We’re always trying to think of new and interesting stories to publish on MacStories, and often times they’re articles that are a complete experiment that we honestly don’t know how they’ll turn out – this is one of those articles.
Earlier this year I published an article that was essentially just a list of indie iOS/Mac developers and we got a great reaction to it (and we promise an update is coming). Inspired by the developers featured in that article, I asked a handful of them to write a journal of what they do in a week of development, and for some crazy reason, they agreed to contribute. Those generous developers are (in no particular order) Oisin and Padraig from Supertop, David Smith, Philip Simpson from Shifty Jelly, Greg Pierce from Agile Tortoise, and Junjie from Clean Shaven Apps.
I asked each of the developers to keep track of the work they did in the week of Sunday 22 February to Saturday 28 February. But I wasn’t specific in the format, other than to say I wanted something along the lines of a journal crossed with a time sheet. That was partly because I really didn’t know what would work well, but also because I wanted to be flexible and let the developers just write what they thought was appropriate. I had no idea what to expect, and was a bit nervous that the whole thing might fall apart because I hadn’t been specific enough about what I was looking for.
Fortunately, the result is fascinating, I found myself not only entertained but educated as I read through each of their journals. You’ll find that each journal is quite vastly different, not just in their writing style but also how they work as an indie developer. I know it’s a long read (certainly longer than I had anticipated), but stick with it – there are some great surprises throughout.
From Apple's developer blog:
The size limit of an app package submitted through iTunes Connect has increased from 2 GB to 4 GB, so you can include more media in your submission and provide a more complete, rich user experience upon installation. Please keep in mind that this change does not affect the cellular network delivery size limit of 100 MB.
Over the years, the maximum size of 2 GB for apps forced game developers to drastically reduce the graphical capabiltities of their games (see, for instance, the original BioShock port). With Metal and more powerful iPhones and iPads, it only makes sense to let developers create more advanced iOS gaming experiences with fewer compromises.
A great overview of Desk's 2014 by its developer, John Saddington:
The bottom-line, though, is that it means that it is quite possible to “make it” as an indie developer and eek out an income that is substantive and worthwhile. I hope this report, if anything, gives some encouragement to all of those that are interested in seriously (or semi-seriously) pursuing an independent app that creates great value for users and customers.
Desk is a new text editor and publishing app for OS X, and John has clearly put years of thought and passion into it. What struck me in his blog post is how he reinvested the app's revenue into advertising instead of settling on what he had achieved, going after a very committed audience that produced interesting results.
Fascinating story, and good business sense. See also: Joe Cieplinski's thoughts.
Apple has informed developers that the legacy TestFlightApp.com beta testing service will shut down on February 26:
The services offered at TestFlightApp.com will no longer be available after February 26, 2015. To prepare for the TestFlightapp.com closure, developers and team leaders are recommended to transfer their testers to the all-new TestFlight Beta Testing in iTunes Connect.
The legacy TestFlight website has continued working in spite of Apple's acquisition of TestFlight last year and subsequent integration in iTunes Connect. Apple is providing developers with instructions to migrate existing testers to the new TestFlight service, with more details available here.
As I wrote last week, the new TestFlight is not perfect, but its native presence on iOS 8 offers a superior solution for testers and developers thanks to the reliance on Apple IDs. Notably, the legacy TestFlight website allowed developers to release betas for devices running older versions of iOS, whereas the new TestFlight is only available for iOS 8.
From the Supertop blog (makers of Castro and Unread):
Shortly after iOS 8 was released, Apple opened this new beta testing service to iOS developers. When compared to the previous testing process, it is a major improvement and I am grateful to the team behind it. It is a sign that Apple cares about third party developers and about helping us improve the quality of the software we provide.
In the past few months, I've been testing about 50 apps with TestFlight, and, as a user, I think the system is way better than the old days of beta testing with Hockey and the original TestFlight. I don't need to give developers my device UDIDs; all my betas are in the TestFlight app; I get notifications for updates; and, I can easily unlock In-App Purchases in beta builds with my Apple ID. Apple has built the new TestFlight with simplicity in mind, and I appreciate the time it has saved me so far.
It's not perfect. Developers have reported various issues with uploading builds and automatic crash reporting hasn't been integrated yet. When TestFlight sends you an email for a beta update, the build's changelog isn't reported in the email, forcing you to open the TestFlight app (an extra step). You can't view a beta's version history (like you can on Hockey). And, as Supertop mentions, betas expire after 30 days, and that's never fun.
Still, I think TestFlight is, from a user's perspective, a great start from Apple. Developers need a solid, easy, and reliable way to let people test their upcoming apps. TestFlight already hits all the basic points of this process.
Here at MacStories we write about apps. A lot. Many of those we write about, perhaps even most, are created by individuals and small teams. And typically, those hard-working individuals remain unknown to the public who just know an app as something they use. Today we want to bring a bunch those indie developers to the forefront.
