Interview: Fire Maple Games spill their secrets to App Store success

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A little over a year ago, Fire Maple Games owner Joe Kauffman wrote a guest post here about the secrets behind creating his stellar game, The Secret of Grisly Manor.

Now, after the runaway success of his brand new game, The Lost City, (in a nutshell, it’s taking over the world!) we’ve decided to pick Joe’s brain for more secrets…

Joe Kauffman, Fire Maple Games

One of the biggest complaints about Grisly Manor was that it was too short. So, from the outset, The Lost City was designed to be much larger in scope.

For one, the mechanics of changing seasons in the game required four times the artwork for much of the game. Grisly Manor took seven months to complete whereas Lost City took a little over a year. In addition to all the art assets, this game has a dynamic inventory, a text engine to support localizations (translations), a map that keeps track of where you’ve been as well as your current location, and a journal that keeps track of clues you encounter in the game. A hint guide has been included as well — all in all, it has a lot more content!

What’s great about all of these additions though, is that I can now use them in future games going forward without having to recode them from scratch. As a result, new games should no longer take as much time to complete! 🙂

Along with all the new content, were there any new challenges that you encountered during the making of Lost City that you didn’t see during Grisly Manor?

The Lost City is about five time the size (and gameplay length) of Grisly Manor, so keeping everything loading instantly, playing smoothly, and just the overall management of the game were probably the biggest challenge.

Also, from the outset, I designed the game to run on every iOS device, Android, Kindle Fire, and the NOOK tablet — luckily, Corona’s system of “code once, deploy everywhere” is amazing in that regard. Corona is such a fun environment for me to code in; I really enjoy the syntax of the scripting language. It lets me be creative while also being flexible and powerful.

In less than a week after its release, you managed to get The Lost City up to #2 in the Amazon AppStore and #1 in several Apple App Store charts worldwide.
What’s your secret to such an immediate jump-off success?

I believe the biggest key to that success was making Grisly Manor free on iOS devices and then placing a large “New Game” badge on its main menu, which linked to The Lost City. In the past week or so, Grisly Manor has been downloaded a little over 2 million times — that’s a lot of new people who instantly learned about Lost City! 😉

Any other marketing or anything on top of that?

I actually did no marketing or advertising whatsoever for Lost City. I have not contacted any review sites yet either.

For each release, Apple gives you 50 promo codes to hand out to family, friends, and reviewers. The conventional wisdom is to send these all out to review sites in the hopes of getting picked up. I followed this advice for my first two apps and I found it to be so disappointing. You craft all the e-mails, send out all the codes, and then… nothing. No response at all. It is totally understandable as every developer is blasting their game out too, and the websites simply cannot respond to everyone.

So, for my next two games (Grisly Manor and Lost City), I gave away all 50 codes on the TouchArcade forums. They have such a passionate community on that site, and I get tons of genuine, heartfelt reviews in all the App Stores around the world.

Well, lots of people put their games up for free — what else did you do to get so many downloads of Grisly Manor in only a week?

I simply made the full version of Grisly Manor available when I put it up for free — it’s not a “lite” version, there are no ads, in-app purchases, or any other unnecessary distractions.

I think that the players are a little stunned at that, as they are used to playing free games with lots of popups and other interruptions to the experience. As a result, Grisly Manor has received a ton of five-star reviews and has propelled back up in the App Store worldwide, as well.

Both The Lost City and Grisly Manor hold the #1 spot in many countries right now, and I am beyond excited that so many people are discovering and enjoying the games!

So, after Lost City, what’s the next big hit we can expect to see from you?

Work has already begun on a proper sequel to Grisly Manor, which I will resume in full force after taking a well-deserved nap!

Nap API is now available in our latest Daily Build — thanks for talking to us, Joe!

Thank you, Hetal!

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This entry has 23 replies

  1. Congrats on the great launch! Really inspiring for beginning game makers that with this SDK you can build compelling games.

  2. Jari Huomo says:

    Congratulations Joe & Fire Maple Games and thanks for sharing your secrets!

  3. DirtyHarry says:

    Congratulations! May I ask you which Android devices do you recommend for testing?


