Sunday, 3 November 2013

Launching FIST OF AWESOME

In the early hours of Wednesday 16th October 2013, slightly drunk in a hotel room in Dundee, I released FIST OF AWESOME on iOS, Android and Ouya. The events surrounding that moment included some of the most incredible, overwhelmingly hectic times of my life. They've been punctuated with moments of drama, terror, extreme fatigue, panic and more than a little celebration.

Warning: This a rambling monster of a post. If you just want some pretty graphs and numbers, skip to the bottom!


FIST OF AWESOME is not my first game, but it is the first I Fight Bears game, and is by far the biggest game I've made as a mostly-solo developer. It's a time-travelling-lumberjack-em-up (a crowded genre I know) and my homage to classic game likes Streets of Rage, Double Dragon & Final Fight.



It began life at many points in my life, as a heady teenage ambition, as a concept for a one man band in Dundee, and, finally, as a last minute Valentines Day gift for the love of my life. More than any game I've worked on FIST OF AWESOME is a game which represents my personality, my humour, my passion and my eccentricities. That probably sounds a bit Jonathan Blow-ish but it's true, I wanted to make a game that nobody else could make.

The success of the Kickstarter last year gave me huge momentum and incentive to complete the game and create something that could satisfy the expectations of the 951 glorious FIST backers. It also gave me the headache of distributing the game on iOS and Android to all those people. Android was solved by distributing .apk files and asking people to "sideload" the game onto their devices. iOS on the other hand...

Distributing iOS Kickstarter Copies

Delivering promotional copies of a paid iOS app to 100s of people is, as far as I'm aware, still an unsolved problem.

Some relevant info:

  • Apple give you 50 promo codes per game update, with no mechanism for requesting, or purchasing, more.
  • Apple work with BAFTA to generate 100s of extra codes to distribute to BAFTA voters, but this is the only exception I'm aware of.
  • Apps can only be gifted (purchased via your account to give to a friend) via iTunes to devices in the same territory as the account doing the gifting.
  • You must have a credit card registered in a territory to create an account capable of gifting.
  • Money from gift cards can't be used to gift apps.
  • Subverting the App Store with unlocks in "free" apps (as the Zombies Run! folks did) is no longer allowed, and attempts to do so may result in your developer account being revoked.
All of this left me with, as far as I could see, 2 real options:
  1. Recruit and coordinate a team of worldwide helpers to gift apps based on the many different backer locations.
  2. Make the game free for a few days and tell backers to grab it then.
Option 1 was certainly possible. I'd spoken to at least one other Kickstarted team who'd done just that. However it would be very time consuming, and I'd much rather spend time finishing the game than handling a worldwide logistics nightmare. Taking this into account I chose option 2.

The plan I concocted was simple, but not without issues. I'd release the game on iOS, for free, on Tuesday 15th October 2013, 2 days in advance of the "official" launch on 17th October. I'd let Kickstarter backers and journalist contacts aware so they could pick up the game for free. I'd ride out the wave of App Store monitoring robots chattering about it and allow for a few eagle-eyed consumers grabbing it for free by accident.

After a particularly stressful 8 days spent waiting for the release candidate build to work its way through the App Store approval process FIST OF AWESOME finally switched to "Ready for sale" at lunchtime on Monday 14th October.

The iOS Free / Surprise Launch Debacle



I was booked to fly from London to Dundee that night in advance speaking at Abertay university on Tuesday, and the Moving Targets conference on Wednesday morning. My plan was to do my talks, find a nice cafe with WiFi and spend a leisurely afternoon finishing off the various bits and pieces left in advance of release. I was really looking forward to that afternoon.

Everything pretty much went according to plan until Tuesday afternoon. The game was secretly released on iOS, for free, early Tuesday morning. My Kickstarter backers, or at least the ones who still bothered reading my rambling updates, got an email informing them to grab the game, and journalists were informed of the situation so they didn't write about it till Thursday, and also so they could grab a review copy themselves.

I did my talk at Abertay, which was jolly good fun, and afterwards was surprised to see FIST OF AWESOME was top of the "Hot Games" section of Touch Arcade. Alongside was a news story touting FIST OF AWESOME as a great new free(!) game. I left a comment clarifying the game isn't really free but I was glad people were enjoying it. At this point I still aimed to hold out till the 17th to switch to paid, hoping not too many people would notice the Touch Arcade stuff.

In the evening I sat down for a meal with other speakers at the Moving Targets conference and was informed that the game was now on the front page of IGN as a "free App Store game".


My nerve started to slip at this point. To compensate I drank lots of complimentary wine. Friends started tweeting and emailing me to let me know how popular the game was. I drank more wine. When Savy Gamer joined in with promoting the "free" game I decided things had probably gone far enough.

