What to expect when releasing your first app: a developer's story

With a background in console games, the release of our first mobile title was something of a challenge--full of decisions, anxiety, and in my case, a lot of eating. The previous weeks were a blur, but there's nothing like reflection to discover how crappy you look after living and breathing a game for the better part of a year.  

September8, 2011 - 1 Month Away

bag it! banner

Early on, we went to a lot of conferences and Googled a lot of stuff that essentially said you should try to get your mobile game out as quickly as possible. The term 'Minimal Viable Product' was thrown around, and it got bonus points for having a cool sounding acronym.

The theory behind "MVP" is that you can always update your game in today's digital world, but you need to get feedback from your customers to know what to update. Instead of spending time trying to make it perfect, just get it out and let the consumers tell you what they want.

Unfortunately, since I came from a console background, my first instinct was the exact opposite. After all, it used to be that once you released a game and it went on store shelves, you couldn't really do anything about it.

And so the debate began. How much was enough? How many levels should there be? Should we fix all bugs or just the 'important' ones? There was no real clear cut answer, but our friends and family seemed to like our game, so we decided to set a firm release date, October 19.

September 15, 2011 - 3 Weeks Away

We picked our date relatively late because we weren't planning on releasing everywhere in the world all at once. We had decided a couple months earlier that we were going to do a 'Soft Launch' (we love our fancy terms). This essentially meant that we were going to release in a few select countries to get feedback, fix those issues, and then go global.

So how did we decide where to launch? Well, we didn't want to release in the biggest markets yet. If we made a serious faux pas, it would be a lot better to screw up on a smaller scale. We also decided that we needed to identify countries that were primarily English-speaking and had similar cultures to the U.S. After all, it's always good to actually be able to understand the feedback. One of the studio's co-founders was a New Zealand citizen, so that sounded like as good a reason as any to launch there first.  In case Kiwis were apathetic to our magnum opus, we also added Canada and Australia to the list, too.

September 22, 2011 - 2 Weeks Away

Our projects generally run in two week milestones. We list the goals we want to accomplish during that period, and then we try to tackle them all. When we looked at what needed to be done for our last two weeks, we realized we still had a lot to do. The team was extremely passionate and motivated; however, getting them to leave the office was like trying to eat soup with a fork.

September 29, 2011 - 1 Week Away

Bag It!

One of the most important things we still needed to resolve was the icon. When people are looking through the App Store or Android Market, the icon is the first thing they see. If you want clicks, it had better be clear and recognizable or be called Angry Birds.

A second critical thing was the actual app description.  We looked at a bunch of other games, and there was a lot of discrepancy as to how they were written. Some were short; some were long; some were funny; some were self-congratulatory. A lot included quotes, but we didn't have any press coverage yet, and the team didn't think my mom saying how proud she was of me was a good option.

 October 6, 2011 - 1 Day Away

Our target date for finishing the game was October 7, so we could get the game out October 19. The app submission process takes approximately one week, and October 19 was coming up quickly. We were also trying to synchronize our marketing efforts, but every time we would fix a bug, another two would show up. We started to submit the build and then test it while it was in submission. This didn't work so well, and we pulled the build from submission three separate times before we finally had "the one".

October 10, 2011 - 3 Days After

After all that trouble, we were approved our first time through and we managed to get the game out in time. One milestone was reached, but another was just beginning. How would our game do? Would people like it? Would the team ever recover from their pasty complexions?

I'm not sure of the answers to all of these questions, but so far, it has been one hell of a ride.

David Marino is the CFO and Co-Founder of Hidden Variable Studios. The new game he worked on is Bag It!, due out worldwide this November on iOS and Android. Oh, and the marketing guy also told him to mention that you can 'Like' it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HiddenVariable or 'Follow' it on Twitter @Hidden_Variable.

What to expect when releasing your first app: a developer's story