Posts Tagged App Store 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.
The App Store has been around for five years, and in that time its library has grown from just under a thousand titles to over a million. Even with so many releases (and more on the way) there are still a fair number of developers – prominent, indie, or otherwise – who haven’t gone near it. Why have some embraced the App Store while others have hesitated? Why are there still so many talented people, whose games would be a great fit for iOS, not releasing their games for the platform? I reached out to a number of developers, some who have and some who haven’t released games on iOS, to try and figure it out.
The Initial Draw
With such a big install base (600 million devices sold and 575 million user accounts) and a unified operating system, it’s only natural for many a developer to find the App Store appealing. Especially if the popularity or puslisher support for certain platforms starts to wane. Daniel Steger of Stegersaurus Games has been doing pretty well on the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace, but lately it’s looking like Microsoft might be pulling the plug on the once indie-friendly venue. “iOS has been seen as one option because it has many consumers and seems to fit the scale of games I enjoy making,” Steger said, “Frameworks like Xamarin’s Monotouch could also make porting my games from XBox to iPhone fairly pain-free which is an added bonus as I could continue creating games for both platforms.”
Daniel Steger/Steger Games
It was the portability and popularity of Apple’s iOS devices that first attracted ISOTX
‘s Jeroen Roding to the App Store. “The iPad is something you have with you all of the time, it is accessible at any given time of the day,” Roding said. “The average revenue per unit is pretty high and the whole shop backend is easy for the users.” It wasn’t just the install base, either. As a developer for Facebook games there was also cross-platform integration to consider that would allow users to “start the game on PC and Mac and finish it while on their tablet,” he said.
Both Marios Karagiannis from Karios Games and independent programmer Suraj Gregory-Kumar attribute their initial interest to the App Store’s popularity as well as Apple’s certification process. According to Karagiannis, “Companies that consider creating casual games for mobile devices cannot really afford to skip the App Store,” since he considers it to be “the biggest, more consistent app store of the 3 major platforms right now.” Gregory-Kumar agrees, but views the situation from a more practical standpoint. “I own an iPhone and wanted to venture in to unknown territory,” said Gregory-Kumar, “but more over it was a way of showing those around me the games I could produce, since the device is portable and easy to show off.”
As for getting apps certified, Karagiannis considers it to be a necessary buffer. “Remember that the lack of any kind of certification means in practice that a VERY large number of apps are utterly useless – including malicious apps.” In other words it’s like the Wild West. However, that also means getting something approved for the App Store can take a little while, as Gregory-Kumar recalls. “The App Store approval process is something which takes a lot of consideration, as the app must meet their strict guidelines, otherwise the app is declined.”
Mike Roush, co-founder of Gaijin Games, has a slightly different perspective on the matter. BIT.TRIP BEAT has been on the App Store since 2010, however he doesn’t feel like they’ve had much involvement in it’s App Store appearance. “I don’t really feel like Gaijin Games made the game, seeing as it was a port of the Wii version.” Roush said, noting that Namco’s involvement with publishing and co-developing the port attributed greatly to his feeling of detachment. He also believes they could take advantage of the shift in App Store shopper preferences from the quick and casual games of the early years to something more complex. “Nowadays,” Roush said, “it seems to me that people are interested in deeper, richer and more polished experiences.”
As appealing as any development platform might be there are always going to be a few aspects that give someone pause. Apple’s certification process, while a welcome buffer for some, becomes an unnecessary barrier for others. Daniel Steger had this exact problem when he attempted to move a few of his Xbox Live Indie Games to iOS. “I spent some time porting my game engine to work with Monotouch,” Steger said, “Unfortunately, after all that time I did not account for Apple’s sensitivity when approving games.” The first game he had attempted to port was rejected three consecutive times; the last of which was anything but constructive or informative. “I was told not to submit the game again, as it would never get approved.”
