Marketing and Monetization Interview Series #8. Four Brothers with Taptitude

In the last marketing and monetization interview I’ve interviewed Elbert Perez who has been very successful on Windows Phone with 15 great games. This time I’m talking to guys from 4Bros Studio who managed to become comparably successful with only one game. The game is called Taptitude and it gets a new mini-game on a weekly basis.

Your company is called 4Bros Studio. Are you literally 4 brothers?

Yes we’re real brothers. We each have full time jobs as software developers and make games in our spare time. We started working together a few years ago on our first project which was an XBLIG game called “Zoomaroom“. We had a ton of fun making this game, and ended up creating the foundation for our game engine (ZoomEngine) that we currently use to make Taptitude games.

Taptitude is the top rated app on Windows Phone. Is this the case worldwide or only in some markets?

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I believe we’re #1 world wide. There isn’t a good ‘official’ site that shows the top rated apps, so depending on where you go you get different results. In the US we’re the top rated game, but it looks like we’ve fallen to #2 top rated app based on some sites. A great site for ratings is bestwp7apps.net, although at this time it looks like they only use US ratings.

For a more detailed look at game ratings, this is a fantastic site zTop (Ed.: I’ve interviewed Alexey Strakh and Alex Sorokoletov, creators of zTop in these series last October). They show ratings across all markets…here are our numbers at the time of me writing this:

Taptitude – All markets

  • Rating Count: 15722
  • Average Rating: 9.45

Tapitude – en-us

  • Rating Count: 10027
  • Average Rating: 9.43

As you can see, US ratings account for about 2/3 of our total ratings. Compared to Flixster in all markets, we have about 1,600 more ratings than them but our average is 0.04 less (10 star scale).

Flixster – All markets

  • Rating Count: 14175
  • Average Rating: 9.49

Do you do anything special to encourage users to rate the app?

Yes. We have a ‘Please Rate’ button on our main menu and we prompt the user to rate after they play a few times. This is something that most apps should do because getting reviews is a valuable feedback mechanism which can be used to drive changes in future updates. We read all the reviews and try to address concerns, and on several occasions we’ve added new features based on requests from the reviews.

Unfortunately, being highly rated doesn’t usually translate into being highly downloaded. We originally thought the Windows Phone Marketplace had a category for Top Rated apps, but it appears it don’t currently have one. “Top” on the marketplace refers to top downloaded apps.

Was it the plan from the start to do one game with lots of mini-games? Why not create 60 small apps instead?

Taptitude is ever-evolving, so I’d be lying if I said we had solid plans from the start. The initial idea was to create a few simple games with leaderboards that people can compete on. We committed ourselves to releasing a new game every week because it would keep us focused on making the games fun and scoped to something that works well on the mobile platform. All too often I see games being released that can’t be played in a 5 minute break while waiting for the bus, or between meetings or whatever. With Taptitude you can get in, feed your fish, craft some upgrades, and get a new high score in Ultra Tapper all before your waiter takes your order. We believe this bite-sized approach to mobile gaming is how people actually use their phones. Most AAA games with tons of polish look nice, but people don’t play them for very long before getting bored.

Early on we would release the new games in both standalone form and as an update to the ‘Unlimited’ version. Over time it became obvious that the thing people liked best was the sheer quantity and variety of the Unlimited version, so we stopped with the individual releases. Now that we have features like coins, upgrades, stats, crafting, etc. The meta-game aspects are what seem most compelling. Having lots of mini-games allows us to take familiar concepts and add an interesting cross-game twist. For example, you might craft a recipe in Craftitude while you’re earning coins in Coin Miner, then use the resulting upgrades in Bally Bounce to get a new high score. That type of experience isn’t possible if we did a bunch of small apps.

Your game uses lots of techniques often referred as “gamification” (even though it doesn’t sound right to me when talking about a game 😉 to engage players and make them return. Can you recommend any books, blogs and/or articles on gamification that helped you, or was it all based on improvisation?

We mostly just wing it. I hadn’t heard of the term “gamification” until recently, so I won’t pretend like we have some secret sauce. Our goal is to make Taptitude fun and addicting, and our approach is to add a lot of carrots for our users to strive for. We have online leaderboards so you can compete in each game, stars that you can earn to unlock new games, coins that you can earn for playing well, over 400 upgrades that you can buy/craft, and hundreds of stats that track everything from total taps to the number of swishes in Hyper Hoops. We reward you along the way for making progress so there are a number of ways to earn a sense of accomplishment. I guess some people think “gamification” is a bad thing, but we see it as something really positive. It’s what makes Taptitude addicting, and it adds lasting value to the game.

Taptitude had more than 150,000 downloads so far and you’ve mentioned in comments on my earlier post that you get $0.47 lifetime value from one user. That translates into more than $70,000 revenue from the game. Is this correct?

Yes, we’ve made a little more than that, but it’s in the right ball park. We’re planning to do a write up on our blog with lots of details for others to learn from, but haven’t had time just yet. I like the trend others in the community have started by openly sharing this type of data.

One thing your readers might find interesting is that you can be successful on Windows Phone without being a smash hit out of the gate. Taptitude has been out for just over a year but in the first 4 months we only made $500.  At the time we were pretty happy with that, but in reality it wasn’t even enough to cover a much needed server upgrade. Our great user community ended up donating the required funds for the upgrade.

Despite being a slow start, we’re now pulling in 10-15k per month in ad revenue, and yet we’ve never been very highly downloaded (ranked 150th ATM). The lesson here is to never give up, just make the game you want to play and you’ll be rewarded one way or another. If nothing else, you’ll learn something that can be applied to your next project.

Do I understand correctly that you guys are Microsoft employees?

Yes, 3 of the 4 bros work at Microsoft. It’s a great place to work for a developer, and we’re fortunate that their moonlighting policy allows us to make Windows Phone games in our spare time.

We see quite a lot of top Windows Phone apps made by Microsoft employees: Wordament, 4th & Mayor, rowi, Taptitude to name a few. Do you think this is just a testament to the quality of developers working for Microsoft or do you have some slight unfair advantage over the rest of us?

I think it’s a combination of things, but having an unfair advantage isn’t one of them. In fact, in some ways we’re at a slight disadvantage compared to other developers because we’re not allowed to participate in certain promotions and contests that would provide visibility to our game.

The type of person that works at Microsoft is often someone who likes to code for fun. I think that’s a big part of it. Also, if you look at the technology stack, Windows Phone is the obvious choice for Microsoft developers who are already familiar with XNA/Silverlight. Non ‘softies may be quicker to write off Windows Phone due to its current market share but I think this is a mistake. It’s like the stock market, you want to get in when the price is low and ride it to the top. On some platforms a game like Taptitude wouldn’t make a dent, but on Windows Phone we have the potential to do great things.

Thank you!

Thank you as well! We’re big fans of AdDuplex, and hope you keep up the good work.  If you want to find out more about Taptitude, please visit our website or the user created wiki page that’s maintained by some of our biggest fans

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