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World of Goo says iPad launch beat peak WiiWare, Steam sales

The developer of World of Goo has profiled its iPad launch as being "by far" the fastest selling and highest revenue generating game platform, thanks to promotion by Apple.

The developer reported "a new perspective" on the relative importance of various game platforms open to indie development after achieving 125,000 sales of the title in its first month of iPad sales, compared to previous peaks of 68,000 set on Nintendo's WiiWare store aided by a mass mailing, and a 97,000 unit record set on Valve's Steam market for Mac and PC users involving two promotion at discounted prices.

"What makes this even more amazing is that this is a two year old game released on a platform that is less than a year old," the developers pointed out. "The iPad doesn’t have the benefit of an install base built up over several years."

Previously, game developers saw living room consoles as "where it's at" for indie developers, the developers noted, with app markets for WiiWare representing the largest installed base, Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade the largest number of registered users, and Sony's PlayStation Network offering the "strongest growth momentum."

"In the short term, we still think that if an independent developer can get their game on a console it’s a safer bet than playing the App Store lottery," the developer concluded, "but one might wonder whether, in the long run, it even matters who wins the PSN / WiiWare / XBLA race."

Critics mocked initial observations that Apple's iPhone could possibly challenge dedicated mobile game devices like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP two years ago, but now the App Store is rivaling the online markets of the top game consoles, a remarkable turn of events given how new both the App Store and the iPad are, and particularly given how inexperienced and even resistant Apple has been when it comes to embracing gaming as a market.

Secrets of success in the App Store

The surge in iPad sales was aided in large part promotion by Apple, the developer said, an idea it said "was confirmed by more experienced iOS devs we talked to." Another important factor was external promotion of the game.

Sales volumes in the App Store explode when titles enter the top rankings, with the developer noting, "when World of Goo was hovering near the top of the charts we saw that the #1 app was selling about twice as much as the #2 app."

Plotting out the relationship between developer net revenue and top grossing rank, the developers noted that "once a game breaks into the top ten, the amount of revenue it generates skyrockets," while also adding, "it is encouraging to see that when a game drops off the top 10, revenue declines fairly slowly. Even the lowest data point in this scatter plot still represents daily revenue measured in thousands of US dollars."

The report also profiled how much impact discounted pricing made to attract buyers, noting that after sales began to fade following the end of Apple's initial promotion period, a well publicized price cut caused the title to jump back up from 51 to number two again within 24 hours.

Mainstream casual gamers not amused by challenge

Regarding the App Store audience, the developer also observed that "the average iPhone/iPad gamer is more interested in pleasantly passing time than being intellectually engaged or challenged," noting that the most critical reviews involved frustrations with the difficulty of the game.

"Don’t get it, it will get you very frustrated if you don’t beat a level bottom line don’t get it," one negative reviewer complained, while another posted, "I’m only on the 6th level and I hate this game. Levels are ridiculously hard from the start and are just stupid. I spent an hour on one level and still cannot beat it. Screw this crap. Worst. Purchase. Ever."

"We’ve also never received this type of complaint for either the PC or Wii version," the developer noted, adding, "the iOS audience might be looking for a different kind of fast-fun entertainment, where punishment for failure, no matter how slight, is not an option, and no matter how badly you play the game you always feel you have a reasonable chance of success."

The report also alluded to a feature added to the popular Angry Birds game, which sells a 99 cent "Mighty Eagle" as an in-app purchase to allow frustrated users to skip levels they can't figure out how to beat.