Star Fusion goes Free: An App store experiment

experimentAs detailed in my previous post, downloads of Star Fusion have been fewer than I would have liked (as low as a few sales each month). I really want to get the game into the hands of as many people as possible to get some feedback for updates and gain experience for future games. Priced at 59p ($0.99), this couldn’t possibly be the barrier preventing people from trying it, could it?

I decided to conduct an experiment, or promotion if you will, dropping the price of Star Fusion from 59p to Free for just one week. Here’s what happened (the pretty graphs are further down the page)…

Sunday 11th October – Star Fusion goes Free

At around 9pm on Sunday I began the promotion, making Star Fusion Free in the two countries it was listed in (UK and US). I also updated the description in the App store to say “*** Star Fusion is Free for 1 week only ***” in the hope of enticing people with the mention of a sale. The only other promotion I did was a quick tweet to promote the price drop.

Monday 12th October – Downloads

Checking the sales data in iTunes, Star Fusion had received 411 downloads in the space of 12 hours. Fantastic, this was better than I had hoped and I think it demonstrates the distribution power of the iPhone platform.

Another surprise was an update from Google alerts notifying me that people had begun discussing the game in forums. Whilst the game was not initially seen in the best light, seemingly related to the “cartoony” graphics more than anything, I did get some great feedback.

At the request of one Italian user on a forum, I launched Star Fusion in all countries. I had previously avoided this when the app was 59p due to the various complicated tax laws. All in all, the first day was positive and provided some really useful feedback for future patches.

Tuesday 13th October – Top 100 lists

On Tuesday things began to get really interesting. Another 586 downloads and Star Fusion began appearing in Top 100 lists. Not for the major categories, but for the sub-categories such as Arcade Games and Family Games. It was really exciting watching Star Fusion rise up the lists as each hour passed.

(Red = US Family Games, Green = UK Family Games, Blue = Portugal Family Games, Black = Portugal Arcade Games)

Graph showing Star Fusion in Top 100 rankings (courtesy of MajicRank)

Graph showing Star Fusion in Top 100 rankings (courtesy of MajicRank)

Wednesday 14th October – Downloads begin to slow

On wednesday, sales data for the previous day showed the downloads slowing to 183. By this point Star Fusion had stopped rising up the majority of the Top 100 lists as well. One nice surprise was portugal where Star Fusion was up to 33 in family games and 82 in arcade games. In addition to this, a few nice reviews were posted in the US App store with one user commenting that Star Fusion is an “Interesting game, fun and replayable” and that “The game defies classification…”.

Thursday 15th October – Decline in downloads

On Thursday the number of downloads had declined to just 22. However, the volume of downloads over the previous few days had also brought with them a number of ratings in the App store. Ratings in the US App store showed mixed reaction with a large portion of 1 and 2 star reviews but also a reasonable amount of 3 star and even some 5 star reviews. My average rating had dropped from 4 1/2 stars to 2 stars in a matter of days.

US ratings for Star Fusion

US ratings for Star Fusion

Friday 16th October -> Sunday 18th October – Nice while it lasted

Between Friday and Sunday the number of downloads dipped to around 5 per day and Star Fusion had pretty much dropped out of all top 100 listings.

Monday 19th October – Star Fusion back to 59p

On Monday 19th October the promotion ended and I put Star Fusion back to its original price of 59p.

Tuesday 20th October – 0 sales

No real surprises here. Star Fusion is no longer free and people are unwilling/unable to pay 59p to try it. Here’s a graph showing the sum of the number of downloads (in all countries) across the promotion period.

Star Fusion Downloads during October Free promotion

Star Fusion Downloads during October Free promotion

A note on countries

Throughout the promotional period, the majority of downloads came from the US and UK (as expected). In fact the US represented 70% of the total sales. Here’s a graph showing the distribution of sales across the countries with the highest volume.

Distribution of sales across all countries

Distribution of sales across all countries

Conclusion

So what has this proved? Well for a start it’s been a really interesting experience. It’s given me the opportunity to get Star Fusion into the hands of more gamers than I was able to previously. Across the entire promotional period, Star Fusion was downloaded 1,291 times.

The comments I’ve received in forums and through App store reviews provides invaluable feedback from real users that will form a great basis for future updates. It was also fun playing around with some real data with a decent volume to it.

