Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Artgig Blog Has Moved!

When I started writing this blog in 2008 I apparently had considerable time on my hands, setting a high watermark of 91 posts (mostly about Arsenal FC) - a feat that I have not come close to matching since.

Over the last few years, as our Artgig Apps business has grown, the focus of my writing has shifted to life in the fast lane of indie app development.

So I've decided to move the blog (and you) to the heart of the action - the Artgig Apps website.

I hope you'll continue to follow along.  

We were skyping with Lis in Australia last night when this happened

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Story of Mystery Math Town

Mystery Math Town, easily our most successful app to date, was originally conceived as a simple Halloween matching game to launch in 2012. Five months later in April 2013, our “Halloween” app hit the App Store with a front page “New and Noteworthy” feature and rave reviews. The success didn’t come entirely as a complete surprise. We had already released the popular Marble Math series of apps and we had been testing Mystery Math Town with kids, parents and teachers, so we knew we were onto something. For me, the “moment” came over Christmas break - my son, who was seven at the time, discovered a rough beta version of the game on my iPad and started playing...and playing...and playing.

Original Mystery Math Town concept art - simple matching
Working title: Scrollable Haunted House Logic Quest Environment With Doors/Elevators
I personally love Mystery Math Town. I love it because it is fun to play but I also love the story. The setup is simple, “Save the fireflies!” but on your journey you encounter the townsfolk of Math Town in the form of talking portraits and each of the characters reveals a little bit more about the town and the mystery you now find yourself trying to crack, along with some of their own individual peculiarities.

I spent some time writing screenplays in my 20’s and Math Town gave me an opportunity to try something cinematic with a kids educational app. My good friend (and Artgig Creative Director) Lis, designed the wonderfully atmospheric look of the game and managed to keep it spooky without getting scary. Lis illustrated all of the character portraits and handed them over to me to write their stories - all 27 of them. I have to say, I can’t recall working harder or having more fun in my entire professional career. It doesn’t matter if most kids never “get” that “Beans” McGuirk is highly suspicious of the cowboy, “The Outlaw” Jim McQuade (both apparently Irish), ever since his fedora hat went missing. And kids can certainly enjoy the game without ever tuning in to the somewhat one-sided budding romance between young robotics-engineer-in-the-making, Melody, and her Jack, who is more interested in beating Biff in a race, than Melody. What matters is the one kid who does get it.

iTunes screenshot concept with Melody portrait
In order to reveal the full story of Mystery Math Town, you must rescue the fireflies and collect all of the portraits in the game, which requires quite a bit of math. Alternately, you can just cruise through the initial level of play, tapping the portraits as you go and they will respond with one liners. My son kept going back to “Hank” (a crowd favorite), not because of the rich storyline but because he is just plain funny. Lis made Hank really easy for me - one look at his portrait and his prominent pompadour and I knew Hank wants to be Elvis. I imagined Hank as a guy who sees no value in math at all - all he really cares about is Hank: “I have so many fans, even a computer couldn't count them all, baby.” But the key to Hank is Steve - our Development Director, programming guru, resident drummer and as we now know, closet Elvis impersonator - he nailed the famous Memphis mumble with his voiceover and made Hank an instant hit, baby.

I mentioned backstory - all of our apps, except Shake-a-Phrase which is more of a utility app for story creation, have it to varying degrees. We like to discuss the backstory of a game even when there is no obvious intent to share it with the audience. Backstory is important for you to understand as a creator because it informs the decisions around the game you are making. I will leave you with the story of Mystery Math Town. Lis handed me a picture of Math Town, perched on the edge of the sea, and said something like “what do you think of this?”

