148 Apps on Facebook 148 Apps on Twitter

Category: App Store Insiders »

App Store Insiders: Adam Saltsman, Semi Secret Software

Posted by Carter Dotson on July 10th, 2013

Adam Saltsman is one of the most talented, intelligent, and opinionated developers working on the App Store nowadays. He’s worked on a selection of titles on the App Store as diverse as the influential endless runner Canabalt to the abstract touchscreen game Hundreds. However, there are reasons why he thinks Canabalt isn’t quite as influential as it appears to be, and his concerns about the future of the App Stores and the indies working on it.

148Apps: Canabalt remains one of the most influential games on the App Store as one of the first high-profile endless runners, and the one that seemingly sparked a million more games. What do you think of the game’s legacy, though? Do you see it in similar terms?

Adam Saltsman: So the funny thing about Canabalt to me is that it hasn’t sold as well as a lot of people think. We’ve probably sold maybe 250,000 or 300,000 copies or something, and a lot of those were during sales over the last few years combined. That’s nothing to laugh at, and I’m super thankful and grateful for that response from people, but I think the game had a bigger impact on journalists and other game developers than it did on the general public. Not to mention the hordes of games inspired by the games that Canabalt seems to have inspired, which probably outnumber Canabalt’s direct influences by a few orders of magnitude!

It’s important to remember that lots of games influenced Canabalt too, though, as well as Wurdle. These were not things created in a vacuum! All the same I could not be happier with Canabalt’s reception and impact. It feels like a huge honor, all the time, forever.

148Apps: The way that developers make money within the App Store has definitely shifted in the past 5 years, yet you have remained an outspoken critic of the way that many games use in-app purchases. Why is that? Has your position shifted at all over the last few years?

Saltsman: I don’t think my position has changed much. Most of the approaches to IAP or “free to play” style designs that are deployed on the App Store, especially in financially successful games, remain fairly corrupt or coercive in a way that makes me pretty uncomfortable. Some of these approaches have actually been outlawed in Japan, so I don’t think their coercive nature is completely imaginary. These approaches have even become formalized enough to have actual names (treadmills, energy systems, tight loops, etc).

I think players in general are at least slightly more aware of these systems. This is important, especially for kids. Many of these games still target children with schemes like “give us $5 or your virtual fish will DIE.” It’s good for people to understand that a “game” on their phone might operate that way.

But also there have been games with large IAP components that don’t really feel particularly coercive, like ShellRazer, which I think is cool. These games actually speak to the promise of IAP and F2P as a way of engaging a broader or different type of audience in different ways. These games are very definitely the exception to the rule, though.

148Apps: What do you think about the viability of the App Store over the next five years? Will there be any changes, or any directions that you would like to see the marketplace go in?

Saltsman: The App Store to me seems to really strongly favor a particular kind of approach (if you don’t do IAP of course), which we used on Hundreds. This approach goes something like this: “work on the game in relative secrecy for like 1–2 years, then launch it and hope it gets featured and impresses everybody enough to get the critical mass you need to get good word of mouth and a good long tail in the future.”

As a member of a small team, and somebody with a growing family, this approach freaks me out pretty bad, and there are a lot of platforms (especially PC/Mac) where you don’t have to take that kind of crazy all-or-nothing path. I would love it if the App Store could support preorders, and bundles, and a lot of these other things that help sustain small teams through risky development on other platforms.

On top of that, launching on the App Store first places certain price limits on your work in some people’s minds, and selling at a higher price point on other platforms later can be a challenge. For small teams, it seems like designing for PC/Mac first, with potentially touch-screen friendly controls in mind (e.g. favoring the mouse over gamepads), is a really superior way to approach things, from a business and tech perspective.

In the “old days” (ha ha!) it felt like you could just think up a real good game for the only model of iPhone/iPod Touch that actually existed, build it in a reasonable period of time, and kind of blow people’s minds. Prices weren’t quite as low back then either. It’s totally natural and understandable that those early successes would draw in more competition, but at this point, as a small team of 2 or 3, you have to be pretty receptive to the idea that you are up against teams of 10 or 12, with 1–2 years of publisher-backed runway. You can still compete, indies can ALWAYS compete…but if you are trying to make games commercially and take care of your family, you have to be cognizant of these things, and more considered in your approach in the future.

Thanks to Adam Saltsman for his time; it's always a pleasure.

App Store Insiders: Kepa Auwae, Rocketcat Games

Posted by Carter Dotson on July 10th, 2013

Rocketcat Games' titles have been a unique presence on the App Store. While many pixel art games exist on iOS, theirs have had a special look and feel to them that just hasn't been matched by others.

Also, gnomes. Lots of gnomes.

I spoke to Kepa Auwae, who is in charge of "Planning, Business Stuff, Design" and is the public voice for Rocketcat Games, and was previously a registered nurse before Hook Champ allowed the him and the studio to make games full-time. We discuss why their titles remain so unique, the future of the studio, and just why we don't hear from the other two members of Rocketcat.

148Apps: There are a lot of pixel art games on the App Store, but Rocketcat Games seems to have a voice and style all its own with games that have attracted a loyal fan base. What do you attribute this to?

Kepa Auwae: Our games have a pretty clear voice, probably because there's so few people working on them and everyone contributes. I think it's also easier to build a fan base when you're working on a small niche that others don't really touch. There's not a lot of people making our sorts of games on iOS, with our level of difficulty and scope.

148Apps: Your grappling hook games (Hook Champ, Super QuickHook, and Hook Worlds) are actually only a few titles using the grappling hook mechanic at all on mobile. Is this due to the challenge of using the mechanic well?

Auwae: It turns out that level design was really difficult for our grappling hook games. The placement of every bit of ceiling was important to the flow of the level. It's kind of like designing a level for a platformer, except imagine you control each leg and you'll trip if you don't step on the floor exactly right.

As for how few games use the genre, I think it's mostly just how genres work for videogames. You need a huge hit to really provide incentive to cloners on a big scale.