Jane V./Price Rhythm
He tried to make the best of it by porting two other games, both of which did fairly well on Xbox Live and were, in fact, approved for the App Store, but it just wasn’t enough. “They were quicker ports just trying to make the best out of a bad situation,” he said. Unfortunately, while these games performed well on Xbox Live they didn’t even come close to recouping the time and money spent porting them to iOS in the first place. He’s been understandably hesitant to port any other projects ever since. Jane V from Price Rhythm
was also initially put off by the approval process. “I am holding myself from developing games because I believe that in order to succeed in it and make the “killer” game, you have to make it really beautiful and engaging.” She said, “This requires a lot of graphical capabilities, marketing budgets and etc that a lot of indie developers just don’t have.”
Marios Karagiannis/Karios Games
Jeroen Roding, Marios Karagiannis, and Suraj Gregory-Kumar, on the other hand, were more concerned about the development tools themselves. Gregory-Kumar wasn’t much of a Mac user initially and was also worried about budgeting on top of his unfamiliarity. “Fortunately, my husband is an Apple fan so his Mac came in handy.” Gregory-Kumar said, “With the Unreal Engine you need a windows machine to install the software, and a mac to submit it, so developing using this process without the technology would prove costly.” Roding, on the other hand, was limited to his prior experience with developing browser-based games. “We didn’t really have the experience at the time to get our game functioning on iOS.” Roding said, “Now we are working with scaleform and Unity in order to get the game running smoothly on iOS and retaining the same value on PC and Mac.”
Marios Karagiannis, however, has had a fair bit of experience in designing for mobile ever since 2011. Although it was for Windows Phone. A platform he picked mostly due to the accessible development tools. “XNA was providing (at the time) an excellent game development framework for indies and Microsoft was really pushing for the platforms, which gave me a lot of perks.” He was also a little preoccupied at the time, what with pursuing his PhD and all. “Revenue as well as user acquisition was not my number one priority,” Karagiannis said, “I opted for having fun creating my games while making them available through a number of people through a centralized store at the same time.”
Mike Roush was mostly concerned about he and his team’s extensive background in console development, as mobile platforms are something of a different beast. The App Store is also a fairly unpredictable marketplace. “If we invest a significant amount of money into an iOS project and it doesn’t hit, then we are in trouble.” Roush said. There was also a lot less pressure for their games to succeed because they were a much smaller studio at first. “We had no fear of failing because our office burn-rate was around $1000.00. We didn’t really have much to lose and we could function on very little.”
Even though they’ve had issues or reservations in the past, everyone agrees that there are some qualities the App Store possesses that made (or will make) it worth the effort. Even Daniel Steger hasn’t totally written off Apple’s mobile platforms. “I wouldn’t say an attempt to return to iOS is out of the question,” Steger said, “but there are a few places that take priority because of my experiences.” He’s been attempting to use Steam Greenlight to release his most recent project, Mount Your Friends, on PC and has been eyeing Google Play for another go at mobile devices. He’d still be willing to give Apple another shot, however. “If I heard Apple was being more transparent now on their review criteria, or heard that my old, rejected submission to the app store would be considered today by Apple that may influence a return.” Suraj Gregory-Kumar is simply looking forward to more time to learn, and hopes that Apple eventually opens up iOS to other development tools. “It would be easier being able to use a windows machine to develop for Apple (using Xcode/Objective-C),” he said.
Mike Roush/Gaijin Games
Marios Karagiannis and Jeroen Roding are pretty much on-board already thanks to Apple’s install base. Since finishing his PhD last December, Karagiannis Has found that his priorities have been changing. “App Store users seem to be willing to pay more than Android users.” His biggest theory on this phenomenon has to do with the install base on Android versus iOS. “While on paper Android users are many more,” Karagiannis said, “the average Android user uses an old device and is used to getting all of their apps for free.” Of course a similar case could be made against iOS users, but there definitely seems to be a more universal acceptance of $0.99 releases on the App Store. Roding is more interested in the number of iOS users rather than the particulars of the App Store’s economics. “From a marketing point of view we really liked the average revenue per unit and the fact that we can reach a larger audience.” Roding said, “Also looking at the numbers for PC gamers having access to or owning a tablet are really good, around 30% of the PC gamers now owns a tablet.”
