Friday, August 27, 2010

WordWise for iPhone Submitted to Apple

We finally got most of the kinks worked out and submitted WordWise Pro for the iPhone today. It's still a little rough around the edges, but we think it's pretty good for a first version, and will be the first Android-iPhone cross-platform crossword board game.

Approval periods can vary quite a bit, so we'll keep you updated here and let you know when it goes live.

EDIT: Someone asked about the price. It's going to debut at 99 cents.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yet Another Android Success Story: Polyclef Software

This week another Android success story is making the rounds. Android dev Arron La, maker of Advanced Task Manager, posted his revenue figures for the app. Looks like he made about $18K last year and about $80K this year from a combination of paid sales and ad revenue through AdMob.

I've posted stats before (here's a review of 2009). In the spirit of sharing some hard numbers and getting the word out about Android as a viable platform for devs, especially independent ones, I'm going to share some more extensive stats through the end of July 2010.

First of all, I uploaded my first app to the Android Market in March of 2009. That was a tip calculator called TippinTime that was free, with no ads. I learned the platform by building simple, niche-oriented calculators and simple novelty apps, eventually working my way up to more complex games like Spades, Dominoes, and the newest app, WordWise. Polyclef currently has 31 apps on the market, with a mix of monetization methods, including paid sales and free ad-based apps. I also serve as publisher for EasyTether, an app by a developer who is currently unable to publish paid apps directly through the Android Market. For most of these apps, I'm the sole developer, though I occasionally contract out artwork and music for games, and on rare occasions some coding. With WordWise, my friend and co-developer has done all the server-side implementation, while I've been responsible for the client.

Here is a summary chart of revenue from March 2009 to July 2010, broken down by the relative contribution of ad revenue and paid sales:

Ad revenue has been decreasing as the overall percentage of revenue. I don't understand all the factors related to ad revenue (they're generally not made available to devs). Ad revenue tends to decrease during the summer months, but that doesn't completely explain things, especially since the number of both impressions and clicks has continued to grow significantly, while actual revenue from ads has fallen. I'm hoping that turns around in the Fall.

But the general trend is obviously up, and average monthly revenue this year is a little over $8K. As long as revenue either continues to grow or levels off, I'm on target to make six figures this year as an independent Android developer.

Not bad. It's obviously beyond what I expected when I started doing this last year to earn a little extra dinner money as a grad student. Now I'm taking time from the program to pursue this full-time.

Just another data point to drive home that Android is definitely a viable platform for indie developers. Unlike La's example or Edward Kim, my strategy is very diverse, with lots of apps and several different ways to monetize.

Although, just as in the app market itself, my own apps follow a long-tail distribution. That is, a few of my apps make a lot of money, while most of my apps make very little.

Right now my own top earners are Dominoes, Golf Solitaire, and WordWise. Here are some screenshots of the portal stats:

As you can see, ratings and active install rates tend to be lower for free versions. I think people have a lower perception of value when they get something for free, and thus the lower rating. I've tried different price points for most of my apps, typically ranging from $0.99 to $2.99 for these three apps. Right now I've settled at $1.99 for the first two, though WordWise is currently at $0.99 because higher price points seem to significantly negatively impact sales, and we're trying to stay in the top ten in Paid>Brain & Puzzle.

Most of my paid apps tend to have active install rates between 70-80%, which I believe is actually quite good, comparing it to what I hear in various forums from other devs.

None of my individual apps have broken into the upper echelon (e.g. >250K downloads), but many have been well-ranked and well-rated. Dominoes, Golf Solitaire, and WordWise are all in the top 10 in their respective subcategory, though the free versions have not cracked the upper rankings.

I've dabbled some in iPhone development as well, though I have not enjoyed comparable success there. The iPhone version of WordWise will be submitted this week though, allowing cross-platform play between Android and iPhone users, and I'm hoping it will be at least a moderate hit.

In any case, this is just some companion info to go along with La and Kim's anecdotes. I still come across threads where people say that Android, while growing as a platform, is still unproven when it comes to making money. Consider this another case study from someone who is now doing this full-time and making a good income.

