It’s been almost 11 months since original release of Portaball. Since I do not plan to put into it any additional development effort, it’s about time I summed things up. This isn’t typical post mortem as you can enjoy on Gamasutra. It’s much shorter and probably not as good read, but hopefully still worth at least skimming.
What went right
Idea. Even tough Portaball is heavily inspired by Portal and I’ve essentially ripped off the main gameplay mechanics, I still think that Portaball is unique puzzle game in iOS environment. Having done my first pair of portals in one of the very first builds of the game and watching how the little ball gets teleported made yell “This is so awesome!”. There is still huge potential in this idea and, to be honest, I still consider doing Portaball 2 someday.
Learning. I jumped into developing Portaball after merely one month of learning Objective-C/Cocoa. iPhone and MacBook made me excited for programming all over again and this rush of joy transformed into Portaball. I learned how to stick to a project from the beginning to the end, I became confident in my programming and I’ve also discovered Stack Overflow. Is Portaball’s source code worth sharing? No. It’s a terrible mess. Was it a good learning experience? Definitely. I actually consider taking up a real life project as one of the best way to become familiar with specific language, or programming in general.
What went okay
Getting Noticed. Portaball was lucky enough to get featured in New&Noteworthy sections in Germany and Austria as well as Game Center Game feature in couple of European countries. Actually, the majority of sales occurred in these periods. Portaball got a couple of nice reviews on the internet, the most praising one at AppSafari. The gaping hole was TouchArcade review, but I’m okay with that. Portaball just wasn’t good enough.
Four days of free. A couple of months ago I’ve decided to conduct a small experiment – I lowered Portaball’s price to Free. Initially, I’ve contacted Free App a Day since I saw way too many top free apps that skyrocketed due to FAAD. It turned out that it costs a few thousand dollars to apply and I simply didn’t want to pay more than I’ve earned. I went guerrilla and did nothing but making a post on TouchArcade forums. I don’t know how much it helped but Portaball’s download numbers jumped:
These aren’t big, but for a brief moment Portaball was in top 50 Free Apps in China. As soon as the free period ended sales increased marginally (by 7-10 copies a week) comparing to the pre-promotion days.
Graphics. Even though some claim that Portaball is beautiful, I disagree, it’s less than average. The “artistic” intention was to keep things simple and lab-clean, just like the original Portal. Fact is, Portaball is way too gray, a few drops of color here and there could make significant difference and make certain objects more distinguishable. Moreover, I was just getting started with Photoshop and the outcome was less than optimal. I’m sure that these days I could make Portaball much prettier, but still it would be subpar to work of any decent designer.
What went wrong
Difficulty. Portaball is very difficult. I’ve only beta-tested it on my cousin and, being quite smart, he got through the game pretty quickly. It turned out though that this isn’t the case for the majority of population. The difficulty level of puzzles went up to fast, many puzzled were cluttered on purpose, in order to distract the player and make level artificially more difficult. After creating few initial levels my design process was focused on finding some neat tricks that could be performed with available elements. I constantly kept trying to find more and more mysterious way things could work. It wasn’t until I’ve played Trainyard that I hopefully learned how things should be done. Another big mistake was very rough and static tutorial:
This was changed in 1.2 version – it featured much better, dynamic tutorial that explained every single new gameplay element. Obviously, it couldn’t bring back players that were initially thrown away by insufficient teaching experience.
- Portaball was bought little over 4.000 times
- Throughout free period Portaball was downloaded over 56.000 times
- Highest one day sales – 160 copies on launch day