When the new Apple TV was announced Ezone.com decided to join the ‘Gold Rush‘ and have a game ready for launch day. We’ve been full-time Indie game developers for almost 20 years and being an early adopter of new game technology and platforms has worked well for us in the past. We entered the Apple TV developer lottery, won, and received our developer kit on September 21st. Luckily for us, Unity had an alpha version ready (helped no doubt by the Unity game Crossy Road being featured in the Apple announcement event) so we were able to build and test on the Apple TV straight away. This gave us roughly one month have a game ready for launch in ‘late October’.
We knew we wanted to make a game exclusively for the new device rather than port an existing game. Small screen (iPhone) gaming is suited to single player games, whereas on the TV local multiplayer games are more fun. We decided to build on a one-button game mechanic we’d been experimenting with. Rather than require players to pair an additional controller we settled on a control scheme where players sit next to each other and each use a button on the shared Siri Remote – similar to how Die Gute Fabrik’s ‘SportsFriends‘ on the PlayStation allows two players to share one controller.
Spin Sports is essentially an air hockey game where your character is continuously spinning. When it faces the direction you want to go you press to shoot forward. We tested the controls on a range of players of different ages and skill levels and found that everyone quickly got the idea and were able to have fun from the start while also improving their skills the more they played.
The original plan for Spin Sports was to launch with a bunch of different game modes, but because of the time limitation we had to scale back a few things and ended up with just the air hockey mode. We thought it was important to make sure we had the foundation of a fun, stable and responsive game that we could build on and expand once it was launched.
We decided to make Spin Sports free+IAP, with 30+ characters that can be randomly unlocked with collected coins or purchased for US$0.99 per character – similar to the model pioneered by Crossy Road and also used in our recent iOS game Diver Dash. We were also able to use the characters created for Diver Dash (and add some new ones), which helped with the tight deadline.
Everything went surprisingly well and we managed to have a fully functional version of the game submitted to Apple and approved, ready for launch day.
Unfortunately Spin Sports didn’t get one of the feature slots in the App Store, so we had to rely on organic downloads. In total we’ve had 2450 downloads over the first 9 days which is not bad, especially given that Spin Sports wasn’t featured and considering the app discoverability issues (the only way you can find Spin Sports is to go to the App Store on your Apple TV and search for ‘spin’). Hopefully discoverability will improve. Apple has already added ‘Top Charts‘ and ‘Categories’ (in some countries). Right now Spin Sports is hovering around the mid thirties in the Free Games charts, which is OK but we are hoping to do better.
Although we are happy with the download numbers, revenue is a different story. The 2450 downloads have only resulted in five in-app purchases, which means we’ve made about $3.50. Not much of a gold rush… or even a gold trickle!
So, before we get overrun by the Indiepocalypse it’s time to try something different…
Make it Paid
We are going to make Spin Sports a paid game. We’ll keep it free until the new update is approved, but after that it will be US$4.99 (hint: download it now while it’s free). As part of the conversion to ‘paid’ we are going to add more game modes, support for up to 6 players (two on the Siri Remote + two MFi controllers with two players on each), and remove in-app purchases (so you can only unlock characters using earned coins) .
The early days of the Apple TV app market has been very different to the gold rush days of the iPhone App Store. The apps and hardware for the Apple TV launched at the same time, meaning there was not an existing installed hardware base. Instead, the app market for the Apple TV will only grow as more consumers purchase the hardware. This is quite different to the iPhone App Store which launched a year after the hardware – when the original App Store opened there were already more than 6 million iPhone users all hungry for apps and games.
The Apple TV game market isn’t going to be a gold rush, but more of a slow building wave. Developers need to be patient and wait for the market to grow. The good news is this gives us time to refine our games and revenue models and get them right, so when the wave does break, we’ll be in the perfect spot to ride it!