Intern Saga: Banned on iOS

Apple

We launched Intern Saga: Trademark Lawyer on both our site as well as Android on February 6th, 2014. We waited to do a full marketing push for the game until it hit the iOS app store because we know that the majority (roughly 70%) of our mobile downloads would come from there.

The timeline of our submission process proceeded as follows:

  • Feb 6th – Intern Saga submit to iOS app store
  • Feb 14th – Apple indicated that “Your app requires additional review time”
  • March 4th – We email Apple, asking what the hold up is
  • March 5th – We receive a phone call from Apple

Hats: Hello, how are you?
Apple: Hello. We’ve rejected your app for sale on the App Store.  At this time I have no recommendations for any changes you could make to fix it.  The concept of the app is not the sort of app we want in the app store.
Hats: And there isn’t anything we could change to get it approved?
Apple: No.  I cannot recommend anything for you to change.
Hats: Alright, thank you.

As per Apple’s reputation, there was no specific cause for rejection indicated. In the official written rejection notice, Apple cited section 6.2b which, in summary, states that an app can be rejected for any reason; even if the app has met all other guidelines set by Apple. There are a number of reasons why Apple could have rejected us: for criticizing the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); for parodying the iTunes store; maybe even for taking a swipe at their money maker, King.com.

We’ve even reached out to a friend who works at Apple to see if there was any further information he could provide – to no avail.

Even though we aren’t clear what the reason for our rejection was, the message is clear. The iOS app store is not a place for games trying to make a statement.

So What Can We Do?

Intern Saga is most definitely not going to be approved for sale on the app store, but at least we can talk about it. Part of the statement that Intern Saga is making is how we find that the curation of the app store is unfair for our medium.

From Apple’s submission guidelines: “We view apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.”

Why are video games treated differently in this situation? Apple appears to see games as an inappropriate outlet for social discourse. The discussion about whether or not video games can be art is dying down and the accessibility gap to create games is shrinking. In addition, we are seeing more and more creators adapt the medium for their own message. Video games aren’t just for mindless entertainment and because of that shouldn’t be defined by only the blockbusters. It’s an issue of perception, so how do we change that?

While your first thought might be to complain about or even boycott Apple; it’s their store front and they have the right to deny content. They are not the enemy, we are all collaborators. The best course of action is to catch their ear and change their minds. We aim to do just that to the people who make these decisions at Apple to discuss the treatment of games and their unclear rejection process. We will continue to look for opportunities to create and promote games that tackle serious issues. The Candy Jam was a great example of the community getting together to create for a cause. Mostly, to call out King.com and the USPTO.

As Jonathan Blow states, “If we had built a world where games routinely work with serious issues in ways that people care about, Apple would not be able to take this stance because it would not make any sense.”

Why Make Serious Games?

When you get angry and feel like no one will listen to you, you can always make something. It’s more productive than complaining and will, at the very least, force you to do some research and better understand the issue.

Video games are in their infancy as a medium. And while I find that many of the current serious games are rough around the edges, the only way we can improve on them is to just keep making them.

I make games as a matter of expression. Usually I just want to share all the cool ideas I have, but sometimes I need to express frustration too. Games can be used to engage players with important contemporary topics; just like any other medium.

In this situation, I turned to games. This was my first official foray into serious games and while it was short and clumsy, I now feel better equipped to express myself.

I encourage any developer who feels strongly about an issue to make games that tackle that topic. The only way to change the perception that games are simply for entertainment is to disprove it. We can all disprove this notion that games can’t mean anything by contributing to games that matter.

Intern Saga: Trademark Lawyer

Hey, check it out, we made a free game!

Icon

hatsproductions.com/InternSaga.html

it’s available for Android and is coming soon to iOS.

Candy Jam

This game was made for the Candy Jam.  I recommend going and looking at the site to see what it’s all about but a good summary is as such: “The Candy Jam is a protest against both the system (Trademarks) and those abusing it: King. Ethics matter!”

Trademark Saga

What’s all the ruckus over trademark? Well there are lots of places to read about it. But the long and short of it, the way I see it as a developer, is that the current trademark system is being abused by companies with the money to do so. King.com is trademarking the words “Candy” and “Saga” (as opposed to the full title of their game “Candy Crush Saga.”) and are using this to “prevent others from benefiting off their brand.” While I could sympathize with that… I cannot for a company like King.com who wholesale steal popular games. Due to the fucked up United State Patent & Trademark Office, they have to enforce their trademark even when it doesn’t make sense. For example: they have tried to block The Banner Saga from being trademarked to “prevent consumer confusion.” It’s absurd. It’s unethical. And it’s potentially expensive for smaller developers.

Anyway. We made a game to vent our frustrations.

