Tapt was released on 27 May, 2016, almost a year ago now. It was the first piece of software I wrote, and the first thing I released on the App Store.1 I like to regularly take stock of projects and their progress, so I think now is a good time to reflect on the experience that it’s been. If you’re a developer, or an aspiring one, with no experience, budget, industry contacts, or knowledge of marketing, I hope this might be a useful inside perspective. If you’re not, it might just be an interesting read for curiosity’s sake.
For a bit of context, I worked on Tapt mostly on the evenings and weekends, fitting it around my PhD work. I had basically no prior knowledge of programming, and learnt what I needed to know as I went along. I also made sure to hold myself to as high a standard as possible, for both the outward fit-and-finish of Tapt, and the code behind the scenes. I’ve already written an article about my experience learning to program that goes into more detail on this, so I won’t rewrite it here. There are just two additional thoughts I’ll add, before continuing:
- I’m glad of my decision to start with a game. It allowed me to work towards something relatively complex, but without the burden of making something essential to anyone’s workflow. I had the freedom of knowing that if I made a game-breaking mistake in a new version, it’s not gonna ruin anyone’s day. Although fortunately, fourteen updates later, I’ve yet to have this happen.
- I was able to start with a pretty minimal set of features, and add more at a pace that suited my free time. Over the past year Tapt has gained shareable score cards, achievements, better sound effects, a more refined UI, animations and server-side updates for its song categories.2
Money, money, money 💵
Whilst making money wasn’t my primary aim with Tapt, it was certainly my secondary one. I’ve found writing software to be an incredibly rewarding experience, and (despite the torrent of jobs for contemporary classical music composers these days) I’m very glad to now be able to create it — even better if it earns me a little money on the side.
The revenue from Tapt is a long, long way from paying my bills each month, but I wasn’t expecting otherwise. The fact that my first venture into the world of software earned anything is something I consider a major personal accomplishment. So without further ado, because I’m sure anyone reading this is probably curious, and because I’d love to have seen figures from someone in a similar position to me a year ago, here are the exact figures: at the time of writing,3 Tapt has been downloaded 15,400 times. It’s brought in $2,500 in revenue, leaving me about $1,700 once Apple, Google and the mafia have each taken their shares.
Over the past year, I’ve used three different payment models for Tapt. Each produced slightly different results in terms of revenue per user, etc., so I’ll break them down separately. There’s a table summarising everything further down, if you want to skip ahead.
No ads, pay for what you want
Originally, Tapt came with a few levels for free. There were no ads, and users could purchase additional levels for $1 each. I figured that, musical tastes being varied, most people would only want a handful of categories. So for a few dollars, they could probably get everything they wanted. This pricing model lasted one month (32 days to be exact), during which Tapt had 2,945 downloads and $523 in sales.
From 28 June until 22 November (146 days), rather than selling individual levels, I sold bundles of three for $1.4 Tapt still contained no ads, so IAPs were the sole source of revenue. Over this period it had 6,149 downloads and $867 in sales.
Ads and no ads
As seems to be standard, the vast majority of users never made an IAP. While Tapt had a pretty good sales-to-downloads ratio on average, all the revenue was coming from just 5% of users. So, I decided to try a third revenue model; I made Tapt free-with-ads. This meant full access to all of its content for everyone, with the option of paying to remove the ads. The users who made purchases tended to spend around $4 on average, so I priced the ‘remove ads’ option at $3.99.5 Sure enough, a similar percentage of people continued to pay, and now I was making some revenue from the others as well. From 23 November till the time of writing (166 days), Tapt has had 5,516 downloads, $872 in sales, and $140 in ad revenue.
As a side note, at first I used Google AdMob for the in-game banner ads, and 30-second video ads from Vungle and AppLovin as rewarded ads, which earned the user more ‘plays’. These video ads made almost no money, and were pretty obtrusive (to users, as well as in terms of the extra frameworks they required), so I ditched them for AdMob interstitials which promptly made ~1000x more money.6
Here’s the above data in an easier-to-compare format, with some extra details. Obviously each of these models covers a different period of time, but the ratios are the interesting part.
|Individual IAPs||Level pack IAPS||Free with ads|
|Revenue||$523||$867||$872 (IAPs) + $192 (Ads)|
|Rev. per user||$0.178||$0.141||$0.193|
While the percentage of paying users has fallen slightly with the current revenue model, its overall revenue per user is higher than the previous two models. The vast majority of it still comes from IAPs, though.
Location and time trends
|Territory||Downloads||Revenue||$ per download|
Above are the top five countries by numbers of downloads, alongside their IAP revenues. The US is by far the largest overall source of downloads and revenue for Tapt. However, the UK and Canada generate over twice the revenue per download. Taiwan and Hong Kong, on the other hand, generate by far the lowest revenue per download.
As is probably expected for most games, downloads and purchases tend to increase a little at the weekends. There are usually also spikes when I update the game. Tapt v1.8 in particular saw a substantial boost, perhaps as a consequence of changing the app icon. Adding new content doesn’t correlate quite so clearly with download spikes — I add levels to the game server-side, so it isn’t particularly obvious when new ones are available. In v1.9, released last week, I’ve added the option to receive a notification when new levels are added. I’m curious to see the effect of that.
Tapt’s new icon
This was (and still is) the aspect I found toughest of all. As mentioned in the intro, I had no budget with which to advertise, nor any contacts in relevant places to ask favours of. I’ve had some experience with going viral in the past, and this was my main hope for Tapt. My very kind friends and family made sure to share and promote it on their own social media, too. I emailed lots of mobile gaming websites asking if they’d like to review it; TouchArcade was the only one to do so, and it really helped get some momentum going.
‘Mount TouchArcade’ – the large, central peaks
Occasional mentions of Tapt in places like GiantBomb have garnered some additional spikes in the numbers. Getting my article about Bluetooth, which featured a link to Tapt, quoted on Daring Fireball didn’t hurt, either.
Spikes aside, Tapt has kept up a fairly steady trickle downloads. Nothing huge, but for the last while it’s sat around a steady $200 (post-deductions) per month. Some more reviews or press coverage would be nice, getting featured on the App Store would be even better, but I’m not complaining.
While I released a new game, WordFlash, a couple of weeks ago, it’s just something very basic I wrote in 48 hours for a bet with my brother. I am, however, working on a new game called CounterPoint which is more complex idea, and which I’m taking slowly and carefully, like I did with Tapt.
- Bar a short experiment called Colour, which I used mainly to test the process of launching something. ↩
- I originally bundled the categories with the app itself, which very annoyingly meant I had to face App Review every time I wanted to add a new one. I ended up holding off on adding content until I’d added a few software features that warranted the update. ↩
- I gathered these figures on 8 May 2016 at 13:00. ↩
- Anyone who’d bought a single level got ‘upgraded’ to the corresponding pack of three when they updated. ↩
- Users who had already spent $4 or more got the ad-free version automatically. Those who had spent $1, $2 or $3 had the cost of the ad-free version discounted accordingly. ↩
- 1000 x $0.03 still isn’t a tonne, but it’s much better. ↩