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A Dark Room Goes Viral

I gave up at this point. Or more accurately I felt I had done as much as humanly possible with regards marketing.

Day 301 - Mar 31, 2014: Attack of the Minecraft Clones, and a New Hope in the United Kingdom

For the past two weeks, a certain "anomaly" has existed in A Dark Room's small part of the App Store. There are two games that have managed to take top spots in the RPG category: Skyblock - Survival Game Mission Flying Island (which I'll call Skyblock1) and Skyblock - Mini Survival Game in Block Sky Worlds (which I'll call Skyblock2). Skyblock1 and Skyblock2 hold the first and tenth spot in the RPG category. The average rating for both games are two stars.

I'm not sure what is going on here. I am well accustomed to the "I don't get it this is dumb" one-star review (I see that as a failure on my part by the way...). And here are two apps, that are in the top 10, and their reviews are mostly poor. Are the people that are reviewing this game, simply "not getting it"? Where are the reviews of people that enjoy the game?

As I've mentioned before, getting a top spot in rankings takes a consecutively high number of downloads, day after day. These games have been holding a top spot now for what looks like two weeks. These games are definitely bringing in a high number of downloads, but very few good reviews.

Is the Minecraft "franchise" simply that popular? Here is a list of Minecraft based games that are high ranking right now:

  • Skyblock - Survival Game Mission Flying Island (#1 spot, 2-star average)
  • Hunt Games - Mine Mini Survival Game with Blocks (#9 spot, 2-star average)
  • Skyblock - Mini Survival Game in Block Sky World (#10 spot, 2-star average)
  • Minecraft Skin Studio - Official Skins Creator for Minecraft (#12 spot, 4.5-star average)
  • Adventure With Companions - 3D Online Multiplayer Block Building Sandbox With Creative (#17 spot, 4-star average)
  • Minecraft Explorer Pro (#18 spot, 3.5-star average)
  • World Explorer - Made for MineCraft (#19 spot, 2.5-star average)

A Dark Room is currently ranked 20, with 220 reviews, average 5-star rating... in the United States.

A few days ago, I saw a small spike in downloads. I didn't think too much of it. Yesterday, there was a 300% increase in A Dark Room's downloads. This got my attention. I tried to make sense of why this spike existed. App Annie, a site I use to track this stuff, showed a disproportionate number of downloads in the United Kingdom App Store. After looking at rankings, I saw that A Dark Room was recently promoted to the #1 spot in the UK App Store. Not #1 RPG, not #1 Game, A Dark Room is currently the #1 app overall.

I don't have any details (yet) about what impacted this, or how many downloads this will translate to in the long run. One thing I've learned so far, you have to have tempered expectations. I've reached out to Cara Ellison and Leigh Alexander (editors in the UK) to see if they have any idea about what's going on. I'm still trying to connect the dots... trying to understand how this happened. I'll add another entry as soon as I do.

Postmortem

This climb to the top spot sill puzzles me to this day. Here is a graph of sales in the UK vs the US around this time period. I'll have a chapter specifically for dissecting what happened: Analyzing Spikes.

UK vs US Day 301

Day 302 - Apr 1, 2014: Day Two, at the Number One Spot, in the UK App Store

A Dark Room has managed to stay number 1 in the UK App Store for March 30th and 31st (so far). Here are my observations:

Downloads have dropped 10% from D-day (March 30th). This was surprising given that when the app was free, the downloads were higher on day two.

The gains in the UK App Store don't seem to be influencing US sales. It may be too early to say this, but that's what I've seen so far.

Another observation (and I think this is unique to the game), is there is now a higher number of 1-star reviews. For the past two days, A Dark Room has received 59 5-star reviews and 38 1-star reviews.

If you've played the game, you know that the first part of the game has a slow reveal, and opens up "phase 2" only after you've bought the compass. I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of those that are in the UK. Here is a game... and it's the top app in the App Store. There is only one screen shot, a vague description and many of the review say the same thing:

A-MAZING - I don't write reviews. I find those "Rate this Game" popups extremely annoying. This game doesn't have those. Instead it waits until right at the end, after it has blown your mind, to ask for a rating. And for the first time ever, I felt obliged.

One of a kind! Superb - "I never write reviews," or "I hardly write reviews!" That's how all of the others have begun and if that doesn't draw you in then you shouldn't be on the App Store. This unique game has kept me entertained for hours on end...

Wow! - Well where to begin, I read the reviews and not knowing anything about the game I took a punt on it and I'm glad I did! What a brilliant game! ...

;) - A brilliant game very addictive and interesting concept. I would highly recommend it

Fantastic - Really atmospheric, very minimalist: an RPG, a survivor sim, a text adventure. Absolutely brilliant and shows you don't need graphics to make a really absorbing atmospheric game.

I decide to give the game a shot. I pay money for it. Pressing the buy button is a very powerful gesture. It doesn't matter if the app I am buying is $1 or $100. The act of buying something in the App Store has become an exchange of trust, more so than an exchange of money. When I hit the buy button, I am putting trust in the developer, trust in the App Store to curate apps, trust in the reviews that they are accurate and true.

So here I am, a random person browsing the App Store, I may not even be a gamer, I may not even like RPG's. And here's this app, it's in the top spot, and I decide to give a token of trust. I open up the app, and am presented with a black screen, and a single progress bar. I press the "light fire" button, and the screen changes color. I play for 5 seconds?, 10 seconds?, 5 minutes? The "game" does effectively nothing, a few pieces of text comes onto the screen, the progress bar updates, some new buttons show up, leading to more progress bars, the screen changes colors... that's it?

I want immediate gratification for my trust, and I'm not getting that. My trust is short lived, since its being placed in the hands of complete strangers. I'm enraged, I'm so incredibly angry right now that I gave my trust to the developer, Apple, the reviewers, strangers, humanity... and I feel betrayed. So I leave a review to show my dissatisfaction:

Fake reviews - It's literally the most repetitive boring game. Was interested for about half an hour thinking it would get better but after a whole and giving it a chance, it just turns out it's pointless tapping

Bit of a scam - I bought this a week ago thinking the reviews looked positive. Now having played the game and read through further reviews I feel scammed. Poorly hidden "I don't usually write" fake reviews are littered everywhere.

SCAM!!! - Worst game ever!!! Don't buy it! Reviews are fake!!!

Awful! The worst! - his is the most awful game I have ever played ! It costs £0.69 which I would like back and it has fake reviews written about it by it's own company! DO NOT EVER BUY THIS "game".

Con Artist of 2014 award goes to... - Well I don't usually write reviews either, but after reading the hundreds of reviews below I can only come to the conclusion that they were paid to do them....

When the game was in a quiet spot in the App Store, a lot of the downloads came from people recommending it word of mouth. You really couldn't find the game unless you specifically looked in the RPG section and scrolled down a couple of pages. When a real person, a friend, a fellow gamer, an esteemed editor recommends something to you... you give their recommendation more trust, and as a by product, you give A Dark Room more of your time.

