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14.5% conversion rate for freemium/In-App-Purchase game utility app

I’m an iOS developer. I’ve developed, designed, and consulted on dozens of applications and libraries over the last 2 years. I’m also a casual gamer with a penchant for MMOs (oxymoronic, right?). A couple months ago, my sporadic gaming habit crossed paths with my development career.

For the third time in my life, I decided to try EVE Online. For those who don’t know, EVE is a space-themed, sandbox MMORPG (e.g., Internet Spaceships). Like most sandbox games, EVE sports a burgeoning, player driven economy, with activities such as trading, crafting, espionage, etc. The game is pay-to-play (~$15/mo), but you can play the game for free by purchasing an in-game item known as a PLEX, using in-game currency, known as ISK.

For me, the challenge to pay for the game using currency earned in-game sounded very appealing. So did the epic 2000+ person PVP battles. Anyway, the go-to method for new players to make money is mining. Most game veterans state that the time investment isn’t worthwhile. At this point in time, I’m inclined to agree with them. Initially, I, too, was disillusioned by this activity. Here’s how it works: A player hops into a spaceship with a huge cargo hold, flys off to an asteroid field, and begins mining. I figured I could mine enough to pay the subscription fee, and then spend whatever free time I had left blowing up internet spaceships. Long story short, the idea was heavily flawed. I didn’t like mining - it was inexorably mind-numbing. I did, however, learn a few interesting pieces of information about the activity that I later used to write a freemium app that has seen a 14.5% conversion rate (raw numbers can be found later in this post).

First, there are 48 types of ore; 16 ores with 3 flavors of each ore.

Second, each type of ore can be mined in different regions of space, which is sectioned off into three groups: high-security (semi-safe) space, low-security (less-safe), and null-security (unsafe) space. Safeness is determined by the chance of your ship, and subsequently your ore, getting blown to smithereens.

Third, the ores come in various sizes, measured in cubic meters (m3). This piece of information is key, as your spaceship’s cargo hold has limited space.

Finally, the most common ores are found in high-security space, and the rarest ores are found in null-security space.

Common sense told me that the rarest ore would be the most lucrative, but I kept hearing in-game that the risk far out-weighed the income generated by mining in unsafe regions.

I began researching into the matter. I found out that EVE had a huge third-party developer community, and CCP, the makers of EVE, provided the community with data dumps. Through all of this research, I found out that there are over 5000 systems in the game, and the prices for a specific item (including ores) varied wildly from each system. I also found out that there was no application in existence, neither web nor mobile, that presented the data I was interested in; What is the most lucrative ore to mine for the system I’m in at this very moment?

Like any self-respecting developer, I decided to build myself a tool that would answer the question. After a bit of thought, I realized that the exact metric I needed to measure was the ISK per cubic meter (e.g., ISK/m3) for a specific ore. In plain English, this translates to the following: How much money could I make if I were to mine a certain ore in my ship (with its limited cargo hold), at my current location? As stated above, the answer was ISK/m3 per cubic meter metric, and I therefore made an app called ISKm3.

In my research, I found out that market data for all 5000+ systems in the game was actively being tracked by eve-marketdata.com, and they had an API (SCORE!). The API gave me the prices for each ore, and some searching around Eve-Wiki returned the cubic-meter of each of the 48 ores. Armed with all of this data, I built ISKm3 over ~16 hours. I used very few images, a small color palette, and Apple’s standard out-of-the-box navigation and information organization systems. This app was to be the definition of bare-bones.

ISKm3, the definition of a bare-bones app.

At the onset of development, I made the decision that the app would follow the freemium model. I did so for two reasons. First, I wanted to learn how to incorporate In-App purchases into an application. In the past, I’ve consulted on a few applications that used In-App purchases, but I never built out the functionality myself. Turns out it’s pretty easy. Secondly, I didn’t want to mine, but I did want to PvP, so I figured players who would want to mine would upgrade their app, and I could pay for the game that way.

ISKm3 was released on March 12, 2013. The free version of the application provides users with data from the top 4 trade-hubs in the game, which is where a majority of the users spend their time. Paying a one-time fee of $0.99 unlocks the ISKm3 information for the other 5000+ hubs in the game. Before I present the raw download and purchase numbers, I should state that EVE has ~500,000 monthly subscribers. Logic and in-game experience dictates that only a portion of this playerbase mines in the game, and of that sub-group, an even smaller portion has an iOS device.

I don’t know how many iOS-device toting EVE miners there are, but I do know that in the 68 days since the App’s release (March 12 - May 19), I’ve had 760 downloads, with 110 people upgrading the app. That’s a 14.5% conversion rate, which averages to 11 downloads and 2 upgrades per day. That’s much higher than any app I’ve read about. From what I’ve read online, people make anywhere from 0.1% - 2%.

In the 68 days since the App’s release (March 12 - May 19), there have been 760 downloads, with 110 people upgrading the app. That’s a 14.5% conversion rate, which averages to 11 downloads and 2 purchases a day.

Obviously, I can’t live off this money, but I can pay for the game, as I netted $110 over 2 months ($77 after Apple’s 30% cut), and the game only costs ~$15/mo. Overall, I would call this venture a success.

I learned quite a bit from building this app, but if I were to narrow it down, I’d say the following:

  • In-App Purchases are easy to integrate
  • Freemium works, even when targetting a smaller user-base/crowd
  • Design isn’t everything. An applicaiton with a simple design can still make you money if the right content is there.
  • Game-forum, in-game, and free (not promoted) twitter advertising is enough.

Interested in ISKm3? Download it here.Interested in EVE? Try it here.