Screenshot (1)Development

An unexpected surprise while making that game was that our random game generator was really fun to play with. So we’ve added a few modes and social media doodads to make sharing the silly randomly generated games. For anyone curious how we did it. It’s painfully simple (which is why many games are nonsense.) We just use as list of over 10,000 words, broken up into adjectives, nouns and verbs. The interesting bit is probably the game descriptions. There are over 100 mad libs style descriptions we use that populate from our word list. There are about 6-8 per genre. We have 62 generic icons we randomly pick from an colorize to make the icons. And finally we have a handful of genres and fake studio names as well.

This game was a blast to make and I can’t wait to see how long it takes to upset someone or to get pulled from the app stores. Hopefully, it gets to exist peacefully, but I know Apple does not like being criticized.

Thanks for playing!

Max Gentlemen

I can’t believe I forgot to update the blog about this. Our next release has been announced and Kickstarted already.

Check it out here http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hatsproductions/max-gentlemen

Cheers!

Organ Trail 1.6.7 Patch Notes

Updates are currently going out to iOS, Android, Steam, Humble Store and Desura. Take note that the iOS build has to be approved so it might be a few days before the changes go up.

ver 1.6.7 Patch Notes
Bug Fixes

  • All achievements should work

Gameplay Balances & Tweaks

  • Zombie attack hitbox adjusted
  • Fixed audio bug that wouldn’t save your audio settings
Small update. We still do a have a bigger one coming with controller support and more content far down the line. We wanted to sneak these bug fixes out before we launch another game campaign (very soon) and get all busy with that.
Keep an eye out. I hope to announce it very soon.

Organ Trail: One Year Later

So we launched Organ Trail: Director’s Cut on Aug 8th 2012 on iOS and Android. Since then, we have hit 8 platforms, had a dozen or so updates and released an expansion. Here is some comprehensive data to show you how we’ve done over this past amazing year. We’re sharing this data in hopes that you can use it to help guide you when you make your games.

Organ Trail: Director’s Cut was developed by a 2-man team with 2 part-time art contractors and a full-time audio contractor. It took us about 6 months of full-time work to release, but we’ve easily put another 6 months into post-release support.

We ran a Kickstarter for $3,000 and got $16,339. After we sent out our backer rewards, we had about $8,000 left which we used to buy Unity Pro, start our company The Men Who Wear Many Hats, pay contractors and promote the game at conventions.

Here’s how we stand as of the end of July:

Total Units Sold 429,192
Humble Bundle 177,384 -two week promotion
Steam 131,689 -out for 5 months
iOS 85,753 -out for 12 months
Android 29,923 -out for 12 months
Amazon 1,742 -out for 12 months
Humble Store 1,600 -out for 7 months
Ouya 690 -out for 2 months
Desura 411 -out for 7 months

 

You may notice we made 82% of our sales in the last 5 months, but that was only 2/3 of our total profit. Everyone knows that sales are not profits. A good portion of our sales numbers are from discounted prices (like the Humble Bundle) so the numbers can be a little deceptive. Here is a sales vs. profits comparison.

 

It’s worth noting that we hit our original goal of 30k units sold in the first month. Since then, we have been blown away by the number of fans we picked up as we continue to support the game. The tail has been pretty good too. When we are not doing a sale or anything, iOS sales stabilizes at about 100 units a day, Android at 50 and Steam at 150.

Organ Trail: Director’s Cut is a $2.99 game on mobile with a $1.99 expansion IAP. Conversely, the other versions are $4.99 and include the expansion. 16k players (14%) have downloaded the expansion for mobile.

As far as sales go, we often launch with a special 20% off price for the first week. We did the Humble Bundle which got us 177k sales but those were at about $0.39 a copy. We don’t feel bad about that since the game has been out for so long and many of those people probably wouldn’t picked it up otherwise. If I had the choice to do it again, I would have preferred the Steam Summer Sale happen first though.

We had a Steam Daily Deal that got us about 17k sales at 50% off. The following week was the Steam Summer Sale which got us 63k sales. The bulk of that coming from our flash sale where the game was 60% off ($1.24) for 8 hours.

The only version with a free demo is the Ouya version which has about a 4% conversion rate to people who pay for the full version.

For our next big game, we will probably only focus on iOS, Android, Steam and the Humble Store. As much as we like offering our games to as many people as possible, the return on time invested into getting builds constantly updated and working, as well as checking multiple support forums on all the different sales platforms, doesn’t feel like it’s worth the effort. Then again… if our fans want something bad enough, it’s hard to say no.

One major point to make is that our game tells “your story.” Because of this, people often want to share what they are doing. You name the people in the game after your friends and then things happen to them. We predicted this and allowed most events in the game to be shared via twitter. I can only guess  that this function helped propagate the game amongst friends and accounts for some of our long tail sales.