The trust in the App Store, the trust in developers who develop products for the App Store is forever waning. And I can see the exhaustion and frustration that people feel (I feel it myself when I'm browsing for apps). And right now, that frustration is being directed to A Dark Room.

No, adding another screen shot or more details about the game won't help. One, because the game isn't visually appealing, and two, because I'm a stranger... I could be a scam artist that is putting up fake screen shots (I'm not of course). Most importantly, if I added any kind of hint to what was in the game, it would take away from the discovery that the player experiences. And I won't do that.

At this point, all I can do is wait. It takes anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days to beat the game and get a "review me" button presented to you. I have to put my trust in the player, and hope that they take the time to review the game, and show that A Dark Room really is something brilliant and unique.

As a consolation, I've got some chuckles out of the reviews, specifically this one:

Avoid - To summarize, I would actually rather be in a dark room, with nothing else is in it, until my untimely death before playing this app again. The endless time that is spent tapping could be spent building a time machine that would take you back to the time you pressed 'install' just so you can slap yourself in the face. Take your 70p and go purchase a lettuce and tap that, it would be more productive... And at the end you have a lettuce.

Postmortem

After having over 25,000 reviews. I can make one conclusion about the UK App Store versus ever other country. People in the UK are mean. At least when it comes to games that are slow boil minimalist text base RPG's. I have received the most visceral responses, lowest 5 star ratings, and highest 1 star ratings from there.

Here is a list of "love/hate" ratings. Below is the number of 5 star ratings, 1 star ratings, and percentage of the total ratings (4, 3, and 2 star ratings excluded). These are rating breakdowns for each country A Dark Room has hit the #1 spot in.

  • United States: 24,710 (93%) to 1,079 (4%)
  • Singapore: 252 (90%) to 6 (2%)
  • Australia: 1,913 (87%) to 103 (5%)
  • Germany: 876 (86%) to 42 (4%)
  • Canada: 2,356 (86%) to 136 (5%)
  • New Zealand: 148 (83%) to 9 (5%)
  • United Kingdom: 2,181 (78%) to 279 (10%)

Out of curiosity. I also looked at Monument Valley's US rating vs UK:

  • United States: 17,594 (77%) to 1,036 (5%)
  • United Kingdom: 3,622 (76%) to (4%)

And Geometry Dash:

  • United States: 185,618 (89%) to 1,798 (1%)
  • United Kingdom: 20,198 (89%) to 173 (1%)

And Alto's Adventure:

  • United States: 4,919 (83%) to 116 (2%)
  • United Kingdom: 1,197 (80%) to 33 (2%)

And Lifeline:

  • United States: 15,765 (81%) to 644 (3%)
  • United Kingdom: 1,784 (74%) to 133 (5%)

Yep... the United Kingdom doesn't like A Dark Room for some reason. One tiny deviation would be that of Lifeline, which is another "text based" game.

Day 303 - Apr 2, 2014: Day Three, at the Number One Spot, in the UK App Store

A Dark Room has been in the top spot in the UK App Store for 3 days now. Downloads have fallen 56% from day two, but A Dark Room's rank still remains #1. From what I've observed so far, the rankings are heavily determined by the number of downloads you get (not the reviews). Given that the downloads are falling, this rank position may not last much longer.

I don't have enough data yet, but it seems like the rankings in the UK App Store are influencing the US App Store. With no noticeable spike in US downloads, A Dark Room has jumped to the #9 spot in the RPG Category and the 146th spot in the Games category. That is both exciting and terrifying. From what I've read, the US App Store market share is 5 times the size of the UK.

The reviews have a definite pattern. You either love the game or hate it. Here are the review number for yesterday:

  • 5-star: 44
  • 4-star: 3
  • 3-star: 0
  • 2-star: 1
  • 1-star: 26

The reactions in the reviews continue to be visceral. Here are a couple:

Amazingly bad! - I lasted 30 seconds. I don't know what's worse, being charged more than a penny for this rubbish or reading the obviously faked reviews after purchasing or finding the developers epic long long long faked diary in making this 'game' that a 5 year old could put together. he also actually seems to believe that no one can review the 'game' without having completed it! Will be getting onto apple for a refund. Yes i can do that too!

Fraudsters!! - This game is awful. All the reviews are fake. The people behind this have broken the law as this is clearly fraudulent activity designed to get you to part with your money for false promises. Absolute disgrace. Pure theft. Pure criminality.

One person from the UK actually "called @ADarkRoomiOS out" on Twitter. Against my better judgement, I decided to engage with her. I'm glad I did. Conversation follows:

her - @ADarkRoomiOS what a con! Waste of money, I wish I could warn others the reviews are fake.

me - I'm truly sorry you feel conned. More info about the game here, please take a moment to read if you can: http://amirrajan.net/a-dark-room/

me - did you get a chance to read the development log I had put up with regards to A Dark Room and my sabbatical?

her - I'm sure the game is great; maybe it's just not for me. But all the best to you, and I hope your success grows.

me - I appreciate that, but perhaps put yourself in my shoes. Any ideas how I can communicate that it isn't a con?

her - hey look, don't pay attention to the likes of me. Keep creating and keep making the cash, I would do the same!

me - thank you... you're a part of A Dark Room's history now. In a good way. :-)

her - haha thanks! Maybe I should reinstall the app and uninstall my ignorance

Postmortem

Approach every negative outcry with a calm and collected mind. Read what ever was posted, go work out and let off that negative energy, let it simmer, sleep on it, cool off, and then reply. Try to come at these negative comments without emotion.

Here is another example of me trying my best to reply to someone who's played one of my games. This one is for prequel to ADR called The Ensign. I got the email after I added poison to the game:

Them:

I'm done with playing Ensign. Your update made a punishingly hard game that rewards patience, repetition, and strategy, into a crippled mess that will kill an experienced player within 60 seconds, randomly. I shouldn't, after countless hours of gameplay sunk into the game, be capable of being killed less than 60 seconds into the game. And due to the nature of mobile app updates, I don't even have the option of going back to the version of the game I ENJOYED playing, enjoyed losing even, because I could see where I'D made a mistake, and learned from it. From everything I've read or heard you say, I'm sure you're smiling about this message, if you're even bothering to read this far. And I'm sure I'm not the first to send you a message like this. And I'm sure this next part won't matter, but I mean it sincerely: You've lost a customer for any future game you create, and you've made me regret giving you money for a game I used to enjoy playing.

Me:

First of all I'm glad you reached out to me. Believe me I am. The recent updates to The Ensign primarily revolved around balancing the punch level. They were too overpowered and took away from the strategy with regards to refusing food. Before I released the updated version, I made sure that I could consistently beat the game with refusing food. I sunk countless hours into play testing the game to make sure it was balanced and far.

I'm not smiling about bring this kind of frustration. The general theme of The Ensign is to be sadistically soul crushing at times. But it should definitely rewards persistence and experience. Would you mind telling me where you felt the deaths were unfair? I plan to work on it more this weekend. Maybe I can get you beta access to the update and you can give me some early feedback?

