Almost 3 years ago (to the day) some friends and I released Hoardzz to the Xbox Indie Marketplace. We managed to botch our release by messing up our demo, which really ended up hurting our sales. Even though Hoardzz rates in the top quartile of Xbox Indie games (it’s a pretty fun multiplayer party game if I do say so myself. It’s only a buck so you should totally buy it), our sales are abysmal. Although Hoardzz hasn’t made a lot of money, it has been a great learning experience and a harsh introduction to the sales funnel.
In my engineering world I was trained to look at getting people that saw my work to buy my work. I was NOT trained in getting more people to see my work. While we were great at converting our demos to purchases (some of this was probably due to underpricing), we were not looking at the whole funnel! This meant that as soon as we fell off the new release page, we stopped getting so many downloads, which knocked us off the best selling today page, which pretty muched killed sales.
For our next release Hoardzz Heroes (now available), a prequel to Hoardzz, we’ve decided (experience now gives us that decision) to be a lot smarter. But before I get to that, let’s look at some of the attempts we made to revitalize Hoardzz.
PR from the Xbox Live Indie Game (XBLIG) community brought in some extra views for us. The problem is most of them would only cover the new releases, ironically the ones I feel need it least. The biggest notable exception is Writing of Mass Deduction, who is trying to find great games no one knows about (it’s a tricky task and much appreciated). However, even with the great boost that it sites do provide, a given site is only going to feature you once and so you need to figure out what more you can do on your own.
My next step was advertising, mainly as a learning step to see if it would even be worth it. I hadn’t seen a whole lot of other people doing it and I couldn’t find anyone who had written anything about it. As I thought about how I could cheaply experiment with ads, I realized that the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace had a sales funnel from heck! In internet marketing, you want the smallest amount of effort possible from seeing the ad to playing the game. This means you want to advertise on the Xbox, not on the internet. This creates a more complicated sales funnel with many more requirements:
- Your ad shows up on their screen (This ain’t free)
- They pay attention to your ad (Yeah, like anyone does that anymore)
- They have an Xbox (Just because they like it doesn’t mean the own one)
- They can get to the Indie Marketplace (Many have never used it)
- They can remember your game’s name (Remember, they probably saw your ad on another device quite a while ago. Generally, recall is show to do poorly.)
- They think to search for your game (Let’s see…what indie game should I try. Oh yeah, I saw an ad for Hoardzz maybe I’ll try that! <- almost never happens)
- They actually find it and download the demo (At this point we have 10% conversion)
- They are willing/able to put money onto their Xbox Live account (minors don’t have credit cards)
- They like your game
When the average Xbox Indie game sells for about a dollar, there really isn’t a lot of money that can go into ad spending. I did a few small test runs by running targeted Facebook ads with people who were over 18 and also said they like Xbox Live Indie Marketplace games. My limited runs yielded about $1 of sales for every $1 (10,000-20,000 views) spent on ads. Not only did this not make money, the volume was also very low so it wouldn’t even be able to create any buzz. The combination of small target market, brutal sales funnel, and inability to cheaply reach your target market coupled with the ridiculously low prices makes the Xbox Indie Marketplace a vicious place to compete.
With this next release we’ve decided to try something new. We want to remove as many of the obstacles in the sales funnel as possible, and so we’ve hijacked the loading screens to occasionally show the ads of our other games. Its free for us, it targets people who already have bought games so they usually can buy more, and we feel it is a service to our users because it saves them from wading the the sea of garbage games that is the Xbox marketplace.
It is unfortunate that Microsoft has chosen to put so little effort into the indie community. It also seems a little foolish given the success of games on the other app markets. I just don’t think it would be hard to add the ability to pay to feature your game, it would do wonders for games that are great games that aren’t the top rated, top sold today, or top all-time seller. While the Xbox development tools are fantastic, I have a hard time envisioning myself starting another game on the Xbox…although we do have some already in the pipeline.
If you are a blogger or site admin that covers Xbox Indie Games, tell me what site you run and I’ll shoot you a promo token. If you have a game of similar quality and downloads, we’d love to cross-promote during loading screens. If you like free Indie Xbox games, follow me on twitter. I’ll be dropping tokens on #xblig once Hoardzz Heroes is about to fall off the the New Releases page. To subscribe to new releases in the Hoardzz series, like us on Facebook.
You can contact me on twitter @ricochet2200