How I've published my first Android game and didn't earn anything

More than a year ago I've published my first Android game made in Unity. I expected it to earn me my first videogame dollars, no matter how little. But it didn't. So here's me descibing my first experiences with Unity, Android, Play Store, video ads and game development in general.

Somewhere in the beginning of 2016 I've finally got a grip on Unity. For years I was in a cycle of downloading it, trying to learn it with some Youtube tutorials and then abandoning it shortly after, thinking that it's too hard for me. What helped me to end this cycle is paying money for a Udemy course. Somehow that made me try harder and it finally clicked. After this it all started to seem really easy. I didn't even finish 10% of that course and started to make my own game.

My aim was to finish and publish someting. I was tired of starting for multiple times, having these cool ideas for big games, but not finishing anything. I decided to scale my ambitions down and work on sometihing simple I could complete in two or three months of my free time. This way I could gain some experience of making something and putting it out there.

So I've decided to start on a familiar ground and start simple. I love platformers and I thought that all games I'll make in the future should be platformers of some kind (I even made some unfinished platformers in Flash before). So I've decided to make a most basic platformer. It would be endless so I won't spend more time designing the levels. And it would be very simplified for mobile devices: touch to jump and no other controls.

I've worked on it in my free time, drawing sprite sheets, coding the gameplay and making music. I've decided that if my main character was going to walk from side to side of the screen, it would be natural for her to be a crab. After implementing jumping I thought that I could make some power-ups, but I limited myself to only one - double jumping fart beans. Also with time I added more precision to jumping - you could gradually stop running by holding your finger on a screen, controlling the distance of your jump. I thought that I was pretty clever with my game design decisions.

I expected that if I try and make it feel and look good - at least better than average - then I could monetize it. The problem was that I hated how mobile games are monetized. I felt like most of them are just built around the psychological tricks to make players pay. Lots of games have those techniques in their core and gameplay is formed around them. I still wanted to monetize my game but I wanted to choose the least invasive method. I've heard good thing about Unity's video ads so I've decided to use them. And they would be fully optional. If your character dies, you could revive her by watching an ad. Or you could decline. No ad would appear without your permission. I thought that it's a good compromise.

After about two months I've felt that the game was playable. I had more ideas for it - more power-ups, more enemies, bigger variety of everything - but I decided to wrap it up and publish it. I would implement those ideas if the game is successfull. So I've made some promotional images, gifs and videos, created a Facebook page and published it. When it was live I've posted about it on Reddit and some Facebook groups. As I was working on it I kept posting in-progress gifs and #screenshotsaturday images so I had a small audience on Twitter too. I even payed a little for some Facebook ads.

Play Store stats showed me that people started to install my game. I didn't knew if the numbers are big or small, but they were not zero, which was good. But they were also uninstalling it pretty quickly, which kept the number of active devices with my game to average of 30 over the last year. For some reason, recently it started to grow a little and at this moment in early Agust 2017 it reached more than 80 active devices.

I was checking the statistics every hour, expecting the numbers to grow and also having some hope for a revenue. But the game wasn't catching on. Initial wave of installs fell down and only few people were playing it. And as for the revenue, my game was showing few video ads almost every day but that didn't matter. Unity's video ad system works in a way I can't really understand. My game would show ads but would not earn money. So in more than a year it played hundreds of ads but earned me just $0.33. I think I've read somewhere that your game has to show at least more than 5k ads just to start earning something.

You see those tiny spikes of revenue, do you?

I was so dissappointed that I couldn't think about game development for about half a year after that! Even though I knew that this was my first game and it's not that good and I only aimed to learn and gain experiecne, I was still expecting some gratification for the work I've done. If not monetary then in a form of good feedback or number of people playing it. So after publishing this game in summer 2016 I will only start to work on my next game in the end of that year.

Still I've learned a lot. I've learned how to make a simple platformer in Unity and how to finish it and publish it on Play Store. I've learned that mobile game market is just too big and you have to do something more unique and polished to get noticed. I've learned that you could show video ads for free. I've learned that people that play Android games don't really care about giving you feedback. And that a Facebook page for my game was totally useless.

Anyway, that's how I've made and published my first Android game. I think that many people had similar experiences but not many of them share their failure stories.

If you have any questions or suggestions, you can put them under the Reddit post for this article.