GDC 2010: The Best of Both Worlds: Using UIKit with OpenGL

borg-701632.jpgHere are the slides for my session at the GDC iPhone Summit, The Best of Both Worlds: Using UIKit With OpenGL.

It was a 30-minute slot, so the material is pretty condensed without the chance to expand on the topics. I’m giving an extended version of this talk at 360iDev in a few weeks, so I’ll be able to get into more details then and have a cool sample app that shows off all those concepts.

It was great seeing a bunch of you at my session and at around the iPhone and Indie Summits. It was a great couple of days!

Flower Garden a Finalist for The 2010 Pocket Gamer Awards for Most Innovative Game!

10AF654B-A6A5-4C29-BE46-D58B3A09BAEA.jpgPocket Gamer just announced the finalists for the 2010 Pocket Gamer Awards. I was thrilled to see that Flower Garden has been selected as a finalist for the Most Innovative iPhone Game award.

On a personal level, this nomination means quite a bit for me. Flower Garden has gotten some great reviews, and some incredible user feedback, and it was even featured as an Apple Staff Favorite on the App Store, but it had never been up for an award of this importance.

It’s also the category that it was nominated for. It makes me really proud that it was nominated for Most Innovative Game, because one of my original goals was to create something unique and original.

Finally, these awards are particularly meaningful because they’re not based on popularity, sales, or voting, which are bound to bias awards towards best-selling titles. Instead, these finalists were hand-picked by the editors of Pocket Gamer. With the crazy amount of good apps out there, it really is an honor that they selected Flower Garden as one of the top 5 for 2009.

Thank you, Pocket Gamer!

Figuring Out The iPad

Everybody was buzzing with excitement yesterday morning. A flurry of Twitter comments scrolled by all throughout the morning and the afternoon. You could taste the iPad in the air (OK, almost).

Shortly after the unveiling, people divided themselves in to two camps: the iPad haters, and the iPad defenders. Each of them was intent in convincing the other camp that their view is the right one. Just like most of the pointless human conflict over the last two thousand years minus the bloody wars part.

Of course, I felt the same way. As a consumer, I was very disappointed by the lack of video camera and the non-widescreen form factor. But I stepped back and realized that the iPad is here, and it is what it is. All the wishing and convincing in the world isn’t going to make a difference. The platform is here to stay, and with Apple’s genius behind it, I’m sure it’s going to be anywhere from “moderately successful” to “a huge success”.

The only question to answer as a developer is, how can I make the most out of the iPad? And for that, we need to understand what the iPad is.

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There’s been a lot of talk on the iPad specs: 1024×768 resolution, a custom A4 chipset including a CPU and a modern GPU, etc. But those are just dry facts about the hardware. They will be crucial things to keep in mind to develop for the iPad, but they don’t help us that much understanding it.

Some people are claiming the iPad is a large iPod Touch, but I think that nothing could be further from the truth.

Precisely because the iPad is larger, it’s not a device you’re going to carry in your pocket. It’s something that’s going to be laying on your desk, or piled on top of a few books on the coffee table. And that changes everything.

Whereas on the iPhone/iPod Touch users could use an app for a few seconds or minutes during the day, the iPad is going to encourage longer sessions, just once or twice a day. The kind of apps, and in particular the kind of games that are going to be well suited to the iPad are going to be much more than a higher-resolution iPhone game. For the most part, they’re going to be totally different genres.

For example, Civilization never made much sense for me on the iPhone, but it now becomes a perfect iPad game. On the other hand, Flower Garden, was designed from the beginning to have multiple, short sessions throughout the day, so it will make very little sense as an iPad game. I suppose that makes me one of the first developers going on record saying I’m not going to port my existing iPhone app to the iPad 🙂

The differences with the iPod Touch go beyond how frequently people use it. For example, games controlled by tilt are going to be restricted to a more hard core audience. Someone who really wants to sit down and spin the iPad around like a driving wheel controlling a car. Casual users will be less likely to grab the iPad and play a quick game of Scoops or Doodle Jump because it’s going to feel like a bigger deal than slightly tilting the iPhone in your hand.

