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Making A Living (Comfortably) On The App Store (aka The Numbers Post #2)

A few months ago, I wrote a post analyzing how Flower Garden had done since it was released. It was a story with lots of ups and downs, tales of trials and failure, but ending on a positive, optimistic note. It went on to become one of the most read posts in this blog, and the comments were all very encouraging. Clearly, people, and especially other developers, are hungry for this kind of data.

So here we go with the second part. How did Flower Garden fare after the new year? Was it just the Christmas purchasing frenzy that had a momentary effect on sales, or was there something more to it?

Recap and Overview

Here’s where we left off last time. The unusual part was how profits increased as soon as I added in-app purchases to Flower Garden in early December. It made for a very atypical sales plot.

Full

And here is how things look now. This plot includes the previous data so it’s easier to contrast before and after. The area in blue is the new data since the last post.

fg_total.png

Just glancing at that chart makes it clear that that the increase around Christmas wasn’t a fluke. It actually wasn’t even done going up. After all the spikes, and the weekly ups and downs, Flower Garden ended up settling to about $1,500/week. And that, even in California, I would consider it to be a comfortable living. What a different from the $50/day it was making last year!

So what exactly happened there? Let’s look at the new data in more detail.

fg_recent.png

At a glance, there are three, very different sections.

The Feature

The first one starts with a significant increase in sales (A), and is in large part due to being featured on the App Store worldwide as a Staff Favorite. It’s a nice spike, but it’s nothing like the x10 spikes other developers have seen with App Store features. That’s because the Staff Favorite slot, even though it’s a very prestigious one, it does not appear on the iPhone, only on iTunes. I do all my browsing and shopping through iTunes, but apparently I’m in the minority, so the effect on sales is greatly reduced.

That spike is also in part due to my last “numbers post”, which happened right at the same time (not completely accidentally). The page attracted about 15,000 views in a few days, so I’m sure a few of them translated in people checking out Flower Garden out of curiosity.

Valentine’s Day

The second spike isn’t hard to guess: It’s the weekend of February 14th, Valentine’s Day. The more things happen at once and the more something is in the public eye, the more of an impact it has. PR people have known that for a long time, and it was really brought home for me back in December.

Fortunately, I managed to make quite a few things happen in the days leading to Valentine’s Day weekend:

  • I released an update with couple new in-app purchases: A new set of seeds (Seeds of Love), and a greenhouse garden, for $0.99 each.
  • I sent out a newsletter to the 25,000 subscribers to the mailing list announcing the new items.
  • I put Flower Garden on sale for $0.99 (down from the regular price of $2.99).
  • Several web sites, including TouchArcade, covered the sale and the new update, giving it lots of visibility.
  • Flower Garden Free was the free app for February 14th on the Valentine’s Day Calendar.

All of that combined to cause the big spike in profits (B). You really need to look at the first plot to put it in perspective. Two days in around Valentine’s Day had higher profit than the initial release spike back in April of last year!

Winding Down

Of course, everything that goes up, must eventually come down. So the weeks following Valentine’s Day profits went rapidly down. It was at the very end of April that I started working on Lorax Garden, so for that period of time I wasn’t able to do anything related to Flower Garden. For a while sales were dropping quite rapidly, but they eventually flattened out to about $1,500/week (C).

The good thing about having consumable items as in-app purchases (fertilizer in this case), is that profits are related to active user base, not just initial sales. So even though the amount of downloads decreased significantly during this time, the user base had grown a large amount, and with it, the daily profits.

Flower Garden Free

Back in December, there seemed to be a connection between the amount of downloads of the free version of Flower Garden and profits. They both picked up right around the time I added in-app purchases, although I was never able to tell if it was cause or consequence.

This is the amount of downloads of the free version for this period of time.

fg_free.png

It stays pretty regularly at about 800 downloads per day (which is not much compared to a lot of free versions out there), and has a massive spike on Valentine’s Day (caused by word of mouth, lots of sent bouquets, and the Valentine’s Day Calendar).