Building games is my dream job. I wish I could do it full time as opposed to nights and weekends. The last thing I want is to lose you as a customer.

Them:

When I say the first 60 seconds, I mean that pretty literally. On multiple occasions, on entering the first house, I encountered a hostile and died, despite punching as fast as possible. In general, it's so much easier now to die not because of lack of preparedness, but just a long string of bad dice rolls in combat. I kept missing, they kept hitting, and because I had refused food, I had no means of healing.

And fighting the guards of the tannery is now nearly impossible. Fighting ANY enemy with more than 5 health with only level 1 fists has a strong chance of being a death sentence, especially if food is low. A weapon helps...but now a knife often goes from 100 to 0 in a single battle since they degrade even faster, so I often can't hold on to them long enough to have one in hand for the entire tannery battle set. The bigger weapons degrade slower, but even presuming I can survive a cave and get a steel or iron sword with a fairly high percentage of life left on it, I don't have enough inventory to keep one AND enough food to heal through ONE battle, often, let alone all three. And on top of it all, I can't enter into any encounter with full health, because poison air. Since updating, I have died over and over at or before the third enemy in the tannery, or exhausted all my food beating them, only to hit another encounter before I can return to another previously visited way-station and stock up enough food to heal. And I've only gotten through the ironworks twice, total.

I can still beat the game taking the food. But unless I'm missing something, or just keep not quite hitting a milestone that would have ticked the right box, NOTHING improves with subsequent playthrough anymore when you refuse food, aside from knowing that I need to get through the tannery as soon as possible if I want to have a hope in hell of consistently beating anything with more than 5 health when my weapons break. The game used to be a merciless drill instructor who eased up JUST a little, JUST at the moment when you started to get too frustrated to go on. But now it just feels like a bully, spitting in my face repeatedly. I beat the previous version of the game multiple times without the food, but only after a lot of practice, days and days of playing, dying, playing again, dying again, rinse, wash, repeat. But every once in awhile it gave me small signs that I was improving, that pieces of the experience were leveling up (the punching, mainly), so I stuck with it. I've given this new version lots of my time, with far, FAR less result, with the exception of a few extra red texts haranguing me.

Me:

I hear ya man. When I was playing it again with refusing food, I was furious at myself with decreasing accuracy and remove punch powers (and adding poison).

The way I beat my own monstrosity of a game was make a B-line for the houses that are two spaces away (the RNG for the house very very rarely puts a baddy in there). Any house further than 2 spaces is a complete dice roll. After getting a knife, head immediately back for the swamp to get a the location of the tannery. From here you have to be a bit more careful with the health and water. But stay out of the caves and just replenish with H's or cook the meat you get back at the swamp. Once you find the tannery (it's never more than 7 moves away from the swamp), stay on top of your healing and you should be able to get through. Believe it or not, your accuracy is at 80% while the accuracy of the baddies are at 70%. I was thinking about adding logic that would guarantee a hit after X misses in a row, but felt that would be a form of coddling.

After the tannery, this is where past experience hurt me the most. I tried to head straight for the caves and then straight for the iron mine. Here is where you have to slow down and explore more. Leverage the weaker defectors at the beginning and get the laser rifle. You have to find an M and get the sight upgrade. So, slowly make your way around and farm/cook meat. Once you have a laser rifle or sword/bolas from the caves, use your best judgement to try the iron mine.

It isn't easy, but I promise you that I can make it to the ship a large portion of the time. I made sure I could do this before releasing. The most difficult part was unlearning everything I've learned with the lvl 15 punches, you just can't rely on that or katana's any more.

I'll play a few more times this weekend and make sure that I'm not lying to myself. And I promise (from the bottom of my heart) that I'll do a release if I feel that parts of it are still too "luck based". I want luck to be a component, but it shouldn't feel like that's the only way to win. Would you like beta access if I do decide to change some things?

I don't want to lose someone that has put their faith in me as a game developer. That's the last thing I'd ever want (regardless of what that evil red text says). Especially being such an odd ball game/dev in the App Store. Every one of you who have given my games a chance is important. It's you who I rely on to recommend my games to others (Apple certainly doesn't). So believe me brother, I never wanted to frustrate anyone to a level where they'd lost faith in my love for the craft.

I played The Ensign all morning and these are the changes I decided to make. What do you think?

  • Accuracy for both player and baddies set to 100%.
  • Precision artifact removed (cause you don't need it any more).
  • Evasion artifact was still kept as a way to decrease the enemies precision.
  • Moved melee artifact out of the occultist to the wandering master.
  • Decreased encounter rate from 20% down to 10% for the houses nearest the swamp.
  • Lowered the DPS for tannery men from 6 to 5.
  • Doubled the durability of knifes.
  • Moved wandering master further out (harder to find).

Them:

Well, now that my blood is down a bit, I'm feeling a bit embarrassed, both for my tone, and for the idea of being consulted, especially since as much as I enjoy PLAYING games, I'm hardly an expert on how to build, let alone balance them.

I think reducing the likelihood of that initial encounter is good. I may have just a long string of rotten luck, because I actually kept a log this morning, and it was roughly a third of all initial encounters that came up with a baddie, and a good half of them that resulted in my death. I WAS able to get further a bit more often, after following your advice (though I had already known about Always Choose Right, figured that out after a bit of trail and error very early on...although it seemed to me that the other paths resulted in an extra monster, which was useful if you were trying to stock up to go see the occultist/wandering master?) Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but the compass wasn't available at the ship in the previous version of food refusal, was it? Overlooking that in previous playthroughs was another thing that probably hamstrung me pretty substantially. Similarly, dropping the degradation rate of the knife sounds good to me, although twice as long would put it as a slower degradation rate than some of the more advanced weapons, wouldn't it?

I don't know that you need to remove precision as a factor entirely, and consequently the precision trinkets, since there IS a valuable emotional heft to being in a fight and the terror of your hit not landing/the relief of being spared an enemy's blow. Not to mention, it pretty much guarantees a player's death if in the later stages they find themselves suddenly short on weapons or low on health and, say, have the bad fortune to encounter a sniper. I just think that in the early stage of a session, removing the leveling punch results in a much higher chance of just randomly dying no matter HOW good you get at the game, which is what got me so angry that I sent that initial e-mail.

A lot of your proposed changes would seem to have bigger effects on what I mentally refer to as the middle stage of the game, which is everything between the tannery and the armory. And the changes there, while frustrating, don't bother me in a fundamental, write-the-developer-an-angry-email-way as how murderous the opening stage of the game became.

I don't know if it's possible in the game's architecture, but would it be possible to step the precision down incrementally as the game progresses? Like, when you first venture out, for that first encounter or two it's simple Everybody Hits. By the next several encounters, you've at least got a knife and some food, so the precision drops. Not all the way to its worst, but enough to make things harrowing, especially if you;re not managing your food/inventory. And once you've gotten past, say, the tannery (or the radius the tannery is within), well now you've got enough inventory that you SHOULD be able to carry several weapons (and trinkets when you find a master/occultist) at which point precision fully drops to the point where it's a good idea to find that D symbol on the map...but then, maybe that's not possible, or is holding the gamer's hand more than you want to, or makes some other thing easier than you're looking for.

