Posts tagged with "developers"

The Success of Crossy Road and Monument Valley

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.

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“Quietly Doing Just Fine”

Well, I think a lot of us are out there, quietly doing just fine. HoursTracker had its best year ever in 2014, and five years of best ever years before that. If you can solve an important problem in a way that resonates with a sizable group of people, you can find success. There’s always room for a fresh take on an already well-served problem, too.

We often hear about the frustrations of indie developers who are trying to make a living on the App Store, which has essentially become the default narrative for many (I often talk about this topic, too). Carlos Ribas, developer of HoursTracker, has a good article about the opposite scenario and how he managed to turn his app into a profitable business. Well worth a read to get a fresh and different perspective, and a good reminder that there are indie developers who are doing fine after years on the App Store.

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The 2014 Panic Report

Panic is one of my favorite software companies and I'm happy to see Cabel Sasser posting this today:

Panic is a multi-million dollar business that has turned a profit for 17 years straight.

It just hit me, typing those words, that that’s a pretty insane thing to be able to say. (And, sure, we barely qualify). Believe me, I know it won’t last forever — but wow, what a kind of crazy deal.

All the problems mentioned by Cabel in the post are related to the App Store. If you look closely, the 2014 Panic Report is also a well written summary of areas where Apple's App Stores (plural, for iOS and Mac) could improve.

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App Websites

Joe Cieplinski writes about the importance of having a good website for your app:

Look, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do your due diligence with ASO, and that you shouldn’t care at all about getting people to rate your app. If you take a few hours doing some basic research, you can certainly make some improvements to your keywords that could boost your ranking considerably. But how many developers are throwing together what amounts to barely more than a skeleton web page, and then spending little to no time at all trying to drive people to it? I think there’s a lot to be gained by spending some time on this.

More than six years after the launch of the App Store, I find it curious every time I come across an app on the Store and either there's no link to a website or the “website” consists of screenshots from iTunes and an icon. This sounds obvious – having a good app website is important (sometimes absolutely necessary) and I completely agree with Joe's motivations.

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Discovery on the App Store

Gedeon Maheux writes about search on the App Store following a simple experiment: looking at search results for “Twitter”. The outcome is concerning:

The following list was generated by a manual App Store (iPhone) search on Nov 15th, 2014 for the term “Twitter”. To make the list easier to parse, I’ve called out all apps that allow a user to directly read AND post to Twitter in bold. Everything else is either a game, a utility, or some other social network enhancement. The official app from Twitter is naturally the first result, but the next actual Twitter client (Hootsuite) doesn’t appear on the list until #20 and the next one after that comes in at #62. Even the mega-popular Tweetbot isn’t returned in the results until position #81 and even then, the older v2 of Tweetbot (for iOS 6) comes first. Where’s Twitterrific? Although it contains the word “Twitter” in the app’s name, Twitterrific isn’t seen in the list until you scroll all the way down to #100.

App Store search has historically been a black box. The problem isn't necessarily that it's getting worse – rather, it's that it doesn't appear to be getting better. Every day I search for something on the App Store and, inevitably, I come across unrelated social games, apps to boost your Twitter followers or Instagram likes, and clones of other apps instead of more accurate results.

In spite of Apple's efforts to put curated lists of apps front and center, people still search for apps the old fashioned way. A mobile take on SEO has become quite popular, studies suggest this, and, anecdotally, the importance of search – inside and outside of the App Store – can be easily measured.

Apple has plenty of room for improvement in App Store search; in the meantime, the upcoming app analytics should hopefully help developers understand how customers are finding (or not finding) their apps through search.

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“Can the App Store Be Full?”

David Smith, in an excellent episode of Developing Perspective about the hyper-competitive nature of the modern App Store:

It's hard to talk to those people sometimes, because I have the understanding that it's very unlikely that you're going to come up with something that is truly new, or something that will be adopted just on its own merits, on it being novel and it being interesting. If you do, it'll likely be copied very quickly. It's just the nature of the store. If you want to make it in the App Store, it's much more a question of patience, a question of savvy maybe, too. Of being really thoughtful about how you're doing things from a business perspective, on keeping your expenses and your costs really really low. That's one point that I know I've been able to make a living out of this, is that I keep my expenses very low on the development side.

The entire episode is worth listening to (or watching), as David makes some great points about facing the realities of the App Store, which is “full” of free apps and where the majority of customers don't fall in the power-user end of the iOS device owner spectrum.

I started MacStories in April 2009, less than a year after the App Store opened. Over the years, I've tried and written about thousands of apps, generally from indie developers who have an idea and want to make an app out of it. From my experience, it's pretty clear that the people who used to make apps in the early days of the App Store have been forced to adapt to a race to the bottom, increasingly harder ways to monetize productivity apps, and a general saturation of ideas. With so many developers making apps, it's almost inevitable that the same idea will happen in different parts of the world at different price points. By 2008-2010 definitions, the App Store can be seen as “full” and the market is tough and sometimes unfair (also because Apple has been slow in providing better tools for testing apps or measuring analytics).