148Apps: Reminisce back to the time of Hook Champ and its cosmetic IAP. How did the response and reaction from people then compare to the reaction you got for the IAP in Punch Quest? How have your fans responded to your evolution in titles you've released?

Auwae: We get as many complaints about Hook series IAP, still, as we get complaints about Punch Quest IAP. And because the Hook games are out longer, we have a bigger amount of complaints total. It's bizarre, since the Hook IAP was almost entirely cosmetic, hats and such.

That said, we didn't get many complaints about the Punch Quest IAP at all. I think fans knew that we were trying to do things right. Trying to anyway, I'm not happy with how the design in Punch Quest turned out. In the future, I'd like to completely avoid the concept of people paying to skip in-game progression.

148Apps: Your games have largely been core-gamer-friendly genres; do you see your future mobile titles going down this path, if you even have a future on mobile at all?

Auwae: It would make a lot more sense to make casual-friendly games, as the "core-gamer" type of games we make take big amounts of time to work on. This next one we're releasing, our randomly-generated action-adventure game, is getting to the 2-year mark. These are the types of games we're interested in making, even if it doesn't add up from a business standpoint.

Our plan for the future is to release on multiple platforms, especially PC. The big differences are that there's a much bigger audience for such games there, and you can feasibly charge more than $5 per copy. Definitely not leaving mobile, any game that makes sense on iOS will be developed simultaneously for it. As an example, I'm starting work on a project with the Punch Quest developer (Paul "Madgarden" Pridham), and that's being worked on for both PC and iOS so we can make sure the controls and graphics are perfect on both platforms.

148Apps: You, Kepa Auwae, have served largely as the public voice of the company. Who are the other members of Rocketcat, and why do you keep their voices silent? Do they even exist?! Or are they actually gnomes?

Auwae: There's Jeremy Orlando (Programmer) and Brandon Rhodes (Artist). All three of us are incredibly shy. We had to pick which one of us would have to interact with everyone. I'm not better equipped to talk to anyone, it's just that I lost when we drew straws. After a few years I'm now ok at the whole "public voice" thing. Also they're gnomes and I'm really ashamed of that.

Thanks to Kepa Auwae for his time; it's truly appreciated.

App Store Insiders: Alex Adjadj of Namco Bandai Games on the Ecosystem of Apps

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 10th, 2013

Since the App Store launch in 2008, Namco and now Namco Bandai Games has published over 100 apps. The company was there at launch with Ms. Pac-Man (and Pac-Man) and continues to be there today with both favorite franchises and new properties. We took a few moments to speak with Alex Adjadj, the Director of Strategic Development, Mobile Sales and Marketing at Namco Bandai Games America, Inc.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed the way Namco Bandai does business?


Alex Adjadj, Director of Strategic Development, Mobile Sales and Marketing at Namco Bandai Games America Inc.: The video games industry is currently going through challenges on different fronts. Hardware transition on the console side. Exponential user and device fragmentation as well as standardization of development tools and fast growing marketing costs on the mobile side. It's exciting, challenging and requires more attention to planning and execution.

The App Store has accelerated and accentuated these challenges. When it comes to a major publisher with thousands of employees, it's always a bigger challenge because of the scale involved. But Namco Bandai Games knows mobile well, and has started doing mobile games with Apple back to the early days of the iPod Click Wheel (remember PAC-MAN?). It's been great to have had their support to improve the quality and market relevance of our creations along those years.

148Apps: If you have one single success within Namco you'd like to highlight from the past five years on the App Store, what would it be?


Alex Adjadj: We've had highs and lows. As I said, for a bigger publisher it's just a question of more time, more planning, more investment, more internal communication. But there's one thing that only a very few other publishers have today, it's market knowledge and capacity to increase product development and segmentation without compromising on quality. In 2008, we were all about cost-conscious developments, with most of our releases being good ports, but also not taking full advantage of the iOS platform and hardware at the time. Fast forward 2013, we've got universal games that play well on iPad and iPhone, that are visually extraordinary thanks to Retina Display, that are fun to play with friends on Game Center, and that offer great value for money for gamers willing to pay or play for free.

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence the path of Namco Bandai five years ago, what would you say?


Alex Adjadj: Actually I personally did contribute back in the summer of 2009 by further evangelizing in Europe and the US teams about the benefits of bringing dedicated products rather than ports to App Store. It changed a lot of perceptions back then, especially since we were still strongly driven by our feature phone business in overseas (i.e. Non-Japan) territories.

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of Namco Bandai, that has surprised you most?


Alex Adjadj: It's been a challenging, but a logical and relentless organic evolution. Apple has changed the world of digital content distribution and mobile gaming by annihilating barriers to entry, cutting a lot of (often, but not always, useless and costly) middle 'men.' By imposing its own standards, it has accelerated the growth of a young mobile video games industry, it has made it possible for the unveiling of incredibly successful and clever small production houses, and changed the perception of mobile gaming with the masses. My biggest surprises are the very little opposition Apple have faced from pre-existing market entrants, the incredible success it went through and the time it took for their competitors to come up with relevant hardware and retail ecosystems.

148Apps: Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?


Alex Adjadj: Personally, I can perceive further device fragmentation in the iOS hardware line - very similar to what's going on with Android right now. Device fragmentation will increase differences in usage and accordingly product & genre segmentation, a bit like what the iPad has done in terms of 'console quality gaming for mobile.' Following smartphone penetration growth in emerging markets, I also see further challenges to properly address consumers around the world, in terms of UX, billing, the relevance of content offering and the risk, already present, of content saturation and chart stagnation. I see 3 ways where this might go: first Apple might need to customize their App Store UI a bit differently per region, so that non-local publishers still get a chance to, at least, show their best content in new markets, without occurring prohibitive production costs. The second route must be to introduce more flexible billing routes so that all users can pay for content the way it fits their spending culture. The third, though unlikely given Apple's necessary but very tight control on its ecosystem, would be to allow the 'best' publishers to get more control of how their content offering is tailored to end users.

