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Monday
Sep242012

Tales of an Also-Ran Part 2

Pricing an App is a tough game. As many economists will tell you, anything is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it, no more. But how does someone decide what they are willing to pay, and who (or what) sways that judgment?

The current #1 app (both in games and overall) is The Room. It's a puzzle game where you must explore serveral deepening levels of puzzle boxes through intuitive yet compelling gestural controls on iPad only. It is atmospheric and strange and every level of the prodution has clearly been painstakingly considered. I played through it last night in about 2 and a half hours. It sells for $4.99.

In the great race to the bottom on the App Store, $4.99 is considered by most to be "premium pricing". It's the price you choose when you know you are going to be limiting your audience but you don't care because you know you are worth it and you know you've created something good. (Alternatively, it's the price you pick when you have millions to spend on marketing).

It's also the price at which we initially released Uncle Slam.

Let's run down a couple more things these two games share- 

  • Original Music - Check
  • iPad only (at least at launch) - Check
  • An overall cohesive art style - Check
  • Gestural controls that make full use of the touch screen - Check
  • Social elements to proclaim victory on Twitter/Facebook - Check

Now let's look at the first week performace of both:

(For those not familiar with AppFigures, the message "Ranks data is not available" means the app is not currently ranked in any way for that period)

Let's also consider for a moment what is different about these two games.

  • The Room is a single player only experience, Uncle Slam includes both single and multi-player.
  • The Room takes between 1 and 5 hours to complete. Uncle Slam probably takes about 10 hours to "complete" (assuming you take "unlocked Uncle Slam" to mean you've completed the game on normal difficulty).
  • The Room has zero replayability, Uncle Slam is a fighting game which is inherently infinitely replayable.
  • The Room has a dark and ominous vibe, Uncle Slam is more playful, cute and irreverant.
  • The Room is fairly timeless, Uncle Slam is politics-focused in the middle of an election year. 
  • The Room has been covered all over the internet as well as been featured by Apple on the App Store, Uncle Slam has not.

Where's the rest of my game? 

I was thoroughly enjoying The Room, right up to the point when I finished it. My first thought was "That's it? $4.99 for that?" Now I admit, my feelings about it are farily skewed. I know how hard it is to sell a game at $4.99 and this game, though fun while it lasted, ended far too soon. Yet it was handed media coverage and an Apple sponsorship leading to a first week revenue of at least $1.75 million.*

So who exactly decides what is worthy of coverage and an Apple-Blessed fast-track to fun and profit? We certainly tried. We spent lots of money (relatively) on advertising and marketing including direct media out-reach, "traditional" advertising (banner ads), incentivized advertsing, social marketing and viral video. And quite frankly, (if you'll allow me some conceit), Uncle Slam is a damn good game. After months of non-performance, we dove into the race to the bottom and began dropping the price while releasing additional characters to be used in the game hoping to switch eventualy to the Freemium model (which we did in August). Yet no matter what we did or do moving forward, The Room likely gets more downloads in a single day, for $4.99, than Uncle Slam has garnered in it's entire life so far, no matter the price (and including all free downloads).

The unfortunate reality I'm coming to terms with is that, despite what people constantly repeat, the App Store economy is really far more of a lottery than I think anyone really wants to admit. We all want to believe that you can build, package and market a good product and you will be successful, but I'm increasingly learning that this isn't as true as we all want it to be.

 

*This revenue number is derived from the assumption that, as of December 2011, it took at least 80,000 downloads a day to reach to the top 10 and The Room currently has been sitting at #1 overall for 5 days. The individual cut of at $4.99 selling price is $3.50. App Store growth over the last 9 months would imply that this download number can only have gone up making this revenue estimate extremely conservative from what I can see. 

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