MGF 2010: Mountain Sheep on the rise, fall and rise of 250,000-selling Minigore

Making as much money via in-app purchases as sales

MGF 2010: Mountain Sheep on the rise, fall and rise of 250,000-selling Minigore
The first afternoon session of Mobile Games Forum saw Jouni Mannonen, executive producer of Mountain Sheep recounting the development history of iPhone blaster Minigore, which he described as “a small game for iPhone from a very small studio.”

Mannonen started by suggesting that in independent developers, “Craftsmenship is even more important than making money.”

It's a lesson he learned early on, as Mountain Sheep's previous title Super Hind for PSP sold as many as Minigore managed in its first weekend on sale - 20,000 units.

Mannonen then went on to talk about the marketing of Minigore, Mountain Sheep's first game for iPhone. He said that the game benfited from viral marketing, suggesting that 20 percent more marketing might result in 2,000 percent more sales.

Rather unusually for an iPhone title, Minigore's price has gone up over time. It launched at 99c and it's now $1.99. But the figures speak for themselves – Minigore has sold 250,000 copies, was the number 1 in all paid apps in five countries, and has been the top 20 in all paid apps in 20 countries.

Mannonen also spoke of the importance of developing a community around the game, having attracted considerable buzz around Minigore on forums such as Touch Arcade (which had more than 150,000 views on 3,500 posts pre-launch.

After initially strong sales though, Minigore slumped from selling 10,000 copies on the first day of sale to selling just 300 a day. Mannonen found himself asking “Is it really worth the trouble?”

Mannonen attributes the slump to no free (or lite) version being offered, not being able to download the game over the air thanks to Apple's 10MB limit, and the steep learning curve involved when working with Apple over update submissions.

Minigore's first anticipated update was rejected and was eventually rolled in with the second planned update.

What's more, users were complaining that the game offered no value, with a brief running time of just a few hours. “They were furious,” says Mannonen.

Fortunately, being independent means you can try anything – such as Mountain Sheep's innovative mash-up solution. Guest appearances by characters from such titles as Zombieville and Sway may have confused journalists (as there was no affiliation between the parties involved) but it certainly boosted sales.

And now Mountain Sheep has found it's making as much money selling characters via in-app purchases as actually selling the game, which Mannonen believes is due to pirates buying the content: ““I like to think that the pirates are paying us back!”

Mannonen then answered a few Pop Quiz questions he'd posed earlier. Surprisingly, he revealed that people complain more when you lower price than they do when you raise it. He has found that early adopters who bought at high price tend to complain at discounting later down the line.

Additionally, he believes that people complain when you include addition in-app purchases, as many people like to feel they're getting the full package with their initial purchase.

Mannonen's conclusion – the secret to Minigore's success - was the following:

Build expectations with emotional value.

Reinforce the expectation of people by making use of social networks.

Exceed the expectations repeatedly.

Jon is a consummate expert in adventure, action, and sports games. Which is just as well, as in real life he's timid, lazy, and unfit. It's amazing how these things even themselves out.