Monday, April 9, 2012

The iPad. Changing Fast and Faster.

I'll get the PR puffery out of the way early. We released our newest game, Avernum: Escape From the Pit HD, on the iPad last week. There are almost no old-school RPGs on the platform, and this is a good one.

OK. Done.

I wanted to talk a little about how much changed on the iPad (and the iPhone) in the mere eight months since we released our first game for it, Avadon: The Black Fortress HD, in June, 2011. It really fascinates me.

First, everything that was crazy before is more crazy. iPad sales have taken off even more than before, and competing tablets are being crushed by its awesomeness. (Yes, I think that the iPad is the superior tablet computer. Please feel free to pillory me in comments.) My previous game, Avadon HD, is selling far better than it did 4 or 5 months ago, just from increased popularity of the iPad.

Second, developers have noticed. The flood of new games for iPad and iPhone has not slowed at all. In fact, it feels like it's increased. I don't have figures to back this up, only my gut feeling. If you have a link to hard figures, please let me know in comments and I'll add it to the article. There are dozens of new games every day, and your blessed placement at the top of the New Releases list won't last long. At all.

Because of this, even though I think I've done a far better job marketing Avernum HD and creating its store page than Avadon HD, it is selling far worse. Avadon HD was the best-selling RPG for several days. Avernum HD got to #2 very briefly and then immediately plummeted to #18. It's not THAT worse a game, but the flood of competitors cannot be resisted by my cute, niche little product.

Do not feel sorry for me. It is still, by any reasonable human standard, makin' us good money. But it's really rough out there. I am strongly considering posting detailed sales figures in a week or three, just to let people see what the money end of iPad development is like.

Third, free-to-play is where the money is.

I just looked at the RPG section of iTunes. As of 3:56 PM, Pacific time, April 9, 2012, the #1, #2, and #3 games on the Paid Apps list are at #25, #27, and #6 on the Grossing list. (The #3 game is $6.99, which is why its grosses are so high.) The #18 sales rank for Avernum HD nets it #46 most grossing. Freemium games kick ass.

This is a relatively recent change. In June, when Avadon HD was #1 or #2 on Paid Apps, this resulted in #3-4 on Top Grossing. I never made #1 Grossing, but I came close. Now DragonVale rules the world.

This makes me feel obsolete. I should write a freemium RPG where you can pay real money to get a +5 Paladin Sword of Awesomeness or whatever. But I just can't bring myself to do it. It's ironic. When I started, I was one of the young turks challenging the old order with shareware by giving part of my game away for free. Now I am one of the old, cranky reptiles being pushed aside by an awesome marketing angle I'm just too old and inflexible to take advantage of.

I love developing for the iPad. I love the device. It is, to quote an imaginary guy in a story Mike Daisey made up, "a kind of magic." And, since I'm the only person writing my sort of game for the platform (which is weird), I foresee reasonable earnings from it for me for quite a while. Not everone with an iPad wants a game where you spend 99 cents to buy a hat for your dragon.

But it's the sexiest, moneyest, most cutthroat competitive market out there. I can scrape out some dollars because I have an established fanbase. If I was just starting out, I would be terrified of making my way in iTunes, and rightly so.


  1. Maybe this is why some games are released in episodes. Instead of having a game that is 50 hours for $20, they release five games that are 10 hours and charge $4 each. Sometimes they release the first episode for free just to get people interested in the series.

    This has the added benefit of allowing people to beat the game (I think you wrote an article about how long your games are) and give them something to look forward to with the sequels.

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  2. > Now I am one of the old, cranky reptiles being pushed aside by an awesome marketing angle I'm just too old and inflexible to take advantage of.

    Please never, ever do this. I will happily pay whatever for your game, I just don't want to be nickled-and-dimed for a +5 sword of anything.

    1. This. I just ragequit and uninstalled a certain otherwise perfectly nice little game once I realised its entire /thing/ was to make me buy knicknacks to make the game more playable.