Karagiannis concurred. “Apple’s ecosystem proved to be quite robust and iOS as a gaming platform seems to be one step away from being the most successful gaming platform at the moment, including game consoles and PCs,” Karagiannis said. Mike Roush feels the same way, and has high hopes for Gaijin Games on the App Store. “We are actually working on the iOS version of Runner2 (it’s super amazing btw). I would be willing to bet, from here on out, every game we make will be on an iOS device.” Roush said, “You just can’t argue with the number of iOS units currently in the hands of people.”
What do the following iOS apps and games have in common? Well, they all surprised the heck out of us when they were released. That’s saying something, considering we’re all jaded journalists and such.
Apps that come along and knock our socks off are rare, so we’ve put together a list of ten of the most surprising apps from the last five years of the App Store to commemorate that fact, and to maybe show you some cool stuff you might have missed.
These are the apps that came out of left field, making innovative use of iOS hardware and software to bring us a truly unexpected experience.
Hipstamatic – The grandaddy of hipster photo apps, Hipstamatic created the crop and filter genre, with switchable virtual lenses and film types to apply to your ironic images.
Word Lens – Aim your iPhone camera at a sign in another language and see it magically transformed right on your device. If this isn’t transformative tech, I don’t know what is.
Cycloramic – This one lets you set your iPhone down on a hard surface, then uses the built-in vibration feature to spin around in a circle, taking a 360-degree video of the entire process. Wow!
Dark Sky – This innovative weather app does one thing really well: warn you when it’s going to rain. You can even get a 5 minute warning, which is enough to get your umbrella out and stay dry!
Star Walk – Astronomy apps have been all the rage, especially since the iPad came out. But this one lets you hold your iOS device up to the sky, and it will show you what stars and other heavenly objects are up there, in real time. Heck, you can even track Santa with it during the holidays.
These games either came out of nowhere and burned themselves into the collective unconscious, or were so bizarrely fun and successful that they had to be mentioned here.
Game Dev Story – We’ve spent entire days in thrall to this cleverly addictive saga of video game development, putting our retro-styled pixel people through their paces to push out the next great hit.
Candy Crush Saga – What’s so surprising about a match-three game becoming the top-grossing app in just a few weeks? Well, it’s a match-three game.
Tiny Wings – One indie dev, Andreas Illiger, sat down and created this brilliant piece of game design, popularizing the one-touch game genre and garnering a ton of copycat and clone apps in the bargain. Plus, he made a lot of money, which we like to talk about, too.
Angry Birds – Did you ever think that flinging birds in a slingshot at pigs in bizarre structures would turn into a global hit, spawning way too many tie-in items, like fishing lures? Us, neither.
10000000 – Small, brutally difficult indie game that became a smash hit overnight. That’s pretty surprising, right?
When talking about the impact Apple’s App Store has had on people during the last five years it’s easy to just rattle off the numbers. But its influence goes beyond the hundreds of thousands of apps and the billions of downloads. Technology can simultaneously change the lives of entire populations and lowly individuals, individuals like me. The App Store has opened up opportunities for me to do the things I’ve always wanted to do, all while making me better at it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for writing and a passion for video games. Naturally, video game journalism seemed like the best career to pursue because it allowed me to easily combine the two. In 2007, just as I was settling into high school, I started practicing my craft on tiny fan sites about big games most players had already made up their minds about.
In 2009, though, as App Store games and the sites that covered them were coming into their own, I saw the chance to really get serious about this strange path I was on. With so many games to choose from, players were actually in need of advice. App Store coverage was a growing segment of games journalism that could really help people, so it seemed as good a place as any to launch my career. From 2009 to 2010 I wrote for SlidetoPlay.com and in 2011 I made the jump here to 148Apps. Writing about the App Store these past four years has undoubtedly driven me to strengthen my writing and provide quality analysis, although there are definitely improvements still to be made. I’m incredibly grateful for the editors who have had faith in me and my work.
