Tower Blocks is Tetris with a 3D twist. I've been developing this game in my spare time since July 2013, although I first wrote down the idea in November 2012. On 1 December 2013 I put an early release into the Windows 8 Store. I was slightly embarrassed by this first release, but I wanted to get it out as soon as possible so I could get feedback and also some idea of numbers so I can set my expectations realistically.
In 2014 I plan to be very business-like in how I develop and market the game. In these monthly reports I plan to share my plans and my results. Hopefully other people will find them useful and possibly even offer me some useful advice. The not so secret hope is that this will become the story of a game’s rise from obscurity to fame.
The December Plan
As I didn't write a December report here is a quick recap.
Experiment 1: Release Version 1.0 to get feedback and set a download benchmark for future experiments
I decided that as an unknown game I stood a better chance of success if I made the game free, with advertising and an upgrade option. To get the game out as soon as possible in a playable form I didn’t add the advertising or an upgrade option. I just wanted to get some downloads and feedback.
Results: In December on average 2 people a day downloaded Tower Blocks. This was with no advertising except going on about it quite a lot on Twitter. I also talked about it at some developer conferences and user groups. 2 downloads a day isn't a very exciting number, but it's a benchmark and at least now my expectations are set and I can concentrate on how to improve it.
Experiment 2: Add in app purchase
I'm hoping that a certain percentage of people will like the game so much they’ll want to upgrade. To make it worth upgrading I've added a false scarcity to the free version. The blocks falling from the sky run out and when they do you’re prompted to upgrade while they reload. The upgrade will mean you no longer need to wait for block reloads. When I add advertising the upgrade will also remove the advertising. I'm not sure if this will be a viable way of monetising the game, so the results will be interesting.
The in app purchase has been in the game for 6 weeks and so far no one has upgraded. The download numbers aren’t really high enough to draw serious conclusions from this, but just removing the block reload time doesn’t seem to be a good enough for people to upgrade. Also the upgrade button is only visible during the block reload countdown, which isn't visible very often.
The January Plan
Experiment 3: Get some reviews
I asked some friendly people including my sister to review my app. Reviews are region specific, but in the developer centre I can see reviews for other countries. Far more exciting were the reviews I got from people I didn’t know. 3 friends have reviewed my game and 4 strangers. I’ve had one 4 star rating and six 5 star ratings.
My favourite review is this one from someone in the US:
An original Tetris!!! *****
DEVELOPERS: Spinning the cylinder using touch is very awkward and imprecise. Blocks are hard to move down without dropping them. As a suggestion, you should include different shape modes: cube, octagon, triangle, instead of just the cylinder.
You guys have something really great here, keep it up!
This is brilliant because it's got some really constructive feedback in there and then rounds it off by really encouraging. All those points are now in the backlog and I’ve already sorted the block dropping issue and made some slight improvements to the spinning touch gesture.
Results: Having some reviews seemed to move my app up the listing in the Windows store a little bit. Getting people to review your game is harder than I thought it would be. Asking them in person and sending them reminder emails seems to be best. If you just ask they’re not near their computer and then seem to forget. There is no substitute for reviews from strangers, so it’s really pleasing they've all been good so far. I've made it very clear in my release notes that this is an early release and I think that's helped let me release something early without getting overly negative comments for a game that was obviously not finished.
Experiment 4: Tweak keywords and description
The store is full and the chance of my game being found by accident are slim. I decided that my best chance of being discovered was by people finding it while they were looking for Tetris. If I could be listed when people searched for Tetris then I might get noticed.
My keywords already included Tetris, but I found by added Tetris to the description Tower Blocks was listed much higher for that search.
Results: In January an average of 4 people a day downloaded Tower Blocks. So we’re moving in the right direction. I’d like to get more reviews in more countries. I’d also like to improve the game screenshots to improve conversions from views to game downloads.
Experiment 5: Improve the splash screen and store logo
I like to think I can draw, and I can a bit, but after a few attempts at drawing a logo from Tower Blocks it quickly because clear that I was going to need help. So, for the first time I decided to invest some money rather than just time in this project. I paid for an illustrator friend of mine known on the Internet as Hexjibber to create a splash screen and a tile image. It’s too early to know if this has improved downloads. So, you’ll have to wait till I write the February report.
Experiment 6: Monetise the game through advertising
I have no idea how much money an app can make from advertising, or how many users translated to impressions. I’m also hoping that advertising will make the upgrade more desirable. The version with advertising has been live in the store for one day. I found very quickly that the fill rate was only 3%, which is very low. Every time you request an advert you won’t necessarily be given one to show. Also, the MS Ad Control throws an exception if no advert is returned and I’d added some code to remove the adverts and upgrade button if there was an exception.
I decided to add AdDuplex as a fall back solution which will show adverts for other apps in exchange for showing your app advert in other apps using AdDuplex. So 97% of the time when there is no paid ad to show, I'll show an AdDuplex ad which will help market my game. This was an easy change to make and is now live in the store. We'll see in December how effective both these are.
So in February I'll be waiting to see the results from experiments 5 and 6; how much difference the improved graphics have made and how much revenue I’ve made from advertising. I’m going to be working on getting a version working on Windows Phone 8. I think Tower Blocks will be excellent on the phone and I'm very interested in which of these platforms is the most popular for games. So, stay tuned.