It’s not looking great for indies on mobile right now, is it?
Discoverability on app stores is worse then ever, UA is prohibitively expensive and publishers simply aren’t taking on risky projects.
Enter Australian duo Jessica Shipard and Darcy Smith, AKA Studio Folly, which is launching cheerful word game Gubbins on November 14. The indie studio plans to fight that tidal wave of troubles by using the “new hotness” in game discovery: TikTok.
“As a new studio without a reputation to rely on, the rough-and-tumble lightning in a bottle that is TikTok works well for us,” cofounder Smith tells us. “Most videos rack up a minimum of thousands of impressions and one big video took off, alone gaining us about 10k followers, 70k likes and over 300k plays.”
Happily, through TikTok Gubbins also caught the eye of influencer Hank Green, who got in touch with Studio Folly asking to try the game for himself. He’s now an evangelist and investor in the game, meaning that 10% of its profits will go to charity.
We are beyond delighted to finally be able to share a very cool thing that started with us making a weird little game called Gubbins, which lead us to making freaky little tiktoks that landed in the FYP of the wonderful @Hank Green and the rest is history ✏️ We hope we do you proud Hank! GUBBINS NOVEMBER 14 ON IOS AND ANDROID!!! #gubbins #mobilegame #ios #android #wordgame
It’s not just on TikTok that indies can carve out a following. “Instagram seems like it’s ‘back’”, says Smith, but X, formerly known as Twitter, “is a billionaire’s beat-up little plaything”. (Most media outlets, ourselves included, will tell you that X is now a disaster in terms of engagement and discoverability)
Though it has a great look and it is gathering an organic following, mobile publishers just aren’t interested in a game like Gubbins, says Smith. “We had a few conversations with different publishers but we really were only shooting for the Devolvers and the Raw Furys that, for the most part, aren’t messing with mobile.”
“Mobile-specific game publishing is in a really weird place right now,” he continues. “We found out the hard way that mobile publishers will only commit to projects that are already in soft launch and are collecting user retention and monetisation data. They want to observe an already successful game, or a game that is so close to being successful that merely a fortunate breeze could make it so.”
“This concept is completely insane to me. Call me old-fashioned but back in my day, publishers were an equal part of the operation, invested early, took on some of the risk and collaborated with the dev team to build a successful product by managing public relations and partnerships.”
“It feels unreasonable for developers to now complete 75% of a game without funding or support, cultivate closed testers and an audience and prove the game is a risk-free product. Modern publishers are doing less and by all reports their margins are going up.”
Instead, Studio Folly sought government funding through Vicscreen and Screen Australia, plus some investment from Unpacking developer Witch Beam.
As we’ve reported before, App Store discoverability is effectively dead; and yet Smith remains optimistic Apple and Google can turn it around. “Featuring is important to us, because every little nudge for a smaller team like us can have a serious impact,” he says. “Naturally it might mean less to some kind of giga-corp.”
“Also, I have a theory that store featuring is going to be worth progressively more…it feels like through massive ad campaigns and UA strategies, companies have been able to brute force their way into the charts. For the storefronts, the natural remedy seems like a larger emphasis on curated editorial content and I’m here for it.”
Smith says that Gubbins’ retention “looks great” so far, and the studio has been nominated in four categories at the Australian Game Developer Awards. “We set out to make a mobile game because the scope expectation is typically lower, and we loved the idea of making a highly accessible game for folks that aren’t necessarily ‘gamers’,” adds Smith.
“We’d love to see free to play conditions improve so indies making games as a labour of love can more comfortably return to – or get started on – this platform.”