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Why one developer decided he was done with the iOS App Store
Why one developer decided he was done with the iOS App Store
October 29, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

October 29, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
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    14 comments
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Business/Marketing



In a postmortem of his game PWN: Combat Hacking printed on Pocket Tactics, mobile developer Erik Asmussen says the iOS market has become too crowded for even a successful title to pay dividends.

"Many things that used to work (press, Apple feature, free promotions) have lost effectiveness," Asmussen writes. "Even when all these things fell miraculously into place, the revenues simply weren't there."

To date, PWN has seen 50,000 downloads and a lifetime revenue of about $10,000. Asmussen says that, at PWN's peak position within the top 200 on the Apple app store, the game was earning about $300 to $400 a day.

"This would be great if sustained, but hanging on to these spots is nearly impossible without an ongoing feature in the App Store or a huge install base," he explains. "The scary thing is that these numbers are actually pretty good for an iOS title."

While the game garnered better-than-typical press attention upon release, middling reviews and certain design quibbles caused PWN to drop off the radar shortly after launch, and no amount of updates and free promotions could regain that lost ground.

"The free app market is [arguably] even tougher to compete in, because all the big money players are now staked out there and it takes a massive ad spend to get anywhere close to the number of players you might need to get decent revenue," says Asmussen. "While [PWN's performance is] not a disaster, it's a pretty weak return given a year's worth of time and my expectations for the game's potential."

As a result, Asmussen says he's now focusing his efforts elsewhere than the app store. "iOS is just not a market that I think is viable for me to compete in any more, let alone depend on as a sole source of income. Instead, I am developing games using Unity and targeting several other platforms first."

"The most important benefit of this shift is that it opens up a ton of new avenues for promotion and distribution that were unavailable to me as an iOS developer," he adds. "I know these markets are still highly competitive and have their own problems and obstacles, but they don't feel like the dead end that iOS appears to be now for someone in my position."

You can read the entire postmortem, and the lessons Asmussen has drawn from developing PWN, over at Pocket Tactics.


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Comments


Ron Dippold
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I know there have been articles on here at least two years ago saying the same thing - if you're a small dev without all the marketing and backing and crosspromotion available to the big guys the App Store is just a crap shoot (and not guaranteed even for them - Amazing Alex?).

Unless you make a game so brilliant and different that you get a viral publicity storm (so just plan to do that, right?), you've already got a following (Terry Cavanagh), or you have connections who can get you publicity on popular sites and/or webcasts, you have to be prepared for it to sink without a trace if you don't get that lucky break.

You could argue that you're more likely to get a Steam Greenlight than have your game go viral on App Store, so that might be a more likely plan if you have the right type of game.

Ron Dippold
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Speak of the devil - Steam just Greenlighted another 100 titles and while there are some quality titles it looks like the minimum standard is pretty low: http://steamcommunity.com/games/765/announcements/detail/15157526
92971060218

Troy Walker
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"..Instead, I am developing games using Unity and targeting several other platforms first."..

In my opinion, we need more open marketing platforms that are not bound by device manufacturers. To date, only 'steam' comes to mind, but more of the like are needed. With much, much better player feedback channels as well as product presentation means. Both iOS and Windows Store fall way short of an inviting experience. They emphasize a bias on partnerships versus expanding subset categories to find interesting products. Once you dive into categories of either store, the presentation of available products is.. terrible at best.

Sean Chau
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I stopped looking at the App Store entirely, starting a few months ago. It's when I started seeing the rise of the card games in the top charts.

It started slowly, but I just see way too much Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, Modern War, and the big publisher clones of those games on the top charts.

But then again, I'm the type of guy who played Angry Birds for 5 minutes and deleted it.

Phil Maxey
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I think now the App store has been established a number of years, you would have to be blind to not release what works and what doesn't. There are a number of points to make.

First is that with the advent of so many game making tools, combined with everyone and their dog making mobile games, the market has become saturated. There are more games than people have time to play. Which leads me on to point 2.

Which is that with so many games available, a game has to stand out in some way, and not just be different for differents sake, but be quite some way better (better visuals, more polished gameplay etc etc) than what's currently out there.

3rd. You can have the greatest idea for a game but if it's not a type which does well on iOS than it won't matter a hill of beans. The games that do the best on iOS are games that can be played asynchronously and they are games that are free to download, if you do anything other than that, it will not matter how high the quality is of what you are making it will struggle. Look at the top 50 revenue making games on the iOS charts, that is what works. If for whatever reason you can't stomach making a game like one of those I strongly suggest you find a different platform.

