Thanks to Joseph Borghetti & Reilly Stroope for letting us share their story. The remote working indie dev/design duo had never made a game before and discuss their unusual launch conditions, the effects of being featured and resulting sales numbers.
Warbits was a dumb idea
Despite the fact that Warbits worked out for us, it was a certified dumb idea. That’s not to say the idea wasn’t worth pursuing, just that we could have made our foray into game development a little more graceful. 4 years and thousands in personal funding is a lot to risk for a niche strategy game launching on 1 platform. Our game did have an under-served market, but it was a gargantuan task for us as first time game developers. We were fortunate enough to get the Editor’s Choice nod and a 2 week feature on the App Store, which we are forever grateful for, but none of that was guaranteed. Thankfully, hard work and a ton of help from our friends allowed Warbits to become a very significant achievement in our lives.
Risky Lab is the classic two man indie team with a slight twist, during the entire 4 years of development we had never met in person.
Joe Borghetti handles programming from the Boston, MA area and Reilly Stroope manages all things art out of Dallas, TX. We were introduced to each other through a small community forum of fellow tech and creative types. Eventually connecting over the desire to work on a mobile game, we began moonlighting our first project in early 2012. Shortly thereafter (hah) we completed and launched Warbits on April 14th of 2016.
It all started because we were tremendously naive. Warbits was born out of the desire to bring the magic of the Advance Wars series to a modern mobile platform. A quick guilty pleasure to get under out belt. Easy right? Estimated completion time, 6 months. We soon found out that what makes the Wars series so incredible is the depth shrouded in its simple presentation. Advance Wars casts a long shadow.
So how did you do it?
To create a product of the same standards with two people that have never worked on a single game before was laughable, but we gave it our best shot. What we lacked in experience we made up with time and tenacity. Deciding to keep our day jobs was probably the most important factor for Warbits. It slowed development considerably, but the first 2 years was spent figuring out how to make a game in the first place. It was way less stressful to approach it as more of a hobby than something we were betting our livelihood on. Coming home from work and shutting ourselves in our offices to work on Warbits became the routine.
Communication began as an extremely long email chain but later transitioned to Google Hangouts, it was helpful to be in constant contact. Hangouts allowed us to quickly fire ideas at each other throughout the day, and we would frequently hop on voice calls as we worked in the evenings.
Platform: Universal iOS
It took 4 years to make Warbits. That’s not to say it takes 4 years to make a game like Warbits, just that it took us 4 years. When you have an idea for a game, it helps to actually know how to make one. A good portion of our development time was spent learning new concepts like Object-oriented programming, sprite sheets and even git repositories.
Our process started messy and meandering, but eventually filtered it down to a rather lean and productive system. Trello, Dropbox and Google Hangouts were our tools of choice. We tried various project management tools, but the heavy methodology often weighed us down. We didn’t necessarily need the motivation or hyper-organization that other tools offered. We needed a place to collect our thoughts and act on them. In that way Trello served as the perfect virtual whiteboard, ever changing to meet the needs of what we wanted accomplish at that very moment.
How much did this hobby cost?
Joe and I split all costs 50/50 with the exception of any equipment like laptops or mobile devices. Looking back, I feel like we were pretty frugal with our expenses.
- Freelancers $11,029
- Sound Effects & Music $2,395
- Announcement and Launch Trailer $1,650
- Level Design $1,060
- Backend Programming (Unused) $5600
- Map Editor (Unused) $324
- Apple Developer License $396
- Dropbox Pro $959
- Grand Total $12,384
(Joes fancy Macbook Pro $2,248 excluded from total)
What went wrong?
As mentioned before, we should not have started with Warbits. The scope was too big, the mechanics were too complex. Absolutely everything we did was a grueling journey of trial and error.
Including a large financial investment in a complex backend system, before the full scope of our game was fleshed out. If we had taken the time to start with some very small projects, we would have been much more confident and possibly even made a better game in a shorter amount of time. Thinking back, just about every issue we ran into could be attributed to inexperience. Warbits could have easily been crowded out during a busy week and we’d be wallowing in self pity. You’re better off being disappointed in a small project than devastated by a by a large scope all-in game.
- Launched Wednesday April 13th @ 6:00pm
- Worldwide release (English only)
- $2.99 Launch sale, $3.99 regular price
- 20 Mission campaign with online and local multiplayer
On the days leading up to our launch date we noticed that news for new iOS games had slowed to a trickle. We even heard some rumors that some app developers were asked to avoid launching that week. Needless to say this made us extremely nervous about our launch plans. The following morning we were greeted with the Apps for Earth campaign. All of the top promotional slots that would normally feature new apps and games had been replaced with apps that were contributing their proceeds to the World Wildlife Fund. Scrolling down the page revealed Warbits as Apple’s Editors Choice, we were elated.
Our theory is that the Apps for Earth event pushed back the launch dates of the large publishers and allowed Warbits to receive the Editors Choice for that week. As an added bonus, once the earth event ended, we were placed in the top banner and run as the Editors Choice for a second week. Doesn’t get much better than that!
Sales & Reception
We developed a premium game in a niche category with unusual launch conditions, so it’s hard to compare our sales to other games. Hopefully the following information can still provide some sort of meaningful insight.
So in the first two weeks of sales we made 87% of our total. Having that second week feature really helped our overall performance.
As you can see from the chart, once the Apps for Earth promotion ended we were featured at the top of the app store and saw a sharp uptick. Our sales peaked on the first Friday after launch with an astonishing 5k units sold. It was really fun watching Warbits climb the iTunes charts despite it’s $2.99 price point. Now that things have stabilized we sell about 1000 units a month.
App Store Ranks Fri, April 15
- Units: 5,290
- US Overall: #15
- US Games: #11
- US Strategy: #3
- US Adventure: #4
Downloads & Revenue
- Launch Week: 26k units
- 2nd Week: 19.5k units
- Lifetime: 53.1k units
- Lifetime Sales: $173k
- Lifetime Proceeds: $116k
Blog and iTunes reviews were overwhelmingly positive!
Despite sending out hundreds of personal emails we didn’t get any response from some of the more mainstream gaming sites, but we did receive a lot of love from the mobile gaming community.
We knew from the start that we couldn’t please everyone. Reading negative reviews can be pretty depressing but some comments can reveal rare (or not so rare) bugs. We try to take everything in stride. Here are a few of the more amusing highlights.
What went right?
We met a lot of interesting and passionate people. The outpouring of support from friends, players and other professionals in the industry was amazing. Our beta team was extremely helpful, and they stuck with us until the bitter end. We learned a tremendous amount about the development and business of making games. I don’t think we realized how difficult it was going into it, but the lessons learned will pay dividends in future projects. The response was overwhelming and has left us excited to begin a new project.
We hope this was somewhat helpful! If anyone has any follow up questions feel free to ask in the comments or reach out to us directly.
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