iPhone Dev: The Honeymoon is Over.

Aug 01 2009 Published by under Flash, iPhone, Objective C

Last December, I had a bunch of unused vacation time and took a couple weeks off, stayed at home, and learned me some iPhone dev. I submitted my first iPhone application in January and I was hooked. I now have six apps / games in the store (not counting full/lite versions as different), making close to an app per month.

Those are my personal apps. At my job at Infrared5, we are also flooded with iPhone development. I’ve been flat out on iPhone games there for a couple months, and scheduled for another two months forward.

It got to the point where I hadn’t coded a line of AS3 in 2-3 months, and was seriously wondering if I would ever get back to it. But something snapped in the last week or so. I guess I’ve become somewhat disillusioned with the whole iPhone dev game.

So the iPhone App store is just over a year old, which means it’s twice as old as it was when I first got in. And it’s changed a lot. One of my first games, Falling Balls, unexpectedly took off and rose to be the #1 free application. I put some ads in it from AdMob, and was stunned at how much money it was making. Even now, almost 7 months later, it continues to lay a nice golden egg for me every day. I have NO complaints there. The only problem is, it’s like winning at gambling. Once you get a taste of it, you can’t stop, even if you never win again. All of the rest of the apps I’ve released have barely done anything. Not even remotely made up for the amount of time I’ve put into them. I’ve done lite versions and full versions, ads and paid versions, done all the promotion steps, everything everyone says to do. Bug Out! has done the best so far, and is doing OK, but only a tiny fraction of what Falling Balls did.

Now, it is very easy to say that my other apps weren’t very good, and I won’t argue that, but come one… Falling Balls? A stick figure that runs back and forth and gets squished by balls? It literally took me a weekend to make, as a brand new iPhone developer, and only part of that weekend. I guess it has some kind of zany viral appeal, but that’s pretty hard to reliably duplicate.

Also, while that viral appeal is a factor, I think it has more to do with the changing landscape of the app store. In December, when I started learning, there were 13,000 apps there. In January, when I submitted Falling Balls, there were around 17,000. Now there are well over 60,000. As for selling apps, the average prices for apps and games are steadily decreasing, games being lower and more steadily decreasing, with an average of less than $1.50. Even top studios are releasing high end, polished, professional games for $0.99. How can a single do-it-all-yourself developer compete? So I’ve pretty much given up on selling apps in the store.

What remains is releasing free apps with advertising. After all, it worked with Falling Balls. But even the free games market is totally saturated. There are close to 15,000 free games and applications in the store right now. That’s more than the total number of applications that were there when started. If you don’t get in the top 100, you aren’t going to get enough downloads to get enough ad traffic to matter. Of course, if you DO get in the top 100, you could be in for a rocket ride. And there’s the whole gambling / addiction thing again. Chasing that thrill of a big hit.

The problem is, it stops being fun. When I was doing Flash stuff for myself, I was almost always doing stuff with no concept of making money. I was just making cool stuff that I found to be fun. Once you get a taste of profits though, it’s hard not to be in it for the money.

Note, that I’m talking about being a single developer. I still think there is money in doing iPhone apps for the bigger companies who can afford teams of people, and tons of advertising and promotion, and forge whatever allegiances with whatever demons you need to forge allegiances with to get your app featured in the iTunes store, which is like a golden ticket. So I’m not saying the app store is dead, merely that the gold rush days are over, and now it’s big business like anything other market. As a single developer, I won’t deny that you still might win the lottery, but I’m done chasing that dream.

I’m still going to refine and develop Falling Balls, as it’s still in the top 100 games, still making money for me, and with some cool new updates, could go even higher again. I have an update waiting for approval that brings different difficulty levels and should be out in the next few days.

I’m sure I’ll also continue to keep my foot in the door with other applications or games here and there. I love the Objective-C language, and have learned so much from diving deep into it for so long. I’m sure it’s made me a better developer overall. But any apps I do from here on out, will be purely for my own enjoyment. And technically, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in creating things that use multitouch and accelerometer. It opens up all kinds of possibilities for creative, artistic apps.