Alex Adjadj wishes to add the following disclaimer: Mr. Adjadj speaks of his personal experience and opinions, and while being a full time employee of Namco Bandai Games America Inc., Namco Networks America Inc. and Namco Bandai Networks Europe since 2006, this article isn't meant to be read as general consensus across other divisions of Bandai Namco Holdings. Alex is currently Director of Strategic Development, Mobile Sales and Marketing at Namco Bandai Games America Inc., San Jose, California.

Thanks to Alex Adjadj for his time.

App Store Insiders: Jani Kahrama of Secret Exit on Adapting to the Changes

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 10th, 2013

Jani Kahrama is the founder of Secret Exit, begun in 2006. Secret Exit is the developer of some of the most innovative--and some of my favorite--games on the App Store, perfect examples of what you can do on the iOS platform like Zen Bound 2 and Stair Dismount. The company's latest game, Eyelord take a slightly more metal tack. All in all, its games have been downloaded 13 million times.

I fired off a few questions to Jani to get his take on the App Store 5th.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed your professional life?


Jani Kahrama, Founder at Secret Exit: The App Store is the single reason we (Secret Exit) exist as a gaming company. In our early years we evaluated the different options that were available, and App Store made the most sense for us because of its short approval time, monthly reporting and payouts, and iPhone itself, which was an interesting and unexplored territory for games.

148Apps: Since the release of your first app on the App Store, what has changed with the way you release a game.


Jani Kahrama: Probably far less than should have! It seems these days app discovery has polarized to either being featured by platform holders or to buying your users. We're not in a position to influence the former or rich enough to attempt the latter, so we're trying to find new ways to spread the word.

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than man expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence your path five years ago, what would you say?


Jani Kahrama: At heart I still naively wish for a world where a quality game would be recognized and appreciated by an audience willing to pay a good price for it.

But when I put on my time-traveling bizdev hat, what else could I say but be the first to drop the price to one dollar, be the first to go free with IAP, and beat Supercell at clashing clans together :)

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of apps published by
you, that has surprised you most?


Jani Kahrama: The overall randomness and variance of successful titles. Coming from a console gamer background, I was stuck with certain preconceptions on how games should look, feel and play. The App Store has time and time again proven me to challenge those notions.


Zen Bound 2 intro trailer

148Apps: Any predictions on what the App Store will be like five years from now?


Jani Kahrama: I am concerned with the ability of big companies to simply buy their way to the top of the charts with paid user acquisition. Unless that practice is limited in influence by platform holders, it may change the landscape to such where developers need big marketing companies or rich publishers to promote their games. Smaller independent companies will find it ever harder to compete in a business where the marketing costs of a game are higher than the development costs.

Thanks very much to Jani for his time. I enjoy it every time we speak.

[ Photo credit: Jon Jordan ]

App Store Insiders: Clive Downie, CEO of DeNA West (formerly ngmoco)

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 9th, 2013

Launching over 110 apps as ngmoco and then DeNA, this company has seen it all. Originally hyped as the "Nintendo of the iPhone" and grabbing the lion's share of the iFund, ngmoco made some groundbreaking games. The games released by ngmoco did not lack quality, but they did lack sales. So in 2010, ngmoco made a big push into free to play. While it was rocky at first, the decision really started to pay off in 2012 with the release of Rage of Bahamut.

We talk with Clive Downie, CEO of DeNA West, about the transition from paid to free to play, and some of his thoughts and experiences of the last five years with the App Store.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed the way DeNA/ngmoco:) does business?


Clive Downie, CEO of DeNA West: The App Store hasn't changed the way we do business. ngmoco was conceived to take advantage of the new App Store ecosystem. We were leaders in its early days, creating some of the original premium games such as Rolando and Skee Ball that paved the foundation of gaming on the iPhone. 

148Apps: If you have one single success within DeNA/ngmoco:) you'd like to highlight from the past five years on the App Store, what would it be?


Clive Downie: Pivoting the company to freemium to take advantage of Apple offering IAP in free apps. We were there on day one with Eliminate and Touch Pets Dogs. Then we followed up quickly with We Rule and Godfinger and received excellent promotional support from Apple.

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence ngmoco five years ago, what would you say?


Clive Downie: I wouldn't say anything new. We were shrewd to get out of paid, seeing the lowest average price plummet for apps and piracy negate the value we put into creating paid apps. In a market economy where the lowest price is zero that is always going to happen.

I'm proud that we pivoted the company the way we did to focus on the engagement multiples that going free allowed.

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of DeNA/ngmoco:) companies, that has surprised you most?


Clive Downie: I'm surprised that it's not smarter at personalizing what I as a consumer might want. Genius looks like it's removed from iOS7, and while there will be some new location capabilities, it seems like there’s an opportunity to enhance the functionality around interests.

148Apps: Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?


Clive Downie: On a watch...

Personalized to me (Amazon on steroids) 

Many thanks to Clive Downie for his time.

App Store Insiders: Colin Smith, Co-Founder of Freeverse on Market Changes

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 9th, 2013

In the 18 year life of Freeverse, it developed nearly 100 Mac and iOS apps. Purchased by ngmoco:) in 2010, the Freeverse founders recently left the company to pursue other opportunities. We talk with co-founder Colin Smith about Freeverse and the App Store.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed your life?


Colin Smith, Original Co-Founder of Freeverse: Freeverse had been a boot-strapped Mac game developer and publisher, pretty well-known among Mac folk, but largely ignored in the larger games industry.

We had a booth at MacWorld where the iPhone was announced and a front-row seat when the world changed. Certainly ours did. 

With our long history with Apple and familiarity with its culture, aesthetic and tool-sets, we were perfectly positioned to have titles ready when the App Store was announced. MotoChaser was a launch title at $9.99 on Day 1 of the App Store.

We had multiple #1 hits over the next couple of years, including Flick Fishing, and Skee-Ball. And suddenly the larger games industry was starting to wake up to the potential of the iPhone and the companies producing the best titles for it.

We were acquired by ngmoco in 2010, and shortly thereafter, they were acquired by DeNA.

