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Behind the Screams: How an Indie Gaming Studio Carved Out a Horror Niche

Ice Scream. Evil Nun. Mr. Meat. If you’re a horror game fan then you already know we’re talking about indie studio Keplerians.

Keplerians take their name from NASA’s exploratory spacecraft, Kepler, as they, too, dream of exploration and discovery—but in the world of video games. And over the last few years, they have indeed gone stratospheric, with not one but three successful franchises, each new launch highly anticipated. Ice Scream 8: Final Chapter dropped in December 2023 in just the first week reached the top 10 in Action/App Store and the top three on the Google Play Store!

How did they get here, though, and what can we learn from it? Let’s find out.

 

Finding Their Niche 

In 2015, two brothers and a friend from the Basque Country, Spain, began their game development journey, experimenting with different games before breaking through in 2018 with the hit Evil Nun.

“We believe that success often comes from being in the right place at the right time. If something isn’t working for you, switch to something that inspires you and gives you confidence. When we realized that we could carve out a niche in the horror games market, we went for it with all our energy,” says Co-CEO and Co-founder Ion Ocasar.

game growth strategies

This realization led the Keplerians team to go all in on the scary stuff, leading to their continued success with Ice Scream: it became their most downloaded game and spawned a popular franchise, the most recent of which was the December 15, 2023 launch of Ice Scream 8: Final Chapter, as mentioned above.

 

Organic Marketing Through Social Media

In addition to building scary and very playable games, Keplerians have been active and engaged on social media since the start; they currently have over a million followers on YouTube alone. This didn’t happen overnight, of course, but is a connection that’s been built by regular, consistent interaction—including near-daily posts and countdowns, especially as launch dates close in.

It’s a great example of how successful organic marketing can be when developers are also passionate content creators. From dropping teasers and helpful how-to clips to teaming up with some of YouTube’s most popular gamers, Keplerians has succeeded in building an organic—and free—marketing channel, releasing content that goes directly to their biggest fans. It’s a win-win.

Developers often spend a significant amount of their budget on gaining more new players, whether via ads or influencers, but don’t forget that by connecting directly to your players via the social media channels of your choice, you can be your own influencer. This can be an extremely powerful growth engine, so don’t neglect it!

 

Challenges of Growth

The success of Evil Nun was soon to be followed by the arrival of bloodthirsty zombie butcher, Mr. Meat, and with their portfolio growing, the team at Keplerians realized that for their games to reach their full monetization potential, they would need to take on some outside help. In 2019 they teamed up with Yodo1 for help with mobile game monetization and game growth strategies, beginning with Mr. Meat and marking the start of what continues to be a highly successful partnership.

Integrating Yodo1’s monetization SDK into their new game, Mr. Meat, had immediate results: in just two weeks, their daily ad revenue grew by 74%.

“When we launched Mr. Meat with MAS (Yodo1’s ad monetization SDK), we were blown away by how much more money we could make,” said Ion from the Keplerians team, and they soon decided to use Yodo1’s mobile game monetization solution—which you can learn more about here—in all their games. In September 2022, Yodo1’s team reviewed the monetization of Ice Scream 1 and proposed recommendations to improve the ad placements, KPL applied them which helped double the revenue of the iOS version and boost the Android version revenue by 50% over the next month.

 

IP Collabs As the Next Step

The partnership continued in Halloween 2021 when Keplerians and Rodeo Stampede launched a spooky crossover event—a first for both games—with iconic Ice Scream characters joining in the run in Rodeo Stampede. The four-week-long event successfully generated a huge buzz across social media, delighting players and ultimately increasing traffic for both games.

“It was exciting for our game’s community! We promoted it on Discord and encouraged players to post screenshots and videos, offering rewards. Bringing new content to our existing player base and seeing their enthusiastic reaction was definitely a highlight of this collaboration,” Keplarians Co-founder Pablo Ocasar Gonzalez said.

ip licensing crossovers in games

ASO Steps up in a Big Way

As part of this continued expansion, Keplerians recently approached Yodo1 with an App Store Optimization (ASO) challenge. The download numbers for Ice Scream 1 had remained strong since its launch in 2019, yet by early 2023, organic downloads were showing a noticeable decline. This was where Yodo1’s years of experience in publishing and growing games became a major factor. Here’s Co-CEO and Co-founder Ion Ocasar on what happened next: “One of the suggestions provided by Yodo1 to increase downloads was to implement a native pop-up asking users for reviews. We implemented this feature in one of our earlier games that didn’t have such a pop-up, and it significantly improved our reviews. We are constantly occupied with new projects, and these improvement suggestions make us open our eyes to see possibilities for enhancing games that are already published.”

The result of these strategic ASO improvements led to a stratospheric rise in reviews from 2-3 per day to 200-300

In addition to these new in-app rating prompts, the Yodo1 Growth Team did an in-depth keyword analysis to uncover further potential opportunities. Following this assessment, the team recommended that Ice Scream focus on getting rankings for new short and long-tail keywords that showed moderate levels of popularity and competition. For example “creepy games” (Popularity: 36, Competitiveness: 49).  This, in conjunction with the keyword changes, resulted in a complete course correction from the downward downloads trend, doubling organic downloads, and pushing Ice Scream to #3 in “creepy games” on iPhone, and #2 on iPad. Impressive!

aso best practices for games

A Great Team 

The team at Keplerians continues to brainstorm and work towards future projects, able to focus on the creative side of things while knowing that Yodo1 has their back when it comes to monetization, ASO, collaborations, and more. Daily, fast, and effective communication channels are open for any issues that come up, saving the developers’ time.

Ion Ocasar sums it up like this: “Yodo1 are constantly looking for ways to improve results, and we make a great team.” 

We look forward to that teamwork continuing as we work with Keplerians toward continued growth and—best of all—more scary games!

 

Key Takeaways from Keplerians’ Journey

  1. Find your niche: When Keplerians realized they’d found a hit with horror, they went all in on the genre, building franchises.
  2. Organic marketing through social media: Keplerians effectively built a pipeline to advertise to their biggest fans.
  3. Seek outside help when you need it: Growth and expansion are specialized skills that indie developers can outsource.
  4. Experiment: IP collaborations and other in-game events generate buzz and further growth; doing new things with ASO, even small tweaks, can have big results.
  5. Collaborate: Take every opportunity to reach new players by working with others, whether gaming influencers or IPs.  

Are you feeling stuck in your game growth journey, wondering if you could be doing more, and doing it better? At Yodo1 we love to promote great games and help our partners succeed. Check out our Game Growth Accelerator Program to find out more.