A pregnancy, an enthusiastic editor, and the worst name ever: the unlikely success of 10000000
“I’m going to buy you a copy of this game,” TouchArcade Editor-in-Chief Eli Hodapp told me over Twitter. “Give me your e-mail address.” Hodapp was on a rampage to get other outlets to cover 10000000, a new match-three game for iOS devices that combines bog-standard puzzle elements with an addictive dungeon crawling metagame. His enthusiasm caused me to go back to my e-mail and, sure enough, there was a promo code. I lost most of that night to playing the retro-looking game. The story of how Hodapp found the game and began to evangelize it, well before the developer’s marketing efforts had begun, is fascinating. TouchArcade has created a system that allows them to work faster than press releases, and it's this solution to discoverability that gave an unlikely game a chance in the crowed iOS market.
Crunch time as mandated by a due date
Luca Redwood is the man behind 10000000, and he was shocked at the response to Hodapp’s glowing review; which was published before Redwood's marketing efforts even began. The history of the game, however, is just as interesting. Redwood began work on the game a few weeks before he found out his wife was pregnant and, knowing that the days of combining his day job with indie game development were nearing a close with a newborn baby on the way, he crunched for most of the nine months to finish the game. “I've been working on this game every evening and weekend for the past year basically,” Redwood said. “I've still got a day job and when we got word of baby Lily, I agreed with my wife that I'd be a bad husband for a while and just grind out working while she was pregnant to get it released.” The plan was to finish the game up in his two weeks of paternal leave after his daughter was born, but he quickly found out how much work newborns can be.Still, the game was finished and sent to Apple a few weeks after the baby arrived, and it took ten days to make it through the system. The game was approved on a Thursday, and Redwood celebrated by going out with his friends and getting incredibly drunk in a peculiar ritual referred to as “wetting the baby’s head.” He had a marketing plan for the game already, but he hadn’t implemented it yet. That night, while Redwood was deep in the bowels of an epic bender, the TouchArcade review went live. Redwood felt “very rough indeed” when he woke up, but his spirits perked up when he saw all the e-mails pointing to the TouchArcade review. The sales of the game numbered in the thousands, an unexpected windfall for the humble game. He was also confused: How the hell did Eli Hodapp learn of the game so quickly?
Community driven discovery
TouchArcade has its own iOS app that tracks the amount a game is discussed on the site, using a variety of metrics. Hodapp admitted that this tool is easily gamed by unscrupulous developers, but they keep a close watch on the list and manually remove those games. Hodapp noticed people talking about 10000000 on Thursday, and it didn't look like a scam. He bought the game, and was immediately hooked. The speed of all this is remarkable: It only took a few hours for the community to begin talking about the game, which alerted Hodapp to its existence, and he gave it a shot and played through the day. His review went live that evening, less than 12 hours after the game had been released, and before anyone else in the industry was aware of it. “One thing that people don't usually expect about TouchArcade is that we operate so much faster than press releases,” he told me. “It's actually caused drama in the past as we've covered games that foreign developers say ‘aren't out yet’ but what they mean by that is they haven't done their marketing push.” He also knew that 10000000 was in danger of falling through the cracks of the App Store, and he felt a personal obligation to stop that from happening. “In the iOS world, the two best things you have to catch the eyes of potential customers are your app name and icon,” Hodapp told me. “Hell, I've sat through entire talks at conventions with developers telling other developers how much thought they've put into these things. Even if Apple had featured 10000000, would you have clicked on the icon? Would you know what the name meant? Vlambeer changed the icon for Super Crate Box, an incredibly well-known game, after getting featured and seeing very little from it for this exact reason.” Even worse is that Redwood had made little effort to get people aware of the game before launch. “[Redwood] did no marketing for 10000000, and if you check out the company web site and associated Twitter you'll see one post and one tweet in the last year. In essence, Luca is doing nearly everything he could possibly do to launch an iOS game wrong, aside from arguably the most important thing of all: Make a god damn fantastic video game that everyone should have on their iPhone and/or iPad.” The App Store is filled with me-too products chasing the Angry Birds and Temple Run cash, and the pixel-art and unique, persistent metagame of 1000000 are both refreshing. “The thought of having a game like that fall into obscurity? I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that doesn't happen,” Hodapp said. Even if it meant bugging other editors and spending his own money to spread the word.
The game is worth the buzz
“As for the marketing, I had a rough plan, emailing review sites and the like, but I hadn't actually done any at all. I didn't even know who Eli was this morning, someone just linked me to his Twitter and it looks like he thinks its the best game in the world,” Redwood admitted. “I mean it would have been a dream for TouchArcade to look at my game, and I was thinking how to carefully word an email to them to get them to look.” The push from that initial review is still going on. “There was a big spike [in sales] after the TouchArcade review but sales are still great,” he said. “A strange phenomenon for me was that I'd collated a list of review sites to email codes to, but in the end I've got dozens of emails from sites on that list asking for codes.” He told me that he doubts many of the sales are coming from people finding the game on the App Store. “The name and icon aren’t particularly great,” he said, and I’ll be classy enough not to call that an understatement. The press coverage has been positive, following on the buzz from the TouchArcade review and Hodapp's personal mission, and word of mouth on Twitter and other social media sites remains strong. “It’s hard to keep on top of everything, as 10000000 is a string both equally annoying to type and search, but on a bunch of gaming forums and twitter there has been a lot of buzz. Gamers and folks from Joystiq, GWJ, Gamesbeat. Even the creative director at People Can Fly, which was shocking,” Redwood said. Redwood is dealing with fixing the odd bug here and there, working on adding features based on community feedback, and of course going to his day job while also helping to take care of the new baby. A fun game with a crap name and a plain icon would get completely lost in the App Store… in most cases. 10000000 was lucky that it found an early friend, and TouchArcade's system for bringing new games to the attention of both its readers and editors seems to be working as planned.