The Secret to Gram Games' 10 Person, 20 Million Download, Mobile Game Success Squad
July 17, 2015
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The team that made 1010! (Image via Gram Games)[/caption]For any indie mobile game studio competing in a crowded marketplace, turning a profit is cause for celebration: Finally, there's cash to invest in hiring, marketing or even an actual workspace! Istanbul-based Gram Games does things a little differently, however ? investing 95 percent of the money it makes from its successful free-to-play mobile game, 1010!, back into the game itself.This wasn't a calculated strategy at first; the devs just didn't have enough money when they launched the game to do anything else. Once the checks started to come in, though, the group opted to maintain this once-necessary business model.The die-hard devotion to their game has paid off, garnering the casual puzzle game more than 20 million downloads across the App Store and Google Play combined. They've also landed $500,000 in funding and launched an accelerator to support other Turkish indie mobile game developers.
When at First You Don't Succeed ...
It took an early failure for the studio to arrive at such success, though. Before launching 1010!, the group spent nine months working on strategy game Railroad Gangs and another three months to launch it, with disappointing results. "Railroad Gangs was not the success story we wanted," says Remzi Senel, Gram Games' head of mid-core games.After a disheartening year, the team moved on to another idea: a puzzle game using Tetris-like shapes called 1010! This time, they moved much faster by prototyping the game in two days. The team itself was immediately hooked, sometimes spending more time playing the game than developing it (some team members were playing the game for 12 hours straight according to Senel).?When we were prototyping 1010!, we felt it was going to be great and fun ... It just felt right," he says. "When we received such positive feedback [from friends and family], everyone just cheered up and felt great."Once they made 1010! into what they believed was a launch-ready title, they had to take a risk. They were, for all intents and purposes, broke from their year spent on Railroad Gangs, but instead of stalling its release to raise money for more traditional forms of advertising, the team decided to launch 1010! right away.?We didn't have a PR company and we had very little marketing money," says Senel, ?so we used social platforms like Twitter and Facebook to advertise the game, and it really took off."[caption id="attachment_9382" align="alignnone" width="900"]
Gram Games Offices (Image via Gram Games)[/caption]
... Try Again (And Go All In)
Because they couldn't pay a PR or advertising firm to make flashy videos and advertisements, the group focused on user installs from the start. As a result, its revenue came from in-game advertising shown to non-paying users acquired via those initial non-traditional advertising tactics. 1010! has one in-app purchase only ? to remove ads.Soon, the team started to create revenue from its first push and decided to put the money it made towards more advertising and bug fixes.?We had good faith in our product, so we didn't really hesitate to spend it all on the game itself," Senel says.When you find a game your own team plays all the time, Senel suggests, you can get away with just funneling your money back into user acquisition, instead of hiring a PR firm or an advertising company. Because the money goes straight to the game, the team is able to devote more time to making it better and organically attracting users ? allowing 1010! to scale quickly. Plus, he says, they had more fun just digging into the game itself, iterating and addressing things that players suggest.?What we have been doing is working great for us," he says. ?Actually, just this morning a friend of mine from London sent me a picture of people in London Metro playing 1010! It felt great."