iOS/Android/Steam sales case study: Golf Peaks

More numbers for y'all!

[Hi, I’m Simon Carless, and you’re reading Game Discoverability Now!, a regular look at how people find - and buy - your video games. Or don’t. You may know me from helping to run GDC & the Independent Games Festival, and advising indie publisher No More Robots, or from my other newsletter Video Game Deep Cuts.]

We’re back, with the fruits of my long-ago call for stats (in which I just found some submissions I’d missed - sorry if that was one of you, I just pinged you if so.)

In this particular newsletter, Luke Spierewka of Afterburn was kind enough to provide full stats for iOS, Android and Steam for his team’s title Golf Peaks. It initially launched in November 2018 on iOS & Steam - though Android and Switch launched in March 2019, & we’re not including Nintendo Switch stats here cos of *Nintendo confidentiality things*.

Created in a relatively low-cost development environment and with a short dev time, this neat-looking mobile first title is “a tiny puzzle game where you climb mountains by playing golf”. It has done well enough overall to allow the dev team to continue making games!

Here’s the stats and some brief commentary on the title. It generally costs $3/UKP3 on iOS and Android, and $5/UKP4 on Steam (and $5/UKP 4.50 on Switch, which we’re not covering here). These notes are followed by an email Q&A with the developer!

Apple iOS sales/stats

Interesting to see how North America-centric the sales were on iOS. Here’s a more detailed breakdown from the dev about what caused each of the sales/revenue spikes for the slick, well-designed title. (Click the image if you want to zoom in!)

What’s particularly notable in this annotated graphic for me is how much iOS store features & version updates map to sales spikes - fairly reliably, it turns out.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, but getting on the right side of Apple’s editorial team who pick/feature games on iOS really matters. This is especially true since paid ads don’t really work/scale for premium games.

(The timing around the Switch/Android versions launching, and also The Verge article about the Switch version, makes it difficult to work out which helped which in that big March sales spike. But I’m sure they all helped! I also noticed that reviews of the Switch version of the game like at Destructoid referenced the iOS version, so I bet that helped too - just spillover discoverability in general.)

Android sales/stats

Here’s the sales on Android via Google Play, which total up about 55% of the iOS sales in terms of units - at a similar price point, despite launching 4 months later:

Again, notable that the U.S. and Canada combined are more than 50% of sales for the game. (Though that’s actually less than iOS, where North America was 64% of sales!)

Either way, here’s some annotations of the early sales spikes:

Once again, seems like features and the occasional high-profile website article help out the best. There’s also a big Android spike in August 2019, which was due to a version update, but more importantly more Google Play editorial store featuring at the same time.

Luke noted they’ve been pretty happy with Android sales, given general reports that Android premium games sell significantly worse than iOS - those store features matter, folks.

Steam sales/stats

Golf Peaks is clearly less suited to Steam, due to it being designed for a cellphone screen, and sold notably less than iOS or Android on Steam. But it’s interesting to see the results of it being converted to PC and Mac:

One thing to note here is that the game has 60 Steam reviews and has sold 2,250 copies. So the ratio is 1 review per 37.5 purchases - actually a fairly high amount of reviews for that modest sales number.

The general rule of thumb is 30x to 150x - though I’ve also heard 30x to 50x for newer games, since the ratio seems to be changing over time.

So looks like this game has a wishlist balance of around 3,600, and has actually had 1,000 copies bought from wishlist, which is pretty impressive in terms of it being a ‘hyperniche’ title.

Which is to say - not many casual wishlisters! If you wishlisted it, you REALLY wanted to buy it. Other ‘wishlist bought to wishlist balance’ ratios I’ve seen for medium games are more in the 1:5 to 1:7 area, so 1:3.6 is quite low. Not sure whether this is ‘good’ or not, it’s just a thing. (Haha!)

Overall, Golf Peaks on Steam launched on 300 wishlists and is now at 3,000. That’s actually way better than the Bad Logic Studios games we profiled, although those were a little more hobbyist centric.

Again, looking at other medium-sized games I have access to stats for, it seems like eventually making it to 10x your initial wishlists on launch isn’t unreasonable, if you have a ‘Very Positive’-reviewed game that people dig. (But there are other games that only make it to about 3x or 4x - I think perhaps because they get mixed reviews or have other issues.)

Just for fun, here’s regions and countries for Steam sales for Golf Peaks. Nothing incredibly standout in here, except perhaps Korea being the #2 country - maybe crossover from some iOS features, or similar?

As noted above, sadly we can’t see sales for the Nintendo Switch version. But I’m going to guess that it did at least as well as Android and potentially as well as iOS, based on… zero data on my end! (Sorry folks, the all-seeing-eye doesn’t see all.)

Developer Q&A: Luke Spierewka of Afterburn

Here’s the email chat I had with Luke about his team’s experiences making the game and general marketing/expectations - hope you find it illuminating!

