Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Where are the Indie iOS developers you ask?

I've been an "Indie" developer since before it was a word.  Back when I started my company in 1997 it was "Shareware".

The company, Headlight Software, grew from a Windows program, GetRight, to a small team of my brother Pete, friend Shawn, and later my wife.  In 2008 we jumped to the App Store, and were among the first app developers.  FTP On The Go came out about a month after the store opened.

That was one of the big things we did right.  It wasn't a fad type app, but a pretty good niche business/website tool.  FTP clients have been around for 20 or 30 years, so aren't going anywhere.  For a good long time there weren't really any competitors either.  There can't be many apps that came out in the first month of the App Store that are still being developed.

Sales Data (FTP On The Go)


Here is a graph of the total App Store sales revenue since when FTP came out August 3, 2008.  I'm a few days early, but call it 6 years of sales data.


When the iPad first came out, we did a new FTP On The Go PRO version which is the big pink section starting in 2010; and at the tail end in 2013 the orange and purples are the Discounted Upgrade versions we did when changing to iOS 7.

As you can see, the party really ended the middle of 2012.

Sales Data (All Our Apps)


We did other apps, and had other more minor successes, but the business basically mirrors the sales of FTP.

The big peak in early 2010 was Knife Dancing's crazy ride to the #1 free game--it got into the 100 top grossing as well, back long enough ago, if you can imagine it, that there were only 1 or 2 other free apps in the top grossing charts at the time!


Unfortunately, there's another important line in that chart above.  That red line right across the chart.  That line has the label "Profitable".

Yeah, Fuck.  

You'll see that since early 2012 the income has been below that line (yes, it was below that line in the beginning too; GetRight has been on a similar trajectory--its declining revenues where higher back then.)  The business had built up a cushion in the bank, but nothing lasts forever.  We fought like crazy, and worked our asses off.  But nothing.  We had to cut salaries last year.  Finally, earlier this year I had to cut hours and we knew it was coming to an end.  

We all landed on our feet; but that means Headlight stuff only gets done on a weekend or occasional evening after a long day at work.

It has been a good long run, 17 years in business and counting.  Sales are still not $0.  At the current rate, it could have supported just me a bit longer (at a pretty low income, a fraction of what I'm making at a regular job as an iOS programmer) but the writing is on the wall.  I found something new rather than waiting 6 months or a year when things could be much more desperate.

Its crazy that even working somewhere else full time, and doing Headlight work in my spare hours, it is still likely one of the bigger Indie developers--which is a sad sign for all app developers.


That's where Indie app developers are.  Getting jobs.



And a year ago, but I bet this math is still close if not even worse.


Update1: Cool, you read this far, thanks!  Now the real question, will you help one of many struggling indie developers and go and spend $10 on an app?


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

1704 x 960

I'd read on one of the many Apple rumor sites that the next bigger iPhone might have that new resolution of 1704x960.

History stuff that developers can skip...
The original iPhones had a resolution of 480x320.  Going to the iPhone 4 got 4 times as many pixels, but kept the same "logical" resolution, just going to half sizes for a new physical resolution of 960x640.  Buttons and everything else would be the same sizes and positions, so apps didn't have to change to work.  Developers could give a  new image with a bigger size and @2x as part of the name, and everything magically worked to use the higher resolution image.
iPhone 5 got a little taller screen and has a logical size of 568x320, with a corresponding physical resolution of 1136x640.

The rumored 1704x960 continues Apple's retina trend and is 3 times the size of the iPhone 5's logical pixels of 568x320. Existing apps would be slightly stretched, but would all work exactly the same.  I'm sure developers can have new images named @3x to get extra sharpness at that new screen size.

If 1704x960 the new size, and I'd bet a lot that it is, I'm sure Apple will do all that.  Easy and straightforward, same sort of transition and image resolution updates everyone has gotten used to with Retina screens.  Everything works as-is.

But what if they also add a new option developers can set to say "I want a new Logical size of 852x480"?  

Instead of simply being stretched to use the new bigger screen, it would give a new logical size to work with. That seems it would be a cool additional way to take advantage of the new bigger screen.  Especially for things that deal with text like web browsers and especially web pages.

HTML, CSS, and Javascript seems much easier to update and format with a 1/2 point logical resolution than 1/3 point ones.  (Since those third point fractions are endless .333333333333 and 0.666666666 )

And has an additional advantage that an app wouldn't need 3 sized copies of the same image 1x, 2x, 3x.  Just 1x and 2x.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

APPocalypse: What an Awesome review gets you

Among the first in what I bet will be a bunch of posts about the sad state of selling Apps in the App Store.  Pete's excellent one here as well.