Notice that the App Store feature for Flower Garden (full version) in January had virtually no effect on downloads of the free version. It seems that people are willing to buy something full price without trying the free version first if Apple features it.

Both versions of Flower Garden (free and full) have in-app purchases in them. Even though there’s a higher percentage of users with the full version that buy in-app purchases, the free version is much more popular and the majority of the revenue comes from the free version (orange). This is a tren that was already noticable around the holidays, but now is much more clear, with over 50% of the revenue coming from in-app purchases in the free version.

iap_profit.png

The Future

The data for this post stops at May 5th. That’s because on May 6th I released a new set of seeds and gave Flower Garden away for free as part of the Mother’s Day promotion. As soon as the dust settles from that, I’ll write a third post detailing how it turned out.

  • Congratulations!

    You’ve been always so open with your numbers and nice in sharing great technical information that I’ve been rooting for your business.

    I hope you succeed even more in the future

  • Frederic

    You like cliffhangers, don’t you? 😉

  • Excellent article posted here Noel. Thanks to you we Indie devs have some benchmarks to go by. Keep up the good work.

  • Congrats Noel!!!

    I am pleased to see that Flower Garden is becoming a success and will help you continue in this great journey of being an indie game developer. You have been working very hard and continue to improve Flower Garden for a while now that its great to see this happening.

    And as usual thank you so much for sharing very valuable information/insight on the life of an apps on the AppStore for the rest of us so we can learn and improve ourself.

    Wish you to continue have more success with Flower Garden and your upcoming project.

  • I think the best part of all your success is that you’ve been able to keep up with your goal of non violent games, and now are making a living on it. I’m sure this proves some point!

  • Congrats on those meaty numbers. Flower Garden is a top idea and I think you’ve really maxed out on getting it onto people’s consciousness, and getting every opportunity to tie in with Real World Events really well – something to learn for everyone. You must have some serious work rate too!

    BTW Great tutorialss on the OpenGL and UIKit mashup – been really helpful to me as I try and munge bits of UITextField together with GL stuff :o)

  • I’m very pleased to see you doing so well with Flower Garden! Are you going up to WWDC this year?

    • Thanks! I’m afraid I won’t be at WWDC this year though. I have no project to show at the moment, so I can’t really justify the cost. Next year hopefully!

  • Brilliant post again. Thanks for continuing to share and analyse your sales for everyone to see. And congratulations on the steady income!

  • Rob

    Thanks for sharing these numbers again. It’s really encouraging to see some real figures.
    Just one quick question, are the in-app purchases very popular? Personally, I’m not a big fan so I’ve been reluctant to include any in my apps. How are they working out for you as a percentage of revenue?
    Congrats again on the app and good luck with continued success.

  • Rob, check out the last plot again. The blue area are profits from selling the app. Orange and green are IAPs from the two versions of the game. So yes, I’d say they’re popular! 🙂

    I think as gamers/power users/geeks, we tend to hate IAPs (I’m not a fan, personally), so we end up not using them. But more casual users don’t mind them at all and even appreciate them. The fertilizer IAP, it’s all my wife’s idea. Seriously 🙂

  • jafar

    Very nice article Noel, I’ve been debating with myself whether to start developing my project for iphone and your article encourages and enlightens me 🙂

  • Ted

    Noel, your posts are always very insightful to read. As someone who dabbles in iPhone development but has never put in the time to have a hit on the app store, it is very helpful to read about the efforts you’ve put in and what you’ve gotten out of it. Thank you for sharing your data with the community!

  • Dorothy

    Hi Noel,

    As a new indie game developer myself (and a former Californian – I think I have more of a chance of meeting living expenses by relocating to Oregon) 🙂 I am really grateful that you’ve been so open about your experience. You’re setting a wonderful example for me for sharing one’s experience – successes and learning processes – as we venture into this new frontier.

    I look forward to reading your third installment. Also, I must admit that I didn’t expect to be as emotionally taken as I was when I saw a video of Flower Garden. Beautiful and respectable work. I wish you the best with this and other apps.

  • Thanks so much for sharing all this data Noel. It’s really valuable to us, and apparently you as well (more hits = more sales). 😉