How many developers worked on this game for how long - and were you happy with the general financial results and units sold for it?

We had 3 people through most of the development which lasted roughly 5 months (from June to November 2018), and then spent additional time (until March 2019) adding free content updates, patches, and working on the Android/Switch versions. 

Our personal goal for Golf Peaks was creating a tiny, polished experience that would reflect the values that we care about, while also being an opportunity to learn how different storefronts and platforms operate.

Because of that we were OK with the game not selling well... but to our surprise (and thanks to store featuring) we've managed to recoup our development costs within a month after launch.

A big part of that is probably related to the fact that living in Poland is pretty cheap - a 3-person full-time team located in other parts of the world might not have been satisfied with the numbers we got, but for us it was enough to start working on another, similarly scoped project.

The game seems to be fairly mobile-centric in terms of being bite-sized for play sessions. Was that a disadvantage for the Steam (or even Switch) versions, that you felt like it was difficult to charge more money?

We feel that the game's mobile-centric presentation might've turned off some PC players from trying it out, but we don't think it was a major issue on Switch due to its portability.

Our pricing structure was inspired by other mobile-first titles like Hidden Folks and Year Walk where the standalone version is more expensive, but so far we haven't received any major complaints regarding that difference.

How did you approach the 'discoverability' for it - did you think you would get featured on iOS or Android, for example, did you talk to platform holders?

When we were starting out, our friends in the local gamedev industry gave us a couple of pointers in regards to mobile featuring - what to expect, when to send in what info and the like.

We've had a tiny bit of back-and-forth with platform holders, but ultimately on both iOS and Android it came down to sending online questionnaires where you fill in info such as your game's name, target release/featuring date, submit screenshots and explain why your game stands out from the crowd.

As far as we know the majority of mobile devs have to go through these forms in one way or another, so having a solid (and great looking) game together with a reasonable pitch and release date seems to be the deciding factor in terms of receiving featuring.

You are one of those relatively rare 'premium mobile first' studios - how do you feel about that market now that Apple Arcade launched, do you think it's getting even MORE difficult to stand out? (Or is being a non-Apple Arcade premium title helpful for e.g. featuring?)

I'd describe our view on the market as "cautiously optimistic" - ever since Apple Arcade launched we've seen almost no impact on our long-tail sales and we hope it keeps being that way for regular premium titles.

At the same time, these payment models are still relatively new so we're carefully planning our next steps, since you never know whether the market shifts drastically in the coming months.

Do you think puzzle games are 'undervalued' in terms of the amount of money you can charge for them - and do you think anything can change that, if true?


I don't think they're undervalued, at least on mobile :)

What lessons did you learn from the release of Golf Peaks that you would like to pass along to our readers?

During development on Golf Peaks we've been tremendously lucky in multiple aspects - from the game's theme, mechanics, all the way to selecting our release date that miraculously didn't collide with any other big-name mobile titles.

However, the one thing that helped us capitalize on this luck was starting with the right foundation. From the very start we scoped this project to take up 3 months, knowing that our budget for this project allowed us to spend a maximum of 6 months working on it (because let's be honest - in this industry almost everybody delays their release once or twice to add extra polish).

This self-imposed limitation meant that we couldn't go wild with visuals or features, so everything that sounded super risky or challenging was left on the cutting floor as we focused only on the most important parts of the experience. 

I feel like this is especially important for new teams. If your "dream game" idea is something that would take you at least a year to finish, it's probably better to put it on hold for a while, start with something manageable and slowly work your way up to where you can tackle that big project.

What one thing would you do differently if you started Golf Peaks from scratch again?

I'd probably start promoting it sooner? During development I kept pushing away the game's announcement in order to get the visuals right before promoting it, but after release I felt like we could've started tweeting about it way earlier than we did.

How has the game sold on Switch relatively speaking, like 'better than other platforms', 'worse', or you really can't say?

We can't really say, but we're happy with the results and are currently working on the port of our second game :)

Conclusion

So what do we have here? A game that’s sold over 40,000 copies PLUS the Switch version (presumably another 5 figures at least!), which seems like a very creditable result!

But… almost all of those copies were sold at $3-$5 each. So after platform cut, taxes, and so on, you’re looking at revenue that many of you reading this at medium/large companies might not be able to make work.

(Again, another reminder of the fact that you can make games anywhere in the world, and salaries and life situations can differ massively.)

Yet overall, Luke & his team were very happy with the results, thanks to swift and disciplined completion of the title with a smaller team in a low cost-of-living country.

And there’s something to be said for multiple iOS and Android store features and tens of thousands of people playing your game, isn’t there? Happy customers, happy life.

So I think this can only be classed as a win for Luke & friends. And please, others, send me your stats in full and I’ll talk about them!

Take care,
Simon.

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