Reviewing over 150 games for 148Apps alone has also given me a greater understanding of video games as a whole. At least, I’d like to think so. Playing all of the different kinds of games on the platform, no matter how good, bad or crazy experimental, while trying to articulate how and why they do or don’t work has been an immensely beneficial intellectual endeavor. Video game criticism has the potential to be more than just simple purchasing advice. Like games themselves, the writing can become a true art form. As the App Store evolves, its role in gaming is increasing. By highlighting these smaller App Store games I’m hoping to make whatever tiny contribution I can to the larger field. These games can be reviewed on their own terms, without worrying about having to conform to some AAA gaming consensus or fandom pressure and that’s what makes them so special.
Of course, what also make the App Store so special are the people behind it. To get a better understanding of the industry, I’ve recently been trying to talk with more developers and other members of the press. Before leaving Chicago and coming back home for the summer, I had dinner with Tom Eastman of Trinket Studios, creators of Color Sheep, and drinks with 148Apps’ own Carter Dotson in the same week. Both experiences were great. The App Store itself may just be a cold, technological service set up by a massive corporation, but the communities of developers and writers that have come together because of it more than proves its value.
At just five years old, though, the App Store still has a bright future ahead of it. As I prepare to enter my last year of journalism school, I can’t wait to see what that future is and start covering it as a true professional. Writing about games is important to me and that’s not changing any time soon. So thank you App Store, 148Apps, and the wonderful people behind them both for helping me make my insanely frivolous dream an insanely meaningful reality.
Mike Lee has been all over the App Store since, well honestly before launch. He helped found Tapulous, the studio that brought out the first Twitter client on the iPhone via jailbreak, before the App Store was around, and of course the hugely popular Tap Tap Revenge. Tapulous would later go on to be acquired by Disney. He was also part of the small team that brought the revolutionary Obama ’08 app to the App Store. And then there was a short stint at Apple as well as the founding of the Amsterdam-based incubator, Appsterdam.
Mike has seen it all when it comes to the App Store. Let’s get his take on the past five years and the next five.
148Apps: How has the App Store changed your professional life?
Mike Lee, New Lemurs: It would be easier to say how the App Store has not changed my professional life. When the App Store was announced, I was just coming off a three-year apprenticeship with the legendary Mac developer Delicious Monster. It has worked out that my beloved mentor Wil Shipley continues to run rampant through Mac OS, and I’ve been able to carry his memes forward into iOS.
I cannot overstate the value of those skills when demand exploded. Combined with the things I learned by working on iPhone projects with people smarter than me, like Lucas Newman, Guy English, Brent Simmons, and Chris Parrish, I was able to do things beyond my wildest dreams.
I got to be co-founder of not one but two Silicon Valley startups, Tapulous and United Lemur. I got to meet legends like Steve Wozniak, Bill Atkinson, and Andy Stone.
I even got to work at Apple, had my own office on Infinite Loop, got my name on Mac OS X server, got to work on the flagship Apple Store app, then went on a year-long speaking tour around the world before settling in Amsterdam, which is just about the nicest place in the world I have found to be an App Maker.
Now, as co-founder of Appsterdam and the New Lemurs, I get to work with incredible people who continue to make me better every day, which is exactly what a professional life requires.
What we were doing on the Mac was really great, but it wasn’t Tapulous, United Lemur, Apple World Tour, Appsterdam, or New Lemurs great. None of that would have happened but for hard work, incredible luck, and little thing called the App Store.
148Apps: You were involved with Tapulous and app creation before the App Store even launched, I believe. You had to feel like a pioneer, breaking ground and doing things no one had ever done before. What were things like back then? Any official response from Apple, before the iPhone SDK was launched in 2008?
Mike Lee: I know how I felt, and I know I wasn’t alone. Not everybody felt the same way, but a lot of people did. We were incredibly eager, incredibly passionate, and incredibly naïve, exactly as you would expect. We constantly compared ourselves and each other to the original Mac team. We knew we were the successor to the Mac, the future of computing, and we felt a tingly responsibility to make sure it went right this time.