I don't know. You're being very generous in addressing me and asking my opinion, so I'm just trying to give as considered an answer in reply as I can. I'm trying to think of how I'd address my specific frustrations (how unremittingly lethal the first 5-10 minutes becomes) without undercutting the problems you saw that led you to these changes. Not to mention as a sometime artist myself (in a different field) I'm suddenly sensitive about not wanting to step on your toes in creating the work YOU wanted to make, regardless of what I or anyone else thinks. I don't often go in for super-punishing games, but yours really did managed to grab me. I think it's just that the update felt like it literally ripped the game I'd enjoyed and had intended to revisit out of my hands, and replaced it with something I didn't understand or seem capable of making progress in.

Me:

No need to feel embarrassed :-) Just know that as much as the game trolls you, it was simply the emotions I wanted to convey in this experience (and definitely not how I feel towards the players). I agree with the accuracy thing. I think I'll drop it (for both player and enemy) to 85 - 90% as opposed to keep it always at 100% and add the trinket back.

And yes, to balance a bit of the difficulty I added the compass to the swamp. So at least you get a vague idea of where things are. I felt that helped balance the upped difficulty (risk/reward of going back to the swamp).

Thanks again for the feedback.

Day 305 - Apr 4, 2014: The Fall From the #1 Spot in the UK App Store. Here Are the Final Numbers

After five days in the top spot of the UK App Store, A Dark Room finally dropped to the #2 spot. Observations:

  • You either love A Dark Room or hate it.
  • Once you make it to the top 5 of your category, things begin to pick up.
  • There doesn't seem to be any correlation between the UK and US App Stores.
  • The US App Store is definitely larger than the UK App Store.

Here are the final numbers leading up to the #1 spot in the UK:

  • 3/22 - 40 downloads, rank 403
  • 3/23 - 58 downloads, rank 333
  • 3/24 - 38 downloads, rank 337
  • 3/25 - 36 downloads, rank 277
  • 3/26 - 47 downloads, rank 211
  • 3/27 - 108 downloads, rank 100
  • 3/28 - 296 downloads, rank 29
  • 3/29 - 1088 downloads, rank 5
  • 3/30 - 5959 downloads, rank 1
  • 3/31 - 5037 downloads, rank 1
  • 4/01 - 2812 downloads, rank 1
  • 4/02 - 2654 downloads, rank 1
  • 4/03 - 2195 downloads, rank 1

Here are the US numbers:

  • 3/22 - 125 downloads, rank 636
  • 3/23 - 109 downloads, rank 573
  • 3/24 - 83 downloads, rank 643
  • 3/25 - 88 downloads, rank 605
  • 3/26 - 106 downloads, rank 604
  • 3/27 - 82 downloads, rank 774
  • 3/28 - 100 downloads, rank 637
  • 3/29 - 117 downloads, rank 719
  • 3/30 - 140 downloads, rank 623
  • 3/31 - 103 downloads, rank 560
  • 4/01 - 127 downloads, rank 468
  • 4/02 - 181 downloads, rank 314
  • 4/03 - 176 downloads, rank 242

During the 5 days at the top spot, users of the UK App Store gave A Dark Room the following ratings:

  • 5 stars: 195
  • 4 stars: 17
  • 3 stars: 2
  • 2 stars: 6
  • 1 stars: 94

As for the reviews, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't affected emotionally by people claiming that A Dark Room was a scam and I was a con artist. There were three individuals on Twitter that actually called out A Dark Room publicly. I addressed each tweet individually, exercising an extreme amount of empathy. Each person ended up retracting their statement about A Dark Room and apologizing (one even said that they'd give A Dark Room another shot). If anything, this was preparation for what will come if I make it to a top spot in the US App Store.

Postmortem

Having your baby called ugly really sucks. Having a barrage of 1 star reviews come at you really sucks. You build something you put your heart and soul into, and then without even giving what you created an honest shot, they put their 1 star review and delete it calling you a scam artist. For those that find themselves in this situation, all I can really say is that you get used to it, and it won't hurt/annoy you anymore. It just takes a while to get to that point.

Day 310 -Apr 9, 2014: #1 RPG, #5 Game, #10 App, in the US

Here we are. Ten days after A Dark Room made it to the #1 spot in the UK. This morning, A Dark Room is ranked #1 in the RPG category, #5 in the Games category, and is the #10 app, overall. I still have no idea what's happening. I don't know definitively whether the buzz in the United Kingdom somehow caused the same kind of viral outbreak in the United States.

But (so far) the trends are holding. As soon as A Dark Room hit the #1 spot in the RPG category, a snowball effect occurred (similar to what I saw in the UK). If you look at the rank progression in the UK, you'll notice that A Dark Room hit the #1 spot overall, three days after it became #1 in the RPG category. A Dark Room hit the #1 RPG spot, in the US, late on April 6th... which makes day number 3, today. I doubt it'll jump 10 spots in one day, but it's worth noting how similar the trends are.

Outside of impacts associated with being #1 in the UK. The following may have given A Dark Room more steam in the United States.

As soon as A Dark Room hit the #1 spot in the UK I reposted what I wrote here on /r/gamedev: What happens when your iOS game goes viral and becomes the #1 app in the UK App Store. The post received 200 up votes, and there were many good conversations to be had.

Out of sheer luck. A Reddit user asked the following question on /r/askreddit, which Michael ended up responding to: Has anyone here ever built a $20 or $40 desktop application, or $0.99 to $5 mobile app, and made real money from it?. The question received 1159 upvotes, and Michael's response was the top comment.

Around this same time, a review site, that I reached out to a couple weeks ago, gave A Dark Room 3 stars (the review said mostly good things about the game, so put your torches and pitchforks down): 148Apps - A Dark Room Review

That's all that's happened as far as I know. A Dark Room has dropped to #5 in the UK. Downloads are still dropping and haven't leveled off. Positive reviews out score negative reviews 3 to 1. Given what I've seen in the UK, if A Dark Room does indeed hit the top spot, it won't stay there for long.

Postmortem

Here are graphs of the US climb to this point:

US climb graph

Day 316 - Apr 15, 2014: #1 in the App Store

A Dark Room iOS finally clawed its way to the #1 spot. It happened on April 13, 2014. It took seven, very long days to make it there from the #1 RPG spot. I was in shock when it passed Mine Craft in the rankings. I literally gasped out loud when it passed Monument Valley. I laughed sinisterly when it took down RBI Baseball 14 (an officially licensed game of the MLB). This marks the third day at the #1 spot.

