December sales data for the Nook

Escape from Zargnon (EfZ) has been out for just over a month on the Barnes and Noble Nook Color/Tablet, so I thought this would be a good time to share our experiences and first month sales figures for anyone who may be interested in bringing their apps to the Nook.

As you may (or may not) know, EfZ is a simple 3D side-scrolling game made using Unity3D, where you play the part of a space adventurer who has crashed on a hostile planet. In the game, you play through a series of 25 stages to battle aliens and ultimately fix your ship and escape.  I teach at Wabash College, EfZ was created as part of my larger research project to study how people learn new behaviors (such as mastering a video game).  As a research project, my goals for EfZ are:

  • To get as many people to play the game as we can (to test our research questions).
  • To make enough money to offset our development/promotion costs (which are pretty low, about $700 so far).

If the game does well (and brings in more money than its development costs), we would be thrilled, and we will use those funds to continue our research (i.e. to support this project or start a new project).

From an idea to the Nook

As we began development of the game, one of my students (Steven Apostolidis, who did a lot of work on the early versions of EfZ) suggested that we do a mobile release. I thought it was a good idea, as EfZ was going to be a simple game that you could play in stages. So, I bought a copy of the basic Android license from Unity3D while it was on sale and started to look at porting our web beta version of the game to Android. And, I registered at nookdeveloper.

I originally thought of developing EfZ as a long-term project, with an initial release in late 2012.  But, I was drawn in by a promotion that Barnes and Noble started running (I think in October), where apps accepted in November would qualify for special promotions in early 2012. So, during our college’s Thanksgiving break, I pulled a late night and an all-nighter to get a version of EfZ that I could submit. After a couple of rounds of submission, the game was accepted for the Nook Color (but not the Tablet) on 11/22, and went live on 12/1.  Sales from December are shown below.

Sales on the Nook Color/Tablet for December

The numbers

The first version (v1.0.0) sold 12 copies its first day, and 13 on its second day of sales. After that (as you can see in the graph above), sales slid to around 2-4 sales a day for most of the month.  After version 1.2 went live on 12/23 (which added support for the Nook Tablet) sales picked up for the holiday season.  I would guess that the burst of sales around Christmas is a combination of adding support for the Nook Tablet and a flurry of holiday sales of Nook Colors/Tablets.  At the end of December, we had a total of 215 installs (which gives us sales of $148.35).

So, what should we make of these sales?  If I were trying to make a living off of one game, the revenue coming in from EfZ would not be enough to get by.  However, I consider the game to be doing well after its first month, considering that 1) our only marketing was some tweets, forum posts and facebook messages, and 2) which we put together for under $1k.

And, let me point out that our sales numbers put us near the bottom of the Arcade Games category for the Nook: so I reason that there are a lot of people who are making considerably more money than we have.  For developers who are interested, it seems like now is a great time to bring your app to the Nook.  From what I’ve seen on user forums, the Nook users are hungry for more apps to put on their new Colors and Tablets.  I have heard that developers have had some glitches in getting their apps approved and online (and we had some as well, which I may go into in another post), but I think it was worth the effort for us.  I do feel, though, that EfZ is not doing as well as it could on the Nook. For example, other games released at about the same time (like Hamsteria, which I believe is another game made in Unity, or the Annoying Pig Game) have had much stronger sales than EfZ.

Originally, I had thought that doing an exclusive release of our game on the Nook would be a great idea, but now I wonder if the lack of visibility (outside of Barnes and Noble) has hurt us.  While $0.99 is not a lot to spend, I imagine people could be hesitant to spend the money without some confidence that they knew what the game was about.  If we had released the game on the Android Market first, we would have had at least a chance of getting a review or some other type of internet “footprint” that might have encouraged Nook owners to check out the game.  Now, as we’ve drifted out of the “New releases” page, it seems we’ve gotten stuck at our current position on the charts.

If the sales continue at close to their current pace, then I think we will make back our money. But, will EfZ have succeeded as a research project? Remember that our most important goal for EfZ is to study how people learn. If I were testing this game at my college, a sample of 215 people would be phenomenal. However, of the 215 people who bought a copy of EfZ in December, relatively few (less than 20%) have finished more than the first couple of stages (out of 25).  It is likely that our yield (in terms of useful data) is very low so far.

What’s next for Escape from Zargnon?

Given these data (the number of sales, and how far each player goes in the game), we’re looking for ways to promote EfZ on the Nook (Barnes and Noble plans to do some promotions in 2012, but we’re also looking at what we can do on our own). And, we’re rolling EfZ out to other Android devices (and we are focusing on the Android Market, Amazon Appstore, GetJar, Mobango and AppsLib right now).

As we move to places like the Android Market, we’re splitting EfZ into two versions: a full version (like the one available on the Nook) and a trial/lite version with ads (which we are calling Chapter One).

As we were thinking of free vs paid options, one thing we wanted to avoid was having the full version of EfZ available for different prices on different devices.   As a user, I personally find it annoying to buy an app for 1.99 on one device and realize I could have gotten the same app (even if it is with ads) for free on another device.  So, we’re keeping the full version of EfZ at $0.99 (though we may use sales on some platforms/devices as incentives).  In EfZ: Chapter One, users will get the first five stages of EfZ for free (with ads).  We think this will work well, as the first five stages tell one complete story about your journey on Zargnon, and would probably take the typical user a total of 1-2 hours to complete.

Our main reason for making the lite version was that the other Android app stores (like the Android Market) are much more saturated with apps than Barnes and Noble, so it will be even harder to get noticed there. And, many users on the Nook don’t appear to play past the first few levels, so it’s likely that many of the people who bought the full version end up not being very interested in the game. We don’t want people to feel they have wasted their money, and a lite version lets us people try the game out, and targets the full version of EfZ to those people who enjoy it, and want to finish the adventure.  The use of a trial version will hopefully encourage more people to try the game, and when people buy it, they will already know that they enjoy the game.

We want to add a similar trial version for the Nook, but currently Barnes and Noble does not allow in-game ads, so we have no way to monetize the free version.  And, right now Nook users cannot search for just apps that have free trials (so the trial doesn’t really work in the way we need it to: to attract people to try the game out).

Try Escape from Zargnon for yourself:

Currently, the full version of EfZ is out on the Android Market. And, EfZ: Chapter One is out on the Android Market, GetJar and Mobango.  And, you can get the original, full version of EfZ at Barnes and Noble.