We knew we were making history, but more than that, we knew we were setting an example. There was a lot of worry at places like Wolf Rentzsch’s legendary C4 conference about the kinds of apps we should make and the kinds of App Makers we should be. For example, I am very opposed to casual misogyny, and spent a lot of energy preventing things like “Hot or Not” from making it to the App Store.
I was very lucky to be in Palo Alto, so I could drive to Apple at least once a week and talk to people there, to get their opinions, their help, and their guidance. I knew they didn’t like us, because we had been involved with Jailbreak. That was frustrating, because early Jailbreak was born of passion and it was how we learned.
Of course it’s not like Apple puts a horse’s head in your bed when they don’t like you. They just stop talking to you. By the time of the App Store, I was already a well established name on the Mac. I had an Apple Design Award and the personal phone numbers of half of Developer Relations.
Don’t get me wrong, these folks were my friends, and they continued being my friends, but on a professional level it was the cold shoulder. We were conspicuously absent from the big debut. They even failed to have our submissions up on Day 0 as they had promised.
But at the same time, Director of Evangelism John Geleynse, who is the coolest dude I know, gave me a lot of advice about having perspective and looking at the big picture. When they didn’t have us up on the first day, I just drove to Infinite Loop and bought the nascent App Review team coffee and pastries and told them I knew exactly how hard they were working, because we were going through it too.
I had faith then, as I do now, that great products rise to the top. I knew Steve would not be able to resist a great game about music. It wasn’t long before Tap Tap Revenge was on stage with Steve, and by the time I went to Apple, it hung on a 60-foot banner in the foyer of 1 Infinite Loop.
148Apps: If you have one single success within the App Store you’d like to highlight, what would it be?
Mike Lee: I’m really excited about the work the New Lemurs are doing. I’ve been trying to blend technology and altruism both on and off the App Store since before it was a thing, with everything from the Club Thievey fundraising drive that linked Mac developers with the Madagascar Fauna Group to the Obama ’08 app to Appsterdam and on into Lemurs Chemistry.
What distinguishes my work now from what I was doing 5 years ago is this: while I’m still focused on providing great products and experiences to people, that has stopped being the end in and of itself. Now I am much more concerned with spreading good memes. My abilities as an App Maker, and my ability to be an example of what kind of apps we should make and what kind of App Makers we should be, have switched seats.
My current obsession is the idea that games would not be a waste of time if they were made based on science. By replacing the arbitrary game mechanics with rules from nature, you end up with games that happen to be educational as a side-effect, instead of trying to gamify education. Lemurs Chemistry is the embodiment of that idea, and it’s the best game I’ve ever produced.
148Apps: What about one thing you have done that you think should have taken off, but never did?
Mike Lee: Well, of course, the Tapulous story is an interesting one, because the original design and engineering team ended up separating from the management team and forming United Lemur. There was a lot of great stuff we worked on before we left that ended up going nowhere once the company focused only on Tap Tap Revenge.
I still think a lot about those projects, and some of the projects we worked on as United Lemur other than the Obama app. Puzzllotto was the only cash contest to ever run on the App Store that I’m aware of, since they were banned after that, but I don’t know that the world would be a better place if that game had taken off. We spent a lot of time worrying about what would happen if it did.
The one that breaks my heart to this day was the one that never shipped: Pyrangle. Because of my non-profit work, I ended up making the acquaintance of an incredible group called the Gear Up Foundation. Their founder was a firefighter who had been trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center, who had resigned himself to death, and who, upon being saved, had dedicated himself to the good of his brothers and sisters still fighting.
When it turned out there weren’t many 9/11 survivors to help, he repurposed his foundation to provide equipment and training to fire departments around the world. Pyrangle was a game about fire safety whose proceeds would have financed bringing the Gear Up Foundation into Madagascar.
Then the world financial system collapsed, taking my retirement savings and ability to pay my team along with it. To top it off, Madagascar descended into a civil war, and I descended into burnout. The team had to go get jobs, seeding the next generation of App Store wonders like Square and Black Pixel, so it’s not like things didn’t work out.
