Friday, April 9, 2010

Replica Island: One Month On

As of today, Replica Island has been available on Android Market for exactly one month.  I thought this would be a good time to see how it's been doing.

Turns out it's doing pretty well!  It's holding steady at 4.5 stars and it just passed 250,000 installs.  There have been a few bugs; I've made a few updates, and there are a few more fixes in the works.  But most users have been extremely positive about the game.

I've been diligently recording my install numbers from the Android Market Publisher site all month so that I can produce this graph.

Before I talk about the graph, let me tell you a little bit about my launch plan.

Replica Island is a series of experiments.  I'm trying to learn how games should be made for Android, and part of that process is learning how they should be marketed.  So as part of the experiment, I made the following launch plan:
  • First ten days: no PR, no announcements, nothing.  Just upload it and see what happens.
  • Day 10: send out press releases, upload YouTube video, post on blog.
  • When installs start to slow, prepare a second round of press releases, this time for a different audience.
My marketing budget for this project is $0.00.  I know basically nothing about marketing, and I sometimes think that Nicholai, my PR guy, was dropped on his head as a child.  This plan reflected my need to spend no money and have basically no method of marketing other than trying to get the word out to blogs and news sites.

The first week I made no announcements in order to track the quality of organic growth.  Turns out organic growth was steady and apparently fairly constant; Replica Island was downloaded about 18k times in that first week.  

On 3/18/10 I uploaded the first update.  This update fixed a few bugs and added tilt-based controls.

On 3/19/10 Nicholai sent out press releases to a bunch of Android blogs and a few non-Android gaming blogs.  The total number of blogs targeted was small, maybe five or six.  Of those, was the first to respond (and their report remains one of the most detailed).  A bunch of other blogs copied and pasted the AndroidGuys report (I swear 99% of blogs nowadays are basically retweets of other people).  There was an immediate increase in daily downloads.

On 3/22/10 Gizmodo posted the YouTube video and wrote a nearly content free report (though they still managed to work in an anti-iPhone reference, as if part of their editorial goal is to promote fanboyism).  Apparently a lot of people read Gizmodo, as downloads spiked on that day and then continued at increased volume.  Also, the retweeting of the Gizmodo article guaranteed that the first several pages of search results for "Replica Island" were all different sites referring to the same two articles.

On 3/30/10 Replica Island was added to the list of Featured Apps in Android Market (full disclosure: I'm a Google employee but was not involved in the decision to feature this game).  You can see the effect of being featured in the graph; downloads per day shot way up, and have remained high.  Featuring makes apps really visible!

Since app downloads haven't slowed down yet, I haven't implemented the next part of the plan, which is a second round of press releases aimed at different blogs.  I hear that Nicholai has some crazy scheme up his sleeve, but as long as it costs $0.00, I'm fine with it.

So, here's my takeaway from this first month on Market:
  • Users want games in traditional genres.  Replica Island gets a lot of love from users just for being a recognizable game genre.
  • Updates don't seem to really affect downloads.  Some developers have complained that mixing uploads and new releases in "Just In" allows unscrupulous developers to ship superfluous updates just to increase their visibility, but my data doesn't show any particular advantage to being in Just In.  I think that list moves too quickly.
  • Organic growth can work, but even the tiniest bit of marketing goes a long way.  Getting the word out to blogs, even with a simple web site or press release, is huge.  Those people who are expecting direct-to-consumer digital distribution to be the end of marketing are sorely mistaken.
  • The YouTube video we made was almost an afterthought, but it's been reproduced in more blogs than any of our screenshots or promotional text.  YouTube will definitely be a big part of our next push.
  • Nicholai went to all the trouble to make a press kit, and write press releases, as described in the excellent Care and Feeding of the Press, but 99% of blogs just copied and pasted the summary text we put on the front page.  I think less than 10% of the blogs that posted about the game actually tried playing it.
  • Development and marketing on a budget of $0.00 totally works!
So that's all for now.  I'll report back when the data reveals some new pattern.  Thanks much to everybody who is playing, and to all of the blogs who covered the game, even those that just copied their text from somebody else.


  1. Wow, I don't know how I missed reading the press released... it's actually pretty clever!

    You disclosed that you work for google, but I'm not clear.. is the fact that you were featured simply a part of whatever algo is taking care of this, or are there actually people managing the featured list and were you given special consideration for it? What should the rest of us do to try to become featured?

    (Also how might we get a way to sort stuff by highest rating rather than popularity? I think that would go a long way to helping new apps as well, as well as a "recommend this app to a friend" option or even "gifting" apps.. for instance I would love to be able to gift an app to a reviewer/blogger rather than require that they pay so that there is a good chance they might feature it)

  2. My employment at Google had no bearing on getting selected for featuring. Featured apps are selected from those that do very well with users, so the way to get featured is to make an awesome game.

  3. Congratulations on a great release, it seems! Can't thank you enough for this blog/game/source code, it's been an invaluable resource as I've been getting into Android development.

  4. Hey guys, great game! I have to say though that I am stuck somewhere and yeah I also cannot specifically tell you where it is other than I've found the source and I think its the level after. There's a blue wall and thorns above with the blue robot in the other side of the wall as is the blue trigger button. How do I get across? I can't get my little control orb to help so I don't know how to move forward. I really wanna finish the game so please help!
    P.s. 5 stars and keep up the good work!

  5. Hi Chris,

    How did you manage to create the game trailer video. It looks like a video capture of some kind which is something that could be helpful. Any details on what you did would help.


  6. @Carm

    I tried a bunch of different setups. The final video was made using an ODROID (which has an HDMI out) connected to my TV, filmed on my HD camcorder in the middle of my dark living room. I guess now I could use an EVO for the same purpose. This method was not good, but it produced a video of acceptable quality.

  7. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for the detailed recap of your marketing. I am, too, one of the many trying to make his/her own game visible. What I did find though is that having 18k downloads in the first ten days without any marketing is pretty difficult to achieve. Around the web people usually report something like 1500 / month. This is different by orders of magnitude. This can't be the effect of the initial "Just in".
    I fail to find the key difference between your case and any other case out there. Wanna share the secret, please?

  8. I really didn't do anything--I launched it in secret and didn't tell anybody. There's no secret to share, I just uploaded the thing and left it alone.

    Though that was back in 2010, which is ancient history now. Good luck!

  9. That press release is a classic. You should create a Nicholaificator app that takes boring press releases and makes them awesome for us mega-nerds who like Steve McQueen.

  10. The press release itself is worth a million downloads! Just goes to show that as long as you have a great app, you will get downloads without having to worry too much about promotion.

  11. It seems obvious that Nicholai invented you in order to give the app more gravitas, and that he is the real author of the game.

  12. Hi, guys. Great info. I'll try to follow your tips with our first game: SMASHING MONSTERS.