How indie developers leverage data to thrive - An Interview with Stencil team

How can a team of two humble app developers from San Francisco compete with all  the enterprise giants of the App store? What do they do on a day to day basis to stay on top of the game? What metrics should you keep track of when you are really small?  Read this interview to learn more.

As you  know, Tenjin really loves indie developers. They have always been a main source of innovation in gaming industry. So we thought why not to put a spotlight on one of them today. Please meet Stencil team!

Hi guys! Tell us about yourself.

The center of our operation is Aaron & Adam-- a dev/design team with 20+ years of combined experience. We work all over San Francisco, but most of the time you can find us in our “office” at Mercury Cafe in Hayes Valley.

Over the years, we’ve come to excel at delivering polished, flashy products, with low overhead. We also provide strategy consulting to clients who are looking to rapidly develop creative products.

How did you decide to make mobile games?

We had been working together on-and-off for the past decade, and when we finally decided to take the plunge in 2018, mobile just seemed to make the most sense. It has the largest addressable audience, and allows us to reach all sorts of people with novel and unconventional experiences.

What games do you make? How do you monetize them?

Our flagship title at the moment is Merge City: Motor Empire, which has seen very promising metrics. We are also engaged in the puzzle market with Word Drop -- and are very active in the “weird gonzo” market with Do A Backfip.

Most of our games employ a blend of ad-driven and purchase-driven monetization, but the actual breakdown is very dependent on game type and target audience. For example, Merge City is much heavier on ads, while Word Drop is primarily IAP.

...and then there’s Do a Backflip, which feeds upon the chaotic energies of man’s deepest secrets.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis when developing a new game?

We try to operate as fast as possible, and have been known to ship entire games in less than a month (Merge City is an example of this). Therefore it’s important that we work closely, and that we can wear each other’s hats.

It’s usually Aaron and Adam sitting side-by-side. Adam will usually come up with a UX flow for a new feature, which Aaron starts roughing out with placeholder assets. Once the feature is mostly functional, Adam will jump into Unity and skin/animate everything.

How did you learn about Tenjin?

We were initially tipped off to Tenjin by one of our advisors, and it was a major turning point.

We had always known that attribution was critically important, but had been surprised to learn that none of the major players offered a free tier for small devs like ourselves. The margins in the mobile game market are razor thin, and a few cents per user can make or break a game.

How did Tenjin help you?

Before Tenjin, we were basically flying blind, with a hodge-podge of disparate tools and dashboards. Tenjin gave us tons of visibility into our metrics, and really helped us focus our spending. It helped us identify the platforms, geos, and creative sets that worked best for our product.

In addition to that, the one-on-one guidance from Customer Success team was huge. There’s a bit of a “fog of war” in this industry as to what constitutes good metrics, and you (Roman) helped us cut through that ambiguity and set real goals for our products.

What was the integration process like?

Integration was actually quite uneventful! We’re primarily a Unity shop and the plugin worked great out of the box. We wrote a couple lines of initialization code, and copied over some IAP boilerplate and that was it. Boring answer, I know :-)

How does Tenjin fit into your workflows? What features does Stencil tend to find the most useful?

We’ve found the customizable dashboards to be super helpful, and we usually just check in with them at various points throughout the day-- keeping an eye out for spikes or dips as we go. Being able to split out the metrics by country is a huge win as well.

What’s the biggest reason you like to use Tenjin?

We can get all our key metrics in one place, and then we can slice them every which way. We used to have a bunch of custom dashboards in Data Studio which were populated by Firebase and BigQuery. Tenjin has completely replaced that with a single turnkey solution.

What kind of metrics do you use to measure success?

When launching a new product, we go straight to retention. Our test spends are pretty small, so Revenue and LTV aren’t really trustworthy as an early indicator of success. Retention is reliable at any scale.

Looking back, how would you describe and summarize your experience and working relationship with Tenjin?

Low barrier to entry. Really good dashboard. Personal attention and guidance.

...and a free tier :-)

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