In one day on Playstation Mobile, sixty second shooter Deluxe has made more money than the original did in its year-long lifetime on the Chrome Web Store.
(Unfortunately, one day of data is all the data I have: I got the report for the month of October, and Deluxe launched on the last day. How it's really doing, and whether going with Playstation Mobile is an advisable course of action for others, I won't know for another month.)
And that's not saying much, because the Chrome Web Store really, really sucks.
I'm a total Google fanboy, by the way. In general my philosophy is, "If you can't do it with a Google product it might not be worth doing." Web browsing, mail, the OS and most of my devices, most of the word processing and spreadsheets I do, G+, AppEngine, the modeling package formerly owned by Google (SketchUp) ... all great stuff.
But sixty second shooter in Native Client for Chrome was an abject and total business failure. If we simply look at the results, I spent several months working on it part-time, spent around $300 on hardware, PR expenses (going to GDC and giving out a bottle of Patron to the reviewer who got the best score), URL, and server time - and brought in $120 in ad revenue and $143 in sales.
So, a question on your mind might be, why did I ever think this might be a good idea in the first place? Because, believe it or not, I do have eyes. Anybody can see that the Chrome Web Store, as it stands, is a ghetto. It's got to be an embarrassment for Google - I won't be surprised if a future version of Chrome makes the CWS harder to find becuase it's such a joke. Or if they shoot it in the head, or somehow merge it in with Google Play.
But going further than just the cluttered pile of crap that is the web store, it's easy to see that if a game dares to charge a buck or two on the platform, they'll move under a 100 copies, lifetime. If the games are free, then the top games, the ones that get promoted in the top bar of the CWS, only have 100K-200K installs. That's basically the equivalent of downloading the trial on XBLA (Schizoid had over a million downloads on XBLA). That's really bad.
So I was basically hoping for two things:
1) Google would give me some promotion, because sixty second shooter was the first 3D native client game, exclusive to their platform, and pretty darn cool.
2) Chrome Web Store 'conversion rates' (moneys/installs) being higher than other portals. I hoped that the typical Chrome Web Store user, after downloading a trial and deciding it wasn't for them, would remove it. And therefore those numbers-of-installs on the CWS, which seemed low, were actually good.
But no, my conversion rates sucked way worse than Schizoid and, from what I hear, typical internet games. The number of installed copies of sixty second shooter has plateaued around 8000 - of those 8000, 1000 signed in (not bad), 600 signed up for the mailing list, and 15 actually paid some money, averaging $9.
(You might point out, hey, Jamie, your monetization system blows. Yes, that's true - I've gotten plenty of advice how to improve it - but still, conversion rates would have to be 100 times better for the Chrome Web Store to start making sense as a platform.)
I still think sixty second shooter is just about the perfect game for the platform: it shows off the high framerates and 3Dness capable of the system while keeping a low footprint on the player's time. But nobody can discover that because Google didn't deign to promote it amidst the clutter.
So here's another problem with Google: with what little PR they have been doing for Native Client and the CWS (almost none), they'd been pushing it as 'console-quality games in a browser'. Their idea of a good Chrome NaCl game seemed to be Bastion or AirMech. The problem with that idea is that the people who want those games are hardcore and are mostly going to prefer them on Steam, where the framerates and loading times are much, much better. (Console gaming in the browser? How about "1/2 speed console gaming in the browser"? *) What Native Client would be theoretically good at is core-casual stuff: snack-sized games for people who want the graphics to be a level above flash games.
But Google didn't seem to realize that, and maybe that's why they didn't think my thing deserved any promotion. Or maybe it's because they didn't give me any money, and therefore didn't have any costs to try to cover / justify.
Another thing about Google - the native client people at Google did help out. A little. The few times I contacted them they'd usually get back to me with advice. It was always nearly useless. I'd say "I'm having problems with coding such-and-such" and they'd dig up some source code off the interwebs and throw it over the wall at me. It was always incompatible with their stuff or would have required a huge effort on my part to port over.
So here's a nutshell opinion:
I love Google. I would rather work at Google than at Sony or Microsoft.
But I would rather work with Sony or Microsoft than with Google.
Have you seen Microsoft's latest mission statement? "At Microsoft, our mission and values are to help people and businesses throughout the world reach their full potential." And when we were making Schizoid for XBLA, that really showed! We met with an engineer and a product evangelist, in person, almost every week. They helped us code, helped us measure performance, gave us good advice, and cracked the whip on their engineering team to make sure that features we needed like network play made it in as soon as possible.
Day and night compared to Google! Which shouldn't surprise anybody - my understanding is it's the way Google does things. Throw stuff at the wall and see if it sticks. No big blow-out PR campaign like Microsoft did with XNA Game Studio with contests and prizes! For all I know, Native Client was somebody's "20% time" project and I was foolish enough to be excited by it. Hence my theory: Work with Microsoft. Work at Google.
Now let's go meta.
Regardless of whether it was a business mistake or not, I consider it a personal success. I had a great time making it, learned a lot, and appreciate the kudos it has earned.
But, okay, so sixty second shooter was a business mistake ... or was it? If it wasn't for the original sixty second shooter, Deluxe would never have happened. It's looking like it's quite possible I'll break even or make a profit eventually. So thank you thank you Sony for giving new life to it, but should I be glad that Google was there to encourage the early broken unprofitable version happening in the first place?
Mistakes happen, particularly in the games industry where you'll have only one profitable game for dozens or maybe even hundreds of unprofitable ones. You make those mistakes, shoot them in the head, and move on.
The question I'm struggling with now: It's looking like sixty second shooter wasn't simply a bad idea that needed to be shot in the head. It was worth investing more into. But how was I supposed to tell? And how about Schizoid? Is it possible Schizoid was a good idea that just needed another revision and a different platform?
I recently said that it's important to ship your Minimum Viable Product early. But it's unlikely those MVP's are going to make a profit, even if they're decent ideas on decent platforms - so how do you decide, once you've seen lackluster sales, if a game is worth investing more resources into?
Well, what do you think?
* Although on my crappy old PC NaCl on Chrome runs around half the speed of Native - I've tested a few different games with it - other PC's don't display the same problem. sixty second shooter runs beautifully on my Mac, btw.