There were many milestones of success for us but I would say that the biggest ones that contributed to our ongoing success are:

  • Running a successful Kickstarter
  • Being featured on the iOS app store
  • Showing at PAX
  • Having YouTube personalities like Jesse Cox play our game
  • Making it through Steam Greenlight
  • Being in the Indie MegaBooth
  • Doing the Humble Bundle
  • Doing any Steam sale
  • Having a 1-1 relationship with our fans as often as possible
  • Including social sharing options (Twitter)
  • Making a good game (possibly optional)

Organ Trail is far from done. We’re currently looking at new platforms like Wii U and another I can’t talk about yet. We’re planning some timed-exclusive content as well, so we’re still at it. Meanwhile we’ve got another small arcade style game, Max Gentlemen, coming up in the next month or two. We’ve also used the money we’ve made to open a co-working space in Chicago: Indie City Co-op. So, we’re keeping busy.

Feel free to ask me more questions about our data and I’ll try to share what I can with you!

Cheers!

Organ Trail Fan Art

So a friend of mine drew us some Organ Trail fan art which prompted me to search for more. I was blown away by the stuff I found! I had previously seen a few comics and sketches here and there but wow there were a lot of really amazing pieces out there. I want to share some of them with you!

Seriously… these all just made my month. Fan art is just amazing. I can’t express how amazing these all make me feel. Thanks everyone!

Sir Woolson & Clements  by Eric Huang from Trinket Studios

 

By UndeadNed

 

By foreverforum

 

By Protoss722

 

By BlackSpiritWind

 

By lunast

 

By KrestrelWings

 

By FlukeLayer

 

By Titan0Tank

 

By shadenightfox

 

By anonymous

 

Bonus: from our own artist Benn Marion

Cheers!

Organ Trail on Ouya

I’m glad to announce that as of June 18th the full version of Organ Trail: Director’s Cut went live on Ouya.

Hurray!

As for my thoughts on Ouya (as that is what everyone asks me about) I find that I want it to be the indie box. I want all the cool multiplayer indie games like Samurai Gunn or TowerFall on it. As of right now there are some issues with the store and discoverability but hey, you get that everywhere else and they are constantly updating the thing, so I’m hoping in the next year the quality games flow in. I guess part of the question is whether or not it’s worth it to develop a game for the Ouya. I say… ask me a again in few months when I have sales figures.

This is our first console release and it was a lot of work converting the mouse/touch interface to a controller. Lucky for us… someone else did it! Our long time friend Patrick from Fun Machine offered to help us port it and we gladly passed our horrible code over to them (and ran away laughing before they could give it back.) Here’s what Patrick had to say about releasing Organ Trail: Director’s Cut on the Ouya for us.

Porting Organ Trail to the Ouya was a no-brainer for Fun Machine. Take a game we like, made by people we like, using an engine we like… and make it work on a TV with dual-sticks, which we also like! We see the Ouya as an exciting new chapter in the ongoing saga of game development, and we hope it’s a democratizing catalyst for everyone in the industry, whether they’re making mobile, console or PC games! And if you’re not making games yet, why not?! It’s not that hard, we swear.

We couldn’t have gotten this port done without the support of Julie Uhrman, Bawb Mills, Piers Sutton and the rest of the Ouya team, and of course the folks that did the hard work on the port, Shay Pierce and Irvin Chavira here in Austin. But the biggest thanks go to Mike Block and Ryan Wiemeyer, those fine gentlemen that wear so many hats. Thanks for making a fun game, and thanks for letting Fun Machine be a part of your retro zombie romp!

We hope that you enjoy this new version of Organ Trail, and have as much fun playing it on your Ouya as we do!

It’s cool to see Organ Trail: Director’s Cut on a bigscreen TV, and now that we’ve got the code for controller support we might be looking at some other places to put this thing we’ve made….

Cheers!

Organ Trail 1.6.6 Patch Notes

We are currently updating the game across all our platforms; iOS, Android, Steam, Humble Store, Desura. Take note that the iOS build has to be approved so it might be a few days before the changes go up.

ver 1.6.6 Patch Notes
New

  • Added art for Car upgrades in the menu
  • Added art for Combat Training in the menu
  • Added ability to tweet “hostage” and “put down” situations
  • Added endless scoring explanation and current score to info display
  • Added the ability to set your resolution (No option for this on Linux)

Bug Fixes

  • Fixed (again) a bug where you could return to town when you shouldn’t be able to
  • Fixed a bug where you could quickly exit a lost job and still get the reward
  • Fixed some missing click sounds on some buttons
  • Fixed Fat Cat, Loner, There Can Only Be One achievement bugs
  • Fixed an infinite loop when you run out of new Points of Interest
  • Desktop: Removed ability to barely use scroll wheel on scrolling pages
  • Desktop: Removed unsupported Facebook button
  • Linux: Maybe fixed missing stats on the Stats tab while on the road
  • Steam: Fixed high scores so they show the actual top 10, not 10 relative to you
  • Steam: Fixed the Silver Bullet achievement

