.

 

  1. Why Windows Phone 8?

 

When I started to make Tap Master Mondrian, the first game I was making independently with the help of my friend who’s an artist, I needed a device to test the game. Being an iPhone user who only has a windows PC (Macs are really expensive here in south america, also video games) my choices were either buy an Android or a Windows Phone.

To be honest, it wasn’t until I started researching the prices of android phones that the WP8 became a real option, because of all the reasons everybody knows: nobody has WP8, it doesn’t have any apps, yada-yada-yada.

I was never a big fan of Android phones in the first place, but what I noticed was that for the small amount of money I was willing to spend I would get a phone that was completely garbage. Around the same time a friend of mine bought a mid range WP8 and paid a very good price, so I did a little research and found what I was looking for: a Lumia 520, a phone with decent specs for a ridiculously low price.

Since Unity had recently added support for WP8, I had everything I needed.

You might argue I would be better off spending a little bit more and buying Android, since the market is so much bigger, but one argument that helped with my decision was that everyone said WP8 did not have many games, so I thought that maybe that would be a good thing for the visibility of my game, which I knew from my previous job was a problem on the other platforms.

And hell, I’m optimist and I like windows, so why not give it a chance?

  1. The game

I don’t want to get into too much detail on the game itself, so I’ll try to be brief. The game is called Tap Master Mondrian and it’s pretty simple, I tried to keep the scope small enough, since I would be doing all the programming, design and marketing. My partner made the art and came up with all the visual identity (he’s also the reason why the game has ‘Mondrian’ on the name), and a friend of his made the music and sounds.

Tap Master Mondrian
Tap Master Mondrian

Also, I wanted a game that would be simple enough for anyone to be able to play (preferably on portrait), and quick enough to be played anywhere, because it’s what I believe mobile games should be
The gameplay is a basic “follow the rule” type, the player has to tap only the color or shape that is dictated on the top as the pieces fall down the screen. The speed increases as the player hits more pieces, and there are a few special effects that twist the gameplay from time to time.

Pretty simple, but I wanted a project that I could complete, and I think it ended up being the right choice.

  1. Download Figures

Before I go into details of how I marketed the game I would like to share the overall download figures for the 3 platforms. The Android and WP8 versions were released at the same time, one year ago, and the iOS version was released almost two months later on.

As of May 2015, numbers stand as shown below.

graph downloads

wp_ss_20150522_0001The difference is absurd, and that is the reason I’m writing this article. I’m curious to know if other devs had a similar experience, because I certainly never heard about it, it’s usually the opposite.

The game was released for free, and had ads and also a single IAP to remove the ads. I will get into the revenue and IAP numbers later on, first I would like to discuss the marketing strategy I used.

  1. Marketing a game (without any money)

 

That for me was one of the toughest parts of the whole process of making a game, how the hell do I get people to try it, or even know it exists? I read a bunch of material and tips, and ended up doing a lot of everybody suggests: a lot of social media, email all the websites, contact youtubers, posting on forums.

As for paid advertising I tried two things, first admob, even though I heard it wasn’t very good. I did some banners and paid $40 dollars to admob to advertise my game (only the Android version), it resulted, according to admob, on 14 downloads, almost $3 per click. So yeah, stay away from this one.

The second thing was facebook, I spent about $30, and it got me around 10 downloads a day for a few weeks, this only for the iOS version.

The only version I did not spend any money to advertise was the windows phone 8 one.

So how did it get way more downloads?

Well, in the first few weeks I was getting around 60-70 downloads a day on WP8, and 10-20 on android, all from posting around on facebook, twitter, reddit and forums. One thing I did realize was that the windows phone users were much more interested and would engage more with my posts than the android users. So even though the android communities were much bigger, they mostly would not care or even see my posts, while the WP8 users were happy that a developer would value their platform of choice, and care enough to make a game for it (specially a game that wasn’t already on iOS). There were also a lot of enthusiastic users who would post about the game on their page, blog, youtube channel, show to friends at school, etc.

After two weeks I started seeing posts about the game on small pages, all dedicated to windows phone alone, most of them from Brazil (and this is where a little bit of luck comes in, since I’m brazilian and it is one of WP8’s biggest markets). At this point I was getting around 150 downloads a day on WP8, and I was pretty happy about it, since the Android was steady on 10-15 daily despite my efforts, and no page or website had posted anything about the game.