But still, Madagascar burns.
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?
Mike Lee: Let me say this flat out: I hate what has happened with monetization on the App Store. I think it’s immoral to drain money out of people’s pockets through their children, and I think that while the tools Apple provides can be used to make a great experience, most people aren’t using them that way. The experience has become about the monetization, which is backwards and wrong.
I refuse to make money this way, and have spent five years fighting this practice with every fiber of my being, from the presentations I give, to the business plans I write. The New Lemurs have a promise to parents not to upsell, advertise, nor mine data for money. We have made our revulsion into our strategy.
But that’s not really the question, is it? I can hardly go back and give myself 5 years of hard-won experience, but there is one mistake I made that could have changed everything, had I known what was going to happen with App Store pricing.
We thought we could bootstrap United Lemur on game sales. We turned down funding from Kleiner Perkins, unwittingly damning ourselves into an unsustainable business model. If I knew then what would happen, I would have taken the help from Kleiner. They could have saved the team, and Madagascar might be better off.
While we can’t go back to the past, we can make the past mean something by learning from it. My business plans now are all about how to make money regardless of game sales, without selling our souls. It’s not easy, and it is only sustainable because I live a very simple life, often supported by side work like teaching people to make their own apps at the Big Nerd Ranch.
I might go down as the idiot who keeps walking away from money because his morals get in the way, but I consider myself lucky. I get to wake up every day and do my little part to make the world a better place, and I feel my impact in other people’s lives. My work may leave the App Store, my name may be forgotten, but I will die knowing I have taught, inspired, and worked with some of the best people in the world.
148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of apps you are associated with, that has surprised you most?
Mike Lee: I think five years ago most of us were very naïve about information warfare. We had no real inkling of what it meant to own information. We didn’t know or understand that China had already had a cyber warfare division in training for five years. We didn’t know how pervasive governmental and corporate information gathering had become. We didn’t realize how naked we were before incomprehensible power, nor how thoroughly our dreams played into their plans.
I never thought I would see drones controlled by an iPad go from being a great demo to being a worldwide nightmare. I never thought I would see ubiquitous presence of data via the cloud become the means by which they intrude into our lives in an attempt to control us. I never thought I would see the Internet become the ties that bind and strangle.
I have always believed that openness and transparency were important, but have never allied with the likes of Linux or Android, because I do not believe openness makes products great by itself. Being open is like being nutritious or being educational. You have to find a way to make those features part of the best products, rather than declaring that those features make products best.
My business plans and personal projects for the development year running between WWDC13 and WWDC14 revolve around open source. I know I will be considered late to the party by many, but I can say with surety that this shift in my thinking is a direct result of what I think is a wide awakening to the new realities of the Information Age.
Never has it been more important for us to ask ourselves what apps we should be building, and what kind of App Makers we should be.
148Apps: Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?
Mike Lee: Among the many adventures the App Store has afforded me was climbing a bit of the Great Wall of China. They really should call it the Great Staircase of China, because it is an incredibly challenging hike. The one moment I will never forget is looking behind me at how far I had climbed, and looking ahead of me at far I had to go, an infinity in both directions.
It’s incredible to me that we can talk about the App Store five years from now in a way we could not have foreseen five years ago. Even among the true believers, I think I would have been embarrassed to talk about five years from now five years ago. Certainly I should have been. But now? It would be more controversial to suggest the App Store wouldn’t be here in five years.
When I was in China, I asked an old man if he ever thought about something so grandiose as the future of China, and what he wanted for his children. With tears in his eyes, he spoke of how he had starved, as generations before him had starved, and in that instant I understood Chinese culture more than I ever had, despite growing up surrounded by Chinese people in Hawaii.
My children will have enough to eat, he said, and the rest is up to them.
Huge thanks to Mike Lee for his time. Mike’s latest app Lemurs Chemistry: Water is available in the App Store and is free today in celebration of the App Store 5th anniversary.
[ Photo credit Tom Hayton ]
Five years ago, I was eight years into a job that took me around Alaska via bush plane, working with kids with severe disabilities out in rural communities around the state. I was burning out, hard.
