2011 a year in review as a indie developer

2011 is a special year for me because this is the year I gained independence and freedom. 2011 became the year that I was ultimately in charge of all my successes and failure. I learned many things from that year. Here is a quick run down of what they were

  1. Better marketing is just as important as better game development. I already knew that marketing your game is important before 2011, but 2011 proved that you have to aggressively market your game using different kinds of techniques like cross promotions, running ad campaigns on the web and on the phone (using ad duplex), blogging, and twitter.
  2. It is hard to predict if a game will be a hit on the marketplace. I have 6 out of 14 games that are under performing. Although I would say half of those were experiments to gauge how that particular genre fairs on the marketplace. I have Armored Drive and Air Dagger, which are content heavy games do really well with daily active users. I also have 6 highly repetitive and simple games that are doing well.
  3. Having a cash cow that can sustain your other games so you can be free to experiment and fail without actually failing. For me the cash cow are my games with the most users playing and a high combination of ecpms (Armored Drive, Nom Nom worm, and Impossible Shoota). Being a indie game developer you need to make fun and truly worth while games to succeed.

    Revenue breakdown by game
  4. Running your own business is a bitch. Being an employee I only had to worry about doing what I was told. Running a business I had to figure out everything that needed to be done and make sure to do it right if I don’t want to incur the wrath of the IRS or a depleted bank account.  I quickly had to learn about accounting, paying other people to do things for me, invoices, expenses, super complicated taxes, the list goes on and on… It is not like I did not prepare, but there is just so much work to do that does not directly relate to making games.
  5. People are interested in what I have to say, Yay! This was one of my biggest worries, I wanted to be perceived as someone who was a subject matter expert. I think I have successfully branded myself as the guy to talk to if you want to know about doing ad supported games on WP7. This has opened so many opportunities for me.
  6. Money is never consistent, and you can only do so much about it. The thing being ad supported is that my revenue is tightly coupled with ecpms, bids, fill rates,  algorithms, market share, economy, wp7 platform status, etc … So sometimes I have very happy months where I make a good amount of money and lots of months with crappy revenue. You have to either have low monthly expenses or a big enough savings to cushion against weak income. Here is a chart of what it was like for me in 2011.
  7. I kept costs of production to a minimum. I did 95% of the work in making my games. Some games I collaborated with an artist to create the assets (Air Dagger, Scribble Defense), I spent some money on advertisements, and I outsource music and sound fx to www.soundrangers.com. Calculating from the top of my head, expenses directly related to creating the games would be around ~$3k
    Monthly revenue for 2011
    details of the month broken down into impressions, ecpms, and actual revenue


    2011 has been a good year for me with lots of ups and downs as you can see from the revenue chart above. But it was my breakout year and I hope to keep my momentum going forward into 2012 with better games and higher revenue!

    Keep gaming!

    Updated: I added a estimate on how much I spent on expenses on the game as well as a monthly breakdown of ecpms and number of impressions.

40 thoughts on “2011 a year in review as a indie developer”

  1. Very interesting, very rarely do I get a look at hard-numbers when it comes to digital gaming content. Gonna check out some your games now. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck in the future.

  2. Hey Elbert,

    Thanks for sharing all this really great info! I’m suprised to see how volatile the revenue seems to be from month to month. Absolutely crazy, especially with 14 games released during the year! Gets me wondering which was the biggest factor in your high revenue months, impressions, eCPM, or both? Would love to see a month by month graph of those.

    I’ve really enjoyed playing your games and following your progress as an Indie Game Developer. Thanks for being so open with your findings and progress. Keep up the good work!

  3. Thanks for the information.
    Is any of your games paid? If yes how is it doing in terms of revenue compared to the others if no do you intend to try selling games directly?

    1. none of my games are paid, I tried paid a long time ago and did not find any success there, everyone else I know who develop for wp7 make a considerable more when going ad based.

  4. As always, thanks for being so open and congrats on a great 1st year. Hope you see significant growth in 2012 :)

    Do you have anything in the works in anticipation of Win 8?

    1. The big problem right now with win 8 is that there is no clear developer story for moving from XNA to Win 8. I dont want to devote any resources yet until I find a long term solution to moving over to that marketplace

  5. Awesome stuff. Thanks for sharing. Really informative. You mention that running your own business is tough but would you go back to being an employee again?

