Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Appillionaires Secrets from Developers Who Struck It Rich on the App Store by Chris Stevens

Appillionaires by Chris Stevens 
(developer of Alice for the iPad and Alice in New York)

This book illustrates the story of some of the app world's successful developers and how they arrived at their point of global app fame. The road is long and not easy even though the media makes it look like instant fame hit.

Stevens wrote that most indie developers struggle to get attention for their apps due to lack of marketing clout and their reliance on top placement in the App Store. For indie developers, being featured by Apple or advertised in an iTunes banner ad is the largest road to being noticed. After finding fame with a successful app, app developers find themselves constantly being pitched app ideas. Stevens write that few Appillionaires were overnight successes. The book has chapters based on specific apps such as Doodle Jump, StickWars, Harbor Master, Angry Birds and Pocket God. I'll go through them more thoroughly on the next blog post. 

Mills from Angry Birds says, "People say it was an overnight success. Well, yes, it was an overnight success after 52 other failed attempts."

Max Slade from Johnny Two Shoes recalls that, "We actually unplugged our phone because we were getting so many calls from VCs saying, "We want to give you some money; let's give you some money. Here, have some money. Money. Money!"

To be in the app game, it cost $99 to join up as an Apple developer. The expense is your time and or paying people for work. The official Software Development Kit (SDK) is a free download from apple that allows anyone to try programming for the iPhone. 

"Free apps accounted for 65-70 percent of the software installed on iPhones in 2009, which meant than an impressive proportion were paid apps, with 99 cents already established as the most popular price. By the end of 2009, Apple had supplied over 2 billion apps to iPhone and iPod Touch users in 77 different countries, netting developers over $900 million. Customers were downloading an average of 11 apps each per month and a mind-boggling 8,500 new apps were being submitted to Apple by programmers every week."

"The masses wanted cheap, straightforward games they could dip in and out of during a bored moment on the train. They didn't necessarily want a virtual film experience with layered plots and an advanced control system; they just wanted the next Tetris."

Stevens write that, "Almost as soon as Alice hit the number one spot I was fielding calls from The New York Times, giving interviews to Japanese television stations, and advising major print publishers on how to make digital books. Alice was literally programmed in a bedroom- a phenomena that the App Store had made possible...What few people saw were the months of near insanity that led up to the success of Alice. The confusion and self-doubt as app after app that we attempted to sell on the App Store failed to turn a profit. Alice was the culmination of almost a year of repeated failures."

"The store has become a magnet for the overly optimistic with money to spend on getting their app built. I've sat in meeting after meeting with recent university graduates who have scraped together thousands of pounds from friends and family with the intention of making a fortune on the App Store. Almost without fail, their ideas have been vague, or based on gut instinct, rather than the commercial realities of the world's most competitive software market."

Peter Pashley was quoted in the book saying, "It was the first time that a distribution channel existed for a single creative to distribute their work to tens of millions of people. If you're a musician that never really happens-unless you have a label. If you're an author that rarely happens- unless you have a publisher. People are actively looking for apps all the time and, if you make something good, it has the potential to spread like wildfire. Books and CDs never had that."

What can we take away from Steven's book? He quoted Castelnuovo (creator of Pocket God) as saying, "I think that success in the entertainment industry has a lot to do with luck: the reception of the audience. You can't really quantify or second guess that easily. It's like a lottery ticket. The strategy was to keep it small, stay in the game for a long time, and keep working on projects until something stuck... People see that a lot of people are making money, and that a lot of people have these devices. They think they could come up with an idea. But having an idea is 5 percent of the thing. Implementation counts for a lot." 

Castelnuovo believes that the buying public enjoyed Pocket God's app updates and new game mechanics. "The best strategy is keep your costs down, and support your app like crazy. Be laser-focused in getting it out there. You can't just do something, watch and see if it takes off. You have to put everything behind it. Get a sense if the audience is receptive to your idea. If they're not, then cut your losses and work on a new game. But if there is enthusiasm, get behind it."

John Hartzog, creator of the game StickWars advice was, "I hit a momentum and realised that, if I kept updating the app every three weeks, I could accelerate the rise... Work independently. That's what I did at the start. Focus on making a fantastic game and worry about money later. First, make a great product."

A simple app is estimated to cost between $15,000 to $50,000 to produce (not inclusive of marketing). Stevens created some simple interactive book apps which cost $60,000. 

"Bedroom programmers can eliminate much of these costs by doing all the coding and design work themselves- the first Alice app, for example, cost nothing except time. Increasingly, young entrepreneurs with no programming experience are now choosing to employ outside help to build their iPhone app ideas, making the projects extremely expensive. The unfortunate truth of the market is that most of these entrepreneurs will never recoup their investments. Ever. The most cynical estimate is that the median app makes $682 per year for its developer on the App Store."

It's an easy book to read. Interesting in the way that it delved into the history of the programmers and how their interest in game design originated from a young age and Apple's App Store was the perfect vehicle for indie and small developers to release and distribute their work to the global marketplace. 

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