Gameplay Balances & Tweaks

  • Reworked Highscore Screens
  • Doubled medkit scavenger effectiveness
  • Reworded shooting tutorial
  • Reworded Point of Interest scroll text
  • Reworded “Distance to next landmark” message
Please note that mobile did not get 1.6.5 so here are the changes exclusive to mobile from 1.6.5

ver 1.6.5 Patch Notes

Bug Fixes

  • Fixed a bug that resulted in defense combat never ending on rare occassion
  • Fixed the 3rd combat slot button
  • Fixed road map not displaying distance traveled info
  • Fixed some stupid “My Grave” saving issues
  • Fixed “I Know a Guy” achievement bug
  • Fixed some spelling

PAX East Postmortem 2013

First off, numbers! Here is the cost of the booth if say… you were a new indie studio who wanted to go to PAX East for the first time with the setup that we had.

Breakdown of cost and materials

  • $1800 – 10×10 Booth
  • $1200 – Airfare for 4 (we also flew to San Fran and back so I guessed)
  • $950 – New Game Teaser Costs
  • $600 – Hostel for 4
  • $400 – ~2000 buttons
  • $382 – MacLocks iPad Standing Security Enclosure (Awful)
  • $203 – Standing Banner (Organ Trail: Director’s Cut)
  • $202 – 4 Hats’ hoodies
  • $200 – Shared Indie MegaBooth Costs
  • $195 – 2000 postcards
  • $100 – Other various transportation
  • $91 – iCade
  • $88 – Monitor
  • $66 – Shipping some shit back
  • $80 – My nice hat
  • $73 – MacLocks iPad Security Enclosure (Awful)
  • $56 – Hanging Banner (The Men Who Wear Many Hats)
  • $12 – Pens, Rubber Bands & Miscellaneous
  • FREE - ~100 posters (left over from kickstarter rewards)
  • FREE – iMac Mini (Owned)
  • FREE – Laptops x2 (Owned)
  • FREE – ~40 Business Cards (Left over from the last time we ordered)
  • FREE – a box and a tablecloth! (Owned)
TOTAL: $6700

We were showing Organ Trail: Director’s Cut mostly. It was on the standing iPad case and a laptop, with the trailer playing on the raised monitor. We went through all 2000 buttons about half way through the 3rd day and had about 60 or so of the postcards left over. We were aggressively handing them out on day 3 because they are a pain to carry back home.

We had another computer showing a teaser with an upcoming project, Wizards and Warp Drives, which you can see the teaser for on Touch Arcade. We had a mailing list below it and got a modest 136 people to sign up.

Finally, we had an arcade game we made for a game jam to make games for an arcade machine we built here in Chicago. The game is Max Gentlemen Presents: A Gentlemen’s Drinking Game. Polygon did a nice write-up about all that. So we ported the game to iPad and brought an iCade (a tiny arcade cabinet designed for the iPad.) We put a sign on it saying that the top score for each day would win “Hats’ games for life.” This was the show stealer. We have a lot of people coming back to try and get the high-score and a lot of people asking us where they could buy the game. So, in light of that, we’re looking into making a “free” version to put out fairly soon.

The point of our booth was to make it interactive and to show a variety of things. We wanted actionable items for people who visited our booth. You could buy Organ Trail right then on the platform of your choice and if you were interested in the new game you could sign up for the mailing list. If you were familiar with us and wanted to try something new, we had Max Gentlemen playable.

We were in the Indie MEGABOOTH which was awesome and I couldn’t have asked for a better placement, right between Vlambeer (Super Crate Box, Ridiculous Fishing) and Young Horses (Octodad.) We had a steady enough stream of traffic that we were never empty for more than 30 seconds but it wasn’t too busy to take some time and engage with our fans and really talk to people that came by. If I had to guess… I would say maybe 5000 people stopped by.

One thing I would do differently next time is to print out steam keys and sell them there at a discount. I think that’s a great way to capture potential customers who might forget about your game by the time they get home.

The real reason for going to PAX East is to meet all the other cool developers. We met them. They are cool.

Anyway, that’s our PAX East. It was cool and I would love to do it again. The best part about it was seeing people really respond to a tiny game we made and I’m glad we decided to show it. And the worst thing was not having a giant spinning pillar of hats above our booth.

Cheers!

photos courtesy of Jamie Sanchez

Steam Sale and Pay-What-You-Want Soundtrack

We have released on Steam! We are 20% for PAX East week so get it now while it’s hot! http://store.steampowered.com/app/233740/

Also, the soundtrack is available on bandcamp for whatever you want to pay. Check it out! http://bencrossbones.bandcamp.com/album/organ-trail-directors-cut-original-soundtrack

It’s really awesome to be able to look at the front page of steam and see our work up there guys. This is so cool.