That's not to say that at some point different types of games will start to do well, they might do but for that to happen the platform itself needs to change in some way.

Troy Walker
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"... but for that to happen the platform itself needs to change in some way."

which will not happen unfortunately :(

Florian Garcia
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I think it is time for people to realize that the appstore isn't and has never been a gaming platform. It is a mass market place that heavily relies on the ever changing trends.
Unless you are ready to invest into deep trend research and keep up to date pretty much like a marketing professional, don't go there. Talking about a game is already a mistake. Nowadays, you talk about a service that you operate and that is flexible enough to change over time in order to follow trends and keep your users engaged thus keep a revenue stream.
The golden rule is still the same though, know your market before trying to reach it. Remember that most of iOS users who play don't consider themselves gamers or even players. Yup.

edwin zeng
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I would prefer not to ditch the Appstore, as it would simply mean removing a market sector. It would be better to start from one sector and expand to another. (e.g. Minecraft/Terraria from PC to mobile/tablet, Nimble Quest from mobile/tablet to PC). I would prefer to think that it is better to have a game that can be made available on multiple platforms instead of a single one. Better to have diversity.

There will be lots of research to be done on multiple fronts, in technical, design, art, monetisation, gameplay trends, The Hook or X-factor, etc. The game still has to relate to existing titles in the top charts of the Appstore, and at the same time, sufficiently stand out from the crowd making people wanting to download and try it. It may differ slightly for Steam.

The problem is see is that simplicity in thinking that any game made using Unity/whichever, will sell on any platform or market sector. How many of the game-apps made quickly using Unity can reach, stay and rise in the top 100 charts of the App Store? And it would not differ even if its on Steam, as eventually there will games that will not sell well in any sector. They can equally horrible or fantastic as judged by different people, even if they are green lit on Steam.

So how to solve this problem? The author needs to ditch the content production mindset first, then start thinking what people want to play and what they are willing to pay for. Do research and prototype portions of that game, then re-integrate the tools/middleware that are suitable for use. Iterate this many times, staying on trend while scaling it for an MVP. Over time, the game will have to evolve in order to incorporate services due to F2P/IAP. And also watch the F2P/IAP trend as it is changing (e.g. Hearthstone - no premium currency, no app analytics required).

However, I have to make it clear that this will take a LOT OF TIME and one has to be in this for the long haul as Apple now measures time of app usage (e.g. YouTube app), besides download numbers/velocity and app ratings. So this is NOT a silver bullet for everyone. Honestly, this is how I see the situation at the moment and how I am attempting to respond.

Dave Hoskins
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When the App Store used to show new releases and dates, I estimated there was about 2-4000 new apps a DAY being released in December. I don't know if that number is different now, but that's a large sea to be noticed in without a competitive marketing strategy.
As a guess, Apple removed those stats from the new releases because it could put off devs and lose potential profit?

Arthur Hulsman
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Simply get your game published on a mobile gaming portal in trade for preroll/ ingame ad revenue. Like the old days with flash :) as a second step just publish it in any marketplace you want, as long its not the ios store. Cause apple is nerfing html5 support on mobile safari. Reason for that might be obvious.

Also, a lot more gaming portals are supporting unity besides flash.

Curtiss Murphy
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Wonder if he has reflected upon the old metrics? Gama (et al) released some surveys a while back, showing there was one metric directly linked to expected sales of your titles. That metric is the Number of Previously Released Titles! The more titles you already have, the more you will make on your next release - it's a non-linear, growth curve.

The reasons are simple - you get better over time, and you build an audience that cross-pollinates. IMHO, his first release was quite successful by normal standards, which argues that instead of abandoning iOS, he should now shoot to make MORE titles, at a faster clip. Release a title every 4 months - and link back to your existing titles.

$10k is a good place to start to grow, build, grow, build, grow, repeat ... Try shorter development cycles.

Dave Hoskins
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That way you turn into a game factory, churning out things like hidden object games, or run-down-three-slots-collecting-coins games. Well, if that's what you want to do... ;p

nicholas ralabate
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It's true, hitting it hard in the studio and working at your craft does result in vapid casual games. Every schoolboy knows that.

Dave Hoskins
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But how many developers want to do that? If money making entrepreneurs were in charge of it all, then what kind of games would be out there? Gambling 'games'?
Well, I suppose books and music have also succumbed to this 'business over creativity' blandness. The markets are flooded with dull copies of older versions, in all media.


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