Craneballs on Its iOS Hit Overkill, Losing Incentivized Installs & Upcoming Game Super Rope

It’s a story we see every week. A tiny studio — after experimenting with title after title — gets a lucky break and soars to the top of the iOS app store’s free charts with an unexpected blockbuster.

The Czech Republic’s Craneballs became yet another rising star earlier this year with its free-to-play hit Overkill, a first-person shooter that saw more than 4.5 million downloads since its initial launch less than three months ago.

The company, just nine people in a city called Ostrava about 400 kilometers east of Prague, turned to mobile apps during the financial crisis two years ago when their normal web development work dried up.

“We lost many of our customers and had to think of something new,” said Martin Chamrad, the company’s chief executive. They saw momentum behind the iPhone and without any game development background, they started designing apps — initially with mixed results. Several of Craneballs’ early titles were paid apps; one app called Monorace took three months to build yet only yielded $5,000 in revenue.

It took several tries before the team decided to start experimenting with hardcore, action games. “We know that guns and shooting and killing titles were quite popular in the U.S.,” Chamrad said. At that point, they were ready to go freemium.

They launched Overkill after eight months of development with an initial promotion through FreeAppADay and it shot up the charts and held onto a Top 5 spot on the free charts in the U.S. for a little over a week. The game monetizes through in-app purchases of a virtual currency called OM or Overkill Medals.

Chamrad didn’t share revenue figures but did say that Apple’s recent crackdown on incentivized installs has been tough for the company. About two-thirds of the studio’s revenue was coming from Tapjoy offer walls. Other bigger studios have been more cautious with their words: Glu, a larger publicly traded developer, said it anticipates it will be able to replace 50 to 75 percent of the lost offer wall income with other types of advertising. Craneballs had mostly been using offer walls in one direction: just to earn revenue and not to promote their titles.

“It’s hurting,” he said. Chamrad said he didn’t understand why offer walls were singled out for manipulating chart rankings, since FreeAppADay also charges developers to be featured and produces a similar bump in ranking on the iOS charts.

The company’s not sure exactly how it will cope except to keep working with in-app purchases in free games. Craneballs’ next title reflects experimentation with casual, kids-oriented games.

Called Super Rope, the app is a vertical platformer where a mouse has to switch from rope to rope as the screen scrolls upwards. They can collect in-game currency scattered throughout the screen. We’ve embedded a video below from Touch Arcade.

It monetizes through a store inside the app where players can buy new characters and levels. There’s also light social integration with the ability to share the game through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and e-mail. Players get additional in-game currency if they get their friends to redeem a special, personal code when installing the game.