The trends in the United Kingdom should give an indication as to what will happen in the US. Here are some observations and predictions:

  • The US App Store market is a little over 3x the size of the UK (not 5x).
  • iPad sales have been insignificant relative to iPhone.
  • Not a single major gaming website has done a piece about A Dark Room (yet).
  • The reviews in the US have been overall positive! (a ratio of 9 to 1 as opposed to UK's 3 to 1)
  • A Dark Room will fall out of the #1 US spot very soon.
  • It'll see a 20% drop in downloads, day over day, until it levels out.
  • It'll take ~25 days for this "leveling" to occur.

In the UK, A Dark Room is currently ranked #12. It seems that the game has finally leveled out (or at least the fall has slowed down considerably). A Dark Room is averaging 400 downloads a day over there.

I'll of course continue to post new observations as soon as I have more data. Also, there is going to be another unique update to the game that may cause another viral out break (probably not, but I can hope).

tl;dr; I won't be able to retire on the revenue A Dark Room is generating (not by a long shot), but it'll definitely extend my sabbatical.

Postmortem

Here's the graph to the #1 spot:

US #1 spot

Day 330 - Apr 29, 2014: Waiting for the New Normal

A Dark Room has been #1 in the App Store for 17 days now. During that 17 day period, the game has gotten 241,494 downloads. Every trend and projection I've made against what I saw in the UK has been broken:

  1. In the UK, it took 3 days to make it to the #1 spot overall, from the #1 RPG spot. In the US, this took 7 long days.

  2. In the UK, A Dark Room was taken out of the #1 spot by an Apple Editor's Choice pick (Monument Valley). In the US, A Dark Room has survived two Editor's Choice picks (Hitman GO and Leo's Fortune).

  3. In the UK, the reviews had a ratio of 3 positive reviews for every 1 negative. The negative reviews called the game a scam and claimed that all the other reviews were bought by me. In the US, the reviews have a ratio of 9 positive reviews for every 1 negative review. There are some that state the game is a scam, but most of the critical reviews in the US are valid (they found the game boring, over hyped, incomplete, etc).

  4. In the UK, A Dark Room stayed at the #1 spot for 6 days. I thought to myself "Okay, it took twice as long to get to #1 in the US, I can expect to stay at #1 twice as long." A Dark Room is going on to the 18th day now.

  5. In the UK, A Dark Room's downloads dropped 20% day over day after the initial days at #1. In the US, the downloads are level and spiked again on 4/20 and 4/27. None of this makes sense.

Every day has been a bit stressful. Which app will take me out of the top spot?

  1. Goat Rampage: A game "inspired" by the viral hit Goat Simulator. How the heck is A Dark Room going to survive a popular meme? For four days, I kept a close eye on this game, waiting for it to swap places with me and take the #1 spot. It didn't.

  2. Hitman GO: When this was featured by Apple, I thought I was done. Here is a game built by a powerhouse, Square Enix. What chance does A Dark Room have against that kind of shop? A Dark Room survived.

  3. The Amazing Spider 2: This game was wire to wire with Hitman GO, climbing up the ranks. Two threats at the same time. A Dark Room survived.

  4. Heads Up!: On April 22nd, Ellen DeGeneres plays Heads Up! on her talk show. The game shoots up to #2. How the hell will A Dark Room survive a game that has celebrity sponsorship? It did.

  5. Wayward Souls: A rouge-like RPG with a cult following. So incredibly awesome that it's available on iOS. "If Wayward Souls takes out ADR, I'm okay with that. That will be an honorable defeat," I said to myself. But it fell down the ranks too.

  6. Leo's Fortune: Apple stops promoting Hitman GO and picks Leo's Fortune. Another beautiful game that showcases the "beauty of iOS". I watch it climb day after day. And then it drops too.

  7. Blek: This game, just yesterday, jumped 13 spots in one day to claim #2. It's built by an indie dev too. I know he is going through the same thing I've been going through. A mix of hope and stress. He is eyeing how quickly he gets new reviews, he probably wakes up in the middle of the night to see if he's over taken A Dark Room... just like I wake up to see if I'm still #1.

Now, all I can do is survive till Tuesday. Tuesday, is a magical day. It's the day where the media takes notice of the top apps in the App Store (whether they want to acknowledge A Dark Room or not). This however doesn't cause any kind of spike in downloads. But it's nice seeing what the internet has to say about A Dark Room every time it survives another week. By far, the best unsolicited article was published by The Knox Student.

All I can do now is wait for the "new normal". That moment where I get used to this unfamiliar terrain, and I can finally get a decent night's sleep.

This is the best way I can describe what I'm feeling right now: I've bought a lottery ticket, and the lottery commission has revealed 5 of the 6 numbers. And so far, I've gotten those 5 numbers right. I know I've got at least the winnings for those 5 numbers in the bag. But now I'm waiting for the 6th number... that jackpot number that changes your life forever. The lottery commission hasn't revealed the 6th number yet, they haven't even told me when they'll show the 6th number. So I'm stuck in this weird limbo, where others see success and all I can do is temper expectations, be "responsible", and move forward as if that 6th number will be wrong... still number 1, just checked.

Postmortem

A few things worth covering through this time period (and some advice I should follow myself now that I'm writing it down):

  • A Dark Room's downloads spiked a second time on 4/20 because it was Easter (two holidays if you observe the Smoking Holiday also). Holidays are a wonderful time for sales, so don't go dropping your prices or making your games free during these time periods.

  • Touch Arcade gave coverage to A Dark Room. Apple started giving A Dark Room minor features. These are important because only a relative handful of games ever make it to this point. Surviving the App Store comes down to these two entities noticing you. See chapter: How Getting Featured Impacts Sales.

  • Fourteen days of barely sleeping is not good for your health. Also, the App Store refreshes app rankings every 3 to 4 hours. Stop sleeping with your phone at your bedside. Get an alarm clock to wake you up and leave your phone far far away. See chapter: Dealing With Stress.

  • Exercise is extremely important. It's one of the few things that left me tired enough to get some sleep. And I don't mean taking leisure walks. For me it was going to the brink of passing out (not saying you should do that, but find something that lets you take you mind off of X completely).

  • Celebrate milestones and successes (both large and small). As I'm writing this, A Dark Room is #2 overall in Australia and I'm not losing any sleep over it (nor am I celebrating because I'm "used" to this now).

  • Wayward Souls and Leo's Fortune are awesome games. You should download them (out of childish spite, I haven't played Blek to this day).

  • I don't know how Heads Up! is still ranked so highly. Warner Brothers as released a number of variants (all endorsed by Ellen), yet all of them have essentially tanked.

Day 336 - May 6, 2014: The Fall from the US Top Spot

It finally happened. On April 30th, around 5pm, A Dark Room lost the #1 spot in the US App Store to Blek. I knew ADR would lose the spot at some point, but its still hard to describe what I felt when that happened.

I refresh the App Store list on my iPhone and see the two mostly-black icons still holding the number one and number two spot (A Dark Room and Blek). It takes a split second to realize that the #1 spot isn't A Dark Room anymore. I feel defeated and relieved. The climax of this story has passed. I am finally into the falling action and dénouement.