So the App Store took us from a backwater developer and put us at the very leading edge of the industry as it has been utterly transformed. The touch disruption, the mobile disruption, the Free-To-Play disruption. We lived all of that.

I personally got to see the inner workings of an aggressive venture-backed start-up in ngmoco, and a multi-billion dollar publicly traded Japanese corporation in DeNA. I learned so much that I could never have learned any other way.

Freeverse as an entity ultimately didn't survive all those upheavals and acquisitions, but I think and hope that some of our own culture lives on in the guys who worked for us, and their connections with each other. We were a special place, with truly special people.

148Apps: If you have one single success within Freeverse you'd like to
highlight from the past five years on the App Store, what would it be?


Colin Smith: I think the work we did with Strange Flavour on Flick Fishing. The game is still remarkably fun, and still sells well. Those guys really nailed the fun that touch and the accelerometer could bring a title when used smartly rather than gratuitously. I still love spotting someone on the subway casting their line. :)

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence the path of Freeverse five years ago, what would you say?


Colin Smith:Yes, we saw our games go from $10 to $1 within a matter of weeks. And ngmoco saw Free-to-Play was coming very early and convinced us as well, which was a major factor in our decision to sell when we did. It was so counter-intuitive at the time that "free" was more lucrative than "paid."

There's a lot we might have done differently, but really, I think I'd just want to make better, smarter, and cooler apps if I could go back 5 years. I've learned so much about design, the market, how people play on mobile, a thousand little things. I think we all have.

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of Freeverse, that has
surprised you most?


Colin Smith: The Line, WeChat, WhatsApp stuff is really fascinating to watch. I'm curious where that's headed. 

148Apps:Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?


Colin Smith: The beauty of the App Store is that its such a great platform for disruption. Back in the day we had to print CDs and boxes and warehouse them and ship them to Apple Stores to get them on the shelf, and then maybe sell a few copies for $40 a piece.

Now you can give an app away, or sell it for $.99 and (if you're lucky or good), get millions of users all across the globe almost instantly. It has just accelerated the pace of innovation tremendously. So I'm excited to see what comes next, and wouldn't even try to predict!

Thanks very much to Colin for his time.

[ Photo credit: Jon Jordan ]

App Store Insiders: Ian Marsh, Co-Founder of NimbleBit

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 9th, 2013

Ian Marsh and his brother David are the founders of NimbleBit, creators of such iOS game classics as the 2011 Game of the Year Tiny Tower, Pocket Frogs, Pocket Planes, and a true App Store classic, Scoops. NimbleBit games have been downloaded over 70 million times with an amazing 5 million in-app purchases.

NimbleBit has been heralded as a great developer of "non-annoying" free to play games, games that make their players want to buy upgrades instead of annoying them into purchases. Many game developers should take note.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed your professional life?


Ian Marsh, NimbleBit: The App Store has had quite an impact on my professional life, allowing me to quit my day job and run our own independent studio with my brother Dave. Back in 2008 I coded up a quick little puzzle game called Hanoi to learn iPhone development. Soon after the App Store launched I was approved as a developer and I threw it up on the App Store in the hopes a few people would download it. After a few days it ended up at #1 free, and after quickly releasing a "plus" version for 99c the App Store began paying more than my day job. I gave my two weeks noticed and never looked back, probably the best professional decision I've ever made!

148Apps: If you have one single success within the App Store you'd like to highlight, what would it be?


Ian Marsh: Our shining star has definitely been Tiny Tower. It won iPhone Game of the Year from Apple in 2011 and has had more success than all our other games put together (and there have been a lot of them). It is commonly held as an example of "ethical" free to play game design, and even brought the spotlight of the industry on NimbleBit after it was cloned by Zynga. Having been our most successful brand we're hoping to continue to expand the Bitizen world moving forward and should have some exciting announcements later this year!

148Apps: What about one thing you have done that you think should have taken off, but never did?


Ian Marsh: One of the most fun things we've ever done on an iPad was the Battle mini-game in Dizzypad HD, our first iPad title. It is this great local multiplayer game where two people each control a frog that jumps from spinning lily pad to spinning lily pad, trying to eat the other frog. It actually ends up being a really intense twitch game that would have us screaming in the office for hours. Unfortunately it was launched soon after the first iPad and was hidden away behind an in-app purchase so it didn't have that wide of an audience. I'd love to resurrect it at some point, maybe for a different platform though, (would work great with controllers)!

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence your path five years ago, what would you say?


Ian Marsh: If I could go back in time and talk to our past selves I think I would advise us to stop most new development after we had the success of Tiny Tower and really double down on building it into as big of a brand as we could. I think having recognizable brands and IP are going to be even more important going forward and I don't think we'll be creating any new ones that have the kind of appeal Tiny Tower does (I hope I'm wrong though)! I'd also try to convince ourselves to have switched to Unity3D development a few years before we did as self-publishing our previous games on Android would have been very valuable.

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of apps you are associated with, that has surprised you most?


Ian Marsh: In the past year or two I've been surprised at the range of success small indies have had, we've watched Imangi's Temple Run come out of nowhere and take over the world while other indie's release quality games that fall completely flat. I don't think you're guaranteed any kind of success on the App Store these days, even with an incredible app.

148Apps: Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?


Ian Marsh: Given how much has changed in the last five years that seems like a hard thing to predict, but I expect the basics will remain the same. I don't see Apple restricting access to the App Store but I do expect there will be a number of new platforms we'll be developing for 5 years from now. I think each new platform will be another type of gold-rush but this time you'll have to compete with some very seasoned and skilled developers. I certainly don't expect things to get any less exciting in the next five years!

Thanks to Ian Marsh for his time. You can check out all of NimbleBit's games on the App Store.

App Store Insiders: Dave Castelnuovo of Bolt Creative, Creators of Pocket God

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 9th, 2013

The Pocket God app can really be considered a case study of how to do everything right on the App Store. Released originally in January 2009, Pocket God became a serial with regular updates all the way through 2012. After 47 new releases of Pocket God and total sales for all Pocket God apps at over 9 million, Bolt Creative has one of the best known franchises on the App Store. Let's talk with Dave Castelnuovo, the owner of Bolt Creative.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed your professional life?