  4. Bernardo says:

    Congrats on the launch.
    I really enjoy the adventure type of game, its one of my favorite modes of storytelling (one of my favorites of all time is The Dig). I’m having a lot of fun on playing The Lost City . The graphics are stunning and very interesting from the corona developer point of view.

  5. Paul Osburn says:

    Awesome work Joe! Looks like your hard work has paid off, which must be rewarding for you. It’s also somehow rewarding for me. It’s encouraging to see people’s hard work pay off. Now off to play ‘The Lost City’.

  6. Thy says:

    Excellent interview – very inspiring!

  7. Joakim says:

    Nap API? 🙂

  8. Mike says:

    Thats what I was wondering, wth is Nap API?

  9. KevPartner says:

    Just finished playing the game – tested it on my Androidified TouchPad and HTC Desire HD and it’s amazing how well it works on the smaller screen (although, in truth, I preferred it on the tablet). Amazing that this is largely the work of one hard working and talented man. I wonder if it would ever have been released for Android if it weren’t for Corona?

    I’m putting the finishing touches to my first release and although it has no direct connection with The Lost City at all, it’s certainly been an inspiration.

  10. barb says:

    I cannot get past the snakes in the circle…help.

  11. mcb says:

    Nap API gets your app to the number 1 position!

    Anyway, thanks for the insight, this is interesting stuff for us >:)

  12. RAoM_games says:

    A ton of lessons to learn for indies, Fire Maple Games rules the globe!

  13. Dave Haynes says:

    Joe, I’m glad to hear you talk about the 50 promo codes. I did the same thing with my game — I sent all 50 promo codes out to review sites, except I *did* hear something back. Not negative; just that they would be happy to review my site for $[insert some dollar amount here]. Any of them that said that, I just wrote back and said, “No thanks.” Once someone is paying for a review, the review is now tainted in my opinion.

    Good luck with your projects!

  14. Cyndee Sharp says:

    I downloaded The Lost City today. Just finished level one…love the game, the art, everything! I am happy this game is longer than Grisley (which was awesome!). Well, back to exploring! Thank you so much for all your time & devotion.

  15. I’m an 80 year old great-grandmother who really enjoyed playing both games. I was excited to figure out “The Lost City” but also a little sad to know I would now have nothing to look forward to each day. I know it takes time to create these games but I will be eagerly awaiting the next one. Just hope I’ll be around to play many more. Thank you for the pleasure you gave me!

  16. Kristin Fredriksson says:

    I’m with Marilyn! I LOVE RPG games that I can play on my NOOK, but that are not sooo complicated that you can’t figure them out without a manual. I relish heading to my Nook to play the Lost City, as I did Grisly Manor, and love the simplicity and mystery. I became addicted to games in the 80’s on 8 bit and Super Nintendo and followed that up with a love for Banjo Kazooie on N64. Everything thereafter became so convoluted and ridiculous, in my mind, that I never recaptured the original fascination until Grisly Manor. Thank you for making these games. Don’t forget the middle-aged demographic that appreciates video games without all the fluff and violence.

  17. LuLu says:

    The best!! I’ve told everyone I know about these games – cant wait for the next one. PLEASE keep creating.

  18. nancy thomas says:

    this game is awsome, couldnt stop till i was finished

  19. luella says:

    I’m stuck on the clues on Grisly Manor and the Lost City Cud use some help

  20. Tammy Paul says:

    please, please make another game for kindle…your games are the best!

  21. Julie says:

    Joe, what do you use to make those beautiful, detailed graphics?

  22. Danny says:

    I am now recovering from a concussion and I feel that your two games have been extremely instrumental in my recovery! They were not overwhelming yet they made me think. Didn’t even need the spoilers. Not once! Your games are beautiful and very well constructed. No glitches. I look very much forward to your next creation. I believe that due to your games, my recovery has been shortened considerably. Please give yourself a huge pat on the back. And Thank You!!!

  23. NITHIN A S says:

    i finishd ,THe lost City, The Secret of Grisly Manor,And the Hidden world.. its so owesome.. i cant wait fore the next one .. now i am a great fan of Fire mapple games.. keep creating