Monday, March 15, 2010

Polyclef Software: The Year in Review

And what a year it's been.

For those of you who don't know the story, my friend Philip works at Google. Last year he got a G1, the first Android phone, as a bonus at work. He already had an iPhone, so he gifted it to me for my birthday (March 12th). Turns out it was a great gift!

I hadn't heard of Android before then. When I got the phone, I started reading up on Android. I learned there was an app store comparable to the iPhone app store, only it was in its infancy. There were other differences, too: only a $25 registration fee (for life), no up-front approval process for apps, and apps that are written natively in Java. There were issues, too. Lack of a good web portal (which is still a problem). But the biggest downside was that Android was a bit of a gamble. At that point no one was really making serious money on Android (at least, no one was talking about it).

But it seemed fairly low-risk to try my hand at writing a few apps and trying to supplement my meager graduate student stipend with a little extra cash. My first app was TippinTime, a tip calculator. It was a nice first app because it taught me the basics of how the interface elements like text fields and buttons are laid out using XML and at the most basic level how to construct an app in Android. I published it for free, no ads or anything. It's still doing well on the market despite the flood of tip calculators. It has 6961 active installs and a 4.5-star rating.

What I really wanted to do was make games, but first I wanted to explore the basics of how to use elements of the mobile platform. So I made Where Am I?, a simple app that uses the phone's GPS to determine longitude and latitude, calculate distance from the equator, and other basic location information. I made DogWhistle, a simple app that generates high frequency sounds, and JoyBuzz, a simple app that makes a noise and vibrates when you push a button. All this was just to learn how to do basic input/output with various features. But I put DogWhistle up for $0.99 and was instantly surprised that people would actually pay money for it. The retention rate is fairly low, but to date I've made over $600, which isn't bad.

My first attempt at a game was Spades. This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be, but it was a lot of fun, too. I designed my own card layouts, using variants of the Android mascot as King, Queen, and Jack.

That was a lot of fun.

When I had my first big day of sales, I thought I had it made. Unfortunately, a rival app appeared on the market within the same week. I made another poor decision, releasing a free ad-supported version that was virtually identical to the paid version. Paid sales never got that high again, but I learned some good lessons.

Next came Golf Solitaire, which I split into two apps, free and paid, but was a bit more clever about. The free version has ads, but only the first 9 holes. The full version has all 18 and no ads. People who like the game are willing to pay to double the content. And now the paid version of Golf Solitaire is #1 in paid apps in Cards & Casino.

Last summer was a fairly big gamble. I worked all summer on a project called Relativia, a mobile RPG that required players to physically travel to real-world locations in order enter places like dungeons and markets within the game. The GPS would tell if you were close enough to a dungeon before the game would let you enter. I thought it would be a novel way to monetize apps, by getting sponsorship from business to be featured as in-game locations. I entered the app in the Android Developer Challenge II. It placed in the top 25%, but was not a finalist.

And when I released the app for free on the market, I got a rude awakening. People just about universally hated the idea of having to travel somewhere to unlock game content. Typical comments praised the puzzle combat system and just about every other element of the game except for the mobile aspect. So I pulled it, retooled it, and released it as a non-mobile version called Puzzle Lords, which has a paid and free version. They are both highly-rated, but are not making a whole lot of money. If I put all my efforts into adding content and polishing the game, it could be a hit, but right now it requires more resources than I have. Still, I learned an awful lot working on that game, even if the effort/reward ratio has been much lower than other apps.

Dominoes was the latest big hit. It was fun working on the game due to the challenges faced by laying out dominoes on such a small space. I think I found a good compromise, and lots of users agree. It's still selling 30-50 copies a day and is ranked #5 in Cards & Casino.

Along the way I churned out lots of small utility apps, health and construction-related calculators, the PetBook database for pets, and many others. They don't sell much on their own, but produce a nice long-tail effect, summing to a decent amount each month.

Most recently, I worked with Kenny and Kyle over at In A Day Development to bring Golf Solitaire to the iPhone. Performance so far hasn't been great, but it also isn't a flatline. I'm still optimistic that over time it will find an audience and continue to grow.

I also made a deal with Mobile Stream to bring the paid version of EasyTether to the Android Market, where it's been very successful.

As of this writing, Polyclef Software has 28 apps published on the Android Market:

19 paid, 9 free
9 of those are games, 19 are utilities
2 (Golf Solitaire and Golf Solitaire Free) are ported to the iPhone

Here's a chart of my monthly net revenue over the past year:

This month is projected, and it's looking very good.

Sales are up. Ad revenue is up. And Android is shipping 60,000 phones a day. Polyclef has all kinds of cool stuff in the pipeline, including a whole line of multiplayer games and potentially apps specifically for the emerging tablet market. So stay tuned...this year should be a wild ride.

I leave you with this cool Android cake my girlfriend Laurie made for me for my birthday.

Yes, he is looking into your soul.

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