Thursday, 24 June 2010

How to make your App Store submission improve your chances of success

At last! I've submitted DarkFlow HD to the App Store. Now, sit back and wait. A cold beer perhaps.

It should get reviewed in the next 5 working days, to go live just in time for the launch of iAd. Around this time next week, hopefully live ad impressions will start getting served up. We'll soon have some idea of how much money developers can really expect to see from Apple's advertising platform.

The final stages of app submission can be a little fiddly. For one thing, there's the icons. For universal apps targeting iPhone 3G(S), iPhone4 and iPad, you need to provide optimised icons in 3 different sizes (57x57, 72x72 and 114x114 pixels). Getting that all working takes time, especially if you want your icon to look just right (which we all do, of course).

On this occasion, I've set the UIPrerenderedIcon flag to true in Info.plist. This has the effect of removing the automatically generated shine that iOS otherwise adds to your icon. I wanted to do this as the icon has quite a simple 3D image against a nearly black background and the shine just didn't look right. I've also removed the name of the app from the icon. It looks cleaner I think. You can decide for yourself.

According to the App Store submission guidelines, by paying special attention to your icon, you are more likely to get featured by Apple staff. I'd like some of that please (actually I think the iPad version of DarkFlow was briefly featured - but then there's far fewer competing apps out there). Big no-no's are text like "Free" or "Lite" on your icon.

Hopefully, I've also been a bit smarter this time in a couple of other areas. Firstly, categories. Obviously the main category is Games. I've chosen a couple of subcategories which make sense to the app, but which also don't appear to have quite so many free apps clogging them up - should improve my chances of getting noticed. You can find out how apps there are in a category by opening App Store in your desktop iTunes.

Secondary category is more tricky. Entertainment is the obvious second choice, and that's what I went for the previous 2 times. But I realised that is one busy category. I'd never realistically get into the top 100 free apps listing there.

In the end I went for Weather! Sounds bonkers, perhaps, but I figured, DarkFlow actually has a fairly strong weather theme already, and actually simulates fairly realistic snow and cloud (I have plans for much more sophisticated volumetric cloud rendering once I get my hands on an iPhone4).

The big upside is that Weather has a relatively small number of free apps; it should be much easier to get noticed. Time will tell. Of course, now I've told you lot, you'll all start crowding in. C'est la vie. I've chosen to share this stuff and I'm going through with it ;-)

Later, I'll post about what happens during the first 48 hours your app is live. More marketing tips to come.

DarkFlow HD entering final testing

We're very excited here at nugames (that's me and the kids). We've prepared the release candidate of DarkFlow HD and it's entering final testing. We hope to submit it to the App Store later today.

Why is this significant? Well, hopefully this game will be our most popular so far. In total, TractorBeams and the original DarkFlow have notched up well in excess of 9,000 downloads (including updates). Not bad going as I basically did no marketing and the games cost nothing to develop (apart from quite a few evenings banging my head against xcode of course ;-).

My target is 10,000 downloads for DarkFlow HD, which takes advantage of the iPhone4's high definition Retina display (of course, it's also iPad optimised and backwards compatible with early devices). I'm hoping this blog will help me get the word out (especially in those crucial first 48 hours when it's essential to get noticed in the App Store - more about this in a later post) - but I also hope it'll be a great way for users to feedback directly to me and to suggest improvements and meet up with other DarkFlow fans.

This will be our first game featuring iAd, Apple's new mobile advertising service. Apple claim to have signed up $60 million in advertising already, and the hope is that small independant developers can tap into this revenue stream as 60% is awarded to the app publisher with Apple keeping 40% (up from its 30% stake in App Store purchases).

This means we can keep our apps free, but let's see how users respond. Your comments, as always, are positively encouraged.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

iPhone4 - good; iOS4 - mediocre (at least on iPhone 3G)

Whilst iPhone4 is getting rave reviews, the iOS4 update for older devices, notably iPhone 3G, is not so good.

The advice? If you are on iPhone 3G and haven't updated yet, you definitely want to read up on other people's experiences first and hope Apple release a patched version of iOS4 soon. I don't think we'll be seeing any feature enhancements though. That'll teach us for being 2 hardware versions behind...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

iBooks for iPhone

iBooks is now available for iPhone. It can be downloaded now from the App Store, free of charge.

It comes with a free copy of Winne the Pooh (a real classic with lovely colour illustrations). This should look absolutely gorgeous on the iPhone 4.

The iBook interface is very nice, with page turn animations. I would personally like to see the option of autoscrolling text as on some other iPhone ebook readers (e.g. BeamItDown's iFlow). I've read books using this method and it is nice to not have to turn pages (ok I'm perhaps a little lazy ;-)

It's nice that there's a large selection of free titles thanks to Project Gutenberg, integrated directly into the iBookstore.

Interestingly, Apple have announced that authors can now self-publish to the iBookstore, foregoing the need for a traditional publishing deal, although there are certain criteria such as the requirement to have an ISBN.

iOS4 on iPhone 3G

After leaving the update process overnight, my iPhone 3G is now running iOS4 (the backup process only took over 3 hours - is this a bug? Many other people are experiencing the same problem).