The target demographic for the iPad is very different than the iPhone and iPod Touch. It will appeal mostly to people in their 30s and older, whereas the iPod Touch is really spreading on the younger demographic of middle and even elementary school. That will also radically change the kind of apps and games people will play on the iPad.

So it’s clear that the iPad is not a large iPod Touch, and it doesn’t pretend to replace it. That’s a key point. Instead of replacing it, us as developers should think about it as complementing the iPhone and iPod Touch. The kind of experience I expect from the ideal iPad application is one that lets me access the same data set or game state I was using with my iPhone during the day. Maybe I’ll put up with the iPhone interface to play some Civilization while I’m commuting to work, but I expect to come back home, sit down on the couch, pick up my iPad and continue the same game with a much better interface. So we’re going to see a trend towards more apps and games that store all their state in the server, and let you access it from any device.

The older demographic, deeper games, and server integration, combined with a higher-resolution screen is going to make people expect a more polished experience, and development costs are going to increase significantly. It’s definitely a new challenge in a market that’s ever changing, and whoever figures it out will have a good chance to have an early iPad hit in their hands.

Making A Living (Barely) On The iPhone App Store (aka The Numbers Post)

The App Store is a very hit-driven environment. A few apps sell a large amount of units, and the great majority sell next to nothing. That’s somewhat similar to the music industry, except that the audience for music is much larger, so both the big hits and the small players get more sales. We’ve drooled over the numbers chart toppers sold, we’ve seen sales reports of very successful games, and we’ve also seen what happens when apps languish at the bottom.

I want to share the sales data for Flower Garden. Not just the raw data, but a bit of the story behind it, my thoughts, struggles, and why things happened the way they did.

The first thing that you’ll notice is that Flower Garden is a strange in-between app. It’s far from being very successful or being at the top of any chart, but at the same time it probably made more money than 99% of the apps on the App Store. It was also reelased on April 10th, so this represents 10 months of data, an age after which most apps are usually on drip support. So this should be an interesting new data point.

The Full Monty

I know that if I put it off, you’re just going to skip to the end to see the sales plot, so let’s get that out of the way. Here it is.

Full

The vertical axis is daily profit in US $ (after Apple’s 30% cut). Flower Garden generated a bit over $21,500 over a period of 10 months. I would hardly consider that an entry-level salary, much less in California, but it’s enough for someone without a family or mortgage to (barely) make a living. I supplemented that with some teaching, writing, contracting and consulting, so overall I managed do fine and even save a bit of money last year, all while being totally indie and having full creative control over what I did every day. I’m not getting rich, but it’s not a bad life, really.

How many hours of work does Flower Garden represent? It’s really hard to say. It was 6 solid months of work from conception to release, but then there was the fuzzy time spent on marketing, updates, support, new features, etc. I would estimate it was a total of 8 months of full time work, which, at 50 hours per week, makes it 1600 hours. So that’s a depressing $13.44/hour. At least it’s over minimum wage! 🙂 On the positive side, Flower Garden should continue to sell in the foreseeable future, so that amount will go up a bit over time.

There’s clearly a story behind that graph. It’s not the usual exponential drop off you expect from most (unsuccessful apps) and shows how an aging app can pick up steam on its own after many months on the store, without ever being featured by Apple.

Launch

Let’s start from the beginning. Release day!

Beginning2

After six hard months of work, I submitted Flower Garden to Apple sometime at the beginning of April, and on April 10th I was surprised to see it had been approved. It caught me a bit off guard without my marketing campaign in place, but I announced it high and wide on this blog, Twitter, Facebook, and I even spammed all my friends with an email. The results are the area marked as (A): About $50-$60 in revenue per day (so about 25-30 sales). Not bad considering that was mostly my friends taking pity on me and people randomly seeing it on the new releases list, but it was far from an auspicious start.

