In early 2011 I came up with an idea for an app for girls that were crazy about horses. In the app you would be able to choose your favorite horse, use brushes and such to groom it, select different pieces of tack for your horse to wear, and then share pictures of your dressed up horse with your friends.
I decided to “do it right” and teamed up with an artist so I’d have a great looking app.
There were some problems getting Horse Crazy! published (written about elsewhere on this site) and about a month before it had to be uploaded the scope changed — no longer was just dressing the horse up enough, we wanted to model it after Tap Zoo and similar games. So you’d start with a couple horses and then buy or breed more, buy stables and corrals, build up to barns and then rent out the horses for trail rides, etc.
But we were running up against a deadline where we’d lose the name if we didn’t get something uploaded, so we decided to do a multi-phase approach and Phase 1 was just the “dress up your horse” part.
We uploaded Horse Crazy! but didn’t send out press releases, didn’t mention it on Twitter, didn’t post about it in the forums, etc. Nothing was said. Because we wanted NOBODY to download the first version. The plan was to get Phase 2 done as quickly as possible and after that was up to start promoting it. (Phase 3 was going to be the whole “build your own ranch” thing.)
However, the first week more than 4,000 people discovered HC! and that’s when things started going poorly. The 1-star ratings quickly outpaced all the others combined. People hated it because there wasn’t enough to do. They thought it was stupid, worst app ever, etc.
It was harsh.
I mean *is* harsh. Because it’s been a month and almost 20,000 people have downloaded the (free) app and out of the 65 ratings 35 of them are 1-star, for an average of 2.5 stars.
Phase 2 was just released yesterday — it allows you to choose from brown (the original), pink, purple, blue, or green tack. It also adds a heart-shaped decal (brand) you can add to the horse. Just the addition of the different colors makes it much nicer, but it’s too soon to tell whether that will reverse the 1-star rating trend.
It may not, because while it does give you a lot more options for dressing up your horse, there still isn’t anymore more you can *do* with your horse.
So when will Phase 3 be uploaded?
That’s a good question and I don’t have an answer for you right now. While I do think Phase 3 is the one that people will flip over, and the one where we’d actually be able to make money (via in-app purchases), both the artist and I are working on projects that are paying the bills and don’t have time to complete Phase 3 right now.
I can see a future where the Phase 3 version of Horse Crazy! makes enough money for myself and the artist to live off of (and more) — but I’m not sure how to get to that point. How can you “get rich” when you’re too busy making a living?
If you have an answer to that question feel free to send it to me. That would be cool. 🙂
What’s the moral of this story?
The biggest one is do NOT reserve your app name before you’re almost ready to ship. Otherwise you either lose the name or you make compromises that can come back to bite you in the butt. If your game isn’t ready there ARE disadvantages to getting it out there. You can’t stop people from downloading and you can’t stop them from rating it low.
And I’m not sure yet whether you can overcome that beginning deficit and end up with a winning app. I guess we’ll see…