- Cultist Simulator mobile is 2 months on from launch on iOS and Android
- we signed a 50/50 rev split with Playdigious, a great porting house/publisher
- it’s gone middling-well so far:
- €200k net rev
- lots of featuring across both stores
- great ratings (~4.8/5★)
- localising into simplified Chinese was a great idea
- premium mobile ports are a good strategy for extra £ if you’re a small indie studio (this was a moderate success, so we’ll probably do this again)
- but if you actually want to make revenue comparable to PC, F2P / subscription models are better bets (shocking, I know).
IN THE BEGINNING WERE TWO NERDS
Weather Factory was a two-person team in 2018. Our studio strategy was to get our name out there as wide and as impressively as possible. We needed to amplify our voice and add to the limited studio credit of a new, small start-up. (All we had was Alexis’s legacy and ~16k Twitter following, from him founding Failbetter Games and making Fallen London and Sunless Sea.)
We were severely restricted by being only two people. We could only realistically focus on one project at a time, but we knew that diversification – of audience, and of revenue streams – was necessary to insulate our indie studio against the unpredictability of game dev.
Gaining as big an audience as we could was more important than maximising revenue. This strategy was the main reason we signed a PC publishing deal with Humble Bundle. It also told us pretty clearly we should find a porting house and publisher to make a mobile version of Cultist Simulator while we focused on post-launch PC development.
I spoke to a bunch of mobile porting houses (hey, AJ!) before settling on Playdigious, the excellently French porting and publishing house currently working on the Dead Cells mobile game. Playdigious came with a personal recommendation from someone I trust and respect (hey, Tom Bidaux!) but were also the only specifically premium mobile specialist I found.
Playdigious felt right from the start, and now that I’ve worked with them for nearly a year, I can’t recommend Xavier and his team enough. We signed a 50% rev share deal where Playdigious covered the cost of porting and took responsibility for the project, leaving us to stick our noses in as much or as little as we liked. We were free to focus on Cultist‘s PC development and other Weather Factory projects (like, say, BOOK OF HOURS).
The plan was to launch on the App Store and Google Play in Russian and Chinese some time in 2019 for a £6.99 / $6.99 price point. Most of that happened!
PORTING CULTIST SIMULATOR
Here’s our timeline:
It’s all pretty bunched up towards the end, much more so than this producer likes. This is because premium mobile games live or die by features, particularly on the App Store, and plutonium-heavy hints were dropped that releasing at the start of April would definitely be a good time. We settled on the second week of April, only to be told that really, Tuesday 2nd April would definitely be better. This coincided with the start of the 2019 London Games Festival.
Tuesday 2nd April was 2-4 weeks earlier than initially planned, but Playdigious took it in their stride. We would not have been able to make this deadline on our own. It’s another reason I’m glad we signed with a publisher, and struck a deal that made them care about the port as much as we did.
However, there were casualties. Eagle-eyed readers may notice that only Chinese is noted on the timeline, despite us wanting to launch with both Russian and Chinese. Loc is a whole other story, but the short version is Russian translation was dropped in order to ensure we could meet our new, earlier release date. (We’ll release Russian later down the line – I hear if you’re smart you can have a pseudo second launch with a new language on the App Store. Time will tell!)
You don’t normally spend lots of money on a premium mobile game launch. Premium mobile marketing seems to rely on building hype around an upcoming release via pre-registration campaigns and social media, and then doing whatever dark magic you must to give yourself the best chance of a feature on launch.
Featuring is much more of a thing on the App Store, where they have multiple games editors selecting Games of the Day, ‘Games we’re playing now’, top genre lists, top indie picks, top ten games around a particular theme…
The Google Play Store is much more algorithmically driven. As far as I understand, Google Play wants its algorithm to recommend particular games to particular users based on their previous purchase habits. If you’ve played any premium narrative games in the past few weeks, you may see Cultist Simulator appear in your store. But if all you play is Candy Crush, maybe you won’t. Correct me below if I’m wrong!
Playdigious, our mobile experts, spearheaded marketing. They sent through a great marketing strategy which identified strengths (nothing else like it), weaknesses (what the hell is it), opportunities (featuring on stores you might not think of, like Razer) and risks (no China featuring, because it’s all about cults). As mentioned above, the campaign also centred on pre-registration.
Playdigious recommended focusing only on Google Play pre-registrations, as Apple’s pre-order system discounts pre-orders from your launch numbers and so undermines your app’s performance at launch (like the problems moving from Early Access to full launch on Steam). They also recommended pricing Cultist much higher than I’d expected – $6.99 / £6.99 – but offering a 30% discount (ish) for early adopters. This meant anyone pre-registering would get Cultist for $4.99 / £4.99, and to be fair to App Store users, we’d offer the same price point for one week at launch across both stores.
So: we aimed simply to get iOS users to sign up to a mailing list we could then ping when Cultist was out, and launched a Google Play pre-registration campaign along with a press release and social media fanfare at the end of February. Running roughly a month until full release, we managed to nab 200k pre-registrations by launch and, thanks to the efforts of Playdigious and their good relationship with Google Play, saw significant featuring in Google’s ‘Pre-registration games’ section.