I also contacted all the media sites I knew with a press release and promo codes to entice them to write a review. I was lucky that many reviews appeared over the next couple of weeks, but unfortunately they were all spread out, minimizing the PR effect. The biggest effect was when Flower Garden was simultaneously covered on TouchArcade and MacRumors. That’s what caused the big sales spike (B). From there, it was a standard exponential drop off, until, on the last day of the month, just three weeks after launch, revenue dropped below $100/day again. If that was all there was to it, Flower Garden was a big flop and I should start dusting off my resume.

Mother’s Day

I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel yet. I had a couple cards up my sleeve that I was hoping would change things around. After all, May 5th is Mother’s Day in the US. What better time to do some promotion and get Flower Garden noticed?

I decided to run a contest and give away $100 in real flowers to the winner at the same time I put Flower Garden on sale for $1.99 for the week of Mother’s Day. The result? The revenue dip you see in (A).

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Mother’s day is probably the small, second spike in that period, but overall, that week was a loss. Lesson learned: Don’t make a sale unless your app is in a visible position (on a top chart somewhere). Flower Garden was nowhere to be seen, so the sale had no effect other than to cut profits by 33%.

I released a couple updates and did the trick updating the release date to get on the new releases list (which no longer works) and I got a couple minor spikes with (B) and (C). Subsequent updates later that summer had almost no effect anymore on sales. The trend was worryingly clear as profits dipped as low as $10/day in mid June (I have no idea what happened that day, but it was the lowest day ever for Flower Garden).

App Treasures

In early June we launched App Treasures. App Treasures is a label for indie iPhone game developers with top-quality games, and one of the main tools we’re leveraging is some cross-promotion for our games, both through the web site, and from an in-game view liking to each other’s games. Initially there was no measurable effect, but then Harbor Master was released and shot all the way to the #2 position on the US store and held its position on the top 50 for a while. The results is the area under (D). It definitely brought in some sales to Flower Garden and reversed the downward trend.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and referrals from Harbor Master dropped off and its slipped down the charts, and Flower Garden sales continued sinking.

Facebook and Lite

At this point I had to face reality. Was it time to give up on Flower Garden and move on to another project? I was ready to do that, but every day I would get several emails from users saying how much they loved Flower Garden, how much happiness it was bringing to their lives, etc. Some of the stories were really touching.

At the same time, every time I would show the game to someone, they usually really liked it. Not liked-it-because-I’m-there, but really, genuinely liked it. Why weren’t more people buying it then? Two problems: First, screenshots were not conveying how cool growing, animated flowers you could touch were, and second, most people didn’t even know Flower Garden existed. It had never been featured by Apple on the App Store, and the audience I was trying to reach didn’t read TouchArcade or other iPhone review sites.

It was at this point that I decided to give it one more try. My goal wasn’t adding more features as I had done with the updates so far, but to make Flower Garden more visible. I wanted more people to know that Flower Garden existed.

The first thing I did was to add Facebook integration. Not only could you send bouquets through email, but you were able to send them directly to your Facebook friends. The advantage of that approach from my point of view is that all your friends also saw the flowers so for every bouquet sent on Facebook, hopefully dozens or hundreds of people were being exposed to Flower Garden. The result on sales: Not much. Maybe it made the early part of July a little higher than it would have been otherwise, but no noticeable difference.

The second approach was to release a lite version of Flower Garden in early September. I was confident that Flower Garden was a good app, and I was hoping that once people had a chance to try the lite version, they would purchase the full version. Fortunately I was right and the effect on sales was very noticeable, pretty much doubling sales (E), but it never really took off in any significant way, and sales slowly declined over time.

Second Wind

You’d think that I would give up at this point, wouldn’t you? And I don’t say that with pride. I mean, it probably would have been smarter to quit a long time ago. But somehow, every time I was ready to move on , something else would come up that would entice me to try something else with Flower Garden.