If you can churn out a single hit, that's great, though the strategy that's working for me so far is diversification. I think in the long run it will end up being a more robust strategy (i.e. if Google makes some core improvement to Android that makes your app obsolete, you're kind of out of luck). I don't know what the future brings, but with Android adoption continuing to explode, I'm obviously optimistic.

Monday, August 16, 2010

XNA and GUI Elements

When you make a video game, there are essential things you need to create, like menus and other interface elements that let the user navigate and control your game, set options, etc.

Now XNA Game Studio is ostensibly a package that allows you to create games, doing a lot of essential stuff under the hood. It's surprising then, that it's on version 3.1, and it doesn't include any prebuilt GUI elements, like buttons, drop-down menus, etc. There are game engines you can use in conjunction with XNA, and stand-alone GUI packages as well, but this seems like such a basic element of a game framework I'm pretty disappointed it's not included. I don't want to waste my time building my own text field from scratch, and it was time consuming to sift through the various options for third-party solutions and find one with halfway decent examples and documentation. I started messing around with Neoforce Controls, and it looks like it's going to work reasonably well.

I'd be interested to hear from any other devs using XNA whether they build their GUIs from scratch, using a game engine that includes GUI elements, or use a stand-along GUI package.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Polyclef Update for August

Things have been pretty busy around here, so I've neglected the blog, but here are some updates on current and future goings-on...

WordWise development is still very active. We keep running into lots of minor issues with the iPhone version. The final piece of functionality to integrate is push notification for the iPhone version. Once that's done and it's tested, we'll submit it to Apple. We'll also have a new release of the Android version next week with push notifications and a better random opponent matching algorithm. Why haven't we implemented push notifications before this? Well, the simple answer is that we couldn't figure out how. Until Android 2.2, there was no built-in support for push notifications. Devs had to either create their own solutions from scratch or rely on a third-party service. We tried to do both, looking at the myriad of approaches others suggested. Most of the custom approaches wouldn't work because we're using Google App Engine as the back end and we can't maintain an open connection to their servers. So far, third-party solutions we tried didn't work very well. No doubt there exists some clever implementation of push notification from Google App Engine, but we couldn't find it or figure it out. Anyway, we finally found a third-party solution that we hope will work well, and allows us to use the same system for both our iPhone and Android versions.

Puzzle Lords is finally going to get a little more love soon. The game has made very little money, but it's very highly rated. I've been wanting to expand it for a long time, and I've finally commissioned some new artwork to add in "Act 2", which features new enemies, new minibosses, and the second boss.

Here's some concept art to peak your interest:

I'm also looking into integrating online leaderboards into apps like Golf Solitaire. I'd like to maintain a balance of working on new projects and improving existing ones. Some devs have suggested there are diminishing returns from updating existing apps, and that might be true in terms of immediate financial return. But I think it does engender a lot of good will among users. Like good customer support, the direct rewards for this are hard to quantify, but I think it's a pretty sound strategy to keep your user base happy.

I'm also revisiting XNA studio for development of a prototype desktop/XBOX game. I've enjoyed success already on Android, but it does make me nervous putting all my eggs in one basket, so I would like to diversify a bit, and of course learn new things. Attempts at diversifying revenue via selling goods (e.g. Android toys), hasn't worked well. Neither has trying to host an Android workshop (of course, I didn't market it very well and only offered it here in Louisiana). But I think concentrating some percentage of my time on developing for another platform will make me a better designer and developer overall and will hopefully result in a nice new game. As the project progresses, I'll post more about it.

Finally, on the financial side, July was Polyclef's best month ever, but it looks like August is going to be down from July. A large part of this is the crash of ad revenue. I won't go into the gory details, but revenue from advertising is just not looking good for August. There are a lot of variables in play, including the seasonality (it's back-to-school time, which may increase ad revenue for some things, but hurt others). I don't want to give the impression that revenue is weak. It's still very strong. It's just that not all revenue streams are firing on all cylinders, so this month is probably going to be a bit worse than last.

Polyclef is still a strong success story of independent Android development. I think August will be a slight dip in the road toward a very strong holiday season.