Mystery Math Town

As the story of Mystery Math Town goes, once upon a time, The Admiral (of Her Majesty's Royal Navy) became something of a specialist in hunting and capturing pirates. But one pirate in particular, known only as "The Ghost" eluded him. Eventually The Admiral chased The Ghost and his crew to the shores of what is now known as Mystery Math Town, and pushed the band of outlaws straight up into the hills, where they disappeared with their treasures, without a trace...until now.
Our ghost is the son/daughter of the infamous ghost pirate. The ghost pirate child is just hanging around town when the firefly mystery falls in his/her lap. Naturally friendly and curious, the little ghost is eager to help find and rescue the missing fireflies.
In the art collector challenge, the final painting you can collect to end the game is the infamous ghost pirate at the wheel of his ship with his little ghost by his side. It isn’t until you collect the final painting that the full story is completely revealed. 

We made a set of trading cards to tease the app prior to release
And that is the story of Mystery Math Town.

Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Back to Bundles

A recent AppFigures article posed the question "Are App Bundles Living Up to the Hype?"

My answer - no.

We've had a featured app bundle, Artgig Family Math Pack (6 apps/$10.99), in the App Store since bundles were introduced over a month ago and sure, we've made some money, but the bundle has outsold only one of our standalone iOS apps, a lackluster iPhone-only title, in the last month.

Our 4 bundles all fall in the "Other" 20% with Android & Windows
I noted some early observations about bundles a few weeks ago in this post, when I realized the hefty file size of our featured bundle would be a rather large purchase barrier for some. But even then, I would expect there are enough people out there with some room on their iPads for discounted apps.

A couple of weeks ago, in a moment of inspiration, I deactivated our Classroom Fun bundle to make way for a new Halloween Math Mysteries bundle. You can create as many as 10 bundles but you can only have the same app appear in up to three bundles and we hit the limit. The Halloween bundle is also our smallest with just two apps and it's nearly a 2 for 1 deal.

App bundles only
I suppose the thing I like best about bundles is how easy it is to create them - you can literally create a bundle in a matter of minutes.

I know some kids app developers have experienced greater success with bundles than we have. I've also heard from developers who have pulled their bundles because they felt the discounted bundles were cannibalizing sales. For us, our combined bundle sales equal that of a single average iOS app.

How's that for hype?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

App Bundles of Joy
If you’ve been to the App Store lately, you may have noticed some new bells and whistles (iOS 8 app preview videos!) and some search enhancements that should contribute to improved app discovery. Perhaps the biggest visible change for developers is the introduction of an entirely new product category - the app bundle. App bundles allow us to construct app collections to sell at a discount. We just have to name the bundle, drag and drop apps to appear in the bundle, and write a description - the rest (screenshots, keywords, etc) is automated. We were one of a handful of lucky developers to get picked for an App Store bundle feature. Our Family Math Pack includes 6 of our apps and it appears in two splashy features, “Introducing App Bundles” and “Kids App Bundles,” in the U.S.

Obviously, app bundles have the potential to significantly increase revenue. Thanks to bundles, some of our developer friends have reported doubling sales overnight. That has not been the case for us. When bundles appeared in the App Store nearly two weeks ago, our featured Family Math Pack was priced at $12.99. But after analyzing the first week of lukewarm sales and taking a look at what others were charging for similar bundles, we adjusted our price down to $10.99 (nearly 40% savings). We also went back and revised our bundle descriptions to include terms like “award-winning” and “discounted.” In hindsight, I think it’s most likely that our customers need more space - as in, iPad hard drive space. The 6 apps in our Family Math Pack require over 1GB to install and if you don’t have the space, you don’t get the apps. It’s also possible that our kitchen sink app collection for a range of ages (3-12) is not specific enough to trigger the “got to have it” impulse.

This isn’t to say bundles have disappointed. We are selling enough bundles to equal sales of an average single app. The very existence of bundles raises the likelihood that your apps will be seen. Even if a customer doesn’t purchase your bundle they may discover an app they wouldn’t have seen otherwise and that could lead to a sale (I have a hunch that this is happening with our apps) - and that’s the point, isn’t it? And if they really like that single purchase, they can always come back later to “complete” the bundle, at a discount.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Free Ride Tomorrow 9/5!

Imagine rolling up to the first day of preschool in a shiny new car, or a submarine, or a spaceship!