This time it was in-app purchases (IAP). Apple had announced IAP back in June. They seemed like a very natural fit for Flower Garden, but given how few units Flower Garden had sold, I would have a very limited audience for IAP. A small percentage of a small number is a tiny number! 🙁 However, in late October Apple announced that IAP were finally allowed from free apps as well. That encouraged me to give Flower Garden one… last… try…

To be totally honest, I wasn’t expecting very much. Even including all the units of the Lite version out there, there just weren’t that many units. Especially not that many people using it on a daily basis (I’m sure a lot of the free ones were downloaded and quickly forgotten). But I thought it would be a good experience and if I only spent a week on it and made $1,000 I could call it even.

End

The result was totally unexpected. The Flower Shop opened on December 6th and revenue immediately shot up (A). On December 21st I released a new IAP called Seeds of Winter with 8 new winter-themed flowers, and people loved it and immediately purchased it. Christmas day came and went with somewhat of an increase in sales (C) but nothing really spectacular. Finally, to wrap up the year, there was a big spike on New Year’s Eve (D) (do people send flowers on New Year’s Eve? Really?).

Afterwards revenue flattened out, but at a much higher amount than before. Before IAP, daily revenue was about $50/day. Now it’s more around $180/day. That’s totally beyond any of my expectations!

But hang on, where is the revenue coming from? There are three possible sources: You can purchase Flower Garden, you can make IAP in the full version, and you can also make purchases in the free version. Here’s the breakdown:

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It looks like sales for Flower Garden (blue) continue to be more or less the same, with a slight increase after Christmas. The IAP from the full version of Flower Garden (green) account for most of the extra revenue, especially at the beginning. But it’s very interesting that the purchases coming from Flower Garden Free (orange) are steadily increasing and, as of last week, they became almost as large as the ones from the full version.

That can be explained because more and more people are getting the free version and upgrading it instead of buying the full version (which is exactly what I was hoping for). What’s also really interesting is the downloads of Flower Garden Free.

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Flower Garden Free was never a big player. It had the usual big initial spike, but then it settled down at around 100-200 downloads per day (which is very few considering there were 50-60 purchases per day of Flower Garden Full during that period). But, as soon as the in-app Flower Shop was released, downloads started climbing, and on Christmas day they went through the roof (relatively speaking). So it’s no surprise that IAP from Flower Garden Free picked up in these last few weeks.

The Future

I have no idea what the future will hold for Flower Garden. This week Apple selected Flower Garden and featured it on the App Store as a Staff Favorite worldwide (that period is not show in the sales graphs). I’m also already preparing a new update and some more IAP for Valentine’s Day, so I’m sure there will be more ups and downs in the near future. I’d certainly like to continue supporting Flower Garden for as long as it’s profitable.

I’ll follow up this post in a couple of months with the aftermath of the App Store feature and Valentine’s Day. Also, stay tuned for another post with more details of the IAP, what’s successful, purchase patterns, and more.

Flower Garden Now An Apple Staff Favorite On The App Store Worldwide!

Aparently Santa came to town a little later this year. Or maybe it was the Reyes Magos (also bit late). In either case, I woke up this morning to find a very nice present waiting for me at my computer: Apple featured Flower Garden as an Apple Staff Favorite! Apparently this is in all App Stores worldwide too (I have confirmations for Canada and Thailand, so I imagine it applies to other territories as well).

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This is the first time Flower Garden has received any kind of “Apple love”, so it’s particularly exciting, especially considering that Flower Garden was released all the way back in April. I imagine the recent update, which included the Flower Shop with in-app purchases, must have caught someone’s eye.

The only downside is that the featuring might throw off the sales data I was collecting to show the effect on sales that in-app purchases and the holiday season had. But I’m not really complaining. That’s a very nice reason to have the data thrown off 🙂 Thank you Apple!