Scott Davis is terrified that his game QONQR will get too popular. His word: Terrified.
This is what he says: “Quite frankly. I’m terrified that we might hit Mashable or TechCrunch, or we might have some radio host talk about QONQR, and the next thing you know we have 25,000 users the next day. Our system can’t handle it,” he says. “Is it weird that I’m actually afraid of growth?”
A bit. But after listening to him talk about the demands of his job, not really. After many years saving cash as a tech consultant, Davis launched his company and game in March 2012. It’s available as a downloadable free app and is touted as a “geosocial game of world domination.” It’s going gangbusters in number of users and is dominating his time.
“When you’re managing growth—not chasing growth but dealing with growth—you’re just trying to keep the system going, just getting to the point where you can sleep,” he says. Ah, life in the mobile gaming space, where customers can multiply exponentially—he’s up to more than 10,000 users who play the game per month—and be a source of constant noise (“We’ve had more than 30,000 posts in our player forums,” he notes).
To manage his time, Davis and his staff—he has two full-time employees who mostly code, and six to 10 part-timers who pitch in—put tasks into one of four buckets that they refer to as ARMS: acquisition, retention, monetization and self-preservation.
The self-preservation is a biggie. “We spend about 80 percent of our time on self-preservation,” Davis says. “Our users send us emails all the time suggesting things that would be cool or awesome, and they are, but if the idea doesn’t scream one of those four categories, it doesn’t get done.”
Davis, who has spent his career in tech consulting, enjoys managing the creative aspects of the game’s user experience, but also tends to the business side. And being that the game is available as a free app, which can be challenging.
“In mobile gaming there are three ways you can make money. One is persistent upgrades. The price point is usually 99 cents. The second way is through consumables. In our game, our consumables are things like missiles. The final way to make money is through cosmetic stuff, such as hats. It’s an ego thing. Gamers like that prestige. They like to have something you don’t have. We make a lot of money on consumables. We have a lot of players who will spend $100 or $200 a day on consumables,” he says.
The venture was 100 percent bootstrapped by Davis and his partners, and while Davis made some attempts to raise financing, he didn’t feel the love from Silicon Valley. It’s not like he loved Silicon Valley back, either.
“I made some efforts, but I didn’t walk down Sand Hill Road, I didn’t make the 200 phone calls you’re supposed to make. I didn’t because we built QONQR with revenue as a primary objective, instead of how the Valley does it, which is to focus on gaining millions of users before spending time on revenue. This means we have a company that should be able to sustain ourselves without the need for an investor or acquisition,” he says.
And the feedback from the game world has been positive. The game spent six months ranked second or third in the Best Rated Games category on Windows Phone last year, and Microsoft flew Davis to its headquarters to be interviewed on its Web TV channel. So far, 75 million battles have been engaged in the game, which had required the handling of a lot of data and bandwidth. Davis spends a lot of his time rewriting the architecture of the software to handle all of it, and also to add new features to the game.
There have been hiccups. The system has crashed before, including for three days last August; that was a bona fide crisis. Davis’ solution was to pull non-critical features out of the game and he ended up rewriting one of the game’s critical features in just 12 hours. Fun times: “Oh boy, that was intense,” he says with a sigh.
Davis declines to give revenue numbers, but does say he and two others are pulling moderate salaries, and he has plans to bring on two more employees soon. He’s optimistic he can keep up with growth. But he’s still in self-preservation mode.
“There’s always something. You just have to worry about getting through the day.”