      You may not be flexible enough as a developer to make the jump, but there's a fair population of players who are right there with you.

  3. I'm not surprised that you are seeing an uptick in iPad sales for the previous game, Avadon. As the iPad becomes ever more popular, the number of iPad owners that happen to seek out old-school RPGs will also increase rapidly. I would guess that you will maintain a niche market in the iPad world, just as you do in the non-iPad world.

    I don't think that you can give the existing fan base all of the credit for iPad sales. The App Store reviews seem to include a decent number of people unfamiliar with your other work. As a bonus, it also seems that the odd fan from 10+ years ago is rediscovering your work.

  4. So, I'm just finishing up (awesome) Avadon on the original iPad. I bought Avadon for both iPad and PC and found iPad way more convenient. This is from a 10 year player of Spiderweb games.

    One question that I'm sure a lot of your fans have: I keep getting warnings that Avadon sucks down a lot of memory, and it does seem to have a little bit of (tolerable) slowing in areas.

    If I buy the new Avernum before I bother to get the iPad 3 (or whatever it's called) am I going to be able to play it?

    1. FWIW I started off Avernum on both iPad 1 & 2, and while the iPad 2 is a better experience, both are very playable.

      But everything is better on the iPad 3 ... everything.

    2. I'll confirm it's a much smoother experience on an iPad 3 which I finally bought due to Avernum being released.

  5. I'm really curious, how did your humble bundle deal go? I've been waiting for more linux releases since Exile 2, so I bought immediately (android counts as linux to me :).

    Also, FWIW, seeing you sell the +5 sword of awesome for real money would definitely break my heart.

  6. I don't see what's wrong with free-to-play games. You don't have to treat your customers as victims to be milked for every last cent, to create a model where everyone can enjoy playing for free, and those who want more and who have the money can pay for extra stuff. I think you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater when you portray the options as Zynga or nothing.

  7. @David: You are right, of course, and I was being a bit snide. There is a lot of really cool innovative fun stuff going on in the free-to-play area. Realm of the Mad God, for example. Just consider my bad behavior the result of stress over the old way of doing things vanishing and my not being sure how to adapt to the new way.

    But I might have to charge cash for the +5 sword. Alas, that is the way the game is played today by us weaker competitors.

    - Jeff Vogel

    1. Speaking of RotMG, and despite my rant about in-game purchases just now, I don't hate it, when there is cool factor. It can be done nicely - I bought all the extra stuff in Hook Champ as a kind of tip to the developers, who reciprocated by making me look good to other players (and also allowing me to play through the game in a different way, once I'd done it with the stock characters).

      There's clearly some middle ground there.

    2. @Jeff: I much prefer the idea of paying for extra episodes or content, such as access to certain towns or areas of the world, new party members and quests.

      I'm very old school in that I prefer to play the game the way it's meant to be played. So if I'm playing Tiny Tower, I'll wait 3 days to build the 25th floor, I won't buy the coins to speed it up.
      I don't mind, it just gives me time to do other stuff while I wait. Or if I'm playing an RPG, I'll use the basic weapons even if they provide a challenge.
      Killing things faster will not give me more game, probably the opposite, since it will make me win faster!
      Paying for a better sword just feels like IDKFA, and while it certainly was fun to run around Doom with infinite ammo and invincibility, it was hardly a feature I would pay for.

      This is especially true if we're talking single player, so unless it is to support the developer, I would not purchase better weapons or armor or hats.
      And while I'm sure there are many altruistic gamers (me being among them), that would indeed buy hats to support the developer, this is still a risky model.

      I have however very often purchased additional story elements in the form of additional party members with their own quests, extra episodes, and new levels in many iOS games.
      I think the episodic model is the way to go. I've heard some hostility towards it, but I don't see why someone would complain if you give them a free game and ask them to pay to continue
      the adventure...

      Shareware FTW!

