For the past two weeks I’ve been running a Cocos2D Developer Survey. As of today, 236 developers started the survey and 189 finished it completely. That’s 80% despite the many questions they had to answer.
Here are the results with my observations. I started the survey also to see if I was on track with KoboldTouch, and whether certain assumptions hold true. Specifically I had a hunch that cross-platform development is only perceived to have great value or appeal. Let’s see if I was right.
Click on each image for full resolution.
Who are you?
I was very curious how many cocos2d developers consider themselves to be hobbyists and indies compared to professionals, who either work for a mobile developer or are taking on freelance jobs as one.
Almost half of those who answered the survey are hobbyists. Nearly 30% consider themselves indies who make a living making mobile games. This is great! Continue reading »
Continue reading »
One of my book readers, Jim, asked me an interesting question. Not about the book but about the Cocos2D Central community website that I’ve installed a few weeks ago. I thought the answers to his questions are of interest to others even though it doesn’t exactly fit the Cocos2D theme of this website. Jim was asking:
(1) Why did you choose IP.Board over something like phpbb or vBulletin and (2) after having it for a while, would you recommend it to others?
(1) Why I chose IP.Board
The initial starting point of my search was the fact that bbPress sucks. That’s my professional assessment, believe it or not. Well, no, don’t believe that, it’s actually a quite nice forum if you are already hosting a WordPress website and you want a forum that integrates well and won’t be receiving much traffic. But as I’m sure many can relate, the bbPress forum software doesn’t scale very well.
But more importantly I wanted a forum that is able to factor in popularity and relevance of posts in searches, and searches over all the content (eg. the wiki area) not just posts. One that allows users to subscribe to threads and forums and receive email notifications. One that makes embedding code and media easy using the most common forum syntax bbCode. One that allows to extract the helpful and relevant articles from threads so they don’t become buried in the thread. One that allows attachments and signatures, which users could use to promote their Website, App, Product, themselves and what not. One that integrates well with social networks, one that let’s you like things, tweet posts and allow users to sign up with their existing Twitter, Facebook or OpenID accounts.
The usual candidates
Primary candidates were of course vBulletin and phpBB which I’ve both used in the past. Especially vBulletin was the first one I looked at but then I learned two things: for one it’s a rather expensive one-time payment of $285 for the full publishing suite, and $195 still for only the forum. And then at least two or three users mentioned that their support or the stability of the software recently went south with version 4. That was enough to let me look around for possible alternatives. I can’t say if version 4 is really that bad and the rumors are true, but I haven’t looked back since.
Beginning my search I quickly came across the Forum Software Reviews website. This was initially very helpful to find out about all the various options that exist – and wow, the forum software market is crowded indeed. It was also clear that there was almost no “free” option I could seriously consider. The free forums fell off the grid in two or three categories: they either lacked critical features or they had an impressive feature set but oh boy was it ugly to look at and confusing to use. The third category was when “free” wasn’t really free and there was a strong upsell to the commercial version, respectively on the downside having to rely on voluntary support.
The phpBB software was my second choice in line. Oh yes, it’s free and rather complete but, like I said, I worried about support. I also wasn’t impressed by its look and feel at all. It’s hard to tell but … I don’t know, it simply looks cheap and noisy to me. I would certainly prefer the admittedly clean and noiseless look of bbPress. I then came across FreeForums.org which are offering a polished version of phpBB and they also host it for you for a small fee. But ultimately I was turned off by the fact that it was still phpBB and still ugly, and they are charging for features I don’t feel comfortable paying for. $10 per year for the removal of the Copyright notice in the footer? $5 per month to remove the ads? $30 per year to allow me to use the recovery console? Some features I pay monthly, some every 6 months and the rest yearly? Come on. Give it to me straight. And I want to pay for features I’m getting, not to disable “features” I don’t want and quite honestly, are nothing but a checkbox in their customer database. If that’s the attitude of the company when it comes to selling, how is their attitude towards supporting me going to be? I decided I didn’t want to find out.
IP.Board to the rescue
A few people mentioned IP.Board and even though I skipped it at first, and when I checked it out the first time it didn’t seem like a good fit and more likely to be overkill. Still, after coming back to the website several times, I went ahead and tried it. That’s when all the powerful options dawned on me: what if, instead of adding just a forum and integrating it with the Learn Cocos2D website, what if I made something bigger?
That’s also when the idea for the name “Cocos2D Central” and – being prepared for the future – “GameDev Central” came to be. An external community website that eventually would be the backend for the Learn Cocos2D blog. It made me think about moving everything over to IPS, except for the intro and the blog. I would be able to move my store over to IPS. I liked the IP.Downloads product because managing downloads is “blegh” in WordPress. And generally I could do much, much more to build and grow a community with all the neat social features that are built in.
I quickly decided to start with the Standard 25 plan for $20 per month. It was minimal risk because there’s no minimum duration you sign up for. And I quickly added IP.Content and then upgraded to Plus 40 because I wanted to be able to use IP.Nexus, the eCommerce addon. I’m now paying $35 per month to Invision Power and gladly so. I couldn’t be happier with their Hosted Community offer. I could have bought the products, installing and administering them myself, but that task seemed daunting and if I learned anything: services that are good are worth paying for. My time is better spent coding than managing the server, website and forum.
(2) Would I recommend it?
Definitely a resounding yes!
What really blew me away was the level of support given by Invision Power Services Inc. They are the Zappos of community software! Both on their forum and via tickets, they respond fast and I haven’t seen a post that didn’t receive a reply. They do make you feel welcome and supported.
