Kyobi Flash vs. iPhone sales figures & #1 in BigFishGames Online Top 10

Kyobi on BigFishGames

My match-3 physics game Kyobi went live onto BigFishGames today, and is currently sitting proud as the #1 game in the Online charts. At the time of writing it has a staggering 40,000 people currently playing it. I mean, whoa. That’s pretty incredible. That’s like the entire population of my home town all playing my game at the same time. I’m not sure how often the player count is updated, but it seems to be every minute.

Adding those stats into the mix the game has reached 1 million plays since release just under a month ago, and it’s not even out on the really big sites I’ve sold it to.

I’m well aware the reason it is currently #1 is because it’s the “New Game of the Day” – but so what, I still took a screen grab and will cherish it as my first ever BFG title :)

“How did you get so many sponsors?”

I’ve been asked this question quite a lot recently (along with “How is the iPhone game doing?” which I answer below)

When I put Kyobi onto FlashGameLicense.com (FGL) the interest was immediate and rapid. As well as having it on FGL I also spent time emailing sponsors directly. Most of them didn’t bother to reply, but 2 did and both bought licenses, so it was worth my time just for this. One of companies who contacted me was GameJacket, who offered a $1000 advertising advance on the basis that all other versions of the game I sold were site locked (which they of course are), and no-one else got the game before them.

I liked the sound of this offer. I was low risk to me, so I accepted it. This automatically meant that none of the other sponsors could have exclusive rights to the game. So I told them this and most of them re-adjusted their bids accordingly, understanding that they would get the game on the day of release, but on a non-exclusive basis. In effect, everyone got it at the same time.

So I persisted with this offer to the various sponsors and they all agreeded. I built custom versions for them all, with API work in some cases, custom logos and pre-loaders in others. All versions were packaged up and ready for launch day.

I also created a Media Pack they could download. This pack included a range of high resolution screen shots, game artwork, logo, description and thumbnails for them to use on their sites if they wished (and a number of them did).

To date I have sold Kyobi to 9 different sponsors. 5 of those had the game on day of release, 2 others contacted me directly as a result of having seen it on NewGrounds (where it got a Daily 5th Place Award) and asked for custom builds. The other 2 bought it via the FGL game shop service. Updated: 26th April (5 days after original article written) – Kyobi won 3rd place in the Whirled single player game contest, adding $1000. It has also been picked up by another 2 sponsors adding $600 to the figure below.

Combined I received $5,155 $6,755 (updated 26th April) from these deals. By making a lot of “smaller” sales I managed to effectively double what I would have got from the best “single sponsor” offer had I gone down that route. And of course the game is still on sale.

You can see some of the custom builds of Kyobi on Andkon Arcade, Hubits, Juegos Juegos, Whirled and even a dating site called Connecting Singles! A tie-in with GameJacket means a special version will also go across the Spil Group of sites shortly too.

2 very high profile sponsors are yet to release their versions, despite having had them for some weeks now. I’ll update when they do because I expect them both to deliver serious play figures.

Of course the GameJacket version carries adverts, and the daily income rate from those has been quite encouraging (at least compared to my experience with Mochi). It won’t set my financial world on fire, but it should earn back the $1000 advance relatively painlessly. And then the money from that point on goes directly to me. As I have a full-time job that I love, that pays all the bills money made by Kyobi is surplus income. After tax it helped pay towards a new kitchen and parts for me to build a top of the line Quad Core PC. Could I “live off” the income from this game? No, of course not. That is what Flash game dev contract work is for, but that’s another post for another day.

… and what about the iPhone version?

iphoneKyobi was converted to the iPhone by my good friends at The Game Creators. The iPhone version is enhanced in several ways. It has a nice use of the accelerometer, more complex level patterns, blockers, bonuses and power-ups which improve the gameplay significantly.

In short it’s a really nice game, and my agreement with TGC meant I’d get a decent percentage from sales.

On the downside they renamed it from Kyobi to “Touch & Go”. In retrospect this was a horrendous move. Not only did it disjoint the brand, if you try searching for it on AppStore you’ll get about a million results back thanks to the generic title (have a guess how many AppStore games have the word “touch” somewhere in them! yeah, it’s a lot). Even direct searching for the exact title barely reveals the game.

