Cocos2D Podcast with Andreas Löw

On May 19, 2011, in cocos2d, podcast, by Steffen Itterheim

In this episode of the Cocos2D Podcast Mohammad Azam and I talked with Andreas Löw, developer of TexturePacker & PhysicsEditor, about his products and the game that he is developing, among other things.

Cocos2D Podcast with Andreas Löw

Cocos2D Podcast on iTunes

I assume you’ve heard the news: Zynga hired the cocos2d-iphone lead developer, Ricardo Quesada.

I’d like to try and shed some lights on the open questions that arose. Of course this is my opinion and speculative, so take it with a grain of salt.

What does “acquisition of certain assets of Sapus Media” mean?

Sapus Media products have been bought by Zynga.

In fact, Sapus Tongue Source Code and LevelSVG are no longer for sale. All “buy” links have been removed and all references on the cocos2d-iphone.org store too.

These products may be gone for good, or they may be released for free as a concession to the Cocos2D community.

Why did Zynga buy these products?

Buy-out.

It’s the cash carrot of the deal. Generally you can expect to receive somewhere around 2 years worth of revenue from a software product as buyout price. Whether Zynga wants or uses the products is irrelevant. It’s the price they paid in order to hire Ricardo and Rolando.

It’s common to bring in new employees by acquiring their legal assets. This keeps the new employees focused on the company’s interests rather than their own, and they no longer have to spend time maintaining and supporting their products. After all, they should focus all their efforts on their new job.

It’s also insurance for the company. By removing in the buy-out what once provided the daily income, the new employees are less likely to leave and more loyal to the company.

Did Zynga also acquire cocos2d-iphone?

I don’t think so.

The cocos2d-iphone engine is a product of Sapus Media. It may be a free and open source project, but legally speaking it has always been an asset of Sapus Media. This means that the copyright of all the cocos2d-iphone.org source code originating from Ricardo or Rolando could have been transferred to Zynga if it was part of the acquisition.

But I think it’s more likely that cocos2d-iphone was merely separated (legally speaking) from SapusMedia, making it an independent project which is owned by those who contributed to it.

The fact that you can still donate to cocos2d-iphone seems to validate this. If cocos2d-iphone were entirely Zynga’s now, I’d expect the donate button to have been removed as well. It would be bad PR for Zynga to take donations from the community for a project that they own.

Why can we still donate to cocos2d-iphone?

Likely to cover running costs.

Zynga did not acquire the cocos2d-iphone.org website and its assets (eg the website design, technology and content). That means donations don’t go to Zynga, and may be used to cover the website’s running costs.

It might also mean that it’s an incentive to keep working on the cocos2d-iphone project, like so many other open source project’s donate buttons.

Whether donations are even necessary, and how much money is needed, we don’t know. Unless there’s more transparency regarding expenses I wouldn’t feel comfortable donating at this point.

Extended Line-Drawing Easter Sale

On April 27, 2011, in Marketing, by Steffen Itterheim

I’ve been told that some of you won’t be able to purchase the Line-Drawing Starterkit during the 50% Easter Bunny special sales period if it ends as planned on April 27th (today). I extended the 50% off coupon code event during Easter until May 3rd, so that you’ve had time to cash in your paycheck and/or return from your Easter holiday vacation.

Check the Line-Drawing Starterkit product page for the coupon code. It’s (almost) impossible to miss.

PS:

Seriously, what kind of game developer are you if you’re going on a holiday vacation? For a whole week! Aren’t you supposed to be working yourself to death trying to finish that Quadruple-A game in time for Xmas? And this year you’re really, really going to finish it – not like the previous two years? It says so in your contract.

Sheesh, the kids these days. No idea what working hard means … 😀

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Today it was exactly 6 months since I made the first sale of my Line-Drawing Game Starterkit for Cocos2D. I just glanced at the number labelled “Total” in the Plimus control panel: $18,479.05 … all of this from a single product over a period of 6 months!

