Confessions of an iPhone Game Maker
Success on the App Store
PCW: Let's talk about some of the success you've had with the game since it launched.
JR: Blocked hit the App Store in early September 2008. I had a modest amount of downloads at first. And then, right after Christmas, sales jumped. I'm not sure what led to Blocked's being chosen as a staff favorite, but I know that once I started actively promoting it through advertising, Web forums, YouTube, and Twitter, I saw an increase in activity.
PCW: How much did it cost you out of pocket to get Blocked off the ground and spread the word?
JR: Since I did all the development in my free time, essentially zero. When I was advertising, I spent around $300 over the course of just under a month. That's about the only money I spent, besides the $100 developer sign-up fee required to put apps on the App Store.
PCW: How does the back end of the system work? Is the approval process a pain?
JR: There's a lot of work to get through when starting up as an application developer. One has to create and gather a slew of certificates and other security-related files that enable you to digitally sign and encrypt your applications, put your app on any development phone(s), and finally submit your app to the App Store. The documentation was a little lacking when I submitted my app back in the summer, but checking out the developer site now, it looks a little kinder to the uninitiated. After submitting your app, the waiting period can be long, and even though they've published rules and guidelines for applications, you're at the whim of Apple when it comes to getting on the App Store.
PCW: But then you get paid.
JR: Yes, but that's also my biggest frustration. It took several months to iron out banking information with Apple and start seeing money from my sales. Even now that I'm seeing regular payments, it's almost impossible to correlate the financial reports I get from Apple every month with the deposits that are sprinkled into my account from varying worldwide banks at unpredictable times. The financial reports are in the local currency, but deposits are, of course, in U.S. dollars. Since there are no reference numbers to tie the two together, and since they come in at the discretion of the corresponding banks, it's difficult keeping the books organized. Also, you get paid only when amounts in a particular region exceed a certain total, so several months' worth of reports and figures in a foreign currency will be represented by a single payment in an amount that's hard to identify. It can be a little difficult to rein in.
That isn't to say that Apple has a broken system. It's amazing what they've been able to accomplish and provide to developers and consumers. I'm sure it will continue to be improved over time, and a lot of these wrinkles and processes will be ironed out.
Tips for the Aspiring iPhone Developer
PCW: Any advice for would-be iPhone app developers with an idea?
JR: Don't go into the App Store expecting to make a living from your efforts. There are currently 25,000 apps available, and very few make enough to support someone, let alone a team. My advice is, don't quit your job. Even if you see a good month, be wary of assuming what you'll see the next.
Read up on App Store trends. A month or two ago, everyone thought that the $0.99 model was going to be the dominant price point for applications. Now it's been suggested that when people see a game that costs $3.99 among a sea of apps that cost $0.99, they think that it intrinsically holds more value and are more likely to purchase it. Choose your price carefully, and see what the state of the market is before you do. Check out Pinch Media's slide show that aggregates their experiences.
Also, you need to think about promotion. Hit the gaming forums and ask for opinions or reviews. Give out some promo codes to reputable reviewers. Advertise! Try spending $10 a day for a week on targeted Facebook or Google ads to see if you get a bump in sales.
PCW: Besides the money, what has been the best part of this experience?
JR: It was pretty exciting to see Blocked receive recognition--and to get word from friends and family when they spot someone playing it on the street. It's been great hearing from fans who ask for hints via e-mail or tweet their progress through the game to their friends.
You can find out more about Blocked at Rosenberg's site, Tip-Top Workshop .
Need even more nerdity? Follow Casual Friday columnist and PC World Senior Writer Darren Gladstone on Twitter (gizmogladstone) for 140-character product reviews, odd links, and time-wasting tips.