At the same time, I had just co-founded a site called GamesAreEvil (still active today!), a video game news and reviews site. We were starting to see some traction from publishers and PR folks, as they began to send us games to review without us begging them for a copy.
Then July 2008 hit and the App Store happened. We totally ignored it, being the snobbish console and handheld gamers that we were. As games trickled out, we started covering them because, hey, it was super easy for developers to send us their games, and, heck, these guys were pretty nice to boot.
Once 2009 rolled around, I launched The Portable Gamer (now a part of the 148Apps network) and started reviewing iOS and handheld games (Sony PSP, Nintendo DS) exclusively. The App Store continued to grow, as did we. Soon, we were reviewing and reporting on iOS exclusively. There just were that many games.
My day job, in the meantime, was increasingly frustrating. I kept getting raises (yay!) but wasn’t really doing much innovative work (boo!); in addition, I wasn’t seeing much impact of my work with kids. The burnout continued apace with my paycheck increases, and I felt worse and worse every day. I began to look forward to locking myself in my home office and writing for free every evening (when I wasn’t traveling). Looking back, I wish I’d seen the writing on the wall sooner.
As time moved on, I went to my first Game Developers Conference. I met 148Apps founder Jeff Scott there, and it turned out we had a lot in common (beer, old age). We worked together a bit, him helping me with coding things, me fawning all over him and promising to send beer that I never was able to find.
The following year, I said to him (over a beer), “Hey, you need an editor. Why not bring me on part time, see how it works out.”
That was in 2010. I’ve been here ever since.
It’s 2013, and I’ve just quit my day job to devote all of my time to writing. Mostly about the App Store, iOS, and Apple.
Without the App Store, I’d never have had the ability as a tiny site owner to practice and fail at writing, editing, and running a site.
Without the App Store, I’d never have gotten better at doing those things.
Without the App Store, no one would have wanted to hire me, let alone put me in charge of a ton of freelance writers and a crapload of content every day.
Without the App Store, I’d probably still be making a lot of money, and still be incredibly unhappy.
So, thanks Apple. Thanks App Store. Thanks GamesAreEvil and ThePortableGamer. Thanks Jeff and 148Apps. You all have made me a much better person, a much better writer, and–ultimately–a much better human being.
The App Store launched July 10, 2008 and brought with it a whole new way of distributing and purchasing software. The first several months were a wild west frontier of pricing, business models (or the lack thereof), and genre, making the iPhone the place to be.
As the years have gone by, things have gotten more crowded, more predictable, and perhaps more “same-old” to some. Let’s take a look back at those early, heady days with ten of the best iOS apps from the launch of the App Store.
Cro-Mag Rally – Kart racing with cavemen? Yes, please! This launch title from veteran Mac developer Pangea showed us all how much fun the iPhone could be, paving the way for a host of ports and new gaming experiences on the go.
AIM – Before the recent spate of apps that bring multi-client, desktop-style instant messaging to the iPhone and iPad, there was only AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM. This launch title clued us in to the future of always being in touch, even if we didn’t know it at the time.
Fieldrunners – Oh, tower defense games, why do you torment us so? Fieldrunners took the concept already on the web in Flash games and brought it to the devices we had in our pockets every day, iterating its tower defense gameplay to a fine polish. We were hard-pressed to stop playing, to be honest, and still are.
Yelp – Like Urbanspoon, Yelp brought location-based awareness together with user-based opinions on local restaurants and coffee shops at a level we’d never seen before. Yelp has become an indispensable tool when traveling, and even while staying in our hometown, letting us find interesting places to eat and drink at a price we can afford.
Super Monkey Ball – Wait, we were just playing this on our GameCube! How cool is it that we can tilt our iPhones and roll that adorable monkey around the maddeningly difficult tracks? Ten bucks! That’s a sweet deal! Oh, what a difference half a decade makes.
Google Earth – This one came out in October of 2008, quickly amazing us all with its innovative zooming interface as well as its comprehensiveness. Finally, we thought, an interesting app from Google.
