I spent a lot of time on the weekend playing iPhone/iPad games.  Got more familiar with the App Store and what other games are doing.  Here are 15 observations to mull over:

  

1) It’s extremely obvious why games die in sales once they’re off the Top 25.  When you go through a list of games it only shows a handful at a time, and you have to hit “Show more games” to list the next handful, and those take a few seconds to load all the icons for.  But that’s not the worst part…say you’re down around game 80 and you see one you dig so you click it to check it out and decide to download and install it.  Well now when you go back to the App Store are you at game 80?  Nope, you’re back up at game 1 and have to “Show more games” your way all the way back down to 80.  There are like 300,000 Apps in the App Store and guaranteed no one ever sees past 200 on one of those lists.  So while it’s already well known that it’s vital to get into the Top 25 chart, I’d say this is the main reason for it.  I actually WANTED to find more obscure games to see if I could find some hidden gems that I dig, but it was extremely difficult to attempt.

  

So is this a bad thing or a good thing?  Well the bad part of it is if you fall off the charts, you’re pretty fucked.  That’s obvious.  The good part is there’ve got to be ways to get back up on the charts.  If you’re game number 100,000 right now, NO ONE knows you exist.  You could probably re-market your game right now as if you had just released it brand new and all the people who’ve bought iPhones in the last couple months would think “hey, a new game, cool!” and you might be able to re-popularize your game.  If you have an app on there that isn’t doing anything, consider giving re-marketing a go.  The only difference between Angry Birds and a game like Tomacow is that Angry Birds is easy to find and Tomacow is way off the bottom of the charts right now.  If tomorrow Tomacow shot up to #1 and Angry Birds fell a few dozen spots down their sales stats would probably reverse.

  

2) The other main ways of finding games are via the Categories and doing word searches.  The Categories seem kind of random…”Adventure” doesn’t seem to be much different than “Action” or “Arcade”.  And you pretty much end up with the Top 25 games again, so again it’s hard to stumble across the obscure ones.  Word searches will give you obscure games but it looks like the word you type has to be in either the game’s title or in the name of the game’s developer.  If you make a ninja game but call it “Death Strike”, anyone typing in “ninja” won’t find your game.  Does this mean “Dinosaurs In Helicopters Wearing Top Hats”? would actually be an optimal game name?  Oddly enough, it seems like it would be haha  So I won’t be naming my games “Fubar” or “Zoiks” or “Swoo” because what are the odds someone is going to type those in?

  

3) Free Apps with iAds (in-game advertisements) are getting more popular and seem to be used as a re-marketing tool now.  Say your game falls off the charts and isn’t selling…what can you do with it?  Well, how about throw in some iAds and release it for Free?  The Free notice is going to boost it’s popularity and you’re still making a tiny bit of income off it VS the nothing you were making before.  Backflip Studios has a great idea, they run advertisements for their own games as well as other people’s advertisements…and during certain times of the year (like near Christmas) they’ll switch from 80% other ads and 20% their own, to 80% their own and 20% other ads.  That’s some smart shit right there.

 

4) The iPad doesn’t seem to have a lot of Free/Lite versions of it’s Apps.  I’m not sure why this is…is it because gaming on iPad isn’t as popular?  Is it because the iPad market just has more money to spend so they’re willing to drop $8 to try an App out, while iPhone users are like “$8??  fuck THAT!!”  Not sure, but there’s got to be some logic behind it that everyone is consciously/sub-consciously following.

 

5) Everything on the iPad is expensive.  Consistently, across the board, an iPhone game that’s got a Free/Lite version and $0.99 cent version on iPhone will have a $4.99+ version on iPad.  So porting to iPad should be high priority, and art for games should be drawn large enough that it looks good on the bigger/retina screens and then shrunk down for iPhone.

 

6) The above point is important because from what I’ve seen a ton of “HD iPad Apps” are not “HD” at all.  They’re just the entire game small with a 2x magnifying/zoom option, or they’ve got a bunch of art assets that have just been scaled up in Photoshop and are blurry looking, or they’re some sort of freakish hybrid of the two (Broken Sword HD, you cost me almost 10 bucks and that’s the quality I get??  come on now…).

 

7) While Super KO Boxing 2 on iPad just scales it’s art up (boooo!!), I have to say it’s an awesome game.  The iPhone version is just perfection.  Gorgeous huge hand-drawn/animated characters, tight controls, thumbs don’t cover the action area, lots of menu polish and painful punch sound-effects…awesome stuff Glu.  This is the type of stuff I want to make.