Dave Castelnuovo, Owner at Bolt Creative: The major thing the App Store allowed me to do was to create a business where I can be creative and sell my ideas straight to consumers. Before the App Store I was a contractor, which is cool in its own way, but I would much rather work on my own ideas than be paid to implement someone else's.

148Apps: Was the amazing response to Pocket God a surprise to you?


Mr. Castelnuovo: Sure. When the App Store became available, I could tell it was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities, so I immediately started to work on stuff for the platform. I had no idea when or if I would find huge success but I was fairly confident that I could earn enough of a living to keep things going. Pocket God was meant to be an early experiment whose purpose was to create an engine for more traditional games. I attribute Pocket God's success to being at the right place and the right time. I would have never guessed it would do this well.

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence your path five years ago, what would you say?


Mr. Castelnuovo: Based on the resources I had 5 years ago, I would probably stay on a similar path. I don't believe that every game needs to be freemium to be successful. The thing that makes the App Store more stable than other competing platforms is that there are a lot of opportunities across different business models. There is definitely great success among freemium titles but most people don't see the effort that goes into those titles when it comes to user acquisition and balancing their economy. The $0.99 price point is nice in the way that if the game has buzz, you will have sales. There is no danger in making it to the top of the free list yet not making money because you failed to balance your currency systems. Paymium is starting to take root as a good alternative to freemium. Also, many games are doing well at the premium price point such as Warhammer and XCOM.

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of apps you were associated with, that has surprised you most?


Mr. Castelnuovo: My biggest surprise is how stubborn large publishers are in not bringing premium content to the App Store. I really don't understand why a publisher would create a Vita or 3DS game and not plan on bringing it to iOS. Even Square Enix, which has a pretty good iOS portfolio of games, chooses to not bring their latest and greatest to the platform. Final Fantasy Dimensions is an incredibly lame game compared to what they release on other platforms.

148Apps: Any predictions on what the App Store will be like five years from now?


Mr. Castelnuovo: I don't see any major shakeups happening. I hope to see more premium games, the release of XCOM was heartening but the port quality was somewhat lacking. I also hope that Apple improves discovery. I would like to have a system that is similar to how Spotify works. I want to be able to publish lists of my favorite apps. My favorite Runners, favorite RPGs, favorite developers, etc. and give our fans a way to subscribe to those lists.

A big thanks to Mr. Castelnuovo for his time. Bold Creative has published Pocket God, Pocket God: Journey to Uranus, and the Pocket God Comics apps on the App Store.

App Store Insiders: Chillingo's Ed Rumley on The Past Five Years

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 8th, 2013

Chillingo is likely the largest third party publisher on the App Store. With over 10 years of experience publishing mobile games and hundreds of games in the App Store, they have pretty much seen it all. Chillingo was acquired by EA in 2010 but has been pretty much left to their own since then. We take a few moments to talk with Ed Rumley, COO of Chillingo about the App Store and the past five years.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed Chillingo?

Ed Rumley, COO of Chillingo: Well, when Chillingo started out we were dealing with a hugely fragmented marketplace. If people think they know fragmentation now, they should have tried publishing games back in the Java/Pocket PC days. The App Store changed everything. It created a single marketplace where it was easy to get your game to consumers. Our focus shifted to almost 100% iOS shortly after the advent of the App Store and stayed that way until pretty much a year ago.

148Apps: Chillingo has published some of the biggest games on the App Store. Huge success with games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. Was the massive level of success of these games a surprise to you?

Mr. Rumley: We've always had a pretty good eye for something special, and we work with the best indie developers in the world. Obviously you can never tell if something is going to live up to the success you want for it but I think in almost every case over the past few years, whether it was Cut the Rope, Catapult King etc we've been quietly confident that we were onto something.


148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence the path of Chillingo five years ago, what would you say?

Mr. Rumley: I think if we were told what the App Store would be like between then and now we probably wouldn't have believed it! I'm not sure we would have changed an awful lot, to be honest. We've always been good at spotting the rising trends in the mobile industry and what's on the horizon. We did that effectively with the advent of the $.99 price point and we've always kept a close eye on the App Store, changing our business when and where appropriate. Since then, various free to play business models have emerged and you can see we've been embracing that—but on our own terms. Pixel People is a great example of a freemium title that people loved to play. It has the level of quality we have a reputation for, and was praised widely for putting the fun before the business model.

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of apps published by Chillingo, that has surprised you most?

Mr. Rumley:I still can't believe games like Real Racing 3 and Infinity Blade 2 are running on tablets and phones. The visuals, size and scope of games like these are console-quality, yet they all have the sort of gameplay that makes them totally unique as mobile titles. At the other end we are consistently blown away by what the indie developers is are capable of; games like Tiny Wings being made by just one person is amazing and I've lost a lot of time on games like Clear Vision and Stickman Base Jumper.

148Apps: Any predictions on what the App Store will be like five years from now?

Mr. Rumley:Different, that's for certain. Judging by what has happened over the last past five years I would be mad to predict anything specific but will say that the quality of the games is only going to get better and the talent of the indie developer will never fail to surprise us!

Many thanks to Ed Rumley for his time.

App Store Insiders: Brian Greenstone of Pangea on the App Store 5th Anniversary

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 8th, 2013

Pangea Software was one of the more prolific early iPhone game companies. Quickly porting their Mac catalog over while re-inventing the games for touch controls gave them an early windfall as they filled a void for great games on the platform. Since then, Brian Greenstone, the President of Pangea, has remarked how they have had a much harder time getting games to sell at those amazing early levels.

I sent a few questions off to Mr. Greenstone about his experiences on the App Store in the past five years. We get some great stories about the first decisions for pricing of games, Steve Jobs's input on that, and the skinny on how Mr. Greenstone is sometimes thought of as the person the kicked off the drive to $0.99.

148Apps: You jumped on the App Store right at launch. What made you so sure of the App Store?