First impressions - underwhelming on the 3G device unfortunately. No multitasking obviously (not even fast app switching). Folders are great and I've already come up with a much more organised layout for my 50-60 apps. But no homescreen background for iPhone 3G? Why not? Can't help thinking I'm being nudged gently to get the new iPhone 4 by annoying lack of features (unfortunately I'm tied into a long contract so can't for over a year without great expense).

Not only are homescreen backgrounds not an option, but some of the fine art lock screen wallpapers have been removed, presumably for gallery licensing reasons. This is disappointing.

On the plus side, DarkFlow HD is up and running on a real device showing Apple's test iAds (real ads are scheduled to go live on July 1st). I have some more tweaking to do over the next few days, plenty of testing then I'll be submitting to the App Store. Stay tuned!

Update: being fed up with having some of my favourite wallpapers forcibly removed, I had a quick look on Google and found that at least one of them is available legally (public domain) on Wikipedia. Ha!

Monday, 21 June 2010

iOS4 update - backup issues

Like many people today I was eager to get my hands on iOS4, and around 6pm UK time the update became available.

Also like many people however the update hasn't gone as smoothly as one might wish. Basically, in order to install the new OS onto the device, iTunes first has to perform a backup. For me, this was getting stuck at around 10% complete and seemingly not progressing beyond that for a very long time (around an hour).

Turns out plenty of other people are experiencing similar difficulties. I found this thread on the Apple forums which provides some comfort.

Basically, by checking the size of this folder: /Users//Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup you can see that slowly but surely data is being backed up. Therefore I'm going to leave it running overnight - I will of course let you know how I get on.

Please let me know how you have got on with the iOS4 update.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

iPhone 4 and iOS4 - what this means to developers

So, tomorrow at some point most iPhone and iPod Touch users will presumably be getting a notification about a new OS version for their devices (if they sync with iTunes that is).

Of course, this won't be available to first generation iPhone users and people with older iPod Touches.

iOS4 as the update is known as will introduce many new user oriented features such as multitasking (if your device has what it takes) and folders to organise your apps. Of most interest to me however is what it provides to developers.

I'm talking in particular about iAd.

Now, this could be interesting for users because all of a sudden, many of their favourite free apps (and quite possibly some paid for ones too) will start featuring advertising banners where once there was a bit of the app UI. Some people may even feel cheated by the new OS update, as the cons could well outweigh the pros (especially those iPhone 3G users - yes I'm one of them - who won't get multitasking).

This could really change the dynamics of the app store. Will some developers starting differentiating themselves by boasting that they haven't signed up for iAd and therefore their free apps really are free? Who knows.

As for me, I'm jumping right in!

Currently I have 2 games in the App Store: TractorBeams and DarkFlow. Both free. Both, currently no ads. In total, I've had about 8,500 downloads so far, which isn't too bad, but of course no revenue.

So I'm planning to introduce ads and try to generate some revenue that way. But I don't want to disenfranchise my existing users by forcing an update upon them which simply introduces ads - that would be very rude ;-)

So, I'm in the final stages of preparing a new version of DarkFlow, DarkFlow HD, which as the names suggests, is optimised for the new iPhone 4's double resolution screen (or quadruple resolution, depending on how you look at it), dubbed the Retina display.

DarkFlow is already a universal app optimised for iPhone and iPad, so the new version will be a 3-way universal app (I may blog later on how this is achieved... once the app has been accepted by Apple).

But, as well as supporting the Retina display on iPhone 4, I'll be slipping in those all important iAd banners. It'll be really interesting to see how they pan out.

As I'm launching a new app rather than updating my existing ones (for now - I may update them with ads later depending on how the new one does), I've got to go through the process of marketing the game all over again. More on marketing in a later blog, but suffice it to say, my marketing skills are somewhat embryonic (perhaps moronic would be a better word).

Basically, I email a bunch of friends who I know have iPhones and ask them to download my new game and post a glowing honest review on iTunes ;-)

If you've submitted a few apps to Apple, you'll know how important it is to get noticed in the first 24-48 hours. Unless you are a marketing whizz-kid or actually have some marketing budget behind you, the best method seems to be getting yourself noticed whilst the app is still on the first page of the Latest Releases tab. Get half a dozen positive ratings and you'll stand out like a proud thumb.

What I can't understand is how many thousands of apps get submitted where the developer doesn't seem to appreciate this - no ratings appear and the app inevitably disappears without trace by day 3.

Tragic. For them - not for anyone with half a brain cell.

Welcome to the smart iPhone developers club ;-)

Welcome to the iPhone Game Blog

Hey, thanks for visiting my new blog!

Like the name suggests, this is going to be all about iPhone games (and maybe some non-game apps too).

I'm going to share some of my experiences of writing and marketing my own apps, as well as providing a forum for people to tell me about games they are writing.

I want this to be a 2 way thing, so I'm really open to comments.

Firstly, a little bit about me (don't worry, I'm not going to turn this into some sort of weird psychotherapy for stressed out iPhone developers. At least, I'm not planning to). I've been working as a computer programmer for nearly 15 years. I'm been working mainly in C++, Java and Javascript, and now, of course, Objective-C.

I have a real job for a large multinational software firm which has nothing to do with iPhone games, so this is a purely spare time thing. One day, who knows, perhaps I can make enough money to quit the day job. You'll be the first to know...

Next post: iPhone 4 and iOS4.