How I Went From $30 a Day to $25,000 a Month With Online Solitaire
Published Dec 12, 2023
Hi! Can you tell us who you are and about your game?
Hello, I’m Holger Sindbaek, the designer and developer of online-solitaire.com and worldofcardgames.com. I’m based in Copenhagen, Denmark and develop classic card games, especially Solitaire, as a one-man team.
If you’re familiar with the classic Solitaire card game, then that’s what I’ve worked on, except I made it more accessible as a web app. So far, more than a million users play games like Klondike Solitaire, FreeCell and Spider Solitaire monthly on the website. But it took me a lot of failures and difficulties to make it as it is now.
Why did you create your game?
I created Solitaire and classic card games not out of great passion for them. I was just looking for an interesting programming task that I could do that could earn me some money, and I found Solitaire. This became the primary reason why I initially started programming my first Solitaire game. I played the classic card game a lot when I was a kid, but I haven’t done so much in my adult years.
Was there a particular path that led you to develop your game?
Of course! I usually tell people that I am a designer and programmer. I always had my own projects and nobody wanted to program them, so I had to learn programming as well. When I was younger, I made a lot of different projects, and I always learned by doing and being hands-on. And with those projects in mind, I’ve always wanted to try and earn some money out of them, but I didn’t get much success out of them.
So I tried looking at the situation with a more analytical approach and decided to use a script that would scrape App Annie, the most prominent app store analytics service back then. I checked the app stores for games and looked at the reviews, estimated total downloads and all that sort of stuff. And then I would make a table of these apps and see which apps had these many downloads but had many bad reviews, that sort of stuff.
Then I found a Solitaire game that had a lot of downloads but bad reviews. When I looked at the app, I thought that I could do it better, so I ended up making my first game for the Mac App Store. It got me going more because I didn’t have a programming language that I wanted to try out and this inspired me. It wasn’t a massive hit but it was definitely more successful than my previous projects, and I earned around thirty bucks on the first day.
Thirty or twenty bucks a day may not sound like a big deal, but if you were a student, that’s a nice haul. And that income got me hooked—because money that you earn even while sleeping is good in my book.
How did you choose to create Solitaire?
Most of the older projects I made were innovative, you know, tried to be different. But this time, I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel—I wanted to make something people were already familiar with or using already, but just better. So based on the analysis I did before on apps and how they were received, I went for Solitaire and worked on making it better.
It also brought me to the question, “Where do you get your customers?” I made some apps for iOS before, and they would just get lost in the sea of apps. So what happens to the income? You’d end up relying on small in-app purchases or paid ads, and you had to get people to search for your app specifically, and I wanted to avoid that.
Honestly, it wasn’t in my mind at the time, but I picked Solitaire. Coincidentally, Solitaire was something people ended up searching, and the Mac App Store had so few Solitaire apps in there at that time.
How did you get the domain online-solitaire.com?
Actually, it didn’t start off as online-solitaire.com, it was more like solitairecardgame.com. This topic is actually one of my more prominent screw-ups, as I didn’t take the Solitaire website too seriously back then. So my original domain was solitairecardgame.com, and a domain broker reached out to me and offered to sell the domain online-solitaire.com for like a thousand bucks. I didn’t think too much about it back then and just went “eh” and bought it, not knowing the effects it would have on the game and my income as a whole.
Since I wasn’t knowledgeable about SEO back then, I just made it so that everyone who would go to my old domain would be redirected to the new one. And now that I wasn’t using that old domain anymore, I didn’t pay it much attention and forgot to pay for its bill. This seriously affected the whole game and website, tanking all the work I put into making the site reach a decent rank. Traffic went down a lot for a long while, but now I’ve recovered from it and consider this part of my journey as a developer to be one very painful lesson—always make sure to learn about SEO, even just the basics!
What are the key differences between native apps and web games in your opinion?
Both of them are the same in several factors, like if you’re going to make a game app, then you have to get good at Search Engine Optimization or App Store Optimization. There are many other factors that are at play, like your campaigns and all. But I think it’s a lot harder and more expensive to be in the App Store than to be a web game.
For me, if you find the right niche or you get in at the right moment in time, then you have a good chance in web apps. Sure, I’ve had some measure of success in the Mac App Store, but in the iOS store, where I’ve tried so many times, I found it super hard and yielded little to no success.
How did the monetization work on your creations?
The Mac App Store game was a paid app, while my current website is primarily ad-supported. You could upgrade to premium, subscription or something along those lines and get rid of the ads, but so many few people are willing to pay for that. So, yeah, it was ad-supported.
As for the Mac App Store app, I think I remember it having a free 30-day trial then after that you had to pay to play. And people only pay to play if they’re forced to. As someone who plays games, I hate ads. But from a business perspective, I love ads. The bulk of my income comes from ad revenue, and I’m currently making around $25,000 a month from both online-solitaire.com and worldofcardgames.com.
Do you think there are other financially effective ways to monetize web games?