During this time period, A Dark Room received quite a bit of news coverage:

  • Not one, but two write ups on The Cult of Mac, an online publication that reaches millions.
  • A write up on Huffington Post, which reaches millions (even Ellen DeGeneres follows them on Twitter).
  • A write up on Medium by Barrett Sheridan, formerly a tech editor at Bloomberg Businessweek.
  • An interview with DFW CBS 11... I was on local TV! But I don't have cable/bunny ears, so I couldn't watch it #sadpanda.
  • An article/interview for the Dallas Morning News.
  • That plus a few small independent blogs wrote about the game.

All this, and A Dark Room still fell from #1. It's, in fact, struggling to keep the #6 spot now. US downloads have dropped 80% from the weeks before. On the bright side, being out of the top spot gave me the window to push out a crucial release of the game. The reviews will reset, but it's (now) worth the risk.

In other news, on Apr 29th, ADR hit the #1 spot in both Australia and Singapore.

  • In Singapore, ADR got 161 downloads at the top spot and fell soon after.
  • It took only a day to get there after becoming #1 under RPGs.
  • In Australia, ADR got 1300 downloads, but rose for another 3 days, before starting its plummet.
  • It took 7 days to get to the top after being #1 under RPGs. Reviews have been mostly positive in both countries.

Us, Singapore and Australia 4/29

With regards to reviews, I still wonder why the app was received so negatively in the UK. Here are my two working theories:

  • Smaller markets are more susceptible to scam apps. It's much easier for an app to quickly move to a high spot with a hundred or so paid for reviews.
  • Reviews are ordered based on number of stars and length. The top reviews set the tone for the rest of the reviews. I think we are subconsciously influenced by the "top" reviews. If a long, critical/angry 1-star review is posted (and the velocity for new reviews is low), then that "top" negative review will influence every person that tries out your app. In the case of the UK, a couple of reviews were long and extremely negative, calling the game a scam. And they stayed at the "top of the list" for a long, long time.

The stress I've continued to feel is this lack of consistency. No market is the same, download numbers are a constant roller coaster (the game spiked moderately in the UK again yesterday), human behavior isn't predictable, and media impact is hard to correlate. All in all the App Store feels impossible to rationalize.

With regards to the new release. There is a "secret" that I added, which is only available to those that have beaten the game. We'll see what kind of impact it has to downloads and review velocity. I expect review conversion rates to significantly increase for those that have beaten the game. Regardless... I feel that A Dark Room's time at #1 has passed, and I won't see that spot again.

Postmortem

The volatility of the App Store is why you can't rely on just one title. A Dark Room has been able to hold its own for a while, but now my other two games bring in 30 - 40% of my overall revenue. See chapter: Lifetime Revenue

If you start seeing a large spike in your games (like going viral in a small country), this is the best time to reach out to Apple and Touch Arcade. They will take notice and help you keep that snowball going.

After this roller coaster, the lack of sleep, the dreaming of never having to work again, and the 1-star reviews/hateful emails, I decided to start looking for a job again.

Day 356 - May 26, 2014: A Dark Room's Second Wind

Twenty four days ago, A Dark Room fell from the #1 spot. This fall gave me the opportunity to release an updated version of the game. With the release, ADR lost its average rating, and all of its glowing reviews got archived.

The new release was an attempt to deepen the connection the game had with the current fan base. If you've beaten the game at least once, a section to the game would be unlocked where you can listen to developer commentary given by me and Michael.

I had started working on this commentary back in March. Around this time it didn't look like ADR was gaining any ground... I was entertaining the idea of making ADR free, and providing the developer commentary as an In-App Purchase. I was nearing finished with the release of the IAP, but ADR suddenly went viral in the UK. Given the risk involved with resetting reviews, I decided to hold off on publishing the new version. When ADR made it to the #1 spot in the US, Michael and I decided to remove the IAP and release the commentary as a free update to the game.

ADR fell. I published that same day. By the time the new release hit the App Store (a week later), ADR's rank had fallen to the #7 spot over all. The next day, the game fell another spot. But then, two days after the release (9 days after falling from #1)... ADR stopped falling. It gained one rank day after day. By May 23th (22 days after the fall), A Dark Room made it back to the #1 spot.

So many variables were at play during this 22 day rise back to the top. I've done my best to summarize what all occurred. Any conclusions I draw are pretty speculative given that time and time again my predictions are proven wrong.

Variable 1: App price drops

Blek, the #1 game in the App Store made a smart move. About 4 days into their #1 streak, they dropped the price for their game to $0.99. I did something similar back when I was struggling to stay relevant in the RPG category. Imagine what kind of increase Blek saw when they dropped the price of their game by 66%. From what I've observed, a drop in price leads to an inversely proportional increase in downloads (with the added benefit of being able to say "I'm running a sale"). This little maneuver solidified Blek's #1 spot.... until A Dark Room took it back.

Variable 2: Review velocity and quality

Here is ADR's rating breakdown along with "quality" metrics (average number of words).

From Apr 8th to May 6th (version 1.5 without developer commentary), ADR received the following review breakdown:

  • 5 stars: 3,710 ~82%
  • 4 stars: 301 ~6%
  • 3 stars: 107 ~2%
  • 2 stars: 81 ~2%
  • 1 stars: 345 ~8%
  • Average Rank (not to be confused with rating): 2.44
  • Total reviews: 4,544
  • Reviews per day: ~162
  • Conversion Rate: 1.47%
  • Average Review Length: 31 words

From May 7th to May 25th (version 1.6, with developer commentary), ADR received the following review breakdown:

  • 5 stars: 1,613 ~87%
  • 4 stars: 72 ~4%
  • 3 stars: 24 ~1%
  • 2 stars: 33 ~1%
  • 1 stars: 95 ~5%
  • Average Rank (not to be confused with rating): 3.60
  • Total reviews: 1,837
  • Average reviews per day: ~102
  • Conversion Rate: 1.61%
  • Average Review Length: 38 words

It does seem that the developer commentary helped give a little more reason to give a 5 star review (but not by much). Outside of that, it doesn't look like the new release significantly impacted ADR's rise.

Variable 3: Number of downloads before hitting #1

It took a much longer time to get back to #1 from similar "low" ranks. It took fewer average downloads, but a longer period of time.

Number of downloads from the #15 spot to the #1 spot on version 1.5:

  • 4/08: 2,153
  • 4/09: 4,310
  • 4/10: 6,152
  • 4/11: 7,669 (placed #2, day before #1)
  • Average: 5,071
  • Total: 20,284

Number of downloads from the #7 spot to the #1 spot on version 1.6:

  • 5/07: 2,820
  • 5/08: 2,531
  • 5/09: 3,074
  • 5/10: 3,528
  • 5/11: 4,135
  • 5/12: 4,878
  • 5/13: 6,659
  • 5/14: 6,164
  • 5/15: 6,271
  • 5/16: 6,300
  • 5/17: 6,052
  • 5/18: 5,690 (placed #2 in the US, #1 in Canada!)
  • 5/19: 4,313
  • 5/20: 4,845
  • 5/21: 5,462 (day before #1 in the US)
  • Average: 4,848
  • Total: 72,722

Second wind and comparison to UK,Canada, Singapore and Australia

Variable 4: Relative performance of others in the App Store

Heads Up! briefly knocked Blek out of its #1 spot (for a few hours), but soon fell back to #2 (and then #3). On the 14th, Ellen DeGeneres posted a Heads Up! session with Emily Blunt, which may have contributed to its very brief bump. But that's how Heads Up! rolls (see what I did there). It's an quality game with celebrity sponsorship. And because of this, it's held a top 10 spot since May of 2013.