No Product Launch Formula

I wish I could tell you exactly how to reproduce that level of success. I certainly did not implement the widely publicized and so called product launch formula. I’m sure PLF is valuable but the way it’s being sold makes it a scam to my mind. Why? Because it’s sold only once or twice a year, you can never just buy it, you have to wait for it, and when it goes on sale, people are more than happy to pay an outrageous price for something they could get much cheaper from reading the proper books and applying some common sense. That’s just a side note.

I also have to admit, I have no hard data where my customers are coming from other than they’re from all over the world. Or why each of them is buying or why some of them are interested but end up not doing it. Some will have followed me for quite a while, some found my website via google, others got wind of it through word of mouth and most recently they may have read about the Starterkit in my Learn Cocos2D book.

For the most part I have only informal data that I can share.

Little hard data

Thankful customers writing me that this was exactly what they’ve been looking for, and why. Only 3 refunds if I recall correctly, two were expecting something different and another one found Corona shortly after buying and decided to use Corona over Cocos2D, so he wasn’t going to use my Starterkit. As far as I can tell, most customers are not companies or teams of people but individual developers.

The level of support requests I received were minimal. I estimate that less than 10% of all customers contacted me for support, and almost all support incidents were solved after exchanging one or two emails. Most issues were caused by the fact that I didn’t include Cocos2D with the download, so they were mostly Cocos2D version mismatches and incorrect project setups. I definitely learned from that and will be including Cocos2D in all future versions of the Starterkit to cut down support incidents even more.

Clearly, there are two distinct groups of customers: those who would like to learn how to write a Line-Drawing game, hoping to eventually release it and in any case learn to understand Cocos2D and game development a little better on the side. And then those who plan to publish a commercial Line-Drawing game and want to cut corners, speed up development.

What I learned

For a while I was thinking that you need to have a frequently visited website like mine – over 5,000 visits per week here. You need to be well connected (followed) on Twitter. A Newsletter with many people on it that you can write to at any time is also very helpful. And having been a long time developer at Electronic Arts must surely be reassuring that I know what I’m doing. Next to actually showing that by writing a book. None of that is something you can do in just a couple of days or weeks.

I’m happy to report that you don’t need any of that to reproduce the success I’ve had with my Starterkit.

So skip your job application for EA, scrap the book draft and save your money on yet another type of scam: how to get 10,000 Twitter followers in 30 days. You don’t need them. Dan Nelson told me recently that the source code for his BATAK Duel game sold 14 copies in less than a month, priced at $297 (now: $149.99). The product page was just a simple blog post and yet still managed to bring in over $4,000 of revenue in the first month! For comparison, the first 30 days of the Line-Drawing Kit amounted to sales worth $5,370 revenue (before tax and everything).

BATAK Duel gameplay video:

I can also say with certainty that promo codes are a great idea, my 50% sale was a huge success. It generated over $4,000 in revenue and with another $5,000 made in the first month that means that half of my sales were generated by only two events: product launch, and 50% off promo codes. Maybe there’s something to the product launch formulas after all? But honestly, I think that’s just common sense. If you want to sell something, don’t sit around hoping for customers coming to you. Just as much as sex sells (in general), events sell products. Price drops, bundles, freebies, and so on. Get the word out, and do it frequently, and give something away for free – the simplest being information, knowledge, share experiences and data.

And think Steam!

I could have done more of that. But I was writing a book and it was also kind of an experiment to see how sales are affected if I’m not promoting the product in any way for a while. It was sobering to see sales drop to just a few per month three months after launch. Likewise it was exciting to see the reception (and sales) during the 50% sales event.

What I can also say with confidence is that if you offer a products that developers are interested in, they will buy it. And quite a number of developers are interested in commercial source code products to make this a viable market. It’s not just game code, it’s also components for regular App development that are very popular and lucrative.

The Secret is: Common Sense

And there’s another secret I’d like to share: developing an App Store game takes months to complete it, and if you’re truly passionate it can take even more months just to polish it, get it right in every aspect. Still your chances of tanking in the market are rather high, the stakes are high but the risks are even higher, even more so the longer you’ve spent developing your game.

