Sunday, September 25, 2011

Kento an Adventure

This is my first posting for iDevBlogADay, and I'm trying to figure out what would make a good first post.  I enjoy reading stories of how other people's apps are doing and what they are trying.  So I figured that was a good place to start.  I hope you find my story interesting...

Kento is Five Lakes Studio's 6th iOS app, but it is our first original game title.  It's a little scary releasing a unique unknown title.  So the very first decision we made was to get something to market quickly to learn if we had a good idea or a stinker.

Ken did most of the initial work on Kento, and he spent about 3 months working nights and weekends.  I came in during the last month to help do some final UI and polish, but given there are only two of us and we both have day jobs we where really happy getting the first release ready that quickly.

1.0 Ships: What will happen?

Release 1.0 shipped on May 4th.  We only had about 18 puzzles and our idea was to give Kento away for free to gather feedback.  We had a great launch with over 1,000 downloads the first day.  We didn't do any press or marketing, we just let the AppStore do what it does.

Assuming people actually downloaded the app, we where expecting to get hammered for not having enough puzzles.  When we did something similar for one of our other games called Picross HD, we got hammered with 1 and 2 star ratings by people saying we didn't have enough puzzles.  This time, people did ask for more puzzles but they were actually giving us 5 star reviews!

In usual fashion for the AppStore when we fell off the main page for our category, our downloads dropped rapidly.  And after a few more days the downloads started to drop off again.  However, we had the data we needed.  We liked Kento and it looked like others did as well.  Kento was a keeper, and we needed to get started on the next version.

Even though we where building the next version, I wasn't done with the experiment.  I decided to take the price to 99 cents, and you can guess what happened.  The sales hit the floor hard, but that's what an experiment is for.

This told us that we really needed to make the base application free, but we still wanted to monetize the title.  We haven't had much success with the ad model in the past, thus the next obvious answer was to do in-app purchases.

1.1: Rise of in-app purchases

We hadn't done in-app purchases for "real" before so we started coding.  It took us about two months to get 1.1 developed and in the market.  It included over 100 additional puzzles, the ability to import your own pictures and turn them into puzzles, and 2 in app purchases:
  • $1.99 for 100 puzzles
  • $1.99 for Photo gallery import (allows users to turn an unlimited number of their photos into Kento Puzzles)
While we where building the new features, our downloads dropped off significantly.  I started to doubt that we could really gain traction on our own game title.  So I made Kento Free on June 28th.   This gave us really good results with over 2000 downloads in the first day, eventually leading to a steady state of about 50 downloads a day.  My doubts were greatly reduced!

During this period of time, we continued to get great reviews and feedback.  We ended up a solid 5 star rating for awhile.  That was some nice motivation leading up to our 1.1 release on July 28th.

The in app purchases where generating modest revenue.  The App was free, and we where making about $45 a week on Kento through in-app purchases.

Another experiment we wanted to conduct was to see if people would prefer buying picture puzzles made by us or if they wanted to use their own photos.  We got a fair number of user requests for the latter.   Turns out picture puzzles (green), made by us, sell much better than user's photos (light blue).

1.2 Some small tweaks and a bit of luck

We quickly followed up 1.1 with a 1.2 release to fix a couple of issues.  In particular, we didn't display the prices of the in-app purchases within the App's UI thus our user's couldn't see what they were buying.  Oops!!!

We got a little lucky when we released 1.2, we were contacted by FreeAppMagic.  They liked our App and offered to feature Kento for free.  WOOT!!!  And I must say they did a great job.  We shot up within the top 50 in our category for a few days.   That's the nice sales spike in September.

1.3 Now

We have had over 25,000 downloads of Kento, and last week we just released 1.3.  So far it's doing well.  It's still too early to tell what will happen with the changes we made:
  • Added 2 different 50 picture puzzle packs $1.99 each
  • Added 1 new 100 picture puzzle pack $2.99
  • New store interface, allows users to preview the puzzle pack before purchasing
  • Changed name to "Kento: A Distorted Jigsaw"
  • Increased the price of the 1.1 puzzle packs by $1.00.
We wanted to test if 50 piece puzzle packs would sell better then 100 piece puzzle packs.  So far the 100 puzzle packs are outselling the 50 piece packs.

We got a good amount of people upgrading who decided to buy the 1.1 version's 100 piece puzzle pack when they upgraded to version 1.3.  We think this is because we updated our in-app store and added the ability to preview the puzzle packs before purchasing.

We read an article by Tim Cascio about naming an App and taking advantage of keywords in the App's name on the AppStore.  Names will be read/seen be people scanning though apps and hopefully draw their interest.  So we tried that with this release.  Too early to tell what effect that will have or if we did a good job on the new name.

1.4 Future: The next big plans for Kento

We are working with A2A3 of Ann Arbor in the fight against Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Six women are going to be swimming the English Channel in July 2012.  We are donating our time to make a special version of Kento that will promote the event and hopefully help with collecting donations.  

We are working on a project called Kento:Live that will allow puzzles to be downloaded from the web.  We would like to work with photo studios, local government municipalities, or anyone who would like to promote their work/community with a mobile app.

We will of course continue to enhance Kento with more puzzle packs and cool stuff like the ability to rate puzzles.  We are working on a halloween pack now that will be free as a thank you to all our customers.  I have to get back to work on that...

Thank You

Wow if you made it this far, I want to say thank you and I hope you enjoyed the journey.  I invite you to try out any of our games at, and be sure to give Kento a try.  Also please let us know what you think of this post or any of our games.  You can follow me on Twitter at @fivelakesstudio or send me an e-mail at

The adventure is just beginning.
- Tod and Ken

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hello from Tod


I'm Tod Cunningham living a little north and east of Ann Arbor Michigan in the little town of New Hudson.  I've been writing software for many many years and just love it.  My first computer was a vic-20 and I have been hooked ever since.  That was a long long time ago, and now I have been working in the software business for about 19 years. 

During the day, I am the Director of Development for TechSmith's desktop products group building Camtasia, Snagit, and Morae.  I'm so lucky that I get to work for such a great company with great people.

At night, I am co-founder of Five Lakes Studio.  Ken and I started Five Lakes Studio last year to build iOS apps.  Of course, we quickly got sucked into building games, and then decided to focus on casual family friendly games.  It's been a great year learning about iOS and how to build and market mobile apps.  We love it.  We still have lots to learn. 

Feel free to contact us on twitter @fivelakesstudio or our website  Also we love hearing from you, so please feel free to comment on our posts or feel free to send e-mail to