Jeff Hangartner – Revealing the Path Less Travelled in Video Game Industry

Jeff HangartnerJeff Hangartner, the founder of the gaming start-up, Bulletproof Outlaws has been a professional developer of games over the last half a decade. Creator of Pixelation, the 1st Pixel Art Forum and also originator of the Pixel tutorials which have been published in the form of a book. Jeff has always been a pioneer of the gaming industry.

CG Today is proud to present Jeff’s exploration as he shares the whole process of creating a start-up right from day 1. With the belief that gaming development is coming back to its original “one programmer in the basement roots” idea, Bulletproof Outlaws is chronicling every step of its start-up process from strategies, to marketing, setting goals and outsourcing, successes and failures. The aim is to help other developers who have ideas but are intimidated by the whole start-up process and are not sure how to go about it.

You can visit his website Bulletproof Outlaws to know more about him or send an email to get connected.

Apple’s Efforts

I’d just like to take a moment to mention that I think Apple has done a good job in trying to snuff this kind of “tilt the pinball machine” App Store rigging out as much as possible. Cracking down on the buying downloads services, not allowing Promo Code redeemers to review the game, showing you daily stats instead of up to the second stats (so if you get a huge boost you can’t tell until the next day, which makes it harder to time when to boost the system), changing the way ranks are calculated so it’s not just based on number of downloads but also based on playtime, etc. I think these are all ways Apple is trying to level the playing-field of the App Store so that Developers all have a fair chance.

I’m sure there are still ways to improve things, but kudos to Apple for trying, since on their end it really doesn’t matter, they’d make money no matter how fair or unfair the ranking system is but they’re trying to even things out for us Developers. Also, if you choose to try one of these “buying reviews” services and Apple bans your App, you’re not in any position to complain. You should know that Apple is against you trying to cheat the App Store.

Website Reviews

These are often hailed as the holy grail for getting noticed. Elusive Ninja has been reviewed by a couple big sites, a couple tiny sites, and hasn’t made it onto the super big sites (Touch Arcade, Gamespot, etc.). So here are my experiences so far:

An Explosion, Then Silence

Getting reviewed by a larger site creates a big spike in your stats. It’s not just that the site itself is popular and all its users hear about your game, but because of how connected the Internet is now a review on a large site will get automatically reposted to a ton of other sites, Twitter feeds, etc. I have a column on my TweetDeck that searches for “elusive ninja” so whenever those words are mentioned in a Tweet, it pops up on my radar. When I got reviewed by there were suddenly dozens of Tweets and Retweets popping up and all day long I got to watch that column fill up and was super excited. Someone told me the review got “syndicated”, which as far as I cared to figure out basically means “posted friggin’ EVERYWHERE”. My sales jumped to an “astronomical” 12-15 sales for about three days (July 5th in the Sales Chart in Article I – Social Marketing), which was a big step up from the 0 – 2 sales a day I was getting before. Visions of skyrocketing upward into millionaire-status and buying a golden speedboat danced through my mind.

A few days later I was back to 0 – 2 sales a day and all the Tweets mentioning the words “elusive ninja” had stopped. :( This is a pattern that happens repeatedly in App Store related stuff. Whether it’s your first day sales, attention from a review, contest promotion, Update releases, controversy, etc. The basic pattern is a sudden spike in sales that quickly vanishes if it’s not nourished with more spikes, sometimes leaving you at a better day-to-day number than before the spike but sometimes not by much. I think it’s best to strategize around this pattern and prepare yourself for it to drop instead of psyching yourself up with visions of golden speedboats (I’ll talk about this more in Article IV – Psychology).

Tiny Sites

As a Gamer and a guy who’s run tiny sites in the past, I love them. But stats-wise, these tend to not really do anything, honestly. Like, it’s awesome to have a review of your game out there, any mention is good mention when you’re building a name and brand and a lot of tiny site Reviewers are cool people who just love to talk about games and you can make some good friends out of it. But realistically in the day-to-day sales stats, a review on a low-traffic website doesn’t have any impact. Down the road when you DO drum up publicity for your game and people do some Google searches for reviews, those’ll be handy if they’re positive reviews, but they generally won’t cause massive exposure on their own.

In terms of paying for reviews, if the site is offering to review your game for $30 – $80, do a little research like I outlined in the Banner Ads section and find out what that site’s traffic is like. How much “clout” does a review with them actually hold? If the site isn’t a huge one, it probably isn’t worth the money. If you pay $100 for a review and it really only bumps your sales up by 3 or 4 sales a day for a couple days, was that really worth it? Again, keep track of your results, especially if you invest money.

Super Combos

Bulletproof Outlaws - Elusive Ninja

Because of the spike-based nature of reviews, it’s better to have a bunch of reviews hit the net in a short period of time VS a good review popping up here and there. The App Store rankings are heavily influenced by mass amounts of attention in a short time, which result in getting more attention, which results in getting even more attention, etc. as you climb the charts. In Article V – Optimal Marketing Plan I’ll talk more about this with relation to reviews.

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