(Weird that that 200k keeps popping up. Let’s annoy data analysts and conclude that 1 Google Play pre-registration = €1 net revenue in your pocket. Numbers don’t lie, right?)
In addition, Playdigious ordered a bunch of limited edition pins for social media giveaways…
…and commissioned a Chinese PR company, Indienova, to help handle our Chinese audience. In an astonishing middle-finger to probability, this PR company happened to be part of the same company we’d unknowingly used for Chinese loc (the wonderful Project Gutenberg), so we ended up working with our lead translator as our PR lead in China. A wonderful serendipity! Thank you very much, translation and PR people. <3
I wasn’t in charge of our marketing campaign like I was for the PC launch, but from what I saw, it seems (ironically) a lot harder to mobilise a mobile audience than a PC one. Everything seems more ephemeral: there are fewer mobile press outlets, much less interest in open development, and almost no mobile-specific communities you can tap on the road to release. I guess this is what you get from a much more casual audience who wouldn’t describe themselves as ‘gamers’ as much as your traditional PC player. There’ll be a way to nab ’em, I’m sure – but I haven’t figured out how yet!
We launched on Tuesday 2nd April 2019, the same day as the London Games Festival started. There were very few technical bugs (yay Playdigious!) and we saw some decent featuring in our first week:
- Tuesday 2nd April: London Games Festival front-page featuring
- iPads and iPhones
- UK and Ireland
- Wednesday 3rd April: ‘Game of the Day’
- iPads and iPhones
- UK and Ireland
- Thursday 4th April: ‘Meet the BAFTA nominees’ editorial
- iPads and iPhones
- UK and Ireland
We saw a lot of smaller features alongside these, such as…
- ‘New Game’ featuring on iPad and iPhone in 42 countries
- ‘What we’re playing’ featuring on iPad and iPhone in 27 countries
…and we continue to see a lot of small-scale featuring even now:
You might be thinking: “Lottie! This is better than ‘decent’ featuring!” And you may be right. We probably did do better than your average Joe, because we’d timed launch well, had a bit of buzz and had some good connections. But our sales didn’t skyrocket with all this featuring the way they would have with lovely ol’ iOS10’s full-week feature slots, and I’m still hurting that we seemed pigeon-holed to the UK and Ireland, and didn’t get any featuring in the US.
I assume it’s because cults are funny period-drama things in Europe but serious subjects in America – but maybe the US editorial team just didn’t like the game! Either way, the US has always been our highest revenue-generating country, so this omission absolutely hurt our sales. We’ll see if we can wrangle a US feature with later updates…
THE JUICY BIT: SALES FIGURES
Right! Number time. All the following data is taken from AppFigures, which I’ve found comprehensive and easy to use. I’m not a data analyst, so you may draw different conclusions from the following than I do. If you do, let me know!
💸 REVENUE 💸
Just over two months from release, our overall performance looks like this:
That’s a net revenue of ~€200k (£178k / $226k), roughly split 60:40 between the App Store and Google Play. This means both Playdigious and Weather Factory have made €100k (£89k / $113k) so far, which is nothing compared to F2P revenues but a significant extra bit of cash for a small indie team like us. I’m happy! FOR NOW.
I’m surprised to see how similar the graphs are for both stores. Here they are separately:
Google Play’s spike on launch day was almost certainly down to our 200k pre-registrations. The App Store’s seen a few more spikes, first at launch, then our largest spike on the 7th April (when we were featured in China), its secondary bump on 12th April (another small Chinese feature), then a moderate spike on 30th April (a third, middling-level Chinese feature). Yes, I am relieved we localised!
The real question is how long-term this revenue is. I think it used to be the case that premium mobile games didn’t have a terribly long shelf-life, and that you turned the money-hose on during a launch feature and then threw the money-hose away as soon as it was over. Time will tell if the iOS11 App Store has solved this problem, and if Google’s analytics are worth their salt.
🌍 COUNTRIES 🌍
This is what we expected to see: Alexis’s games have always gone down particularly well with these countries, generally in this order. Take a look at our PC sales for Cultist Simulator, for example:
What I think is really interesting, though, is the country split between the App Store and Google Play. Here’re our top five countries in the App Store…
…and here’re our top five on Google Play:
Most significantly, Google Play is not currently available in China. This explains why China is missing from the top countries in Google Play, despite being our second-top country overall. But I find it interesting how big a jump there is between that top performing country and any after it. China dwarfs the US in terms of net downloads on the App Store (America shifted 30% of what China did). Equally, the US dwarfs the UK on Google Play (the UK shifted 20% of what the US did). See our major iOS revenue spikes every time we were featured in China…
⭐ RATINGS ⭐
I’m exceptionally happy with our ratings. We average 4.8/5★ across both stores: this is mind-blowing for a famously divisive game which regularly slips into ‘Mixed’ recent reviews on Steam after high-visibility sales. I believe this is the result of three things:
- Apple’s suggestion to lean into the difficulty of the game and flag the lack of tutorial as much as possible;
- Playdigious doing a great job of the port, and coming up with an excellent touch-screen evolution of our original UI;
- Cultist Simulator being a good game! Good job, AK.