But I’m also going back to Flash, and in fact, have started creating a brand new Flash game. I’m having fun getting back into AS3 after such a long hiatus. Pretty rusty though. πŸ™‚ I’m also realizing some of the things I really missed about the Flash Platform as a whole. I think the biggest thing is the immediacy of it. I can code up something cool, upload it to my server, blog or twitter it, and instantaneously, thousands of people will be able to see it. No waiting. No arbitrary judgement of whether or not my SWF meets certain criteria.

Compare that to the app store approval and waiting game. When I started submitting stuff, it was an average of 3 days for approval. Now it is up to 12-14 days. That’s because app store submissions have about tripled in that time. And if waiting times are getting longer AND submissions are getting higher, that backlog is only going to continue to grow and grow. If I banged out a new iPhone application right now, nobody would see it til much later this month.

The approval process itself is getting a really bad reputation for reasons beyond the wait, as well. One is the arbitrariness of it. So many horror stories. Apps getting rejected for certain reasons, while another similar app with the same “problem” gets approved. Some developers have said that if you get rejected, just immediately resubmit with no changes. Chances are you’ll get a different reviewer who won’t be looking at the same thing the other one was looking at. Or one that’s in a better mood, or at the end of his shift and wants to go home. Or maybe it’s like airport security, where every nth app gets pulled aside and gone over thoroughly. Then there are the apps rejected with no reason given, and the apps which are simply kept in limbo for months, never approved or disapproved. And this week’s scandal with the Google stuff.

Actually, I’ll be the devil’s advocate on that one, and say Apple has the right to reject an app that competes with their own built in apps. They’ve made that explicitly known from the start anyway. But as for the other stuff, I don’t feel like Apple is being intentionally malicious in the delays and rejections, just that the app store has grown larger than they planned for, and they are struggling with the whole process. But it makes for a really bad developer experience. If you do get a rejection, you could be looking at over a month for app approval. That’s ridiculous. And the fact that it’s just a black box is doubly frustrating. You just submit and wait an unknown amount of time. No prediction on how long the wait is going to be. No feedback on where it is in the queue, nobody you can talk to to speed things up or find out what’s happening. If you get rejected, there’s no appeal process. You fix it and put it back into the black box for however long. Again, I don’t think it’s malicious, but it sucks big time. Luckily, in all my submissions, I’ve had only two rejections, which were valid items and easily fixed.

Well, that’s the end of my rant. By the way, all the stats I’ve mentioned here are from this page:

http://148apps.biz/app-store-metrics/?mpage

I can’t vouch for all the stats, but most seem correct except their submission wait times. I have not personally seen a drop off in wait times in the last month, only an increase.

34 responses so far. Comments will be closed after post is one year old.

  • DannyT says:

    As someone that has really struggled to get excited by iPhone dev, purely because of the tidal-wave of seemingly every developer flooding to it, it’s good to see someone taking a step back towards Flash. Welcome back Keith, looking forwards to more flash experiments again πŸ™‚

  • Alan says:

    Come back to the fold Keith… we miss you…..

  • Lawrie says:

    Thanks for the write up Keith. I’ve been enjoying your iPhone posts, but was hoping you would come back to Actionscript. Can’t wait to see your new game.

  • darrelplant says:

    There was a honeymoon? πŸ™‚

  • And now the question…. do you think it would have been a different experience in terms of sales/development if the Flash Payer was on the iPhone? And another one: if, as Adobe claims, there are over 1BN phones with Flash on-board, why there has been such a mass migration toward iPhone then?

  • Emanuele,

    1. I ported Keith’s Falling Balls to S60 in less than an hour. Dev time to port the app was practically non-existent. Saving dev time is always a good thing … hence, the reason you should put out your porting product. πŸ˜‰ If Keith had access to your tool it probably would have been the same, but for larger products, I i imagine (flash) developers would flock to buy it. πŸ™‚

    2. A lot of the Flash devices are overseas, not US market … 1 billion “Flash” devices can mean Flash Lite 1.x, 2.x, 3.x, Flash 5/6/7/8/9, or even now Flash 10 devices … Also, Adobe hired SA to do that analysis of the device market for Flash on devices. I’ve never seen the actual report, since it’s $1,000 USD … everything had been a summarization that came out of that analysis.