Brian Greenstone, President of Pangea Software: Actually, I wasn't sure of it at all. I got into it simply because I had always wanted a "handheld" version of some of my games, and my attempts at PSP and Gameboy versions never panned out. The iPhone looked like my chance, so I got into it just for fun. Never had any intention of making any money at all.

When we were at Apple before the 2008 WWDC Keynote preparing our presentations, I said to the Apple guys that I expected Enigmo and Cro-Mag Rally to maybe sell 10-20,000 units over their lifetimes. They responded, "No, they'll probably do 50-100k". Well, we did 100k units in the first few days! It really wasn't until then that we realized this could actually be a business for us.

148Apps: Pangea games were originally priced at $9.99; how was this initial price point decided? Did representatives from Apple have any input on the price point?

Mr. Greenstone: Back in 2008 there was a lot of speculation about what the price of the apps would be, and a lot of people were predicting $24.99 since that was about the price of the cheapest console or Gameboy game you could get at the time. During our rehearsals for the WWDC keynote I talked a lot with the Sega guys who were equally unsure what to charge. One day we decided to do an informal survey of coworkers and people we knew to see what they'd be willing to pay for our games on the iPhone. We came up with the same figure that Sega did which was "$15". That's what most people said they'd pay, so we decided that we'd both announce that price in our presentations.

However, the next day we did our presentations for Steve Jobs and he asked each of us what we were going to charge for the games. When I told him $15 he said "That's too much. It should be more like $4-$7". I wasn't about to tell Steve that I thought he was crazy, so I thanked him for his advice and that was that. After thinking about it we all separately decided that $10 was probably a good starting point. We thought $4-7 was insane, and that $10 was still crazy. I mean how could we sell a game for $4 on an iPhone that we were selling for $30 on other platforms? Seemed insane at the time.

Anyway, it ends up that $10 was a great starting point because at launch there were only a few dozen games, and people were hungry for everything so they were willing to pay $10 easily. Sales were so strong that first week that we had estimated that we were making a profit of $1.10 per second. It didn't take long, however, before all the Fart and Beer apps drove the prices down, and within a month we had cut our prices in half in order to remain visible in the rankings.

148Apps: What has surprised you most about the App Store in the five years since launch?

Mr. Greenstone: I'm shocked at how big it got. Even Apple was shocked at how things exploded - nobody expected that. I'm also shocked that it hasn't self-imploded from all of the competition. Back in 2007 there were around 2,000 PC games that came out every year, and that was considered to be crushing on the industry. Nobody was able to make any money, and everyone was complaining that the PC gaming industry was going to collapse. That all seems silly now because there are probably 100x that many iOS games each year yet the industry keeps growing and growing. True, only about 5% of all of those games ever make any money, and even fewer of them make enough to sustain a business, but it's such an easy and inexpensive platform to develop for that people keep trying. That's really the key to it all: throw enough darts at the dart board and eventually something will stick and you can go buy that Ferrari.

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has changed considerably. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps have stabilized at the lowest possible price point of $0.99, and free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If current you could go back five years and talk to 2008 you, what would you say? What chances would you take?

Mr. Greenstone: I don't think I would have changed anything. I only wish that we'd had more than just Enigmo and Cro-Mag Rally out at launch, but there was no way. I was working 16 hour days for most of 2008, and we got as many of our Mac games over to iOS as quickly as we could. Had Nanosaur 2 been out at launch, however, we would have easily made another $10 million I'm sure!


148Apps: I consider Pangea as the first big company to take advantage of the ability to put apps on sale in the App Store. As early as September, 2008, some Pangea games were put on sale for $1.99. Then for "Black Friday" of 2008, all Pangea apps went to $0.99. You could be seen as the first developer to contribute to driving prices down on the App Store. Do you get any pushback from other developers about that?

Mr. Greenstone: So, Andy Hess, the Games Partnership Manager at Apple always blames me for starting the price war (partly in jest), but what I always tell him is that all I did was fire the first shot in a war that had already started. The prices were coming down whether I did anything or not, but I saw the chance to make a killing so I took it. Our best week ever was actually the week after Thanksgiving in 2008. We were making a profit of around $50,000 a day once we did that Black Friday sale. I really had expected everyone to do a Black Friday sale like that, so I was shocked when Pangea was the only company to do it. That week we had 5 our our games in the Top 10 apps list. Only EA has ever done that since then as far as I know.


148Apps: Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?

Mr. Greenstone: I'm going to keep my fingers crossed and say that Apple will have redesigned the App Store such that it's easier for customers to find things. I'd like to think there's a way to sell an app there without being in the Top 25.


148Apps: Thanks for you time, Mr. Greenstone.

Pengea currently has 22 apps and games in the App Store including the multimillion selling Enigmo, Enigmo 2, Air Wings.

Why Ads for Apps in Facebook Are Actually a Big Deal in the World of App Marketing

Posted by Carter Dotson on July 1st, 2013

Users of the Facebook mobile app may have noticed that the app now features more ads prompting users to download certain apps. Whether they be ads in the news feed itself or placed on the sidebar, these ads are just a new little blip for Facebook users to contend with.

However, these little blips could be actually having a significant impact on the way that marketers try to sell apps to iOS users, according to ­­a company called Fiksu that tracks app downloads and performance in the context of marketing.

What happened is that since Facebook launched these ads in May, there was an increase in the average number of daily downloads among the top 200 free apps (which are among the most-heavily marketed), from 5.61 million per day in April to 5.9 million per day. That might not sound like a lot, but think: plus an extra day in May, that's going from 168.3 million downloads to 182.9 million downloads. That's more potential customers to spend money on the in-app purchases that help make these games so profitable. There's a reason why there's so many free-to-play titles.

That's right - thanks to Facebook's ads, there's been the most downloads per day since January, where the post-holiday rush of new devices drives lots of app downloads.

This has all come at a good cost to marketers, too. Despite the increase in downloads, the cost to get a loyal user, defined as someone who opens an app three or more times, dropped from $1.50 per user the month before to $1.33. If Facebook mobile ads and the increased inventory they offer are to thank for this, then expect more of them.

