The App Store today is a different beast from the one in early 2009, when iShoot ruled the charts. Look at the top paid games on the App Store today. Actually, don’t worry, I did all the leg work for you. Here they are:
Pocket Gamer just picked Snappy Touch as a top-50 developer for mobile and portable devices for the year. I’m really honored they counted me among the best 50 of the year, especially on a year with so many great games and new developers.
2010 was the year I was hoping to ship Casey’s Contraptions, but that didn’t happen. However, it’s great to see Pocket Gamer took notice of the ongoing work on Flower Garden. Every update feels like a small product release on its own, and there were many updates in 2010!
Flower Garden has come a long way since its initial release on April 2009 (almost two years ago!). There is so much more to the game now than the initial release! These are just some of the most important new features since then:
- Multiple seed packs
- Multiple garden locations
- Day/night cycles
- Green Thumb Point awards
- Game Center achievements and leaderboards
- Sending bouquets through Facebook (and SMS in this next update)
Flower Garden also recently reached the milestone of 5 million bouquets sent. That’s a lot of flowers! Thanks to all the Flower Garden fans for making this possible!
I’m thrilled to present a guest post by Ian Marsh, 1/2 of the independent studio (and wildly successful) NimbleBit. They’re the creators of iPhone hits such as Pocket Frogs, Scoops, and Sky Burger, and they recently announced they reached 20 million downloads on the App Store!
One of the most important steps on the way to becoming a profitable independent iOS developer is diversifying your revenue stream. While business lingo like that makes me throw up a little, all it really means is discovering all the ways you can earn money using the platform. New developers sometimes pigeonhole themselves into a single App Store strategy: “Sell as many copies at 99 cents as possible”. More savvy developers mix multiple strategies: “Paid apps”, “In-App Purchases”, and “Advertising”. I want to make sure all developers know about another additional option often overlooked: LinkShare.
LinkShare is a company which pairs publishers with retailers who pay said developers for driving clicks to their sites that result in sales. How does this apply to iOS developers? Luckily Apple (specifically iTunes) is one of the retailers which uses LinkShare. A good FAQ page for the iTunes affiliate program can be found here, but the basic gist of it that you earn a 5% commission on items bought on the App Store from your affiliate links. As an iOS developer you are probably already using links to your apps (and perhaps others) in lots of places, including “More Games” screens, twitter, newsletters, banner ads, or your web site. Replacing all these existing (and future) links to the App Store with your affiliate links is a great start. Retro Dreamer even wrote a nice quick guide to creating links that work seamlessly in iOS (there are some pros and cons to different link formats).
Now you might think the chances of someone actually buying an app you link to are relatively low, but that’s where things get interesting. If you read the fine print it turns out affiliates get paid 5% of any purchases made within a 72 hours after following your link. Lets say Joe clicks on a link to say, Pocket Frogs (our latest free game) which included your affiliate id, which even doesn’t result in a paid purchase even if the app is downloaded. But perhaps Joe ends up buying Angry Birds ($0.99) an hour later earning you $0.05, or Real Racing 2 ($4.99) that night earning you $0.25, or just maybe the Beatles Box Set ($149.00) the next morning earning you $7.45! The cool thing about the iTunes affiliate program is that it gives the affiliate 5% of any and all purchases made through iTunes within 72 hours including ring tones, songs, apps, in-app purchases, movies, tv shows, or rentals.
This of course means you can still earn revenue from linking to free apps, which can end up being a powerful thing. For example, in Pocket Frogs we run a promotion every week where we offer an in game item for downloading a certain free app (with a LinkShare link of course). This not only keeps players checking back, but lets us promote apps we like (like Flower Garden) or even our own. Like most other revenue sources LinkShare isn’t going to make you a whole lot of money if there aren’t that many people clicking your links, but it will certainly grow along with the number of users you have. While the majority of revenue generated from Pocket Frogs (which fluctuates between 150k and 200k daily active users) comes from the IAP included in the game, it also generates a healthy amount of revenue from LinkShare (in conjunction with some links inside other apps) as seen below.