Our game bloc'd that came out the end of March got an awesome review, better than anything I could have written myself.

http://www.tuaw.com/2014/03/25/blocd-is-a-highly-addictive-riff-on-tetris-that-you-should-down/

Tuaw.com is one of the best known Apple blog websites, so we thought "Great!  Other sites will see it, maybe even somebody at Apple will see it and like the game."

Not so much. The blog article itself got ripped off linked to, but no other sites did a review.

But how did that really convert into sales?  Here's actual numbers from AppViz.

It had dropped from some higher peaks in the first day after it was released.  The blog post got a nice spike in downloads, but it only lasted a few days.

Counting the days of the post and a week after, we made $27.17 in that time.  Which while a pathetically sad number, does compare favorably to the TOTAL of $37.12 that the app has made as of today.  The green lines are the free download numbers.  The little blue bits on top are the In-App purchases that make some money.


Part of the Plan B was to do some other rule variations with the same gameplay.  We did that and released it as a separate game.  Bloc3d.  It's strictly a paid $1 game.  I'll post some stats for that one after it has been out for a bit longer...


Update:  Pete's Skype comments were worth adding:
Read your blog post in the middle of the night, more sad truths.  That one really shows the non-discoverability.  When you're promoted you get downloads.  When the promotion stops, the downloads stop immediately.  No long tail anymore, just switch off.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

+1 for Apple

No more original title needed: Damn you Ellen DeGeneres*

We have made a number of poker games, first coming out in March 2009.

Heads Up: Hold'em was the first, using the common poker term in the name, Heads Up.

In April 2013, Ellen DeGeneres' Heads Up! game came out.  There was a small bump when their app came out.  That spike is a hundred or so people who maybe downloaded the wrong app.  But overall, our poker games sales are considerably lower now then they were before Heads Up! came out.


We've been happily co-existing for a year now.  Until we submitted a new game, using our existing branding scheme.  Heads Up: All In.  And Apple rejected it...

22.2

We found that your app, and its metadata, contains content that could be misleading to users, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines. 
If your iTunes Connect Application State is Rejected, a new binary will be required. Make the desired metadata changes when you upload the new binary.
Specifically, your app name leverages a popular app on the App Store which could be misleading to users.  
It would be appropriate to remove or revise any misleading content from your app name.

We've resubmitted it with a bug fix (some mixed up GameCenter stuff), and a set of reasons why I think we should be able to use the name.

This app was rejected for using the "Heads Up" as part of the name.  There are a few reasons I think we should still be allowed to use this name.   
1)   Our use of "Heads Up: Xyz" naming of poker games pre-dates the newer popular game by 4 years.  Our game https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/heads-up-holdem-1-on-1-poker/id307290392?mt=8 first used this name in March 2009.  The other "Heads Up!" game first came out in April 2013.   
2)  "Heads Up" is a common poker term.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heads_up_poker  
3)  I can sadly confirm we've gotten no benefit of their using a similar name to our existing apps.  http://headlightinc.com/headsup-sales.png shows a small spike in one of our poker apps around the time their game first came out.  But overall the downloads are significantly lower than before their "Heads Up!" came out. 
It got rejected again, for the same naming reason.  This time, I submitted much the same message to the App Review Board, a higher level appeal.  And they OK'd it and accepted the app!  Thanks, Apple!

Heads Up: All In is available in the App Store now.


* I knew posting a complaint about Apple will get nothing as a response from Apple.  But maybe Ellen has people out looking for blog posts damning her.  That was a hope that it would make a few minutes of good TV :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Congrats, Microsoft

For a long time, it seemed Microsoft was doing things to compete in the world as it used to be, or in the world they wished it was.

But in the past week or so that changed.  Office for iPad, and now $0 for Windows on phones and small tablets.

Great ways to attack the world of today!  I'm sure are all a credit to the new CEO.


One interesting thing to see how it pans out:  Android makers have had to pay a license for various patents to Microsoft, $5 per phone or something like that.  I assume that's not happening with the new $0 Windows license.  Suddenly, it's cheaper to make a Windows phone than an Android one.  Smart move.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

bloc'd. Tower Defense + Match 3

Grr, blogger deleted the post I'd been adding to over the course of a year+ as these various prototypes happened.  Thankfully the screenshots were still around.  

What became bloc'd started because I was thinking about Tower Defense games, and why I didn't like them that much.  Place the thing in the right spot for the incoming monsters, wait, tap to pickup coins, repeat.