Unfortunately with the good also comes the bad. When the promotional period ended and the price returned to 59p I received no new sales. In addition to this my overall rating in the US has dropped from 4 1/2 stars to 2 stars.

So here’s my take. People love Sales, getting something for a reduced price can make all the difference in the buyers mind. Making your app free obviously means more people will play it but it also opens your App to abuse via ratings. I think it’s convinced me to increase the price of my next game to allow me room to have a sale without making my App free. Overall it was really great experience though and I hope it provides other developers with some useful data.

12 Comments

  1. dave says:

    so. why did you increase the price back up to 59p?

  2. Thanks for sharing your data. It’s great when other devs post information like this. There is no other way to find out how going free will actually affect sales!

    A brief update about a month from now would be great, I’d like to see how going back to pay changed your figures.

    I did a similar experiment with my game iso a while back. Iso was made free for two days, a bit of promotion was done on Twitter and forums. I received >8,000 dls during the period (much higher then your figures, not sure why?) and saw the same huuuuge rating drop due to tons of 1 star reviews from uncomitted players.

    One unexpected thing- iso first appeared on pirated devices just around the time of the promotion. I believe it was a free copy that was uploaded!

    After a few days sales of iso slowly returned to normal.

    My conclusion from iso: large increase in players, large drop in rating, and no increase in sales over all.

  3. Thanks for sharing the data Chris! One step closer to understanding App Store trends. It is amazing how much people expect for 59p or even free, I don’t think the average consumer appreciates how much hard work it takes to make these games. The market is saturated, I think the App Store has outgrown itself very quickly… but how can it be improved?
    Not that it is any better, but have you considered the XNA indie games route?

    James

  4. Chris says:

    Thanks for the comments…

    Jacob – iso looks interesting, i’ll definitely check it out. I’ll definitely post a follow up on my paid download figures in a few weeks. 8k+ downloads is great, I think your game is slightly more compelling though :-) I’m actually working on 2 more games at present so i’ll see how they compare to this first experience.

    James – thanks for reading as always :-). Congrats on your recent game “iRis AG” too. I agree the market is saturated so perhaps we need to be cleverer about promoting our apps. I actually tried XNA when it was first released and quite enjoyed it. However, as a platform is doesn’t have the same reach (or at least people aren’t as interested). I also love the bite-size nature of iPhone games. They’re relatively fast to develop and as a device the iPhone provides a lot of gadgets to play with.

  5. Tore says:

    Would love to hear about updates to the statistics. Was there any bump later or just the same level of sales the whole time?

  6. admin says:

    Hi Tore,

    Thanks reading the post. I’m sad to say that sales for Star Fusion have remained at a handful of sales every month – hardly worthy of a post.

    I’m not actually too disheartened… i’ve learnt a great deal from my past few experiences and I’m currently at work on my third game. This time around I’ve very much remove the expectation of any kind of volume of sales. I just want to create a quality game that people enjoy.

  7. blake says:

    Your URL currently has a redirect loop: http://www.bytesizeadventures.com/starfusion

  8. Chris says:

    Blake – Many thanks for pointing that out. Not sure how/when that crept in (could have been my recent server move).

  9. Tim Jowers says:

    Thanks for posting your results and for the analysis. Mine are similar. I hacked out a quick app for Android in Aug 2009 top learn how the distribution process worked for a company I was doing a commercial app for at the time. Well, app took two weeks part-time and made $600 over 1.5 years. That’s not bad considering I wrote books and made much less. Joomla! book was 1 month and made about $800. Java book about 6 months and made $100. And Open Source book about 6 months FT and made nothing. So, writing apps beats books. But, unless you have a bid hit, you’ll get nothing to show but experience. Don’t quit your day job for sure. And pad your reviews (that’s the same thing I saw the book reviews on Amazon doing. Pad their publications and put in negative reviews for competitors. Life’s not fair.)

  10. Tim Jowers says:

    BTW, on the books, I planned to release updates within a month but abandoned as soon as I saw the dismal sales. The Joomla! book sold because it was 1/2 the typical book price. But Amazon changed their relationship with LuLu so you can’t do that any more. In contrast, I am working on a “real” release of my Android app. Maybe this one will get me enough to buy my wife that front loading washer/dryer. I can always dream. Seriously, I think the app lottery has ended and one has to put a normal business plan together with the app being only part of the plan. Tough.

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