And so I found myself back at my Dundee hotel, drunk, going through my "leisurely afternoon" schedule at breakneck speed and clicking lots of big green "Publish" buttons. By around 1:30AM the game was published on iOS (now as a paid app), Google Play and Ouya. The launch trailer was unveiled and journalists were informed of the last minute release date change.
Considering how frantic (and not sober) I was at the time, the FIST OF AWESOME launch went surprisingly smoothly. Part of that is because I had planned all that needed to be in done in advance, aware that I'd probably be far too excited to think straight when the moment came.

I have absolutely no hard feelings towards any of the websites who advertised the game as "free", it was pretty much inevitable that people would find it, and all I really cared about was that the vast majority of my Kickstarter backers would be able to grab the game. I even received a really nice email from Touch Arcade apologising for what happened, in what I think is the first time a major gaming site has apologised for promoting an indie game :)

In total the game was downloaded 8653 times on iOS for free, and I like to think that number is partly responsible for what happened next.

What happened next...

The game was featured by Apple on the App Store on Thursday 17th and helped push the first week sales way beyond anything I could have expected.

Here's a pretty graph and some numbers:

Total Sales over 2 week since launch: 6939

Platform breakdown:

iOS: 5588
Google Play: 974
Ouya: 307
Amazon: 70

"£2.49 is Too Expensive for a Mobile Game!"

One thing that grates on me is when people pass off opinion as fact. It's a fact that "freemium" games are the top grossing games on mobile platforms, but that does not mean it's the only option.

My personal opinion is that if everyone else is going in one direction, then the best approach is often to go in a completely different one. Doing the same thing as everyone else is unlikely to help you stand out in a crowd. With the resources available to me I don't think I can compete with the big "freemium" games out there, but then again I've no desire to do so.

By making FIST OF AWESOME a "premium" £2.49 / $4 game I'm doing a number of things:
  • Suggesting it offers value for money
  • Showing it differs to the "freemium" norm
  • Aligning it to other outlier indie games like Radical Fishing or Frozen Synapse
  • Implying the game has been balanced by gameplay considerations and not to encourage micro transactions
  • Being contrary because I've read articles like this

My financial aspirations for FIST OF AWESOME begin and end with the hope that it will allow me to make more games in the future. Making games has become a way of life for me, and all I want is for that to continue. I'd much rather be Jeff Minter than King.com.

That all said, my approach has been far more successful than I could have ever hoped for. In two weeks FIST OF AWESOME has made roughly the same as my last game, Hard Lines, did in two years. As I'm self-publishing this time I also get a far greater share of the revenue, and own all the IP.

Note: The following figures are after Apple, Google, Ouya and Amazon have taken their share. 

Total Revenue over 2 weeks since launch: £11,714.07

10% revenue share for Brandan Ratliff aka Echolevel: £1,171.41

Platform breakdown:

iOS: £9,340.08
Google Play: £1,611.04
Ouya: £644.70
Amazon: £118.25

After Brendan gets his well-deserved 10% for providing the fantastic soundtrack I'm left with £10,542.66.

Sales are still strong, and there's hope Google Play and Amazon will feature the game soon, giving more substantial spikes. When the upcoming PC & Mac versions are added into the mix there's every chance I'll be able to go full-time indie in the new year.

All in all, I consider it one heck of a successful launch for a small indie game about a time-travelling lumberjack who punches bears in the face to save humanity :)

Hope all this rambling and stat-sharing has been useful to other developers out there!

Lots of love,

Nicoll x

10 comments:

  1. I remember mentioning the price point when I saw you at Eurogamer, really glad that it has worked out :)

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  2. Awesome, congrats :) Being featured in Apple appStore was the key, I guess.
    Sorry, maybe I read too fast, but I didn't get it. Was it free in the beginning, and $4 from the second week?

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  3. Awesome, congrats :-)
    And thanks for sharing numbers, that happens all too little in the games industry. And a follow-up post about the long tail in a month or few would be awesome!

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  4. Man ur game is gold...as a fan of android hope ur game is fetured on google play....but i am definitely sharin it with my friends.

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  5. This is a great breakdown and appreciate how open you are with the associated numbers. I'd love to know when / how you got any of your initial press, if you had established contacts at any of the outlets, or if you were just persistent in sending out information about the game and Kickstarter campaign.

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  6. Nice work! Congrats. Great read too.

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  7. Replies
    1. Hi FAHIM!

      Thanks for your helpful link to an illegal pirated version of FIST OF AWESOME! That Sir, is some super ballsy, and wildly reckless, spamming.

      It's a shame you've only got the "Android Free Download Full Version 2013" though. That particular revision is riddled with bugs and has been known to eat all the food in your freezer and defecate on your carpet when you're not looking.

      Lots of love,

      Nicoll xxx

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