Ames game developers see financial fortunes tumble as downloads soar
Wohlwend (left) and Boxleiter snapped this photo en route to Victoria, Brittish Columbia, to stay with some game developer friends.
Then they were forced to give up their homes.
Boxleiter and Wohlwend form Ames-based Mikengreg Games Company. They put two years into the development of Gasketball, and even though the game has found popular success — it was in the top five free iPad games for the better part of a week, and has been downloaded around 450,000 times since its release on Aug. 9 — that hasn't translated to financial security for the developers.
This is part of the independent game experience that’s rarely talked about. You can work, create a good game, and a few issues with your monetization strategy can hinder your ability to make money from your hit game.
Boxleiter and Wohlwend made enough money from their previous game, Solipskier, to get by as they created Gasketball. But that money has since run out, and the duo is now staying with friends as it ponders its next move.
Since the release of Gasketball, the developers have been working to create a new strategy for the game. An update made the paid version easier to find — Wohlwend said that raised the conversion rate from about 0.67 percent to 1 percent — but that's still not enough. They're hoping an iPhone release can give them "a second chance."
We caught up with Boxleiter and Wohlwend via email for more on the successes and pitfalls of life as an independent game developer. An edited version of the interview is below:
Silicon Prairie News: Your first game, Solipskier, was profitable enough to support you through the development of Gasketball. What went differently this time around?
Greg Wohlwend: To date, about 140,000 people have download Solipskier. Solipskier has always been a simple paid game. Solipskier is a fairly simple and easy game to pick up and play. Gasketball is more complex and a bit weird/different/new, so we wanted to let people experiment and try it out without taking that leap over a paywall. We were also concerned with making sure enough people were playing multiplayer so that players never had trouble finding a game.
SPN: What kind of emotions have you been going through? When was the breaking point that you had to give up your homes and crash on friends’ couches?
GW: Emotionally, it's been up and down, and the downs have been really, really low. There comes a point in development where you just have to hang on to believing in your game, and to some degree it's all you have because you put your entire heart into it.
The game hasn't failed with a capital 'F' or anything because we did get a ton of downloads and we do have the iPhone version that could redeem things. But, this is certainly not what we hoped for; to invest this much time and love into something and be this disappointed with how it did commercially can make things really hard to deal with. We're just very lucky to have the friends and family we do.
SPN: What do you hope other game developers will learn from hearing your story?
GW: Take vacations and get some perspective on the thing you have been working on so intimately. We got in a mindset that gave us a really shortsighted attitude because we were exhausted.
SPN: What's next for Gasketball?
GW: We have submitted an update that gives more of the game away for free, so we are trying to monetize the game that way. A lot of people think we should go the other way and charge up front but we think we can make free Gasketball work — we just have to keep experimenting with different models.
For more on Boxleiter and Wohlwend's experience with Gasketball, read the full story from The Penny Arcade Report: Going broke with success: how an app with 200,000 downloads led to developer homelessness
Credits: Photo courtesy Wohlwend, photo from Penny Arcade,