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Starring at the iTunes Store…

August 15, 2010

I’ve worked on a number of games prior to The Battle for Hoth, and while there is always the anticipation of how the audience will react to your work, this has been different.  When you’ve completed and game and it’s mastered – the vibe is a bit like a house party – all set-up ready to go, you’ve invited people – but will anyone turn up?  With boxed product games like the Conflict series or The Great Escape, I would have to wait a long time to see if anyone turned up to the party.  Shop sales take time to collate and the first guide as to how well it is doing would be a weekly chart-track.  Though we (Pivotal Games staff) would also be looking at things like sales-rank on Amazon and the like as a proxy measurement of sales.

Then with PSN titles like Savage Moon, the information was around much faster – for those with a login to the Playstation Store, it’s pretty much realtime but we’d have to wait to get the sales from our producer at Sony as we don’t have direct access to the data.  So it was still a wait to see if people turned up to our Insectocyte party…

But with the iTunes store it’s public and real-time: So when The Battle for Hoth came out I found myself checking the various country iTunes stores realtime – almost like a share price on some news ticker..  SW: Hoth +1 …  It got a bit obsessional – I seemed to be looking at it every hour (or less!).  It seemed to drop during the night and then rise again in the morning – gamers buy during the day?  Overall, it was at it’s highest chart price soon after release before it went on a slow elegant arc down as newer titles arrived to take it’s place in the chart (and the Lite version is due out soon…how will the paid app do then?) But checking it becomes an itch you keep needing to scratch.  Why?  Obvious reasons aside, making a game takes lots of time and energy – and you want the end result of the long process to be played.  The more people playing it, the better you feel about the effort you’ve put into it.  It’s a mix of ego and sharing. (Below is the US iTunes chart from topchartapps.com)

Star Wars: The Battle for Hoth US iTunes Store chart

Star Wars: The Battle for Hoth US iTunes Store chart

Then there is the ratings on the iTunes store.  Another realtime itch to scratch.  Again with past products, you do get reviews, but they are most often my game review sites and the like.  They are not mass-produced reviews by players.  (Though Sony added a similar system to the Playstation Store recently.) As a games designer, what players feel about your games matters a lot.  At FluffyLogic we read all the player reviews of our games and chat about how we can take on-board their feedback.  A good rating and review makes you smile, a bad one makes you feel a little hurt – either way you re-check the iTunes store a short while later for another fix of rating drugs.

The Battle for Hoth seems to oscillate between 3 and 4 stars, however I suspect the true rating is a little higher – and not just for our game, for all apps, as the system is slightly bias towards those who dislike it.  This is because you are offered the chance to rate an app once you delete it, and I suspect most people deleting an app don’t like it.  This is why some developers have added an option to ask players to rate the app – as the people who like it, people not deleting it, otherwise are not asked to rate an app – they have to make a special effort to go back into the store and rate it.

And that’s one of the key things about the iTunes store – it’s a mass of feedback loops – ratings, store position etc – all feeding into and out of each other.  It’s fascinating to watch, but as a developer I’ve had to learn to not scratch the itch quite so often.

Updated! More on this story here.

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