Hiive's Andrew Rollings on why Google's Chrome Web Store is the perfect place for mobile devs to experiment

Creatures & Castles studio learns from iOS mistakes

Hiive's Andrew Rollings on why Google's Chrome Web Store is the perfect place for mobile devs to experiment
| Creatures & Castles

Mistakes are learning experiences, that's the lesson to be gained.

In this context, Hiive co-creator Andrew Rolling's admission his approach to marketing his debut release on the App Store - Creatures & Castles – was flawed is an opportunity; something he's embraced bringing the game to Google's HTML5-powered Chrome Web Store.

We caught up with him to see what he's learned from his App Store experience, and how he plans to bring that knowledge to browser-based play.

PocketGamer: It's around six months since Creatures & Castles launched on iOS. How has it performed so far?

Andrew Rollings: Based on what I've read, it actually has done better than a lot of games that are released on the platform.

So far it's sold about 2,000 copies, so it is about two-thirds of the way to breaking even. Not as good as I hoped, and not as bad as I feared.

App Store success is an interesting phenomenon as currently it relies on a positive feedback loop that by its very nature can only support a few lucky products. More visibility creates more success which in turn creates more visibility. Unfortunately there is only limited space at the top, and a lot of people vying for that space.

Only very few of the App Store products gain sufficient early momentum to achieve the 'escape velocity' needed to propel them to success.

If you look at our downloads graph (see below), you can see three distinct features. The first feature on the left, was just after winning the 2nd place 'best puzzle game' award in the 2010 Best App Ever awards, but soon trailed off back to one or two sales a day.

The next spike was caused by an experiment. I dropped the price from $1.99 to 99c for a few days. It seemed like a lot of people had been holding out for the game to come down in price, but clearly not enough to give me any real momentum.

Interestingly, the third spike on the right was caused by me repeating the experiment. This time I got much less response. For this week (July 4), Creatures & Castles is free as part of a Free App A Day promotion. It will be very interesting to see what comes of that.

At launch, you told us you thought visibility was the biggest issue with the App Store. What have you learned from your experience pushing Creatures & Castles on the platform?

I've learned that my 'get rich quick' schemes don't work. No, seriously, I've realised that I really know very little about marketing and that if I'm going to get serious about releasing any more products on the App Store - or any other platform - I'm going to have to learn how to reach people. Marketing is hard.

As for the App Store, it is what it is. Visibility is a very tough issue. I would still like to see Apple take some steps to level the playing field a little. It's in control of the ecosystem, and it's in the best position to make changes.

The other big thing I've learned in that 'free to play, then nickle-and-dime you to death' as a business model seems to work really well. If you look at the free games chart and then take a look at the highest grossing game chart, you will see a large amount of overlap.

I guess I must be a little old school because I have an inherent distaste for what is effectively a 'pay to gain an unfair advantage' gameplay model, but there is something to be said for giving the public what they want.

I may well look into doing something in this area, but I'll probably feel icky for doing so. Slightly less troublesome to me is the concept of the 'in-app purchase'. I'll be adding a new level set to Creatures & Castles containing new challenges and monsters.

When I do this, I'll probably try and experiment along the lines of making the base game free and charging for the additional levels. With hindsight, I probably should have done this with the original release, although I would have had to have spent much more time polishing it.

The original release wasn't that polished as I had just wanted to get it out of the door. Polish was added in subsequent updates, but by then it was too late.

In fact, I'd say the biggest thing I've learned is that the rather cliched advice that my mother always told me, 'you only get one chance to make a first impression', is absolutely true when it comes to the App Store. That is the one thing I would absolutely go back and change; I would have made sure all the polish was in place prior to release. That is not a mistake I intend to repeat.

What motivated you to take the game to Chrome?

I had been hearing a lot about how HTML5 was really starting to mature and be suitable for games, and wondered how well Creatures & Castles would work as an in-browser game. After a couple of days of hacking around I had a level up-and-running, so I decided that it would be an interesting experiment to continue the project. It ended up taking me a little over a month.

Additionally, the potential audience for a Chrome game is much larger than that of iOS. I had thought that if I could somehow get the game in front of enough people, then, firstly, it might have a knock-on effect on sales of the iPhone version, and secondly, I might be able to sell the level packs via Google's in-app payment system.

The advantage of Google's infrastructure over Apple's is that it's a lot easier for me to make tweaks and changes. There are also significantly less restrictions on what I can do. If I choose to use a different in-app payment system I can. That's not possible with Apple.

So, with the additional flexibility provided by Google, it turns out that the Chrome version is a perfect place for me to experiment with concepts and ideas with a very short turnaround time. I can implement an idea, publish it, and get feedback and analytics almost immediately.

Currently, the Chrome Web Store version is more advanced than the iOS version because of this. I will be back-porting the new features into the iOS version, but at least for the time-being the Chrome version will take the lead.

How easy was it to develop for the platform?

Very easy. I'm familiar with Javascript, and I picked a library – ImpactJS - that fit naturally with how I'd designed the game in the first place.

For the most part converting the game was a simple translation. The only area where the code significantly diverges is in the control system, which has been revamped for browser-based playing.

Is this a route you can see taking off for iOS developers?

Typically I hear of people going the other way round; Canabalt, for example, started as a browser-based game and came to iOS. I'm sure there are plenty of others too.

As for whether I could advise others, well that's a bit too soon to answer that question. Ask me in a couple of months when I'll be able to compare and contrast the in-app sales for both platforms.

Any other platforms on the horizon for Creatures & Castles?

Currently no. The idea of conversions to Android and Windows Phone 7 have been bandied about, but unless someone magically drops some funding in my lap, I don't see it happening any time soon.

If Creatures & Castles ends up getting a second wind and making any significant money then I most likely will do the conversion.

Thanks to Andrew for his time.

You can pick up Creatures & Castles from the Chrome Web Store for free here.

Keith Andrew
Keith Andrew
With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. He's also Pocket Gamer's resident football gaming expert and, thanks to his work on, monitors the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.