I wasn’t sure exactly where it would lead, but last month I asked on Twitter for independent developers to @ reply me and say hi. Amplified by retweets by Federico and many others, I got dozens and dozens of replies, ultimately totalling just under 200 responses. That’s both a pretty huge number (trust me, it was a time consuming process documenting them all) and also incredibly tiny (there are around 250,000 active developers and over a million apps for sale).
It would be completely ridiculous to perform any kind of analysis on such a small sample size, but it was nonetheless great to have a relatively varied spread of developers from all over the world (illustrated in the above graphic). But more valuable was the list of developers and their Twitter accounts. So I’ve created a Twitter list that includes every developer that @ replied me. We’ve also included the full table of every developer we collated, links to their apps, location and Twitter account (see below). Please note that developers and apps shown in the full list does not mean they are endorsed by me, Federico or MacStories. If a developer met some very minimal criteria, they were included.
Charles Perry of Metakite Software spent some time digging through the Overcast sales and rankings data (provided by Marco Arment last week) and extrapolated some interesting findings about the distribution of App Store income:
At the top of the long tail, in position 871 on the U.S. Top Grossing list, an app still makes over $700 in revenue per day. That’s almost $260,000 per year. Even number 1,908 on the U.S. Top Grossing list makes over $100,000 per year. In fact all apps above number 3,175 on the U.S. Top Grossing list produce enough revenue to at least make its developer the United States household median income for 2014 ($53,891).
That's the good news, because the bad news is that there are well over a million apps for sale and the earnings quickly fall as you go down the rankings. But Perry also makes the important point that many indie developers have multiple apps for sale simultaneously which can make a big difference.
So, with even fewer people than I expected making “yacht and helicopter money” in the App Store, I remain hopeful for my fellow developers. There’s a lot money circulating in the ecosystem, and a developer operating at indie scale only needs a little bit of it. It seems that even with the revenue curve tilted so heavily towards the big hits, the shape of the App Store still allows room for sustainable businesses to develop in the long tail. It seems that developers who work hard, mind the details, and treat their business like a business have a real chance of making it.
Keep in mind that Perry's conclusions are extrapolated from just the one data source, being Overcast. I'd be interested to see if the sales and rankings patterns from other apps fit along Perry's curve.
[via Hosam Hassan]
Speaking of sales numbers, a must-read article by Marco Arment on how Overcast did on the App Store in 2014:
The biggest unknown in the App Store is what happens after the launch has settled down. I don’t know what 2015 will bring, or where sales will bottom out. (With past apps, February was always my worst month, and not just because it has fewer days.) Promisingly, sales in the last 6 months have stayed within a fairly narrow range and aren’t showing a clear downward trend, although the bumps in November and December can be easily attributed to temporary boosts from Serial and Christmas.
Marco worked on Overcast full-time for about 15 months. Apple made $70,343 from Overcast in 2014.
Overcast is a fantastic podcast player that does things other podcast apps can't do. Marco found a niche big enough to sustain a business and managed to build a product that is useful and commercially viable. I believe that Overcast is a great example of how innovation in apps can still be possible and profitable.
And I can only nod in agreement at the last sentences:
I can work in my nice home office, drink my fussy coffee, take a nap after lunch if I want to, and be present for my family as my kid grows up. That’s my definition of success.
I'm always interested in learning how the App Store market is working out for indie developers and small studios. Over the last few days, we got a glimpse into the business of iOS games thanks to numbers and stats shared by the developers of two quality titles – Crossy Road and Monument Valley.
Crossy Road implements a freemium model and it has grossed over a million dollars with ads. The developers used video ads in an effective way:
“I played Disco Zoo and thought that video ads were a really good way to earn money without getting into people’s faces. We just needed to figure out a fun reason for players to watch them”. In the game, watching ads earns coins. Players can use coins to buy new characters that hop across the endless dangerous road in new and often hilarious ways. But it’s also possible to simply buy them with real money or just collect coins in the game.
Monument Valley, on the other hand, is an excellent premium game that allows players to download extra levels as additional purchases (the so-called paymium model). In a widely popular post, ustwo shared the numbers behind the game. Most notably:
- 2.4M official sales, 1.7M of which on iOS
- 575k upgrades to Forgotten Shores
- $5.8M in revenue, 81.7% of which on iOS
The numbers, however, also include more specific and interesting stats such as the number of players who completed the game (lower than I expected) and sales by country. I find it illuminating to see the effects of Forgotten Shores and Christmas compared to winning an Apple Design Award or releasing the game on Android.
Crossy Road and Monument Valley are two profoundly different games. Monument Valley had a big budget (for an indie production), a moderately large team, and it reaped well-deserved rewards. Crossy Road uses freemium mechanics with a unique twist, respecting the user's time and commitment to the game. In both cases, they are quality games, and two examples of the multifaceted (and crowded) App Store market.