    3. iPhone has become a major market mover in US (and other areas as well). There were as a mass migration to iPhone because (for starters) Apple had a 1.) strong brand (esp in US), 2) they nailed the UX and user interface on compelling mobile device. There are many other reasons. πŸ™‚

    P.S. Keith, I can help you get FB to other markets (if you’re interested).

  • Please forgive the typos/grammar in previous posting.

    p.s. Sometimes I hate blogs.

  • Tom Ortega says:

    I think you hit on a very important point in this paragraph:

    “The problem is, it stops being fun. When I was doing Flash stuff for myself, I was almost always doing stuff with no concept of making money. I was just making cool stuff that I found to be fun. Once you get a taste of profits though, itÒ€ℒs hard not to be in it for the money.”

    You take a look at the video game landscape in general, you see much more chasing the buck than doing what’s fun. Every once in awhile, you’ll hear a heartwarming tale like “Braid” and it’s developer. I think a lot of people, sounds like including yourself, assumed the Field of Dreams motto: “If you build it, they will come.” Truth is, they probably won’t.

    A good game is tough, really tough. I’d almost say your “early bird” status into iPhone Dev with “Falling Balls” led to you believe otherwise. As you pointed out yourself, a stick figure with a ball really isn’t all that great. But, much like eBay these days isn’t all that great, being there early on does have it’s benefits.

    What I’d say to do, if your serious about game dev, is don’t think of your games in terms of platform: iPhone or Flash. Instead, take the time to think of the game on it’s own, flesh it out outside of any tech, and then see which tech fits best.

    This way you get to have fun and, possibly, still make money.

    Also, if you haven’t yet, spend $50 of your “Falling Balls” profits and but this kindle book: The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell It’d gladly pay twice the price for that gem.

  • kp says:

    Emanuele, the “would it be different if Flash were on the iPhone” question doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s not a question of technology but of business model and developer service. As for how many phones have Flash and why that doesn’t draw Flash devs to mobile… I’ll leave Scott to answer that.

    Tom, I hear you and that’s exactly what I am doing. I even bought that book about a month ago.

    I’m also working out some game architecture now that will make cross platform development a bit easier.

  • Keith, my question was exactly on business/fun term not technology. Would have been different if you could code in AS rather than learning Obj-C? I know very well that the problem is in the quantity of applications/how to stack up on the others, rather than technology available.

    Currently, the iPhone Application market situation is like the Internet in 1996, even my petrol station man was making his “home page” (now called blogs…) and since there were not that many pages, even the ones displaying just black text were somehow “magic” (these were the days when Yahoo was indexing by hand). After the number has exploded, you had to promote your web site to gain visibility, like now you have to promote applications in the App Store if you want to have any chance of selling in significant numbers.

  • kp says:

    Emanuele, I’m still not sure how that would make a difference. Unless you are saying that if the iPhone had the Flash player, I could have been creating applications sooner and got in quicker. Maybe so, but it’s kind of a moot point now.

    But as far as your next paragraph, exactly. Six months or a year ago, all you had to do was make a screen with a button that played a fart noise and you were rich. Now, like I said, it’s a real business.

  • Rezmason says:

    Welcome back. πŸ™‚

  • Kent says:

    I still think there is fun to be had developing for the IPhone. Accelerometer support, multi-touch capability, OpenGL ES, GPS, microphone, internet access/game kit, sql lite/core data all in the same platform, a platform that your user carries around. Its a developers dream regardless of which company produces the device. Yes, the growing pains are at present really disappointing right now App Store, Submission/approval process but come on the technology of it all is hot. I have not been as excited a technology since Flash matured under Macromedia (gained solid Actionscript, controllable video playback). I still have friends whole pick at me for being such a flash fanboy in the past because they saw/see it as the annoying flashing advertisement technology. Don’t let big business take your fun away.

    I see the Mobile application market as analog in some ways to the music industry. The purchasing population is fickle but they are not afraid to spend money. Trendiness and cool factor play a role in success as well as luck. The major music labels have the marketing thing down and can pull all of the strings necessary to get an artist into the spotlight but every now and then a band or singer song writer comes along and changes everything all by themselves.