We obviously can't give each of you an expensive new mode of transportation but we can give your kids the ability to drive, fly and sail through a land of early math learning in our award-winning kids app, Drive About: Number Neighborhood - and tomorrow, for one day only, we'll give it to you for free.

That's right - Drive About: Number Neighborhood will be free on Friday, September 5th!

It's our way of saying thanks for supporting Artgig Apps and we hope you share this one time offer with your family and friends.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back to School With Artgig Apps

It’s that special time of year, where everything smoothly and seamlessly transitions from the carefree summer of fun to the new school semester and a more "regimented" approach to learning.

We think Artgig Apps provide just the right amount of learning and fun.

Here are some Back to School updates to help prove the point:

For starters, we just updated Mystery Math Museum to include all new characters you can unlock in the Art Collector Challenge. You’ll earn a portrait for your gallery with each completed challenge, and you’ll want to hear what these quirky cartoons have to say. The update will be available in the App Store next week.

Stan, the rapping mummy, needs help. What rhymes with sarcophagus?
And you may notice a family resemblance in this photo.

We’ve also updated all of our app icons to include a little blue “Artgig” bug, so it’s easier for you to find our apps in the App Store and on your device. You'll see the new icons in the App Store next week, along with the Mystery Math Museum update.

Finally, we’re planning some App Bundles that will launch soon to give you the biggest bang for your Back to School buck!

Monday, August 11, 2014

One Month Later (After The App Store Feature)...

Alternate Title: The Fragile Psyche of an Indie App Developer

Drive About has good visibility in the Education category
Today I write with a sense of great relief.
While lounging at the local pool with my family yesterday, I made the mistake of checking my email.
What I saw nearly spoiled what was otherwise a fine summer Sunday afternoon.
My AppFigures daily report was shockingly awful - slashed to a paltry quarter of already soft early August sales.
It was, to put it mildly, a little scary.

You see, as a small indie kids app developer who bootstraps every single app we make, I always feel like the ride is just about to end in a horrific, fiery wreck at the bend just ahead.
It could be any number of things that leads to disaster - but the reality is, initial success is no guarantee of future App Store stardom.
We mitigate the risk some because we are developers for hire and we do a fair amount of contract work, so it wouldn't be a death blow to Artgig if the App Store blew up tomorrow.
But it would really stink.
And I would be sad.
Because I really like making apps for kids.
And as I sat there, staring at our measly Saturday sales, I could only wonder "Is this it? Is this the beginning of the end?"
I swallowed my fears and put on a brave face as I rose to join my carefree family who were frolicking in the pool, none the wiser.

This morning when I checked the sales reports I saw a big banner in my AppFigures dashboard explaining that the Saturday sales reports coming from Apple were broken.
I checked my iTunes Connect dashboard and indeed, the Apple reports showed that Saturday was in fact, just another average summer sales day.
I exhaled.
It’s not the end...not yet.

That's a long lead in on a slow news day to a follow up report on our Drive About: Number Neighborhood app sales.
We were featured fairly prominently in the Kids category when we launched in June.
And I was pretty pleased to see our localization efforts paying off in Russia, where we realized 11% of our total sales.

Since then, the download/sales trend has been like a lazy water slide.

And Russia? Well, the decimal has moved a little bit to the left and now it's only .11% of sales - not even in the Top 6 Countries.

Of course, the first week is always the best.

Drive sales - launch to now
But here we are, nearly two months after launch and Drive About is still hanging around.

App rankings - the 2 vertical lines represent the Awards won at the end of July
Drive won a Parents’ Choice Award and received an Editor’s Choice commendation from Children’s Technology Review at the end of July, which doesn’t hurt.
I can't find the app in any of the Kids category features now but we've had a nice spot in Education for the last few weeks and it's still a top seller for us.

We have some updates planned this month that we hope will give us a little boost as Apple launches their Back to School promotions.

So, Drive About and Artgig live to see another day in the App Store.