  8. Those games just takes us from the game world to reality, when most things in the game have to make us take out our credit cards and do transactions. It kills the mood and makes us fear the bills will pile up without us noticing at first.

    Plus, for those who can't invest too much in a game, will always feel that they are left out. So either someone invests completely on a game or won't even bother with it.

  9. Out of interest, why do you consider the iPad to be the superior tablet platform? I'm not interested in starting a flame war, just curious.

    I hope your experience with Avadon on Android has shown it's at least a viable platform for releasing your games on. I'd love a port of old retro Exile to Android, though I imagine that's completely wishful thinking :P

    1. I'd guess it's the app store environment which just isn't the same on Android. I like my Android phone and tablet but I game on my iPad.

    2. For a developer, iPad/iPhone is far superior because of device/system consistency and marketing support from Apple.

      With iPad/iPhone you practically have 2-3 different devices. If it works on your iPad, it should work on every iPad out there. On Android, there are 900+ devices, excluding custom roms.

      Also, there is no quality control in Android Market and they provide very little help promoting your app, whilst Apple actively features a great variety of games. Plus Android users pay less.

      Android is a larger platform and some of the devices may be superior to iDevices. Some statistics say that about 70% to 90% of revenue in mobile game development comes from Apple.

      So in short, Apple as a platform is easier and more profitable than Android.

  10. 110,000 copies sold let's say half android half Linux that's 55,000 copies of Avadon at $1 or 6000 at $12 (iPad pricing) that's pretty good based On numbers Jeff previously released.

  11. Jeff, I'd love to read an article from you explaining the difference between say, the huge free demo you released and the freemium "episodes" model.

  12. deworde is on it. Most of the app store "free" games either rely on pay-to-win or are essentially demos of the full product that can be unlocked, episodically or otherwise. This could actually help Jeff by giving back the huge, free demo that he offers for traditional Mac/PC users to iPad owners, giving him a boost in traffic due to higher downloads of his "free" app, etc.

    And, you're absolutely right Jeff, the iPad is the best tablet on the market.

  13. The HD Baldur's Gate re-makes will be on iOS, and Legend of Grimrock will be there later this year hopefully. I'd be surprised if both don't have an in-app store. (Gemrb on Google Play is an Infinity engine emulator for Android if you already have the BG/IWD/Planescape games - the GOG versions should work fine.)

    Undercroft for iOS is a decent dungeon crawling game and completely free - don't remember there being any in-app purchases.

    I really can't think of anyone else doing anything like the Spiderweb games on iOS right now though.

    1. there are several roguelikes, and "The Quest" series wich are about 10 or so games each one an episode that is very similar to the bard's tale.

      Also The Bard's tale is on iOS and it includes all three original games to play, awesomeness

  14. Jeff, I just wanted to let you know that I've bought both Avadon and Avernum on iPad and PC (bought the Steam PC release of Avernum literally 5 minutes ago). I'd hate for you to get bogged down worrying about how free to play games get so popular, I hope you can continue making the kind of games you have been and remain profitable.

    I feel like the audience for most of those games is completely different than your audience, and consists primarily of kids and extremely casual gamers who don't understand the value of a truly deep RPG experience. I'm not trying to denigrate them at all, I'm just saying that their gaming priorities do not line up with the strengths of your games.

    There are still plenty of people out there like me willing to pay (and pay multiple times!) for the kind of games you excel at making.

  15. Well, it is, of course, possible that iOS is at fault, but consider this, Jeff: you did a complete stealth release with Avernum.

    You didn't even bother to come to Toucharcade forums and post about it a couple of times, which may have given it a little more initial traction.

    There was a bit of buzz about Avadon when it came out - it was the first game of it's type and the first of Spiderweb games to get to iOS. It was a novelty.

    Now, not only did Avernum come out with zero fanfare on your part, but it also came during the massive excitement of Kickstarters and news of Baldur's Gate's porting, so of course there was no outward buzz either.