  6. Hi Elbert,
    Thanks for sharing. Do you mind telling me what ad provider you are using in you games. My sales are very low. I want to try the ad model. Are you utlizing the built in ad component within visual studio or Admob/Other.


  7. Thanks elbert for sharing your experience with us.

    Was wondering if your revenue was after Microsoft has taken their 30% cut?

    Good luck in 2012, hope the market grows enough to give you a very good year.

    1. I’m not sure how much money microsoft makes from the ads, its a different system than how they do it with paid downloads. But yes this is the money they gave me after their own cuts have been taken.

  8. Hi,

    I have two non-game apps with 600k impressions a week (so comparable to your games) but with very low eCPM (~€0.40) did you have to tweak your ad settings a lot ? can you share what categories you chose ?)

    Thanks and keep up the good work !

  9. Hi elbert,

    Its good to see you break it down to others and I think it is definitely going to drive more interest in developing for wp7. I too have made a nice chunk of change in 2011 from wp7 apps, and have stumbed across those idiosyncasies as well. I started using the ad SDK in January and am subject to the whim of Mr. eCPM =/ Free is definitely the way to go.

    One this is for sure, I am only going to ramp it up as high as I can take it and keep pumping them out. I’d say 2011 was my year of experimentation and learning. 2012 is going to be the year of bringing it home.

    Heres a short video of my flagship app that should be out soon… http://youtu.be/7cRarpAdkiI

    I am a huge fan of your work, keep them coming!

  10. Hello, Elbert. I have read your post “2011 a year in review as a indie developer” and i was shocked about your revenue. Many congratulation! It’s great result!

    I also created one app: How to Knot a Tie:

    It’s free and has pubCenter Ads.

    First two weeks revenue was good. But then ecpm fell from $0.6 to $0.06. I do not understand why. See attached image.

    Maybe you can advice what categories do you use for advertising, and also rotate period?
    Many thanks!

    Best Regards, Vadim

    1. The ecpms are largely influenced by advertiser demand and spending. It will fluctuate like that. Also your ecpm will be low if you don’t have enough volume for the system to care. As for categories try to be as broad as possible since your app doesn’t really fit into any them. December was quite bad for ecpms for me too so don’t worry 😀

  11. Out of many indie developers that communicate with your fan base your one of the rare few who isn’t shy in providing fascinating information. I really appreciate the time and effort you put into your games and also what you put into your blog, twitter etc as I do value your thoughts on the whole indie developer scenario. I can’t code, I’d like to but my limit atm is VBA (I do killer spreadsheets!!) and a little VB. Maybe one day I’ll have the time to devote to learning proper code!!
    All the best for 2012

  12. Great article.

    I was suprised after all that, you didn’t list all your games with links to the Market Place. Maybe a different audience will be readying your blog, but a simple click would have at least let me see the screen prints, etc., and read more information.

    Good info though.

    I’d be interested in seeing more posts from you describing how you write your games, who do you use/recommend for game asset creation, audio (you mentioned this), and generally how you go about writing your games… maybe your development process, etc. That would be cool; since you seem very open witn how you’re doing.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. sorry for the late reply! I use myself for asset creation! Sometimes I use my network of friends to generate assets and assist me in many things. All my development process is about fast prototyping, alot of placeholder art which dont get refined until a few days before shipping.

  13. Hi Elbert,

    Nice to see that a indie developer is making so much on wp marketplace.

    How much daily downloads you get for an app (say Air dagger) on marketplace?

    Thanks for sharing your great nos.

  14. Hey Elbert thank you so much for sharing this. I’ll be looking into your other stuff, games, twitter, ect. Because me and my brother are working together to make games (Birdshel studio) and you’re obviously a great source for info. We only have one simple game out on windows phone (Stoneflips) but are close to having another and are working on others. But I was hoping you had any tips on marketing and how it started for you? Like your first game, when things started taking off? and what not.

    thanks alot!

    1. My biggest advice I can give you is to put yourself out there. Attend the indie shows, show your game off to everyone, do a google search on windows phone game reviews and contact them about you game. Talk about your game development in a blog or in social media. Basically anything that will get attention to your game is good :)

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