Minecraft is Minecraft. This game is an "expensive" premium app with a review velocity of 300+ a day. I think it's found a happy balance between rank and price. It's held a top 10 spot since July of 2013.

Plague Inc. has had a volatile existence. Its rank has fluctuated in the top 20 since May of 2012. That's two years of "top spot" daily revenue.

Blek (can I call it my arch nemesis?) did an awesome job with timing its sale, making it really hard to take back #1. They did eventually change the price back to $2.99, which may have contributed to their fall.

I have no idea what kind of price elasticity exists with regards to high ranking apps. My assumption is that Blek is measuring this elasticity themselves, or felt that net revenue at a lower rank/higher price was better than net revenue at a higher rank/lower price.

Michael and I have wondered what would happen if we increased the price of ADR, but have decided against it. Other games have precedence on other platforms, are celebrity backed, or have been around a long time. They show everything they have to offer, invest a lot in marketing, and ask for a fair price up front. ADR has no official media coverage, says nothing in the description, looks absolutely ridiculous with its single screen shot, and asks for $0.99.

To summarize my summary:

  • The v1.6 update didn't seem to have a noticeable effect on ADR's rise back to the top.
  • There's an incredibly complex symbiotic relationship with other ranked apps.
  • It's too soon to tell how ADR will perform in the long run.

Postmortem

As an indie game developer, cultivating a strong connection with those that play your game is the best weapon you have against AAA companies. The developer commentary I added strengthened that connection and was one of the best moves I could have made. The Ensign and A Noble Circle both have developer commentary. All three of my games have a very high rating/high rating conversion rate. See chapter: The Review System's Ins and Outs.

A Dark Room is a bit unique with regards to pricing (primarily because it's so secretive about what the game is about). After looking at other games like Blek and You Must Build a Boat, set your price to $0.99 or $2.99. It seems that the price elasticity for $1.99 and $2.99 is about the same. Above $2.99 and that's when downloads drop significantly.

Day 381 - Jun 20, 2014: Taxes, Negative Reviews, Clones, and Open Source

Alright, this one has been on my mind for a while. It's going to be difficult to exercise empathy and be tactful within this post, but I'll try. Let's get started.

Taxes

There's no escaping it, you have to pay taxes. ADR is subject to income taxes. Period. No way around it. And given that App Store revenue is considered self employment income, I get hit with an additional 15% self employment tax, all of which has to be paid quarterly. Paying estimated taxes in itself has its challenges given the volatility of the App Store revenue. I don't want to get penalized for underpaying, but at the same time, I don't what to give the government an interest free loan either. June 15th, I wrote a check to the IRS for $60,000. Based on projections of this depreciating asset, I'll have to pay $30,000 quarterly. Hopefully the annual amortization is accurate, and I end up owing a penalty free amount at the end of the year.

So... after Apple's 30% take, royalties of 50% (no complaints here, ADR iOS wouldn't exist if it weren't for Michael's permission), and then a 45% hit in income taxes, I net 19.5 cents on every download. YTD downloads are ~635,000. No way in hell we'll get that many downloads H2.

The terrifying part is that very few apps see even a fraction of this success. So think twice before selling almost everything you own, taking a year long learning sabbatical, and spending months porting a minimal text based RPG to mobile... you may be better off building apps after hours, or charging high dollar hourly rates to build an app for some company.

Negative Reviews

Just as death and taxes are inevitable, so are negative reviews for A Dark Room. I've been keeping a collection of heart warming positive reviews here, I hope you find them a great read. Let's enumerate the categories of negative reviews.

The Honest, Critical Review:

A number of reviews in the App Store fall into this category. They are fair, well written, and simply didn't like what they bought. They spent the time to share their thoughts and warn others.

Not That Brilliant... (1 star): The novelty of this game wears down almost immediately after the first time around. The whole point of this I suppose is to make us introspective and question particular things in the universe. But as much as this game would like you to think, you're not really in control. The fate of the game has pretty much been decided and no matter what you do there are pre ordained responses that characters like 'the builder' will have no matter what. I found that incredibly annoying.I guess it got the message through to me, but I don't think of this game as very deep or thought-provoking. Give me Angry Birds any day and I'll ponder the higher meaning of destroying smiling green pigs while actually believing that my 1 dollar wasn't for naught.

The It's a Scam Review:

I've talked about this before (and exercised large amount of empathy when doing so), so let me be a little mean. Here's the review:

Absolute scam!! Manipulated reviews!! (1 star): It's a text based game. That's ALL you get. Nothing like any review said how fancy and interesting the game play is. I suspect all the reviews are done by the developer himself using auto generated review. It is done by developer by purchasing the game himself through hundreds, if not thousands iTunes account, then give good rating over a period of time.

And here's my response:

Dear reviewer, you're an idiot.

The I didn't get my money's worth Review:

I live in a world where we carry $600 super computers in our pockets. We pay $15 for a two hour movie leaving satisfied, but paying $0.99 for only two hours of entertainment is considered a rip off.

Not worth the .99 (1 star): I beat the game in 2 hours, and the game doesn't do anything to reward you for winning. I like the game but it's missing depth and replay value.

The Ransom Review:

The App Store is actually a great way to get feedback on what's broken. Pay attention to these "ransom" reviews. Because they'll give you insight on what needs to be fixed.

Magnificent (3 stars): Good game but the thieves take too long Great game, i read your post about the making of the game and I am very sorry about making a 3 star review, but I spent more than 30 minutes with the thieves. I hope they'll go away soon, and the second they do ill rate it 5 stars. Thank you.

In this case though, I've already nerfed the thieves once, I'm not doing it again.

The Just Plain Mean Review:

Welp. They are just mean. Really mean. No other way to describe them.

What is this? (2 stars) - Before I bought this I was unsure so I looked at the reviews. They were all glowing which intrigued me, so I downloaded.. Played for about 2 minutes then deleted it! Absolute load of rubbish, it's sort of like sims but with no graphics, like a weird text version. Just utter nonsense how it has so many good reviews! If it was between watching a blind man trying dismantle a computer and playing this came I know which one I'd get bored of first!

The Leg Sweeper Review:

These reviews are simply there to bring you down. They want so badly to explain the success of something they don't see as "good". Belittling me, and others that have reviewed the game. These are by far the most poisonous reviews. They bring me down and bring down every other person who played and enjoyed the game.

