Apple's App Store recently celebrated its second birthday, and a library of 250,000 apps. Most of these titles are games, which run the gamut from simple "hello world" touchscreen experiments to full-featured titles that took months or even years of development--and sometimes take just as long to play through.
Beyond all the development work is the cost of getting these items out there--something buyers rarely think about when hitting the green purchase button for titles that are often priced just below a dollar. In order to get an idea of what it takes to bring a game to market, CNET talked to a handful of successful developers, as well as with a company that helps people without the technical know-how to build a title connect with developers who can.
The short answer? It's expensive. And as with any other software project, as the list of things you want your software to do grows, so does the time--and money--it will take to finish the project.
But there's one bit of good news: The payoff can be big. "I could do nothing for a living, and live off it indefinitely," developer David Whatley told CNET. Whatley, who began his one-man development house, Critical Thought Games, as a side project to his main business, Simultronics, has three iPhone apps under his belt: Geodefense, Geodefense Swarm, and Geospark. The first two are simple tower defense games, while the last is a survival game that has players trying to match up moving pieces without letting them touch anything else.
"When I first got started doing this, everyone was saying that everyone who is going to make money has already made money. And then every year after that, someone would say it again," Whatley mused. "I would say, don't listen to that. It's an infinite shelf space. I still sell an amazing amount of software."
Part of the reason for that, Whatley explained, is that he's been featured by Apple several times, which in the world of app development is like getting your site on the front page of Digg or Reddit--but for an entire week. "During the last App Store anniversary [Apple] picked Geodefense as one of the apps they featured. It just constantly kept getting picked up again and again," he said. As a result, Geodefense Swarm (the sequel to Whatley's first Geodefense title), hit number one on Apple's top games chart last September, which in turn drove sales of the original game.
So how much time had Whatley sunk into building that app in the first place? "The original Geodefense--took six months to develop," Whatley said. "That was not full time, just nights and weekends--but not every night and not every weekend, just whatever I could give up." As for Swarm, which follows many of the same game mechanics as the first, Whatley explained that he was able to get it out the door much faster, since he could use some of the same code.
While Whatley went solo on his coding efforts, he did get a little help from others, including an outsider to pitch in on level design and strategy, as well as a PR company to manage press and promotion. "I don't like public relations, or I should say I'm not very good at it. I also farm out some of the ancillary art stuff." Whatley also collaborated with another developer, Imangi Studios for his third title, Geospark, which has yet to break into Apple's top 100.
Collaboration was, in fact, the name of the game for all of the developers we talked to. The number one thing that was outsourced? Music and sound. Both Backflip Studios, the makers of the popular Ragdoll Physics series and the hit game Paper Toss, as well as Venan Entertainment, which makes Space Miner: Space Ore Bust and Ninjatown: Trees of Doom, told us that the job of creating the music and sound effects was always given to outside contractors.
But what about going beyond that, and having outsiders create the entire game? For those that don't have a background in game development, or even in basic app creation, freelancers are effectively a magic bullet. There are places like Elance and Craigslist, and then there are companies like CenApp, which runs a ring of sites for the iPhone, the iPad, and Google's Android that all act as the middleman--connecting people with ideas for an app with developers who can do the dirty work. So far the company has helped create about 3,000 connections.… Read more