Rolando – Wow! This game showed us that we didn’t have to own a PSP to get a quality arcade puzzle platform game like Loco Roco. It also allowed the early promise of ngmoco;) to shine forth like a beacon in the wilderness.
MLB At Bat – Updated on a yearly basis since 2008, MLB At Bat came onto the scene like a home run, proving that this little App Store thing was for more than just fart apps and casual games. Serious sports fans rejoiced in 2008 when this baby was released.
Galcon – This real-time space-themed strategy game was ready on day one of the App Store, bringing a depth of gameplay not seen yet. While games like Mushroom Wars and the like have since iterated on the concept, Galcon remains a perennial favorite.
Evernote – This essential app has been around since day one, and still continues to improve. Evernote showed us how important it was to have access to our notes, files, and pictures across all the devices we used, whether they were on a desktop or in our pocket.
While games may not be the largest percentage of apps in the App Store (non-games lead the way overwhelmingly), they are the most popular single category, with over 151,000 active games in the App Store as of this month, according to 148Apps.biz.
One could argue, and indeed I will, that games are the most transformative type of app in the App Store, bringing a quality of play to iOS devices previously impossible to achieve. As 148Apps staffers have been heard to proclaim, there are over 1.2 billion thumbs waiting to play games on these crafty little devices.
Of course, there have been landmark games since the App Store went live in 2008, titles that create, extend, and improve on the current state of the art. Here then, are the top 20 of those games, as chosen by your App Experts at 148Apps.
Doodle Jump – This one started the jumping game craze, inspiring a host of clones and imitators along the way.
Angry Birds – Need we say more? The grumpy avians have taken over the public consciousness.
Tiny Wings – Not just another bird game, Tiny Wings showed us how one mechanic, brilliantly executed, could take an unknown designer to untold heights.
Candy Crush Saga – Good heavens we still get a lot of invites for this casual, money-printing game.
Clash of Clans – Say what you will about free to play, but this game has gotten it right.
Tiny Tower – Nimblebit hit the jackpot here with a smart combination of tower building and free to play retro gaming.
Temple Run – If anyone deserved to have a huge hit, it’s the folks at Imangi Studios, who have been pushing the boundaries of quality gaming from the beginning. This one created the 3D endless runner genre at a breakneck speed!
Puzzles & Dragons – Another free to play darling, this one gets all the elements right to keep players entertained and paying.
Where’s My Water? – Disney’s breakout hit, with a new IP (intellectual property) and a fiendishly addictive mechanic.
Pocket God – 47 updates later, still going strong and keeping kids of all ages entertained and laughing.
Minecraft Pocket Edition – The surprise PC hit the iPhone like a ton of cube-shaped bricks, letting crafters and miners of all stripe build and explore on the go.
Words with Friends – Scrabble with people you know. What’s not to like? This one started the “with friends” genre with a bang.
Draw Something – Super successful, super quick, leading Zynga to buy the developer for a landmark price.
Infinity Blade – This game set the bar high for utter gorgeousness and a fighting mechanic that still sees itself in current games on the App Store, some two and a half years later.
Canabalt – Heard of the endless runner genre? Canabalt started it all with a one-touch game that exploded onto the scene in 2009 and has remained in the collective imagination ever since.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP – This one proves again and again that the indie spirit can be captured and distributed via mobile, with a game that may never have gotten noticed on the bigger consoles.
Galaxy on Fire 2 – This space exploration and dogfighting game set the standard for utter gorgeousness, as well as finding a way to build a space sim on a tiny mobile device.
Spaceteam – Don’t forget to flush the four-stroke plucker! Wait, what? Play this game with a few of your (drinking) friends, and you’ll see what multiplayer party games *should* be like.
Real Racing – Still the gold standard for racing games on a mobile platform, the original game hit the starting line in 2011, with sequels upping the ante on visuals, controls, and profitability.
Super Hexagon – If you hate yourself, play this brutally difficult yet strangely compelling arcade game and thank indie developer Terry Cavanaugh in the morning.