Yet, it's also been cheaper to get loyal users. Expect this to go up as the success of Facebook app marketing spreads. For you, that means that ads aren't going away in Facebook or possibly other social networking apps any time soon.

That little sidebar that features sponsored apps? It's staying, and could expand. Expect to see more apps advertised in the news feed. While Fiksu says that some of the increase could be related to changes in behind-the-scenes tracking, Facebook still likely plays a major role in it. It's still one of the most-downloaded and most-used apps out there, and it represents a big opportunity for Facebook to start making some actually money from mobile (where they've had trouble making money before), and for those developers that want to give you a new way to spend money on virtual coins and gems to break more blocks or build more buildings in their free-to-play games. It's a potential union that is all strengthened by your desire to keep seeing funny memes and have political arguments with people from high school.

The $503 iOS Racing Game: The Expensive Reality of the IAP Economics in Real Racing 3

Posted by Jeff Scott on February 25th, 2013

Here's a quick rundown on how earning in-game money in Real Racing 3 relates to real dollars and time and what it would take to finish the game. What we found is rather shocking, doubly so if compared to current day console racing games.

Before we get to the details, we should note that these numbers are current at the time of writing. But like most free to play games the in-app purchase prices, timers, and values can change at any time the developer wishes. In the two weeks I've been playing, changes have already happened twice. So, the numbers reported could be different than they are when this is read.

In Real Racing 3, to get to 100% a player needs to win every one of the 961 current events. As there are races restricted to each one of the 46 cars in the game, to enter those races the related car must be owned. So to get to 100% in Real Racing 3 players must buy every car and win every race. What will it take to do that?

Also take note that like many free to play games, Real Racing 3 is tuned to allow players to earn everything without paying. But a player really has to want to put the time in to earn it. The developer doesn't charge anything for the game with the hope that players will spend some money in the game to speed up their progress.

To earn enough money to buy every car in Real Racing 3, what would it take? Our numbers show that it would take over 472 hours to earn enough money to buy all of the cars in the game. Or to purchase all of the cars with real money via in-app purchase, it would cost $503.22 at the current best rate.

To earn all of the cars in the game rather that buy them with real money, a player would need to finish 6,801 races with an average (per our RR3 stats) of 4:10 per race earning R$3,700 per race. That would equal 472 hours to earn the R$25,163,573 it would cost in the in-game currency to buy all 46 cars. That does not include the cost for repairs, maintenance, or upgrades which can be rather expensive.

If a player wanted to take the shortcut and buy all of the cars in the game with real money, that would cost $503.22 in in-app purchases. That's assuming the current best rate of R$50,005 per US$1 when buying R$5,000,000 at a time.

Let's compare the cost for Real Racing 3 to modern day console games, what could be purchased for that $503.22. For one example, a player could get a 4GB XBox 360, Forza Horizon (one of the newest racing sims on the 360), all of it's DLC including over 127 cars, and a 22" Vizio flatscreen LED TV. And still have $17.22 left over.

I think I can safely say that the way that the cars and the in-app currency are currently structured in Real Racing 3 right now seems a bit out of whack. It seems extreme to think that players have the choice of playing for well over 400 hours or paying over $500 to unlock everything to complete the game. Or most likely, some combination of the two.

And these numbers are not counting any of the promised expansions that will deliver new events and new cars. Those will increase the time and money required to get to 100% complete.

Nor are these numbers including upgrades that could be required to win races. It is very unlikely that any player can win all races without upgrading at least one car in each series. And those upgrades can get pricey as fully upgrading a car can cost more than the base cost of a car. So while on paper it could take 472 hours to earn enough in game currency to buy all of the cars. In practice that number could be as much as doubled to pay for upgrades that would be required to win each race.

Free to play games are tuned to balance the fun a player has vs. the developers need to get earn money to pay for the game development via in-app purchases, that's just the way free to play works. I'm not going to say it's wrong, but it at times like this it just doesn't feel quite right.

For players that feel the need to get to 100% in games, take caution with Real Racing 3. It will take a lot of time, or money to make it to 100%.

Tim Cook: $8 Billion Paid to Developers

Posted by Jeff Scott on February 12th, 2013

Tim Cook is being interviewed today at the Goldman Sachs event in San Francisco. Fortune has the details, live blogged by Philip Elmer-Dewitt. One of the things Mr. Cook mentioned is that Apple has now paid out over $8 Billion to app developers. A staggering number considering Apple had announced $7 Billion paid to developers just a little over a month ago.

Mr. Cook also had a non-denial of the possibility of a cheaper iPhone, and larger screens for iPhones, he stated that Apple will "never create a crappy product."

100% Indie - Chillingo's Next Big Thing

Posted by Jeff Scott on February 6th, 2013

Chillingo in partnership with Samsung have announced their plans to develop a new indie-focused game developer portal, 100% Indie. While on the surface the message is to create a resource to inspire game developers to create great games, the end goal is to promote Android game submissions for the Samsung Apps market.

Chillingo co-founders Chris Byatte and Joe Wee are spearheading the new initiative to inspire mobile game developers which they have declared is Chillingo's "next big thing." The 100% Indie program will be a website dedicated to bringing inspirational and informative articles to experienced and new game developers alike. Content for the 100% Indie site will come from more than just game developers though with filmmakers, musicians, and other creative types expected to contribute to the site to create a library of content all focused on helping developers make better games.

The end goal with the website is to draw the interest of developers by providing them with inspirational materials while hopefully persuading them to submit Android games to the Samsung Apps market. Fairly aggressive revenue share has been announced that ramps up, in tiers, to the industry standard 70% two years after launch of the program.

"Developers will receive 100% revenue from March 4, 2013 – September 3, 2013, 90% revenue share from September 4, 2013 – March 3, 2014, 80% revenue share from March 4, 2014 – March 3, 2015, and after March 4, 2015 on Samsung Apps, developers will begin receiving the industry-standard 70% revenue share."