It was quite literally impossible to find. The GameJacket release carried an advert for the iPhone game at the end, which helped lead to some small sales figures, but quite frankly nothing I could ever retire on. It was far removed from the “iPhone $$$ dream” the media hypes, to say the least. A “Lite” version was also released to help shift things along, but it of course suffered the same “invisible to search” problem.

So I pretty much wrote it off as a bad experience and forgot about it. That was until iDare hit the scene.

He who iDares, wins!

iDare is a free game TGC created over the course of 3 days. If you are old enough to remember the classic sci-fi film Aliens, you’ll remember the scene where the android Bishop holds down Hudsons hand on the dinner table, and spreads his fingers out and proceeds to stab a knife between his fingers as quickly as possible.

School kids worldwide at the time re-created this using everything from pencils to protractors! iDare is basically an iPhone version of this crazy game. It’s good fun, it’s original and it is free. Since release it has gone absolutely ballistic. Currently #1 in the UK charts and #2 in the Canadian charts and#4 in the US charts and still climbing – that is out of ALL free downloadable apps on AppStore. The net result of this is over 600,000 downloads since release and increasing every day. Edit Update: As of today (April 26th) iDare now has over 1.2 million downloads.

What does this have to do with Kyobi? Very simple: iDare was created with the express purpose of advertising the other games TGC had made, including mine.

I cannot give any specific sales data, but suffice to say that Touch & Go has gone from being flat-lined at a few sales per week, to selling 3 digits worth of copies per day (and the first digit is > 1). And of course the more it sells, the higher it climbs up the charts. And the higher up the charts it goes, the more it sells. It’s currently #19 in Strategy titles and edging ever closer to the magic Top #100 games. If it manages to hit that mark TGC and I will be very happy indeed.

At the moment direct income from the Flash version is greater than that of the iPhone one – but at current projections this could be reversed shortly. I’ll keep you all updated.

So in my very limited experience with the Flash to iPhone market here are a few bullet points to take away with you:

  1. Don’t screw your brand up! Keep the same game name where possible :)
  2. Ensure your game title and description is AppStore SEO friendly! Avoid this part at your peril.
  3. Don’t assume that just by existing on AppStore you’ll make any money at all. You need a method of promotion. Find what works for you.
  4. “Lite” versions are mandatory now. Create one. But again, the “free” app space there is flooded, so don’t assume just because you have one that “Full” version sales will increase dramatically. They won’t, but it will help.
  5. Promote, promote, promote! Find a way to pimp your game as best you can. If you don’t it will sink without trace, no matter how excellent it may be. If you have no promotion strategy then don’t invest a dime into your iPhone game.
  6. Just having a Flash version of the game doesn’t mean you’ll dramatically increase iPhone sales – yes the sales do cross over, but the conversion rate was pretty tiny for this game. Hopefully yours will fare better.
  7. Talk about what you are doing! Blog about your game, tweet about it, Facebook wall it, YouTube it, put screen shots on Flickr, write about it in forums. Do the whole social works. If you do this well enough it’s possible to build up a good “following” before the game is released, leading to an initial flux of sales that will give it a little kick-start up the App charts.
  8. Cross promote. If you know another iPhone game doing well, and know the developer, ask if they’d be willing to sell you some “ad space”. It could pay dividends.
  9. Be realistic. Even with a #1 AppStore download promoting your game, Apple still won’t be sending trucks full of gold bullion your way. That moment is gone. Live with it and set realistic goals, you’re in hell of a competitive market place.
  10. Please keep making games, no matter what happens :)

Posted on April 22nd 2009 at 9:05 pm by .
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17 Responses

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  • April 22nd 2009 at 11:27 pm

    What a thoroughly excellent article, Richard! Thanks so much for sharing your numbers – it means a lot to a fellow small developer.