 

8) Unfortunately Glu made a bit of a faux pas with it’s attempt at adding micro-transactions to KO Boxing.  Whenever you lose a fight it pops up a “Want to get roid rage? Yes/No” screen.  Roid rage is you paying 99 cents for what I’m assuming will skip the opponent you’re stuck on.  After you say No, the “Try again?” screen comes up.  The placement of this is unfortunate because what’s the first thing that goes through everyone’s mind as soon as they lose a couple matches?  “This is bullshit, the developers made it impossible after the first few characters so we’d have to buy the roid rage!!  They’re just trying to suck our money out of us grrrr!”  The reviews for KO Boxing on the App Store pretty much all say that.  So now some new user comes along interested in the game and sees those reviews and goes “woah, maybe I don’t wanna check this out after all!”

The lesson to be learned from this?  Micro-transactions need to not only not be mandatory to progressing in the game, but need to also not even remotely SEEM as if they COULD be mandatory to progressing in the game, because gamers will assume the worst, and justifiably since there ARE developers that do attempt this sneaky trick.  A 99 cent fee for a new costume?  Should be fine.  A 99 cent fee for a a sword you can’t get anywhere else in the game that’s the only weapon that can defeat the boss?  That’s going to get you some flak.  Micro-transactions have a ton of potential, but they have to be really well thought-out to avoid bad PR.

 

9) Mirror’s Edge on iPad is awesome.  So is Action Hero on iPhone.  The catch is they’re the same game, but Mirror’s Edge cost like a jillion dollars more to make than Action Hero.  I wonder which one made more money when all the sales figures and development costs were factored out?

 

10) Tons of games lock the screen however they want.  I was originally worried about having to design UIs and game areas that would work with rotating the screen, but since everyone else has said “Tough!  Play this the way we want you to!”, I’ll do the same.  I also notice that certain angles for certain control schemes can make your hands cover the speaker, or get in the way of the microphone jack when you’ve got your headphones in.  If I was making a music/rhythm game I’d make sure the game was locked to have the microphone jack on the top-right instead of the bottom-left where it bumps into your palm, because anyone playing in public will probably have their headphones in…whereas a game where sound isn’t important people will probably play it with the speaker Muted so it doesn’t matter.

 

11) It’s looking like OpenFeint is the way to go with Leaderboards…It’s the one I’ve run into the most, at least.  It looks like it’s basically Mochi for iPhone, which I’m guessing means it’s easy to implement and if it’s in a lot of popular games then people must have accounts for it already.  Anyone know of a more popular one?  Maybe I’m just happening to run into this one a lot by fluke.

 

12) However on that note, games that REQUIRE you to create an account to play them are a terrible idea.  I’ve grabbed a few where all I get to see is the title screen because I’m on the bus trying to check out the game and it wants me to fill in a name and password and link it to my E-Mail address with other misc info as the bus jostles around and it’s like “Dude, I just want to see your game!  If it’s awesome then sure, I’ll create an account…but what if it sucks?  Like I don’t have enough random “created an account somewhere obscure just to download a file or be able to upload an image or see a trailer” accounts around the net…I don’t want to make more when I don’t even know what your game is like.  If you’re going to have a create an account thing, at least have a quick-play option of some kind where I can see what I’m in for.  Am I just cranky or does this annoy other people too?  haha

 

13) I don’t think I’ve seen a single in-game feedback form.  I’m not sure why this is.  Customer feedback is super vital…even if you can’t fix the current game, you can avoid making the same mistakes in future games.  The closest thing I’ve seen is in the text blurb on the App Store there’s a “Send us your feedback we’d love to hear it!” sentence and an E-Mail address that you have to cut & paste into your E-Mail prog and blah blah blah too much work.

 

14) When you play a game for a while it’ll pop up a message saying “Seems like you’re enjoying this App, why not leave a review on the App Store?” with a quick-link.  I don’t know if this is developers doing this on their own or if Apple does this automatically but as a developer I think this is GREAT.  It’s not super intrusive and if you’re in the middle of having fun, great, share that with the world.  Plus if you hate the game you’re probably not going to play it long enough to get that pop-up so it’s smart to have that in there in terms of getting positive reviews haha

 

15) The App Store blurbs are hardcore basic text.  Not even bolding/italic stuff, from what I’ve seen.  It’s basically ASCII.  ASCII advertising blurbs, games you can download trial versions of and pay for the full version…where have I seen this before?  oh right, Shareware in the late 80s and early 90s haha  Apple should let people put ANSI blocks in there so we could have badass ANSI art make a comeback!

 

Best BBS Door game ever made.

 

That’s about it.  I’m looking at everything from a developer’s perspective now because stuff like HD pricing and App Store chart ease-of-use are going to be relevant.  Fortunately I like taking things apart and analyzing them so writing posts like this is actually fun for me haha  I’m sure there’ll be more revelations as I play more games.

Today’s class was about business operations…company policies, how to deal with people who don’t pay up, the difference between employees and sub-contractors, how to deal with complaints efficiently, how to write contracts and find template ones, etc.  Important stuff but pretty overwhelming right now.  I figure in a few years I’ll have a handful of employees but for the first 6 months at least, it’s just going to be a programmer and myself with music/sound/etc. out-sourced.  Taking notes for the future though!

- Yarr