Developer submitting games to the Samsung Apps market through the 100% Indie program won't need to be exclusive. Those same games can be released on there other Android app markets as well. It should also be noted that games submitted through this program will not go through the normal process Chillingo follows to help fine-tune the game. Chillingo will be doing just "light curation" to the games submitted in the program.

It must be pointed out that Chillingo isn't very well known for their Android support. Until the past quarter they had just dipped a cautious toe into the Android pool. But Chillingo still feels that they are in a perfect position to build the Samsung Apps catalog with games. "[Chillingo has] great relationships with great developers. Lots of our developers are cross-platform and have experience in Android" notes Mr. Byatte.

The 100% Indie portal launches today at http://www.100percentindie.com with the program kicking off officially on March 4th.

Kevin Dent on P4RC and Their Plan for User Engagement Through Rewards

Posted by Jeff Scott on January 25th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Kevin Dent is the newly announced COO of P4RC. A company that you may not of heard of, yet. But if our conversation below with Kevin is any indication, P4RC may just be about to crack a nut no one else has been able to thus far.

148Apps: Kevin, tell us a little about yourself and your background in games.

Kevin Dent: I started my gaming career making mobile games in Dublin, Ireland in 1998 by conning my boss. I was group head of sales at the time and I had a budget to hire 13 additional sales people and instead I hired 3 sales people and 15 developers –I actually forced them to wear suits, they loved that; no really- one day my CEO came in and said “have you ever heard of mobile games?”, he showed me one of my games and I knew I was caught, so I confessed. Yeah, so he had no clue and I basically “outted” myself.

He asked were the games making money, I said “about 2M pounds –old Irish currency- per month”, he called me a bunch of names, calmed down and said “ok fuck it, keep doing it”. I was ecstatic. The company was sold soon after that and as I was an early employee I did pretty great out of it. So I moved to Slovenia, started a studio, sold it, started another, folded it, started another and sold it.

At that point, I joined Hands-On Mobile.

I was kind of scarred from that experience, I had signed a golden handcuff contract; so I could not leave until I was with the firm for 365 days. Wada San the President of Square Enix reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in making a Final Fantasy game on feature phones –there was no iPhone back then- I said that I need to clear it, but I gave him a soft “yes”. Can you imagine? I went into my bosses office and said “Mr X, I have been offered Final Fantasy and it is a great deal, lets do this.” The response was “GREAT, is that a video game?”, I resisted the urge to face slam the guy into his desk.


148Apps: Before this, you lived the sweet life of an indie. Why chain yourself to a single company?

Kevin Dent: So all this basically happened because of a kid I had been working to help. It was a surreal experience, he had a golf ball size tumor removed from his head and he just about broke my heart. He will have chemotherapy from now until the end of the year. All I could think of was unless I am creating something huge that benefits both my peers and gamers, I would not be about to do sometime huge.

To be clear, games are never huge; it is the community that back them that are huge. So I went through this period of self-inspection to figure out how I could actually do something great for everyone with an amazing team. I spent a lot of nights doing crunch and one night I just did an emotional crunch and figured out if I was ever going to be able to realize my full potential I had to close my business, jump off a cliff and hope gamers and devs catch me.

Unfortunately I am not really that skilled in anything other than making games, I am definitely not smart enough to be a doctor, a civil rights lawyer or anything important in the world of philanthropy.

Then the next day a guy called me and suggested that I close my business and join his firm –which was P4RC- I loved the solution, I did not actually think I would like it at first, but I got into it in a big way. I was making a ton of money and more than one friend told me that I was the dumbest smart guy that they knew –I am not that smart- but I did it anyway. Funny side note, my accountant moved my business to his colleague and refused to talk to me after I closed my business.

I have always been a “right time and right moment” sort of guy, so I just decided to go for it. I am happy that I did.


148Apps: Ok, so then P4RC (pronounced "park") had the goods to pull you in, what exactly what does P4RC do?

Kevin Dent: So right now gamers on mobile can engage in different rewards platforms, most of these firms reward gamers for having “moments” I am not making this up. Once you hit that “moment” you get a bag of Pop Chips etc. Now I am sure there are people that enjoy Popchips! P4RC is different in that we go in altogether different direction. We created a platform where gamers accumulate points regardless of whether they have their “moment” or not. With those points they can spend them on whatever they want, we are empowering the rewards business.

They are your points, it’s your choice and they are your rewards.

Also we do not cap the points so you can go big, medium or small; they are your points.


148Apps: So users gather points by playing games and redeem them for real world prizes. We've seen things similar in the past, but none have really gained a foothold. What does P4RC have that others don't, and will that make it successful?

Kevin Dent: Similar yes, but there is always a catch, a deadline or an expiration in terms of the points. Not so with P4RC, your points accumulate so if you don’t like what is in the store, you don’t have to settle. This is key for me personally as I don’t want gamers to settle, as a game developer myself, I never want gamers to have to settle ever. The data supports this argument, we currently have 1.7M users who are racking up points, we are giving away mid five figures in prizes weekly. We have investors, it is their money so hey that makes me pretty happy. We want to give away 100X that figure daily.

The second thing we have is that we have all made games at some point, personally I have made a little over 300 titles on various platforms; some were well received and others not so much –hello Ironman on feature phones- my point is, is that we are uniquely positioned to know what developers and gamers like. We have lived the nightmare that is crunch, we have lived the horror show that is looking at your game and thinking to yourself “wow this is a total piece of crap”. Perspective is incredibly important. Since we came out of private beta we have signed up 65 games and we will be announcing those as they go live if the developer wants us to and this leads me nicely into my final point, every other rewards program seems to be want to be the star. It is a fool’s errand, I want the in game experience to be the star. With P4RC you do not even have to leave the game and even when you finish playing there is nothing to do, you bank your points without doing anything.

Signup is easy, I was at a bus stop the other day and I paid an old guy $10 to sign up to P4RC just so I could witness someone go through the process. It took him 37 seconds.


Hit the jump for the rest of our talk with Kevin Dent.