    As a result, very few people who enjoyed Avadon are even aware that Avernum is out. And among those who are, but are not familiar with Spiderweb, there is a concern that Avernum looks too much like Avadon, thus may be too similar to it in other respects and feel repetitive after just 8 months.

    You didn't provide a demo (Lite version with possibility of importing the save into full game) for iOS, so mechanism of people sampling your stuff and getting caught up in the story, that works for you on PC/Mac, is absent too.

    Given that your games are, by iOS standards, pricy and that they do look very similar visually, this omission is particularly incomprehensible to me.

    So, I hope that you don't bail on iOS, because it is wonderful to have your games in that space.

    After people play through BG 1 this summer, they will be looking for something to scratch that turn-based isometric itch until BG2 comes out and your games are well-positioned to profit from it.

  16. Jeff i always wanted to ask you about the Exile series, have you ever read "The multicolor Land" by Julian May?

    Its the story about how the humanity, once in the interstelar travel age, throwns out the missfits to the past, only to discover a whole civilization made by the people sent there.

  17. For whatever reason, I have always avoided Massively MP games and freemium games. There is something about the model that bothers me. My favorite games have always been ones I pay for once, and I am on equal footing with anyone else (usually because I am playing solo). The one really online game I got into for a while was Dominions, but that was async MP and fans had free servers so it didn't require being online all the time or recurring payments.

    PS I am about to buy Avernum for the iPad to tide me over on a long east coast flight. Looking forward to trying it out.

  18. Jeff, why dont you simply release the game as huge demo with access to the full version by a single in game purchase, not to different to the way you do things now.
    Btw. I bought Avernum and love it, still I would love to have an easier way to exchange the savegames between the mac and the iOS Version (dropbox would be a good candidate)

  19. Bought it, enjoying it.
    One suggestion - don't place the load button right next to the save button. That's a killer for knucklehands like me.

  20. I love your games Jeff but have to agree your marketing efforts could be better with no increase in cost. For example, Avadon has been available on Android since the humble bundle was released and yet Spiderweb has still not put it up on the list of available platforms. You are only showing MAC/Windows/IOS.

    Is it fair to criticize Android when at least 5000 to 20000 copies are likely on Androids as a result of the sale? Or that android users coming to your website will assume that it doesn't exist for the platform despite it being on Google play?

    Hopefully this is fair criticism as I LOVE your games just don't see much marketing effort compared to other games in similar genre...for example...Dungeons of Dredmore is Indie as well on Steam NOT a freemium but they do a hell of a great job marketing their product via feature patch updates, twitter interaction with fans etc. Just my 2 cents.

  21. I also greatly dislike "freemium" games and prefer to pay upfront, however there are some instances where freemium has been done appropriately. I blogged some examples here:

    There have been other examples since. One was Exitium: Saviors of Vardonia, where IAP would get you a tool that automatically picked up loot after battle. It wasn't vital, but it made the game a lot more playable.

    My opinion is that a paid, "comfortable" version with full features should always be on offer. Then a free, slightly uncomfortable version, where for the equivalent price of the full version you can buy in those features, and then spend more if you want to on optional things like extra Return Life potions or skill-point resets or whatever.

    So long as paid-upfronters aren't unduly penalised, and IAP is never critical *on top of* a paid game, then I can cope with it.

    Features that can be removed or adjusted for a free, "less comfortable" version might include:

    - lower carry capacity/less carry slots
    - lower auto-heal rate (or no auto-heal rate)
    - potions only half as effective
    - merchants with less gold in shops

    I've personally always found your Shareware Demon pretty compelling, but I guess that's perhaps not possible with iOS games?

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Hi Jeff,
    Your games are very creative and I enjoy the smart story lines. Please keep up this awesome work.
    Personally I hate "free" games where you have to pay extra for some super weapon. I feel like it's a rip off.

    Change your PR, not your games...

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