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Why Roofdog Games Doesn’t Aim for the Top of the Mobile Game Charts

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When indie studio Roofdog Games launched in 2011, founder Guillaume Germain quickly found success with his first release, an arcade-style game called Extreme Road Trip. While the success of his first game could be attributed to “right time, right place” (the mobile game space was still young and significantly less crowded), Roofdog is far from a one-hit wonder. Two more early games — Extreme Road Trip 2 and Pocket Mine — were the #1 most downloaded games on iOS in multiple countries post-release.

But this “success” has waned in recent years — you won’t find any of Roofdog’s games at the top of the charts today, or even within the top 200. And, contrary to what you might think, Germain is totally fine with that.

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Germain makes no effort to reverse this trend by following conventional wisdom: pour time and money into marketing until you’re back at the top. In fact, he doesn’t think Roofdog — which is now a seven-person studio based in Montreal, Canada — has fallen from grace at all. We talked with Germain to learn more about why he sees Roofdog as a continued success story, and what other indie developers can learn from his experience.

Don’t aim for the top

In blogs, magazines and developer forums, most of the talk is about the top games—those within the top 25 ranks for either downloads or revenue. For Germain, such high rankings simply don’t matter as much as they did in 2011. Mobile game revenues have tripled—from$8.3 billion in 2011 to over $25 billion last year—making more money available to lower-ranking games.

If you have a small studio and you’re in the top 500, you’re more than fine, you’re doing pretty good.

While revenue may be concentrated at the top of the charts—the top 10 games took an estimated 25 percent of global revenue last year—a game at rank 100 in the United States is still earning more than $25,000 per day, according to Think Gaming’s figures, while the one at rank 200 is earning more than $13,000 (and that’s not even counting global revenue).

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Roofdog’s current biggest earner is Pocket Mine 2, and although Germain declined to give specific numbers, he said it brings in enough revenue to support the company—even though it only ranks in the 200-500 top grossing games on iOS.

“If you have a small studio and you’re in the top 500, you’re more than fine, you’re doing pretty good,” says Germain.

Watch meaningful metrics

Germain now rarely checks the rankings. “I look at figures like retention, percent of players who spend, revenue per user—things like that are less vanity metrics and more grounded in terms of how our games are doing,” says Germain.

For Germain, the king of metrics is retention. “I don’t think I’ve heard of a game that retains really well and isn’t successful commercially,” he says. Case in point: Pocket Mine 2‘s day 1 retention is 51 percent, substantially above the 40 percent industry benchmark.

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One key to Roofdog’s success is testing retention very early. Even a rough prototype, shared with friends, can give some insights. “Friends will say it’s nice, but if they just play 2 minutes and never touch it again, you know it’s not that great. If they’re playing a lot and get hooked, you start getting a [feeling] that you have a game that’s potentially successful,” says Germain.

Stay focused

While self-promotion and marketing are now regarded as de rigueur for small developers, Germain says his studio simply doesn’t have the time: “Since we’re somewhat limited in the amount of hours allocated, we find the best way to spend them is working on the games themselves, so we don’t do much peripheral to that.”

This doesn’t mean that success is simple. Compared to when Roofdog started out, building games has simply become more complex. “In general, all the work you need to do around your game to have any chance of being profitable is much higher,” Germain says. “You need a very well-designed game, good monetization systems and analytics to keep users interested.”

Still, focusing first on making great game seems to pay off: Germain reports over 45 million downloads to date. And judging from Roofdog’s success with its focused development philosophy, the next game to launch, Fishing Break, will only add to that number.fishing break