I had a period where I thought about that. A couple of years ago with online-solitaire.com, I tried to implement a different monetization scheme, and I ended up thinking about what’s called an “offerwall”. And the offerwall I had in mind was that they would do the surveys or activities included in the offerwall and they would not see an ad for a week. However, in my case, there wasn’t anything effective about it because so few people were even willing to go with the offerwalls.
I also tried partnering up with a website that sold physical card decks, and the monetization scheme was that every referral that they got through my website would generate money. But it also didn’t work, so I ended up sticking to ad revenue.
What are the difficulties you’ve had so far with your current games?
The ads are definitely one of the things the players have a strong opinion about. But I’ve made a way that lessens the likelihood of them writing to me about the ads. There’s a little text box on the screen that says “hide ads” and when you click it, it goes to a screen that shows “hide ads for 5$/month”. It might sound like a lot, but many people spend several hours on the site, so it works on their minds and they tend to understand that there’s no such thing as a free lunch—they can get over their irritation with the ads or pay $5, which no one usually does.
And like with most games with a long-standing and comfortable userbase, these people don’t like changes. I implemented an AI into the chat function of my card game website to monitor and penalize toxic communication, and oh boy, many of them didn’t like that. It’s difficult to implement changes because of these adverse reactions, but I need to deal with it as change is crucial to progress.
Marketing is also one of the weaknesses I have, and in developing games as an income-generating venture, it’s a very important skill to have. I used to manually tweak the Solitaire Mac App Store app I made to have it become more visible. Back then, I had a weaker grasp on indexing and search engine optimization, but now, with modern tools, I spend most of my time trying to improve my ranking on search engines.
What can you say to fellow designers who want to learn how to develop as well?
You have to really want it! As a designer, I recommend that you become more comfortable with front-end stuff before trying out back-end development. Designing is definitely more in tune with front-end development since they both deal with how the site or page looks. Developing back-end is like stepping into a whole other world, and everything is foreign. It’s hard to be good at everything, and really, what spurred me to become more committed to learning development is my entrepreneurial side.
I really wanted to make my Solitaire project go off the ground, so I needed to learn more about development. So my suggestion is that you find something that you’re really passionate about and want to go all the way with, as that drive will be important in pushing you to learn something completely new.
What does the future look like for you?
My primary goal in creating my apps was to make a living out of it, but now that I’ve hit that mark, my future goals are more in the line of hitting small successes. Nothing big of course, but what’s important is that I’m progressing and making good profit from it. Though when it comes to the Solitaire games, I think I’ve hit my limit with it, so it’s just SEO stuff for it from here on out.
Most ventures, when they grow to a certain point, tend to start needing more manpower to become even bigger and more manageable. But for me, I prefer not to have employees or a team for several reasons. I prefer to work on my own terms and at my own pace, and I think having people work under me can cause unnecessary stress and pressure.
However, if I do end up hiring someone, it would be a developer as worldofcardgames.com still needs a lot of work programming-wise. But that’s something I don’t want to deal with as of now because managing someone else is something I’ll have to learn from the ground up again. Speaking of which, I’ll be spending most of my time right now improving and redesigning worldofcardgames.com, as there is much to be done like making it more mobile-responsive as many people use mobile devices and search engines actually don’t like non-mobile-friendly sites.
Afterwards, I’ll probably try out my luck with iOS apps again, but not Solitaire. Since there are many card games on worldofcardgames.com, I’ll try the other ones like Hearts and Spades and others—since not many of them are in the App Store.
Do you have any tips or advice for people who want to try out game development as well?
As someone who has experienced a lot of lows in my projects before reaching this far, I have three things to say that you can keep in mind if you want to try out game development.
1. Be persistent
As I said before, you have to want success in that particular goal. Even if you keep doing projects that don’t get off the ground or get a daily income of $30 from your first launch, as long as you truly want something, be as persistent as you need to be.
2. Pick your target market
Starting a project with an unsure market is not a good idea. It’s like gambling with high stakes but with a low reward. That’s why if you’re not confident in trying to trailblaze something new or have tried but have been met with failure, go for something with a clearly defined market instead. It’s also important to keep in mind that there’s a huge difference between creating an app for a single-player game and a multiplayer game because the latter requires a lot more work and technical skills.
3. Grow your userbase
If you really want to make some money off of your game as I did, then it’s important to know how you’re going to monetize your project and grow the number of users for it. Use every trick and process you can to make numbers go up, and you can make that project profitable.
What’s your favorite game to play?
At the moment it’s probably Diablo 4. I know it’s a far cry from Solitaire, but I would be lying if I said I was a hardcore Solitaire enthusiast. Though I can’t play as much as I did before as I have a kid now and other things to focus on, especially my sites.
Where can we go to learn more about you and your sites?
You can play classic card games for free at online-solitaire.com and worldofcardgames.com. And if you have any questions or comments, yes even the rude ones, you can go ahead and reach out to me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a game to sell?
Let’s find out if we play well together.