From death’s door to 1M – the twisted story of Tiny Miners

Tiny Miners, a fast-paced action adventure is the latest game from About Fun, creators of Apple’s ‘Best of 2013’ featured Mega Dead Pixel. The game is already being enjoyed across the world (App Store, Play Store), but it very nearly didn’t get released at all after the Prague based studio entered into a serious dispute with a former publisher.

A year after the planned release date, Tiny Miners hit app stores as a self-published game this autumn, and reached its 1 millionth download just within 6 days.

About Fun have been asking themselves, just why they chose to work with a Russian-based publisher. For all of us in the industry, it raises the more important question: Just what is the role of a publisher these days?

A boon for beginners

The first publishing experience for Petr Vodak, founder and CEO of About Fun, was back in 2012 when he partnered with Chillingo. “Our first game LETZ Match got pretty good feedback by press and players but got lost in the App Store as many other games.”

It was this experience that led the studio to seek help. “That’s when we’ve decided to look for a publisher who will take care of featuring, PR and user acquisition,” Petr adds.

Mega Dead Pixel was not only accepted by Chillingo, but received a prestigious award as one of Apple’s Best of 2013 after a fruitful cooperation with the publisher. This success was a clear, and positive example of how working with a partner helped the studio gain exposure and reach users.

It’s like a marriage

Even though the 18 person studio is relatively small, the team decided to produce two new games simultaneously. It was clear to Vodak that they would need extra support, and so the studio offered both of its new titles Tiny Miners and WarFriends (at soft-launch stage) to not one but two publishers.

The multiplayer tactical action game WarFriends went to trusted partner Chillingo.

To publish its brand new title Tiny Miners, a mesh-up of a casual top-down runner with RPG mechanics, they picked a newbie on the publishing market founded by industry veterans.

The company seemed to have rock solid credentials, offered great conditions and support, and seemed like a safe pair of hand. But the honeymoon was over very quickly once the contract had been signed.

A painful divorce

About Fun, full of enthusiasm and excitement wanted to maximize the potential of their new game as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, their publisher wasn’t as ready or able to move.

“We quickly realised the publisher misses the experiences but also resources which were planned for the soft-launch and later for the global user acquisition,” reveals Petr Vodak.

It was even more obvious when the company was out of its depth when the studio compared its experiences with Chillingo, a publisher which provides expert roles, data, tools and finances.

With the game ready for a public beta test, About Fun severed its relationship with the publisher and partnered with AppAgent, a mobile marketing agency working for studios such as CI Games and travel startup

Petr continues: “Initially AppAgent helped us to fill publishers gaps with their mobile marketing expertise and the creative team. But once the publisher stopped financing the soft-launch acquisition we lost the last reason to keep the contract as all the hard work was already done by the agency.”

“The split-up with a publisher was like in The War of the Roses movie, the drama of penalties, blocking the game or threats.”

The split-up was like in The War of the Roses movie, the drama of penalties, blocking the game or threats of launching it globally without the studio approval was closed 8 months later.

“The biggest frustration was that we had to stop the development and focus only on the legal stuff,” comments Martin Kolacek, the lead game designer. For the publisher, while difficult, this was likely to be a self-learning experience as the company is now not active in games publishing anymore, and is currently based around a community of creators developing video content.

Think twice

Once the contract situation was resolved, About Fun and AppAgent rebooted the soft-launch and quickly progressed through retention optimization, store conversion improvement over to balancing of monetization.

The team was regularly pitching updates to Apple which definitely helped to secure a strong featuring in 140 countries. Hitting a mark of 1M downloads in less than a week followed by a solid monetization brought a great feeling of satisfaction and also confidence, that publisher’s aren’t the only choice today.

“I strongly recommend to anyone looking for publishers to focus on the track record,”  says Peter Vodak.


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