    We’ve planned a similar PC/iPhone release for our upcoming fun crime-themed puzzle game Kahoots, which we’ve modelled entirely in clay:

    http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/2009/03/16/untold-entertainment-announces-kahoots-by-jove/

    Being from Aardman, you must know that stop motion is crazy-expensive. When i look at your sales numbers for the Flash version of Kyobi, they’re quite disappointing. If i went free-to-play with Kahoots, i wouldn’t even begin to touch the development costs with sponsorships.

    That’s why i’d quite like to wrap Kahoots as an executable and distribute it as a try-and-buy game. Before i read your article, i thought try-and-buy was the only payment model that BigFish used. Did you consider the try-and-buy model for Kyobi?

  • April 22nd 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Excellent article mate, this is going to become a real reference piece for FGL.

    I’m not a huge fan of people quoting what they actually earn, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen it done so subtly ( As opposed to the usual “Look look, I’ve made a $1000, I’m the king of the world” ).

    Good work.

  • April 22nd 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Finally, the great Kyobi post-release article! Epic points to remember on ANY game.

    some points to add:

    1. for Flash Games, don’t be too unique!
    2. for Iphone games, don’t get crazy on the scope of your projects.
    3. for Iphone games, go for the 3d LOOK or art style even if the game is in 2d
    4. have a marketing plan A, plan B and Plan C

  • April 22nd 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Squize – i’m a BIG fan of people quoting their numbers, particularly small devs. One great reason is that here in Canada, there are a few grants that devs can apply for, but your application has to be well-researched. One of the things you have to do is to reasonably predict sales figures for your game. If devs didn’t share their numbers, we’d all be flying blind … and we’d be accused of not doing enough market research.

    i actually think i’ll use Richard’s numbers as a case *against* the free-to-play model. That kind of cash may be a perk for a hobbyist, but you can’t build a business – or a lifestyle – on it.

    http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/2009/02/14/earn-money-making-flash-games/

  • April 23rd 2009 at 12:29 am

    Ryan – Having looked at the shots of your game and read the blog entry I’d say you are well beyond the level at which most “free to play” Flash games are aimed at. There is a natural division of quality in the casual market, just as in any other, and the amount of work and time that must have gone into your game would never be repaid through traditional sponsorship / seeding / ad deals.

    At Aardman I spend most my days working on game development surrounding our IP and 3rd parties. As you can appreciate the figures for this level of work are well beyond those I post about here. We wouldn’t even consider starting a project for less than £10,000. And one with actual claymation in? Well let’s just say that would be extremely rare indeed! (you of all people understand the costs involved there).

    The difference with Kyobi is that I didn’t build it as a “business”. I’d wager your development costs are significantly beyond mine. I spent less than $1000 on all the media for my game, and development of the final build was done in less than 3 weeks of working in the evenings (not counting prototypes, which a real business would need to). It was hobbyist to the core mate! because quite frankly I have enough of production schedules at work :)

    I can’t imagine for a second why you would consider a free-to-play version of your game. It looks to me like something you’d buy from BFG, Oberon or Steam. Kyobi on the other hand isn’t at that level. It is a far more “instant” play game, and I personally don’t feel it has the longevity for warrant a paid-for release, and I never built it that way. Your game looks like the complete opposite :)

    So I would seriously consider the more traditional routes to market. Wrap it and find a publisher. Combine it with the iPhone release for a double-whammy (a decent publisher could help massively here), and of course if you made the game in Flash then release a taster version out there for free to play. If that version itself is good enough it could bring in a few thousand extra for precious little work. I could never live off the money I make selling casual Flash games. If I was to do it full-time on my own I would seek out as much contract based work as possible. That is where the real money in Flash is.

  • April 23rd 2009 at 1:27 am

    Thanks, Richard. You rule the school! Pls make a Creature Comforts game with nothing but dialogue trees ;)

  • April 23rd 2009 at 9:03 am

    @Ryan I understand what you’re saying about the numbers being important, but it’s like a fat man stripping, it should be done behind closed doors imho.

    Also you get into the grey area of price fixing and possibly an inflated cost ( As an example, people have asked me my day rate before and when I’ve told them they’ve been like “Cool, I’ll charge the same then”. So if someone without my track record is charging what I am and earning it, then maybe I should look to bump my rate up, and so on ).
    You can argue that as a developer pushing rates ever upward is a good thing, but if done in too small a time scale then it can lead to an implosion of the market which just hurts high and low earners alike. Plus you get into the situation where money becomes more important than the game, which is already evident in a lot of places ( “How much can I earn from mochi ? Oh, and how do I do a tween” ).