There were a few minor hickups. Shortly after signing up Cocos2D Central experienced frequent downtimes from 10 to 45 minutes each, sometimes several times a day. I asked them about that and they were quite forthcoming to answer this question: communities are hosted on virtual servers, so several communities share the same hardware. If a community gets hacked or attacked or simply flooded with requests (Slashdot effect or a DOS) they are moving the affected community to a new server. As I understood it they were in the general process of splitting communities based on the nature of their content, so that those communities more likely to be receiving attacks will be hosted on different servers, so that communities with “regular content” won’t be affected. The downtimes still happen but are now much less frequent and shorter.
How do I know? I monitor the website via Pingdom, which alerts me via email when Cocos2D Central goes down and when it comes back online, in 5 minute intervals.
So overall, I can certainly recommend the Invision Power Services. And just so you know, I wrote this post without any affiliation, I don’t receive any money or other benefits from them for writing this. I’m simply a fan and hopefully for a long time I will be a very happy customer too.
A couple hours ago I’ve opened Cocos2D Central (http://cocos2d-central.com), a forum / website / soon-to-be-community. Initially intended for readers of my Cocos2D book but generally open to everyone.
Next step: slowly growing a community on Cocos2D Central. For that [[UIFingerPointGestureRecognizer alloc] init] I need you!
The important bit first: the price of the Line-Drawing Starterkit is back at $179!
The simple reason: customers voted with their wallet, it sold zero units at the $299 price point over the last two weeks while people kept asking me for rebates and price drops. I clearly misjudged the value proposition of the Starterkit and how much potential customers would be willing to spend.
About Thinking, Learning and Knowing
I’m going to be upfront about the sales numbers because I want to be instructive and convey the lesson’s I learned. I also find these numbers posts very intriguing myself. One of the things I love about working under my own terms is that I can choose how transparent you want to be. I feel there’s more to gain from transparency, being open and upfront, and sharing what you know then there is to lose.
I’ve actually been told a few times that you can’t sell to cocos2d developers. Which I find astonishing. “I don’t think there are sufficient willing customers” was the one sentence I received in an email which I find most telling. Thinking is not knowing. Thinking is: not knowing! Trying and not succeeding is ok, but thinking and not even trying is not. The former you might regret financially but seldom will you regret having done it. The latter is just being complacent and accepting the status quo, or simply a reluctance of pursuing unconventional business ideas.
I can only say: I’ve learned a lot from running this website over the past 4 months. Certainly more valuable lessons and knowledge than from most of the books I own, and the above selection is just a fraction of my library. They are the books I hold most dear and are most relevant to my work right now, including Stephen Hawking’s Universe in a Nutshell as the perfect separator between left-brain (hard skill) and right-brain (soft skill) books. It puts everything in the proper perspective. I certainly didn’t expect to learn some of the lessons nor was it easy to deal with the very unexpected ones, but I did nevertheless. The good part about the hard lessons is that they make me think even harder to learn what I need to know to understand. I also have a bunch more unconventional ideas now. And I grok Invictus.
The Line-Drawing Game Starterkit has been on sale (40% off back then) from July 10th to August 1st, that’s 23 days. From July 10th until the public announcement on July 20th the sales were limited to my Newsletter subscribers, close to 670 people were given the password to access the sales page at the time.
When I formed the idea of selling a Starterkit, I punched some numbers about website traffic, pricing, conversion rates, looking at other products, thinking of what certain indicators could mean, why people are having success and why others don’t. Being a pessimist I came to about 3 sales per month if the price is around $200. That would have been nice, and would have allowed me a return of investment in less than 6 months. And when I was optimistic I thought I could be making up to 5-10 sales per month, perhaps by being featured prominently. I definitely had enough positive indicators to go ahead and try making and selling the Starterkit and being sufficiently convinced that it’ll have a positive impact, financially and otherwise.
The reality is that I sold 30 copies at $179 each within 23 days! Way, way more than my expectations. See the screenshot of the payment report to the left for the monetary details. Note that the first section with 3 sales were test sales by myself, so that amount should be deducted from the total. Also, 30 times $179 does not equal the sum on the bill because surcharge fees depending on the payment method have already been deducted. Net sales is the amount after Plimus took their share, which is close to 5% if I remember correctly.
I estimated my return of investment (break even) at about $4,000. So overall it’s not bad. Not bad at all given that I made all those sales in 23 days instead of months.
The downside to this story is that after setting the price high at $299 I did not make a single sale in the past 2 weeks! This price point seems past a certain pain threshold that developers are feeling comfortable spending. Customers voted with their wallets and I basically killed my own business by modifying just one (crucial) aspect of it. I was my own worst enemy by making a wrong judgement call.
And of course I’ll try to fix it: from this day on forward the Starterkit’s regular price will be back at $179! It has proven to sell at this price point and I’m hoping to see sales pick up again. Despite this no-sales period of over 2 weeks the Starterkit earned me $120 per day on average, or an hourly rate of $15 assuming a regular 8-hour work day.
If it turns out that continued sales from the Starterkit allow me to live off it, I’m going to run this website full-time in the near future. That means more free stuff, more intriguing blog posts and every once in a while a new commercial product that targets very specific unfulfilled needs of cocos2d game developers. You might consider the cocos2d book to be one of these commercial products, and I intend to improve it after press by listening to reader’s feedback and filling any holes with free Tutorials and FAQ entries on this website. It will be a book that continues to get written.
More Lessons to learn
If you want to learn some business & marketing lessons in general I recommend reading The Long Tail to understand how niche markets work and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion for a lesson in marketing which I find important to understand both from the seller’s and the customer’s point of view. The Long Tail was instrumental for me to actually become comfortable with the thought of selling a product to a niche audience and why that idea might just work. But also instrumental because I just keep shaking my head when I read the naive comments of some people. That’s also where how to deal with critics comes in handy.