So it’s only going to be a matter of time before more developers learn the secret that selling one’s source code for a game that’s already on the App Store is not just an additional revenue stream, it’s a rather lucrative one and one that allows you to cross-promote both products. In fact, suddenly you have two products on two different markets for two different kinds of customers with very little extra effort.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Think about it. It makes perfect sense.

Even more so for me because I have always enjoyed working on game technology and enabling game developers to excel more than actually finishing a game, with polished gameplay, an intuitive user experience and fixing all those obscure bugs cropping up at the last minute.

Also, if you need help making sales, I have good news for you: there will be an affiliate store available here in the next couple weeks. If you’re interested in becoming an affiliate, give me a shout.

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Nate Weiss, author of the commercial iPhone Game Kit, would like you to help build the first community driven RPG game for the iPhone. Read his announcement.

He wrote a game design document for you to wet your appetite and learn what needs to be done. It’s an ambitious project that I believe would be awesome to take part in, especially if you don’t have the time and energy to build a complete game project by yourself, but you still like to take part in fruitful game development activities. What the game needs most is to design levels using the popular Tiled Map Editor, and new artworks for tiles, characters and cutscenes.

You do need to have a copy of the iPhone Game Kit to participate, but currently it’s on sale with 30% off and costs only $69. For that you get the complete source code and assets for the Quexlor action RPG and a 150 page game development eBook. I think his product and ebook are excellent and well worth the money, and I’m currently running two ads for Nate on a voluntary basis. You can learn more about the pros and cons of the iPhone Game Kit from these independent reviews:

Add your link to the Cocos2D Linkvent Calendar

Do you have something to share with the Cocos2D community? I haven’t received enough submissions to fill all the days until Xmas, although I do have enough links to post one each day, I’d rather post a link to your website or blog post.

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TexturePacker goes GUI!

On October 31, 2010, in Marketing, tools, by Steffen Itterheim

The previously command-line-only TexturePacker tool now has a nice GUI. It’s called the “Pro” version and for a reason. So far, I’ve been using Zwoptex for creating Texture Atlases, but I’ll certainly give TexturePacker Pro a try.

At first glance, what I liked was that it told me when the Texture Atlas was “full”, eg. not all sprites could fit into that Texture Atlas. And the always present list of image filenames on the right side is a welcome feature. Although Zwoptex does have this list as well, it’s almost rendered useless because it’s a seperate view option.

Zwoptex’ price has changed since I checked last time, it’s now at only $14.95. TexturePacker Pro costs $17.95, it’s command line version $9.95 and the upgrade from command line to Pro is $7,95, so you’re saving a whopping $0.05! :)

A couple words on pricing

I find both tools are underselling themselves. Zwoptex was initially at $24.95 and even that price seemed “cheap” to me, given how much trouble it saved me and how much faster and more memory efficient it made my projects. I would say that a price range of $30 to $50 would be more than fair for those tools. I can imagine that the TexturePacker command line version at $9.95 and now the Pro version probably forced Zwoptex to adjust its price.

Problem is: this isn’t a market where people choose their tool based on a $3 price difference. Also, it decreases margins for upgrade prices, with TexturePacker upgrade already below $10. Those low-end prices incur a proportionally large amount of transaction fees, paid to the eCommerce vendor, making them less viable. Since this is also not a mass market, but a niche, it would be wiser if both upgraded their prices back to reasonable regions, around or above $30.

Likewise, Particle Designer is also absolutely undervalued at $7.99. Those low prices undercut the value in tools, and make tool development less and less attractive than it already is. And if anything, cocos2d and the other engines need one thing above all else: tools. And good ones!

Be it Ricardos mysterious “world editor” or the Physics + Tilemap IDE (website) or the other game editing tools currently being worked on – if any one of them is being released as a commercial product but sold for less than $30, I’m going to be very mad at you! If it’s less than $60 I’ll still be mad at you, not very, but still mad.