The great thing about LinkShare is that it gives you a lot of freedom on how you use it. It doesn’t use up any bandwidth or take up CPU cycles, and it doesn’t require you to shoehorn 3rd party code into your app. It is as invisible or invasive as you want it to be. So whether you’re a new iOS developer just starting out or an experienced dev, you owe it to yourself to take a look at using LinkShare if you’re not using it already.
Two years ago, when I was working on the first release of Flower Garden, Valentine’s Day was my target ship date. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), I missed it and rescheduled it for April. Last year I was eagerly awaiting the Valentine’s Day features hoping for a feature by Apple, but Flower Garden wasn’t one of the apps to be selected. It was disappointing but understandable given how many newer quality apps are out there.
Fast-forward another year, and this morning I woke up to a very pleasant and unexpected surprise: Flower Garden was featured on the App Store under Apps For Valentine’s Day!
Flower Garden is still going strong, but I wasn’t expecting that at all. Thank you, Apple! Not only that, but this feature also appears on the device App Store. Flower Garden was featured twice before by Apple, but never before on a spot that appeared on the device. So that’s a first for Flower Garden!
To make things more interesting, I had been planning on doing a bit of promotion around Valentine’s Day like last year. So a few days ago I released a new update, and included another in-app purchase for the most asked-for feature: More pots in another garden space.
Finally, to round things off, I planned on doing a similar promotion to what I did last year around Mother’s Day, and I set Flower Garden to be free from today until Valentine’s Day to encourage even more people to try it. To get the word out of the price drop, I got some promotion going from Pocket Frogs and a few other apps encouraging users try out the now free Flower Garden. I’m also hoping a few media outlets cover the sale to get the word out as much as possible.
As of this moment, Flower Garden is in the top 100 apps in the US and in the top 50 games, so the combination of everything seems to be working. We’ll see how things develop over this coming week. Until then, it’s going to be an exciting ride.
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So much for “weekly” updates. Last time I wrote one was Oct 29. Oops! That’s what happens when I get really busy and then the holidays hit. But now that’s over (the holiday part at least), so I’ll write to write more frequent updates.
This week Miguel and I are wrapping up our current iteration with the main focus of the first five minutes of gameplay. The reason we’re doing this now is that we spent quite a bit of time on the user interaction experience and we tried to nail that before adding more items and more levels. All along, we’ve been testing the game with unsuspecting victims and we quietly watched over their shoulders as they fumbled with the game without any instructions or tutorials.
I really believe we made huge improvements. We designed the whole game with touch interface from the ground up, and it really shows. I think it’s a very direct and intuitive interface, but even so, there’s only so much you can do without any instructions.
So, the focus of this last iteration is to concentrate on what a new player will see in the first five minutes of gameplay. That way, we can continue testing the game on new players and get a much better feel for how they learn to interact with the game and what works and what doesn’t.
For every iteration (roughly about 2 weeks each) we focus on one main area, based on what we feel needs to be addressed the most at that point. To give you an idea, these have been the focus of some of the past iterations:
- Proof-of-concept prototype
- New, non-physical items
- Game screen flow and level progression
- Final user interaction
- New items and locations
One thing that we’ve been doing is trying to take each goal to completion. This is an idea from Scrum and Agile development that I really like. If you implement an idea to the 90% state, apart from the fact that the remaining 10% is going to take another 90% of the time, you probably don’t have a good idea how it will really be once it’s completed. That makes future planning and re-prioritizing more difficult.
Obviously there’s such a thing as going overboard. Trying to get every single, tiny effect and animation to fully complete before moving on would be crippling. I try to think about the impact that feature, even if it’s very small, will have in the final game. The exact effect when you pick up a star isn’t crucial (assuming you have some sounds and some effects already), but the animations for the item selection and manipulation contribute a lot more to the feel of the game, so they’re more important.
In some of my past projects I took a different approach and built the game bottom up. At the very end all the little niceties and polish touches went in, which made the game radically different. Now I’ve come to admit that all those little touches contribute a lot to the final feel of the game and should be considered all along and not as an afterthought at the end.