The big increase on downloads started on the following week when wpcentral (apparently now called windowscentral) made a post about the game. That day we had almost 900 downloads, and that made the game visible on the charts.

On the following days a lot of others smaller sites posted about the game, and the daily numbers increased slightly, but then game the real game changer in the form of an email entitled “Your app will be featured on the windows phone 8 app store”.

Featured for the first time
Featured for the first time

The feature was only for the brazilian store, which is the game had the highest number of downloads then, and even though I was pretty happy about it, I did not expect to get so many downloads, so I was really surprised when the game was downloaded more than 10 thousand times that day (a saturday, if I’m not mistaken), and a couple thousand more on the day after.

The whole feature thing got me really excited because I knew it was something very hard to get on iOS and Android. But as much as I was excited, I thought that would be the end of it, that the lightning would not strike twice. Of course, I had no idea how microsoft treated features.

A few days later, for my surprise, the game got another feature on the brazilian store, and also on a handful of smaller countries, that ended up meaning around 6 thousand downloads. So I started changing my phone store to see how the game would be featured, sometimes it would be on a huge spotlight on the front of the games section, while sometimes on a page almost hidden, but still better than no spotlight at all.

Smaller Feature
Smaller Feature

And the features kept on coming, keeping the download numbers on a steady growth, to this day one year after launch Tap Master Mondrian usually has around 100 downloads on a day, up to a couple thousand when featured. In April 2015, for instance, it was downloaded a total of 5888 times across the three platforms, from which 35 on iOS, 228 on Android and 5625 on WP8.

  1. Show me the money

 

So how much money 70k downloads get you? Not much, I’m afraid. If you’re a mobile developer you know this and also know that 70k downloads is not a big number. This is also the part where I admit I made some mistakes while monetizing the game. I did not want to make a game with an aggressive IAP model full of coins and lives, specially since video ads play a good part of that and there is no option for video ads on WP8 as far as I’m concerned. So I ended up deciding to go with admob banners and full screen interstitial.

I tried not to be very annoying with the ads as well, there is a banner on the bottom that appears every other game, and the interstitial only appears when the player goes back to the main menu.

Looking back now I think I may have gone too soft on the ads, or maybe I should have given more thought to the whole monetization thing and do lives with timer or something, because the financial side didn’t really work as well as I expected, the attach rate was low and very few people bought the “remove ads” IAP. The conversion rate did go up once I added a message asking for players to support the developers after they played a dozen matches.

Ad Revenue by Platform
Ad Revenue by Platform

 

So the total Ad Revenue was $377,23, but even though the WP8 has the great majority of it, the CPM on the other platforms was higher, especially on iOS. It is common to see 1 click on iOS be worth the same as 15 clicks on WP8.

I ended up going with admob because I wanted to concentrate all the money in one place, and it seemed like a good option. The fill rate has always been pretty good (almost 100%) across all platforms, except for the last month when it dropped to 10-20% on WP8, but google said it’s working to fix it. I also had an issue once where the ads stopped working on WP8 during one weekend, also google’s fault, and for coincidence it was the weekend I had the most traffic.

As for the IAP, the numbers are so low that it’s not even worth it to make a graph, the % was pretty much the same across all the platforms, the totals being 55 for WP8, 4 for Android and 3 for iOS. That is pretty low, but if you play the game you will see the ads don’t bother you enough.

 

  1. Conclusion

 

wp_ss_20150521_0001
Well, the main goal of this post was to show how windows phone can be a viable platform, mostly due to the feature system, that feels very fair to me compared to the ones on the Play Store and App Store, you feel like you have more of a chance for people to see yourgame.

Even today, one year later, Tap Master continues to be featured almost on a daily basis, even though it’s mostly on smaller countries it does help to keep the number of downloads steady and way above the iOS and Android versions.

wp_ss_20150521_0002

I would love to hear the experience of other devs on windows phone 8, and I hope the information here can be useful in any form. If you have any question please feel free to comment on the post, on reddit, or ask me on twitter or via email, I’ll do my best to answer all of them.

 

Thank you for reading!