  • kp says:

    Kent, absolutely! The iPhone is a completely incredible device and some of the most enjoyable programming I’ve ever done. I think the key point I miss is the immediacy of Flash in terms of audience.

  • Kent says:

    I will say that I don’t remember early flash development at least for me being as much about making money as IPhone dev is. There wasn’t an App Store and most of the early content was not monetized. The money is drawing everyone quickly to mobile domain. It is, to echo lots of other people, a gold rush. These times will pass. Remember some of the gimmicky early flash apps? Remember Zombo.com? Ha Ha

  • […] iPhone Dev: The Honeymoon is Over. | BIT-101 Blog (tags: iphone flash article) […]

  • Jeff says:

    Anyone used the word Hype yet?

  • […] haXe VS C++/iPhone: I believe Flash developers could get into haXe just for the iPhone target. But beware of Mono: Unity3D is already there and Mono/MonoTouch is coming, and it offers a good IDE, managed languages and compatibility with the official Interface Builder. It must be noted that haXe for iPhone is still very early and it needs polishing to make it a viable solution. Oh and it should happen while people still care about doing iPhone apps […]

  • hieronymous says:

    It’s all in the title. Name your next game “Rising Penises” and you’ll see 10 times the success of “Falling Balls.” πŸ˜‰

  • Julio Garcia says:

    Glad to hear you are back. I, for one, really missed your ActionScript related Blog post. I have been doing a lot of WPF programming lately and although new things are exciting, for me, going back to AS feels somehow like returning home.

  • J Marziani says:

    What’s the usage like on Falling Balls? I feel like you’ve touched on some great topics here with the exception of what I’ve read about the massive drop off in usage after one or two plays. There’s a huge rush to make games on the iPhone, but are people really spending quality time playing a single game or are people finding, trying, and quickly moving on?

  • Matt Martel says:

    Keith, I agree with the gambling/lottery analogy, but the honeymoon is far from over. Yes, it is a very bumpy road, but the App Store is still ramping up. I’ve had my share of problems in dealing with Apple, but had a bit of luck, too.

    I’m already working on getting products ready for that all-important holiday season, because you can’t start too soon. Don’t give up now – I’m sure there’s more life left in Falling Balls than you can even imagine!

  • […] iPhone Dev: The Honeymoon is Over Thoughts of a well known Flash developer after he spent the last 6 months developing for the iPhone. […]

  • […] iPhone Dev: The Honeymoon is Over Thoughts of a well known Flash developer after he spent the last 6 months developing for the iPhone. […]

  • Welcome to the music business! What? That’s correct . . . I was in it for 25 years working with both some of the top bands in the business and many you never heard of. It wasn’t that the bands that didn’t make it weren’t good. They simply got lost in the noise, so to speak.

    The tech space is new music business. Developers are the bands, VC’s are the record labels, and the App Store is Radio and MTV combined. Do you know how hard it was to get your band heard, let alone to have a hit? In parallel to your article, often times the band that had a hit wasn’t trying to. They were just playing music having fun (or get girls) and the song just became a hit. Once they tried to follow-up with another, they failed. The market, their sound, the A&R guy, whatever, wasn’t the same. They got left behind, talented or not. We all know them as “one-hit-wonders”.

    So, KB . . . Seems to me that you have become a one-hit-wonder. And the common reaction to that feeling is to quit “playing”. But the best advice (if you want it) is to stop trying to make a hit. Make music (Apps) for fun. Because as in music, people can tell when you are trying too hard. And same as in music, 65,000 Apps in the store or not . . . the “good stuff” will still often rise to the top! Rock-on my Man . . .

  • […] to games the app store really is like another low grade Flash game portal. Especially after reading Keith Peters blog post on the app store (and is lovely return to the Flash world!), it has come to my attention that just […]

  • psmith says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts. Have you considered putting an in-game link to your App Store page from Falling Balls (to get some more eye-balls on your other apps)?

  • I really like MonoTouch. Worth every penny.

  • […] a few articles out there warning that the App Gold Rush is over for exampleΒ  iPhone Dev: The Honeymoon is Over . Keep in mind that this article was published in August of 2009 when there was only […]