Pandemic 2.5 was released on the App Store on May 1st and while I could most likely write an entire book about the success, stress and everything between brought on by Pandemic's release, I'm going to instead focus on three distinct topics: Pandemic's success, lessons learned and the future of Dark Realm Studios. I'm also going to ask questions without providing answers just because doing such things brings me joy.
Pandemic 2.5 was developed with such a tight budget that if the budget were a sentient being attending a public high school, the annual-toilet-paper-budget of other game developers would kick its ass daily and without regret. Even more worrying for me was the fact that with all available money being spent on developing the actual game, there was little in the way available for any sort of meaningful marketing. Add in the cold hard reality that hundreds if not thousands of new games emerge every month on the App Store and one could perhaps imagine my apprehension of releasing Pandemic 2.5.
And yet as you can see in the above graph, the game has actually managed to thus far sell well more than 300,000 copies which translates to more than a 4200% return on the development budget. For a big studio any game selling fewer than 400,000 copies would almost certainly be deemed a complete failure; luckily for me however, this is just one of the many areas that indie game companies differ from the larger development houses.
The above graph is not all fun and games though: there is the question of why the sales peaked so quickly and so violently; why was there not a more gradual decent after the second week? Are all games subject to similar sales trends or is this simply something specific to paid games on the App Store that aren't household names? I could ask a hundred questions, study a great many graphs and read far too many econ books in an attempt to understand the primary question. But what I truly want to focus on is the other side of the equation: critical reception compared to customer reception.
As I've already stated, the marketing for Pandemic 2.5 essentially didn’t exist. My grand marketing scheme largely consisted of finding as many reviewers for the game as possible. Luckily a large number of both small and large game websites wrote about the game and created the much needed exposure the game was relying on for making sales. Unfortunately on average the reviews were slightly less favorable than what I would have liked. There's no doubt in my mind that the game wouldn't have sold half as well if there had been no reviews – but how much did the actual review scores impact the total number of sales? Yet again I'm left with an interesting but unanswerable question.
As for what brought down the scores for the reviews: the two most commonly reported issues (the lack of saved game support and the need for more in-depth instructions) were entirely legitimate and are definitely the sort of boring yet necessary elements of development that I'll need to improve upon for my next game (for the record, both issues have been resolved with the 1.1 update to the game).
An interesting side note is how much customer reviews have conflicted with the critic reviews of the game. The above image shows off customer reviews from the App Store on the top and the average critic score on the bottom from Metacritic. I think it's more than safe to say that fans from the flash versions of Pandemic are likely to have influenced the customer scores in a positive manner.
In the end I can comfortable say that I've come away from the project having learned a great deal and am eager to apply that new experience in future Dark Realm projects. And thanks to the success of Pandemic 2.5, Dark Realm Studios does indeed have a future for at the very least an additional 6 months. That's not to say that I expect Dark Realm to die in six months' time but that the company has enough capital to fund the development of at least two more iOS games, and to give those two games something of a proper marketing campaign. Only if both games were to fail completely and utterly in every sense of the word would the possibility of Dark Realm's death come into view.
I'm going to presume that since you're still reading, you're curious about just what it is I have planned for the next few months. Well while I cannot yet reveal the specifics for the current game in development or talk about the game set to be released after this next one, I can show you guys a rough timeline of when you can expect these new games to hit your iPhone or iPad.
What the timeline doesn't show is the fact that each of these new games will launch with the release of a free flash game as well. Oh and don't bother asking about what the hell "Phase 2" is all about. Oh, and the timeline doesn't show off Android releases either: yes, I am looking to bring Pandemic 2.5 to the Android market.
While I originally wanted to reveal my upcoming game late in August, it looks like you guys are going to have to sit on your hands for just a few more weeks. Trust me, it'll be worth it.