This graph looks the same whether for the App Store and Google Play. What this tells me is ratings are similar to the MMR (‘Match-Making Ratio’) I’ve banged on about on Steam. It seems that a premium game’s launch is the moment you have to set a good rating for your game. I imagine it’s quite hard to come back from a low-rating premium game launch.
📈 RANKINGS 📈
Here’re our rankings over the last two months on Google Play, focusing on our top three performing countries: the USA, China and the UK.
Here’re our comparative rankings on the App Store:
These images are more for shock factor than purpose, so let me give you the highlights in our first week:
App Store ratings
- #5 in paid apps
- #2 in card games
- #4 in simulation games
- #28 in paid apps
- #3 in card games
- #10 in simulation games
- #6 in paid apps
- #1 in card games
- #2 in simulation games
Google Play ratings
- #1 in new apps
- #1 in games
- #3 overall
- #1 in new apps
- #2 in games
- #2 overall
Rankings change daily, so these are extremely nice numbers, but the top ranking spots would only last a day or so. Still, I’m not complaining!
What I take away from this is there really is a much longer tail on mobile than I’d thought. I was expecting high rankings on launch to quickly tail off into nothingness. That doesn’t look like it’s the case.
SO: HOW DID WE DO?
Before we launched, I did a ‘top down, bottom up’ estimate for our best-case sales figures, bearing in mind
- I’m not particularly experienced estimating launch figures, and
- IT IS VERY HARD TO FIND MOBILE GAME DATA (hence this post)
I started with the numbers I had from launching Failbetter Games’ Sunless Sea iPad port and compared them to an extremely conservative % of ustwo games’ Monument Valley 2 sales figures as a sanity check.
Here’s my working out for my best-case Year 1 sales on the App Store, as an example:
Sunless Sea was an expensive premium mobile game with a very similar audience to Cultist Simulator
BUT: it only launched on iPad, not iPhones
AND: it only launched in English
AND: it released in March 2017, when iOS10 still offered week-long global featuring (which Sunless managed to snag)
Sunless saw ~183 million impressions from its week of global featuring on iOS10 in 2017, so:
– let’s assume Cultist gets good featuring on iOS11, and that’s ~50% of good iOS10 featuring (= ~90 million impressions)
– let’s assume 10% click-throughs (= ~9 million page views)
– let’s assume 1% conversion (= ~90k sales)
Comparing that to Monument Valley 2…
Monument Valley 2 is one of the most successful premium mobile games ever made
it has a very different audience to Cultist Simulator
it also launched in June 2017 when iOS10 was still a thing
– let’s assume Cultist does ~5% of Monument Valley 2‘s business (= ~2.1 million copies)
= ~105k copies
90k isn’t too far off 105k copies, so I met in the middle and used 100k units for estimated year one sales on the App Store. This meant we were working towards:
Best case: 100k units
Middling case: 50k units
Worst case: 2k units
Two months in, we’ve shifted ~59k units across the App Store (~35k) and Google Play (~23k) combined, so we’re out of worse case territory and firmly on track for ‘fine’. I don’t know enough about the long-term viability of iOS11’s smaller but more frequent featuring + whatever arcane magic’s behind Google Play’s analytics to estimate where we’ll be at the end of Year 1, but I suspect it’ll be significantly below my best-case estimate. Still, this is extra revenue we wouldn’t have seen if we hadn’t ported, and signing the 50% rev deal with Playdigious meant we didn’t invest much hard cash into the project. So the effect is as close to ‘free’ money as it’s usually possible to get.
If you’re reading this with more mobile experience than me, tell me how many units you think we’ll make by the end of it all! Xavier estimated 80k units in the first year across the App Store and Google Play. But he’s cheating because he’s good at this. Let’s play ‘test the mobile specialist’ and see how these numbers stack up in April 2020…
I intend to fold mobile ports into Weather Factory’s projects here on out. Time will tell how much I also fold localisation in automatically (essentially, once I’ve seen how Russian and Chinese perform on Steam), but I’m extremely likely to include simplified Chinese as part of mobile porting.
Cultist Simulator‘s mobile port hasn’t made us millionaires, but we didn’t think it would. It has significantly shored up Weather Factory’s coffers, and given us a significant boost to audience size, whom we can now tap about future games. This is a process I’m very happy with for my studio, but like most processes we currently have at WF, it’s unlikely to scale well. So my main advice here is: if you’re a small studio without the resource to tap mobile yourself, it’s absolutely worth seeing if you can find a publisher to push your game to new platforms if that takes the development load off of you.
I intend to experiment further with other platforms, but have no official news on the subject right now! Let me know your thoughts on our data above, and if you have any additional numbers you’d like to see. Hope our figures prove useful for devs considering mobile porting themselves. 🙂