Posts Tagged App Store 5th Anniversary
Over one million apps have made their way onto the App Store during its five years of existence. A million. That’s a pretty miraculous number when you think about it. However it’s not the amount of apps we have to pick from that I find so fascinating, but rather just how much things have changed since 2008. Pickings were comparatively slim at first, and many developers were just starting to dip a toe in the waters of Apple’s new smartphone.
On top of that, the technology itself has changed tremendously in a relatively small amount of time. It makes me wonder if anyone from 2008 would even recognize current iOS devices, and by extension the App Store. Would a newer Apple initiate have any idea what they were looking at if they somehow managed to take a trip to five years ago? I think it warrants a look at how the hardware, the App Store, and the apps contained within it have evolved.
2008 – The Beginning of the Beginning
The App Store’s first year was a rough but promising one. The iPhone 3G rolled out to coincide with Apple’s new software venue and the original iPhone was still viable. The iPod touch was also present and accounted for, while the second generation appeared closer to the end of the year. Even at this point many developers were eager to push these early iOS devices to their limits, to make them more than just a phone or an .mp3 player with a fancy screen.
Handy apps like Pandora Radio, Last.FM, Facebook, and Yelp were to be expected, but that didn’t make them any less impressive to have on a handheld platform. Others such as the intuitive personal organizer Evernote, the eerily accurate song-identifying app Shazam, eWallet’s convenient and secure account password management, and MLB At Bat with its extensive baseball coverage further capitalized on the particulars of the hardware and its general portability. Of course there were also some pretty unnecessary options out there, too. Flashlight kind of served a purpose but was also fairly pointless. It wasn’t as bad as stuff like More Cowbell!, though.
At the same time, the games available on the App Store were beginning to show people that “mobile” didn’t have to equal “mediocre.” Sure there were a few simple ports of the odd classic such as Ms. PAC-MAN, Vay, and Scrabble, but there were also some impressive iOS renditions of popular console games like Super Monkey Ball coming out. Potential mobile gamers also had a few really special titles such as Galcon and Fieldrunners to tide them over. When all was said and done there were over 7,500 apps on the App Store by the end of the year, with more being added every day.
2009 – Moving Right Along
The following year saw even more impressive releases as Apple’s digital marketplace began to expand. The second generation of iPod Touch was the bright and shiny new toy at the time, but it was followed shortly by the iPhone 3GS in June while the latest and greatest third generation Touch closed out the year in September. It all meant better processors, better CPUs, more advanced operating systems, and so on. All stuff that developers needed to acclimate to, but also stuff that meant they could push their boundaries even further. There was no loss of steam when it came to content, either: the App Store finished off 2009 with well over 100,000 apps available.
Many of the basic smartphone necessities were covered, but there was room for so much more. Especially while the technology was improving. Plenty of people used their iPhones as phones, sure, but with the addition of Skype they were able to enjoy the added functionality of instant messaging and voice chat without cutting into their data plans (so long as a wifi connection was present). Big companies were really starting to take notice as well. That same year Starbucks and many other big businesses threw their virtual hats into the ring with their own apps designed to make life a little bit easier for their iOS-using customers. Practicality was also becoming an even bigger focus. The Kindle app gave iOS users a practical e-reading option, and Dropbox was there being Dropbox. By which I mean “an awesome and super-convenient way to transfer files between multiple platforms.” And this same level of refinement could be seen creeping into the games as well.
So many of the App Store’s most notable games and franchises came out around this time. It was almost a mobile rennaisence of a sort. This was the year Real Racing first blew mobile gamers’ minds, even causing some of them to question the legitimacy of in-game video footage until they were able to see the finished product for themselves. Zenonia was just a fledgling action RPG at the time, and while a lot of people liked it I doubt they knew just how many sequels it would spawn. The same goes for Pocket God, although with updates rather than multiple releases. Flight Control began to eat away at peoples’ free time, Angry Birds and Doodle Jump hit it big (like, super big), and Myst and The Sims 3 further displayed the potential for major releases on mobile platforms. Oh, and Canabalt almost single-handedly invented and popularized a genre.
Continue reading 5 Years and Counting – The App Store Then and Now »
I’ve been in love with video games for over 25 years, ever since the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System. And while the technology has been advancing exponentially ever since, one thing has been constant: my envy of video game reviewers. These were people who were paid to play video games and then write about them. How freaking cool is that??
I idolized everyone who worked for Nintendo Power, IGN, GamePro, EGM, and later Play, Game Informer, OPM, and so on. I’d dreamed of being able to do the same thing myself but it was always one of those “there’s no way, but it would be cool if” kind of dreams. At least until I actually started doing it when I more or less tumbled into writing for Crush! Frag! Destroy!
I’ll never forget the years I spent at CFD! – first as a contributor, then as Managing Editor/website mom. They were instrumental in helping me put together a sizable and diverse body of work that included console, PC, mobile, AAA, and indie games. I got to talk to game developers. I received review copies (FREE review copies) of games like Persona 3 Portable, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect 2. I went to Pax East one year and felt like a friggin’ badass. However it wasn’t until I got myself an iPhone 3GS, crossed my fingers, and sent a resume off to 148Apps that I really started to live the dream.
Much to my amazement I was brought onboard almost immediately as a freelancer. Suddenly I was making money–real money–reviewing video games (and apps). After a few months, a senior writer position opened. Then I crossed my fingers for a second time as I expressed an interest, and was again amazed at how quickly I was given the go-ahead. That was two years ago, and things have only gotten more amazing since then.
Thanks to 148Apps and the existence of the App Store, I’ve been able to write about games (and apps!) to my heart’s content and pay some bills in the process. I’ve been able to meet and interview some great developers, both from the indie scene and from big name studios. I’ve been invited to special press-only preview events. Some developers have come to me specifically so that I can critique (not just review but actually critique) their works in progress. I’ve come to understand and appreciate just how influential, creative, and downright fun iOS games can be. And I’ve made some really great friends that I’ve never actually met in person along the way, too.
If it weren’t for the App Store and 148Apps I honestly have no idea what I’d be doing now. Maybe I’d still be writing gratis while waiting for my big break. Maybe I’d have given up on the dream and focused on something a little more “realistic.” Thankfully I don’t have to worry about any of that because I’m already doing it. And I’m going to keep doing it no matter what.
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.
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.