Picking things up again as an indie game developer

June 28th, 2016

It has been almost 2 years since my last blog post, and even longer since I released "Circuits", the last game that I developed. Time moved fast since then, and a lot of things happened. I wasn't always able to work as much on my games as I wished, but now I am ready to again pick up my indie game development more actively.

The past looked so good.

So what happened since my last blog post. Back then we were at Casual Connect Belgrade and it felt like my indie game studio was finally taking off. My last mobile game "Circuits" had just topped 500.000 downloads on Windows Phone in the first 3 months and I had plans for porting this game to android and iOS. I was convinced that it could be successful on those platforms as well.

The team behind circuits

However, at the same time I had also committed myself to an interesting consultancy project. Although it was foreseen that the project would last only 3 months, I am still working full time for the same client almost 2 years later. This may sound as enough reason why my game development work slacked, but on top of this I have crafted a baby room out of thin air, became a father and had countless sleepless nights as a result.

But, enough of the past... let's look at the future. I am fully energized to pick things up again.

Starting as an indie game developer, (learning from my mistakes)

Almost 2 years after my latest success I intend to pick up things where I stopped before. The break (however it was unplanned) allowed me to think over my approach. So, having learned from my mistakes I will be doing things differently this time.

One of my biggest mistakes was without doubt the fact that I was not focusing on the things that matter most. I have produced about 10 indie games since I started, but after launching these games I wasn't always paying attention to all the KPIs.

Of course I looked at the number of downloads, the user ratings and my ad revenue. I achieved fairly good results and was convinced that rapidly producing more games would be the key for success. But whatever I did, there hasn't been any real growth. I now believe that this I missed important opportunities because I wasn't looking at all the KPIs that matters. Developing a game is one thing, but the lifecycle doesn’t stop when you have released the game.

Growing into a indie game studio

As I said, no matter what I did, there was no actual growth. In the past I tried to achieve growth by launching more new games. I believed that a greater amount of games would give me more exposure in the app stores and would result in higher download numbers for all my games. Why would I think differently? I had already achieved a fair amount of daily downloads (4.000.000 to be exactly), top 100 app store position in various countries and most games had a fairly good user rating. It didn’t felt like my games were worse than the competition.

I recently looked back at all my analytics and it opened my eyes. It turns out that most players are leaving my games just as quickly as they downloaded them. Only a very few players are enough engaged to stick around for a longer time.

I can only grow into an indie game studio if I can counter the fleeing of my players. Therefore I will have to change my strategy in the following months. I now plan to look at all the KPIs that matter to me, and player retention will be one of the most important to start with.

The actual plan

Things are actually worse. Some of my games have gotten in a pretty bad shape since their last update. Due to my lack of time I have neglected the games too much, resulting in a couple of games with huge crash numbers, various bugs, bad reviews, … To be honest, it is a wonder that some people are still playing these games.

I have no choice. I will need to wipe my slate clean, but in a way that I do not loose my current players. In the following months I will be taking the first hurdle: getting my existing mobile games in a good shape by tackling all the crashes, bugs and bad reviews.

At the same time I will take this as an opportunity to improve the analytics in my games. I hope that I will be able to make a correct analysis of why players are dropping my games. Improving my current games will be very important in achieving success.

Optimizing the plan

Getting better results will not happen overnight. Without doubt I will need to have multiple improvement cycles for each mobile game before any real change is noticeable. As you can imagine, this will not only be time consuming, it will also require a lot of time since every change should be long enough in place before any conclusions can be taken.

Luckily I will be able to work on multiple games at the same time. This allows me to collect more information more rapidly. I hope that this will also allow me to take better decisions faster.

What’s ahead?

As you can imagine I will have some fairly busy time ahead. But at the same time I feel excited about all the new insights that I hope to gather. I have identified the mobile games that need most attention and will start with these: Circuits, Solitaire, Spider and Sudoku.

I plan to release any improvements on both Windows Phone and android (unfortunately I am not yet ready for releasing my games on iOS). Releasing these games on android will be an additional challenge that I am looking forward too.

At this moment there is a lot of wishful thinking that I am on the right path to success. Let’s hope it is not only wishful thinking…

Thanks for reading.

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