But, it's important to stress the amount of opportunities that new developers starting out today have to make a meaningful impact on the App Store. New ways to monetize, new technologies, new types of customers that are more diversified than five or four years ago. Apps like Workflow, Overcast, Newsify, Elevate, Clips – these, I think, are good examples of the kinds of businesses that can be explored on the App Store today.

By certain metrics, the App Store is less fun because apps are harder to discover, free apps with inferior designs and feature sets tend to dominate, and many developers haven't been able to adapt to new trends, rules, or limitations. And I'm especially sad when I hear the stories of developers whose livelihoods have been complicated by rip-offs, questionable App Store rejections, or piracy. That, unfortunately, is the consequence of a vast and popular marketplace where anyone can make anything within a few guidelines. Everyone is fighting for customers and survival.

Realistically, though, the App Store isn't “full” if you can adapt to its nature in 2014. New ideas are still possible and new apps will be invented to solve new problems for new customers. The App Store is denser, noisier, and more unforgiving than before; developing successful apps – even only by the sheer amount of functionality in iOS – requires more patience and scrupulousness than four years ago. And creating novel apps that are also successful is incredibly challenging and time-consuming. There's no one-size-fits-all solution to this other than advising against relying on luck alone.

The App Store is full of opportunities, but it's a lot of hard work – more than ever.


HockeyApp Acquired by Microsoft

With a blog post, mobile development testing and feedback service HockeyApp has announced they've been acquired by Microsoft.

From the HockeyApp blog:

Microsoft has been a HockeyApp customer with many apps since the early days back in 2011, so they were already familiar with the stability and quality of our service. Creating the best developer experience is key to both Microsoft and HockeyApp, this includes delivering industry leading tools for the major mobile platforms: iOS, Android and Windows. We saw the potential of the added abilities and resources of Microsoft to make our platform even better. It may sound cliché, but it really does feel like a match made in heaven.

We want to be very clear about the most important thing: we remain dedicated to our mission of making the best mobile app development feedback and testing distribution platform in the world. Your HockeyApp apps and accounts will continue to work and the team has not stopped working on advancing the platform. Throughout the next few months, we’ll reveal more about our plans with Microsoft.

In a separate blog post, Microsoft has also shared details of what to expect from the near future of HockeyApp:

In the coming months, we will introduce new iOS and Android SDKs for Application Insights based on the features of HockeyApp. Application Insights offers a 360-degree view of application usage, availability, and performance across both client and server/cloud application components. Integrating HockeyApp crash reports with Application Insights usage analytics will extend device support for Application Insights across all major mobile platforms and make application analytics an ambient part of the application development cycle with support for all tiers of a modern “mobile first, cloud first” solution.

It's not surprising to see HockeyApp becoming part of Microsoft following TestFlight and Crashlytics joining Apple and Twitter, respectively. Mobile development testing has become essential to the app economy, and big companies want to control that part of the stack.

As a user, I always preferred HockeyApp to the original TestFlight. HockeyApp was fast, its Timeline view was excellent (see all beta builds from newest to oldest), and it was always more reliable than the old TestFlight. The new TestFlight, though, is much easier and integrated than third-party beta testing services: developers can add up to 1000 external testers using Apple IDs rather than device UDIDs. That alone has been a massively welcome change: I only need to give my email address to developers, and then I can download an app without going crazy with certificates and UDIDs.

Most of the betas I try for MacStories have switched to the new TestFlight. It's just too convenient and integrated. I do think, however, that there's still room for services like HockeyApp, which offers developers more insights, cross-platform support, and the ability to avoid Apple's often problematic web services. It'll be interesting to see where Microsoft takes HockeyApp.

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Professional App Pricing

Rob Rhyne, in response to Allen Pike's post about the lack of a great app to record podcasts, has a few ideas about pricing professional software:

Professionals use your software to make money. If you can find a way for them to do their job faster or better, they will pay nearly any price. Did you purchase the maximum spec for your last computer or did you buy the cheapest you could find? Professionals always trade money for productivity. The real trick is building a product that makes them faster and better. Solve that problem and you can name your price.

I completely agree with Rob. Even on iOS, developers should consider creating professional software that's aimed at a specific audience willing to pay what is a considered a “premium” on the App Store. There are examples of developers that understand this well, such as Teleprompt+, Numerics, Omni's apps, and TrialPad.

If you can build a customer base that needs your app to get work done faster, there's a good chance they'd be willing to pay higher prices and reward you with commitment to the product, constant suggestions and bug reports, and no inclination to be curious about competing products, even if they're cheaper. I believe that's true on any platform and digital marketplace.

For more on this topic, check out Michael Jurewitz's blog posts from last year.

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