Garbage (1 star) - It's so nice to have this hive-mind community full of hipsters and morons raving about the worst goddamn games. Same thing happened with Angry Birds and Flappy Birds. You people are disgusting. Horrible unwashed masses of brainless consumers. Hey morons, take a step back and really consider the piece of crap you rated 5 stars. No, really, just take a moment.

I have no words for this person. Here's another:

Snake Oil (1 star) - A cynical/realist lawyer's perspective..Finished the entire game, thoroughly, discovering all the secrets. Listened to the end commentary. Only did so because I was promised an emotional experience, which is something no game has really done for me since, oh, Final Fantasy 10 or so. Here, there was none to be had. This is just a 1980's, pre-Final Fantasy text-based RPG with some Friedrich Nietzche quotes thrown in. The plot twist toward the end of the game is trite and unmoving for anyone who has ever played a few video games or watched a few sci-fi movies.So why has this game blown up with so many gushing reviews? At the end of the game, the two developers left 20 minutes of commentary, in which they talk about their emotional and philosophical struggle creating the game, Friedrich Nietszche (who really has nothing to do with the game), and how the game changed the lives of blind people. Then they ask that you leave a review. Well, here's my review. Don't be fooled...

Here's my reply, again with a lack of empathy:

How do you explain v1.5's 18 day streak at #1? There wasn't any developer commentary in that one asking people to review ADR. Lawyered.

Here are the YTD numbers for 1 star reviews:

  • United Kingdom: 191 of 1081 (18%)
  • Canada: 68 of 767 (9%)
  • Singapore: 4 of 46 (9%)
  • Australia: 51 of 605 (8%)
  • United States: 557 of 8730 (6%)

Lesson learned. Don't release text based adventures to the UK. I've become numb to the words "rubbish", "bore", "scam/fake reviews", and "dreadful" because of the UK.

Clones and the Spirit of Open Source

Michael released ADR under MPL. And what do some do? They take what Michael built, wrap it in a browser control. They add advertisements at the bottom of the screen, and deploy it to the App Stores/Google Play as a free app. We've requested take downs for some of these apps. And they simply give us the finger by using the MPL as their defence.

It's frustrating, not that these apps exist, but that these bottom feeding apps are being created by developers who went onto GitHub and cloned Michael's repo. Michael said it best:

I open-sourced A Dark Room exactly because I wanted people to be able to learn from it, and use it as a starting point for their own projects. That said, I'll admit to being a little disheartened that people are taking advantage of the brand that I've built to make a quick buck.

What these devs are doing is legal (outside of potential common law trademark violations, but that'll be a whole-nother entry). Morally, however, this goes against the grain of what open source is all about. And that, is truly heart breaking.

Postmortem

It took Michael a little over a year to get an international trademark for A Dark Room. During this time period, I spent a lot of time battling clones using the Common Law Trademark as weapon.

Don't worry about trademarking your stuff until you've hit the big time. Oh, and don't make your IP open source. Both Michael and I have learned our lesson. The Ensign nor A Noble Circle are open source. Michael's Gridland is also not open source.

It's infuriating that there are small time game developers out there that take advantage of their own like this. But that's the nature of the situation, and giving that all my future works will be proprietary with copyrights owned soley by the creators.

Day 402 - Aug 11, 2014: One Million Downloads in Seven Days

I've slowly watched the rank and downloads of A Dark Room fall day over day. I thought there was a point where ADR's daily downloads would level out, but there really wasn't. By the end of July, A Dark Room was bringing in approximately 200 downloads a day. This is a level I haven't seen since February where I did a 50% off sale. Isn't that insane? A game that took the #1 spot for 18 days straight was now averaging downloads as if it were a game that just hit the App Store. I guess this shows again that you can't count on a consistent income from the App Store.

One thing was different however with these downloads. I was slowly increasing the price of ADR to $3.99. At this point, it was safe to assume that the game wasn't being "sold" by its overall game ranking (which was barely in the top 100), and most downloads (if not all) were coming from the fact that ADR was one of the top 5 RPG's. Here are some download numbers at each price point. You'll notice that there is very little inelasticity in price (even for top ranking apps).

  • 7/14 - 756 downloads at 0.99 with category rank of 1
  • 7/15 - 713 downloads at 0.99 with category rank of 1
  • 7/16 - 648 downloads at 0.99 with category rank of 2
  • 7/17 - 503 downloads at 1.99 with category rank of 2
  • 7/18 - 339 downloads at 1.99 with category rank of 2
  • 7/19 - 373 downloads at 1.99 with category rank of 2
  • 7/20 - 432 downloads at 1.99 with category rank of 2
  • 7/21 - 321 downloads at 1.99 with category rank of 2
  • 7/22 - 246 downloads at 1.99 with category rank of 2
  • 7/23 - 241 downloads at 1.99 with category rank of 3
  • 7/24 - 230 downloads at 1.99 with category rank of 3
  • 7/25 - 221 downloads at 1.99 with category rank of 3
  • 7/26 - 195 downloads at 2.99 with category rank of 3
  • 7/27 - 275 downloads at 2.99 with category rank of 4
  • 7/28 - 237 downloads at 2.99 with category rank of 4
  • 7/29 - 142 downloads at 3.99 with category rank of 4
  • 7/30 - 145 downloads at 3.99 with category rank of 6

Revenue stayed about level, my rank dropped. This is in line with what I've seen in the past (download count is king). So here I am sitting at the #6 spot, exactly where I was five months ago before the game ever went viral. Looking through my dev logs, I decided to do exactly what I did back then: I made the game free to bring in "new blood".

Then, the impossible happened. On day one of being free, ADR received 36,831 downloads. Day two, A Dark Room sky rocketed to 111,209 downloads. In 48 hours, ADR went from being ranked as the 329th app overall to the 32th. I decided to see how far ADR could go. On the third day ADR had passed Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Kim Kardashian, and pretty much everything else. By the 7th day, A Dark Room was the #3 app in the App Store overall, out ranked by the Facebook Messaging App (which everyone was forced to download), and Crazy Taxi (which was being promoted by Apple at the time). Here are the download numbers for those 7 days:

  • 8/1: 36,831 (went free mid day)
  • 8/2: 111,209
  • 8/3: 203,882
  • 8/4: 223,006
  • 8/5: 213,379
  • 8/6: 187,014
  • 8/7: 43,307 (flipped back to paid mid day)
  • Total: 1,018,628
  • Total Reviews: Jumped from 7,800 to 11,914 (4,114 reviews)

As far as media coverage, Pocket Tactics, 148Apps, and Touch Arcade wrote about this sale. Extra Credits was kind enough to tweet about it too (they rock). It's hard to say how much of an impact they really had to the download numbers given that media coverage in the past really hasn't helped ADR (but I may be wrong).

Postmortem

It took A Dark Room a little over 400 days to conquer the paid and free App Stores. The rest of the chapters in this book take deeper dives through out this exhausting journey. Here are some graphs showing different points during this roller coaster ride.

One Million Downloads in Seven Days

One Million Downloads in Seven Days including US

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