Rant

Seriously, this isn’t the App Store! It’s developers you’re selling to, and they do value useful tools. Just because cocos2d is free doesn’t mean that all tools surrounding it need to be cheap (or free for that matter). Take Sprite Manager 2 for example. It sells for $75 (per seat!) and isn’t all that different from Zwoptex or TexturePacker Pro. If it were a standalone app it would probably pale in comparison! You might argue that SM2 is for Unity, and their developers are less price sensitive – I don’t think so, and some are even more price sensitive because they just made that huge investment in the first place.

In general you could say that those developers who invest several hundred $$ into a game engine (and toolset) are simply more serious about game development. You do have those enthusiasts working with cocos2d as well, but they’re probably outnumbered by a lot of hobbyists and “I’ll give it a try” kind of people who simply join because of the fun involved, and because the only investment in cocos2d is time and they got plenty of that. The question is: do you want to be kind to the hobbyists, or do you want to build a sustainable business? Plus, Zwoptex and Texturer Packer are also being used by Corona developers.

Now you may also be arguing that a cheaper price allows more developers to enjoy the tools and we’re a friendly bunch and not a commercial, greedy corporation. Sure. But those prices do devalue everyone’s tools, so if anyone wanted to build a tool that takes maybe not just 1-2 months to build (initially), but maybe 4-6 months or more before it’s going to be useful, those price points are not very encouraging to start such a project. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but I do know that those people who could pull this off, are generally terrible at doing business. And easily influenced by comparable prices, punching a few numbers, and then getting on with their next train of thought which probably involves solving an obscure programming problem.

And the kind of tool that needs this time investment is the one I’ve been looking forward to since I first started working with cocos2d in May 2009. Back at the time I was convinced that by the end of 2009 cocos2d would be having a game editor or at least something to build the GUI and screens with. I wished for a fully-fledged, professional game level editor, with a physics editor, sprite animation builder, asset management, and whatever else you can dream of.

Now, if that ever happened, it shouldn’t cost less than $100. If you can provide killer features like Box2D integration or scripting game logic, ask twice as much. And offer Lite and Pro versions with a variety of feature sets to make the most out of what developers need and what they are willing to pay extra for niche, but very useful features if you need them.

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Starterkit Price Drop, Sales Numbers

On August 16, 2010, in Announcements, Marketing, by Steffen Itterheim

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 Numbers

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.

The Future

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.

I just stumbled across this …

On July 29, 2010, in cocos2d, by Steffen Itterheim

Google Sponsored Link: Cocos2D Explained

The iPhone Game Kit:

Currently 50% off at $49.

It says: What You Get:

  • an iPhone Game Dev Book
  • complete game source code
  • cocos2d
  • lots of game art
  • publishing guide
  • free upgrades for life

Site is hosted on two different domains: iphonerpgkit.com and iphonegamekit.com

My thoughts

I tried the game and it seems to be a ISO Map RPG style hack and slash game. It’s probably ok for a starting project if you plan to do a RPG hack & slash. Most of its content seems to be prebuilt tilemaps. From a technical perspective the combat system and D-Pad controls could be interesting.

My impression: impressive marketing effort. Effective sales pitch. Typical single-product sales pitch website (no relevant free content) which makes me cautious though. Including free cocos2d and free game art in “what you get” bullet-point list is technically correct but misleading. Info about the guy behind this is unimpressive (made a game in 1995?). But there’s a forum and questions get answered.

UPDATE:

I bought it, skimmed over the code. Clearly structured, consistent coding style. The PDFs are aimed at beginners and they are well written, overall 144 pages. Over 4,000 lines of code and plenty of assets used by the game. It’s not a bluff package and a serious amount of work has been put into this.

UPDATE 2:

The key point to take away is this: he is marketing it directly for beginning cocos2d developers: “You get to Learn Cocos2D”. But the iPhone GameKit is from my point of view most interesting to those who want to create a hack & slash RPG for iOS devices in general and learn how to use CCTMXTileMap specifically.

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