  • April 23rd 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Definitely good points, Squize. Counterpoint: we have a situation here in Toronto where at least one very strong developer is grossly devaluing his work and giving away source code gratis. It really helped to know what he was charging, because eventually one of the firms he worked with called me up asking to pay this eggregiously low-ball rate for a game. If i hadn’t been prepared, i think i might have had a stroke.

    Another example: i’ll be talking to the casual game portals about Kahoots soon. i spoke with a few folks in the know at GDC and asked them what the royalty cut should be. i was figuring i’d get something high, like 70 or 80 percent, because the portals haven’t invested in the game as publishers – they just have to put it on the portal, so it’s completely free money for them. The devs i talked to said i should get about 30%, which was standard. They may have been funning me? i don’t know. But it was good to hear that figure, so that i don’t get into a hopeless stalemate negotiation down the road.

    When 2DBoy shared the numbers of the cash advance/back royalties from various publishers, i was in heaven. It means a lot to folks like me who haven’t been through it once, and have NO idea what to expect.

  • April 23rd 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Hi Rich! Wow, what a timely and helpful article. I’m finishing up my first flash game and while I feel comfortable with the code and art I was really dreading the “how the hell do I get this thing in front of people” phase. Thanks for being so open with your process and experience – great stuff!

    Oh, and kyobi is a lot of fun too. ;)

  • April 23rd 2009 at 10:36 pm

    As always, a great article Rich. Very informative.

    As you mentioned, I’m finding Flash contract work to be a lot more lucrative and less risky than gambling on selling game licenses. I earn enough to live contracting and the income is reasonably regular.

    I do plan to get back into making games on the side just for the hell of it though, even if they make little money. It’s just hard to find the motivation to fire up Flash after spending 8 to 10 hours a day on a contract job, sometimes more, like today – 15 hours. Being paid by the hour helps ease the pain of that though.

    It’s great to hear you’ve had success with Kyobi. Is it your most successful personal release?

  • April 24th 2009 at 10:16 am

    @Ryan I do totally understand where you’re coming from, we were all there once ( I’ve sold games for tiny amounts, partly through a lack of knowledge, partly to get a foot in the door ( Which more often than not is a waste of time )).

    I used to get loads of pm’s on FK.games asking me for pricing advice, and my stock answer is to bounce back to the prospective client. They have a better concept of it’s worth than you ( For the first game anyway ), so I’d always do the “I’ve got to be honest, this is my first time selling a game. You guys obviously have a budget in mind for it, so make me an offer based on that and we can take it from there”. Everyone has a budget.

    As to the 30%, I can totally believe that. Distribution is king, which is totally wrong, but that’s the way it is. Game portals receive paid placements for adver-games which at best keeps the price for original content low, at worst it shuts the door completely.
    Plus we’re in a situation where the portals with the really huge traffic don’t allow you to have your own ads, so in a lot of cases these sites are picking up games for free and just treating it all like shovelware and getting just silly amounts of money in terms of ad revenue.
    The indie scene for the most part is just giving content to people who make money out of it. None of that last sentence should be right :)

    As to your local guy skewing the market for everyone, I’ve been asked to do games for an insulting amount of money before, guess I will in the future too. Some design agencies / clients have no concept of cost or the depth that goes into making a game.
    If it is actually him alone screwing things, well, I know some bad bad men. Just give me the word and he won’t be open sourcing anything again. Yeah you know what I mean.

    ;)

  • dVyper
    April 24th 2009 at 12:53 pm

    An excellent article. This is so inspiring! Hopefully within a few years I’ll be as successful as you (as long as the market doesn’t change too much).

  • April 28th 2009 at 10:57 am

    Totally excellent article. I’d like to second Ryan and thank you for releasing revenue numbers; it’s invaluable to new developers to see the scope of the market like this.

    Also some great info in the comments!

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