The first test was as a potential new game mode in our game Pawn'd.  We've still not added it, but I think it would work nicely there too.  As the dragon came across, you could attack it by matching pieces with the color it is next to.  So below, the purple and blue (Pawn and Knight) can attack the little dragon below them.  Keep the dragons from getting all the way across!


That got into a lot of prototypes, starting in January 2013.  (So the final product came out a bit over a year after the first test ideas.)

We weren't sure what sort of game or theme it might be.  Below might be hordes of little red square Orcs attacking towers in the center of the circles.  Each tower has a type of ammo (arrows, magic, stones), which you would use to attack by matching the colors in connected lines.  They could shoot Orcs in the range of their circle.  The extra white color could be coins to collect to upgrade the tower or repair damage.

I think there's a good game in that...but seemed like the graphic art requirements would be high--lots of little animated monsters.


I think this one was similar but with different sized units.


It evolved into a "big" enemy that dropped small ones.  The 91 orbited the center of the green, and dropped small white units--each drop is minus 1.  Matching a color when the big one passes through its range reduces the big enemy too.

It orbited in something like 10 seconds, so there was a big timing aspect.  Can you make a big match in Red while the big enemy is passing through.  Match quickly to keep the little ones from attacking your tower too.  One little one in range destroyed by each tile matched.


If we'd have finished it, an alien-invasion theme was the likely direction.  Same gameplay as above, but a different skin (just a mockup Shawn did.)

Again, I think there's a good game with this variation too.  Much lower graphic art needs.  A nice computer console type look....  (which I may get to in a later post :)


There were various months long lulls between all those prototypes above.  Do some new idea in an afternoon, then marinate on it for months as other things were happening.

What finally became bloc'd came in August 2013.  This prototype had too many incoming things, but it got the right mechanic with little shapes you had to match.


It again sat for months, until I was showing off some in-progress things at an NSCoder Night in Seattle.  It seemed close so I revisited it while on vacation in Feb 2014 a few weeks later.  It mostly got done on that trip, typing away in the evenings :)

It only needed a few graphics, Pete did a little texturing so the squares weren't simply solid squares (my programmer art.)


And that's it!  The name was about the last thing we came up with before submitting.  The basic mechanic of matching shapes seems like it can work with more game modes...so trying some of our ideas to add into updates!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Minus Apple.

What if, instead of bringing Apple back from the brink in 1996, something different had happened? Bringing Steve Jobs back too late, or any of a number of other choices and Apple failed back in the late 1990s.

What would have happened?  Sorry Microsoft, "Windows or Nothing" really dead-ended your technological progress.  You'd had the ideas, but 10 years of shoehorning Windows onto tablet and phone type devices hadn't worked as well as Apple did it on their first try*.

Even being shown the way with the iPad and iPhone, and having a Metro UI that (to me) seems best designed for Tablets out of all devices, you still couldn't make Surface work.  Nobody at the top could tell the Office team to "make Office work on this tablet, damn it"?  Office makes money, but isn't exciting** so doesn't sell tablets to people at home.

No Apple means no iPod, no iPhone, no iPad.  We'd have nice tiny little cell phones that lasted a month on a charge.  That seems like what cell phone companies were competing on before the iPhone--size and battery life; but like the older ones with a tiny screen and hardware keyboard or number pad.

Could anyone else gotten something like iTunes launched--and been friendly to people with 99¢ songs?

Tablets would have stayed as weird niche devices that ran bastard versions of Windows.

No Macbook Air and we'd be stuck with monstrous yet plastic and flimsy laptops.


Who could have developed those without Apple to show the way?

I'd bet that the company to finally pull things off would have been Amazon.  The first Kindle came out in late 2007 so must have been in development before the iPhone was announced in early 2007.  Amazon started selling books, so an e-reader device made sense.

For them, moving to something like the Kindle Fire type tablet that did books as well as video would be the next step.  (Though without Apple it might have had a decent size screen with a hardware keyboard under it like the first few versions of the Kindle did.  Looking back, the design of the first Kindle was crazy and weird.)

We'd have gotten tablets, but even more oriented as entertainment consumption.  Would there have been apps?


Thankfully, Apple didn't die.

----

* Apple surely had 100s of tries too, but all internal things that nobody else saw.  

** Lots of money, so far.  But that won't last.  People use Office because they have to for work.  I'm sure the new versions are a bit more advanced than the nearly 20 year old(!) versions for Windows 95.  But they do the same thing.  Most people would still be happy with that years old version.  I've been happy with Google Docs for the few times a year I needed printed documents, but the new iCloud ones look great so I've been using them too.