Losing iReligion

A great deal has been written about the App Store, both good and bad, and much of it comes from developers I know and respect. It almost seems pointless to add my own thoughts to those who are more widely known and respected than I am, but given how my feelings have evolved regarding the App Store recently I think it’s worth a shot. If what I have to say gives a potential iPhone developer reason pause and re-examine their entry into the space then it will have been worth it.

The App Store is broken. I know from the outside glancing in, it may not look that way but it is. It also doesn’t seem like it’s broken from Apple’s point of view since the store and its tens of thousands of software titles have helped place the iPhone firmly at the head of the smart phone industry. But speaking as a small developer who’s been releasing Mac software for over a decade, the App Store is broken. The ironic part is that if you had asked me this a few months ago I would have denied it with my dying breath.

Since it first launched in July of 2008, the App Store has been evolving and changing to suit the needs of both Apple and consumers. Unfortunately for developers many of these changes have hurt more than they have helped. The utter race to the bottom of the pricing structure by thousands of developers has created tremendous pressure to set applications at either free or near free price points. I know this first hand because when Twitterrific for the iPhone first debuted we set it’s price at $9.95 which, by today’s App Store standards, is almost unheard of. It wasn’t long before lagging sales and increased pressure from competition forced the Iconfactory to lower the application’s price to $3.99, still “expensive” by App Store standards. Not only was the price lowered, but the feature set was more than doubled and yet many users still complain it costs too much. While these changes represent perks for users, it also means that sustaining profitability for a given piece of software in the App Store is nearly impossible unless you have a break-away hit.

This leads me to the next point of failure for the App Store – visibility. Everyone has heard about the so-called “gold rush” certain developers have experienced. Flight Control’s 1.5 mil sales record. Trism’s incredible $250,000 short-term bonanza. But for every one of these lottery wins in the store, there are hundreds, if not thousands of developers who see little if any return on their investments of time and money. What’s worse, the success or failure of a particular piece of software in the App Store depends as much on Apple deciding to feature your creation as the creation itself. One can shift the tables in one’s favor with a sizable advertising budget, but many of us like the Iconfactory don’t have such generous resources at our disposal.

When the Iconfactory & DS Media Labs released our latest iPhone game, Ramp Champ, we knew that we had to try and maximize exposure of the application at launch. We poured hundreds of hours into the game’s development and pulled out all the stops to not only make it beautiful and fun, but also something Apple would be proud to feature in the App Store. We designed an attractive website for the game, showed it to as many high-profile bloggers as we could prior to launch and made sure in-app purchases were compelling and affordable. When the moment came, Ramp Champ shot up the charts quickly but just as quick, it hit a brick wall. Within days the app that had peaked at #56 on the top paid chart fell off the top 100 despite receiving praise from users and reviewers alike. The lack of store front exposure combined with a sporadic 3G crashing bug conspired to keep Ramp Champ down for the count.

A new version that corrected crashing was completed quickly, but once again the App Store reared it’s broken head as the review process kept the fix out of user’s hands for almost two weeks. By this time it was too late and momentum had been lost. Despite a “What’s Hot” feature by Apple in the App Store, Ramp Champ’s sales have not lived up to expectations for either the Iconfactory or DS Media Labs. What’s worse, many of the future plans for the game (network play, online score boards, frequent add-on pack releases) are all in jeopardy because of the simple fact that Ramp Champ hasn’t returned on its investment.

In order for a developer to continue to produce, they must make money. It’s a pretty simple concept and one that tends to get lost in the excitement to write for the iPhone. It’s difficult for me to justify spending 20-50 hours designing and creating new 99¢ levels for Ramp Champ when I could be spending that time on paid client work instead. I would much rather be coming up with the sequel to Space Swarm than drawing my 200th version of a magnifying glass icon. But I’d also like to have some assurances from Apple about reducing the length of the App Store approval process, having the ability to respond to factually incorrect iTunes reviews, not be limited to 100 beta testers, or that large, prominent developers won’t always get preferential treatment. In short, I’d like to know things will be fixed and I don’t mean merely posting a page of marketing text in iTunes Connect.

It is a truism that everyone who creates content is a control freak. From fine artists that decide what gallery their work will hang in, to architects who scratch tooth and claw with stubborn clients about what materials will be used in construction. Software developers are no different. We all want as much control over our creations as we can possibly have and the App Store in it’s current state has removed a significant level of control from our hands. I’m not ready to throw my lot down with those who have renounced the platform just yet, but unless some significant changes come very soon, myself and others like me will have no choice but to focus our development efforts elsewhere.

UPDATE: Several developers have contacted me and told me privately that they think it isn’t so much the App Store that’s kept Ramp Champ from being a success as it is the game itself. Given the fact that Freeverse’s newly released and shallower ‘Skee Ball’ currently sits at #6 in Top Paid apps in the store, part of me wants to agree. I could second-guess myself about what didn’t go right with Ramp Champ but in my heart of hearts I know RC is better than 90% of the games that get to the top of the list. I have to keep telling myself that what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger in the end. Hopefully.

UPDATE II: Seems I’m not the only one cooling to the idea of developing for the iPhone. Macworld’s Dan Moren reporting from the C4 independent developers conference says many of the developers are frustrated at their lack of control in the App Store. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

UPDATE III: Marco Arment has written an excellent piece that addresses my post. I agree with much of the analysis there and tend to think that their may indeed be “two App Stores” so to speak. As a result of suggestions from both Marco and the commenters here, Ramp Champ’s vague app store description has been re-written and new screen shots posted to show more content. Thanks to everyone who suggested these changes, I think they will definitely help sales.

Comments

  1. Aaron harpole says:

    I’d like to see some developers like you hop onto other mobile platforms. Right now those other platforms are very young and don’t yet have established, reputable developers and I think maybe a fresh start could be had there. Also, I think Apple seriously needs competition on some fronts to get them to not be so stubborn about things.

    On the other hand, I think the App Store might be in the midst of a bubble that will burst soon. When there are thousands of developers out there making lowest common denominator apps with no differentiation and an unsustainably low price, they’ll just die out. I know you are crying a lot about how you’re a little guy, but the Iconfactory is no fly-by-night operation. You’re a reputable Mac developer with a proven track record for making great stuff. I cringed when I saw that you partnered with DS to make Ramp Champ, because I’ve seen their serial app production (anyone ever buy the All 60 games app? they all sucked!) and it was no good. But when teamed with The Iconfactory, a great app was produced. I think that if we let Darwinism run its course for awhile the sludge will sink to the bottom and leave the cream at the top. It’s still painful to watch, and I’m doing my best to tell friends about your stuff!

    Also, could you do a quick find/replace and get rid of all your instances of “it’s” when you meant “its?” It’s my biggest grammatical pet peeve.

  2. I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with your perspective on this issue. I can understand your frustration when it comes to approval times and lack of communication with your customers through the App Store. Those are very legitimate complaints, and they need to be fixed, but they aren’t what this post was really about. The main thing I saw in this post was finger-pointing complaints about why Ramp Champ did not do well.

    I bought Ramp Champ just minutes after it debuted on the Store because it is beautiful and I wanted to support you guys. I came to realize that it’s not really my cup of tea as far as actual gameplay, but you guys have my money and my respect for the game’s great design, and I don’t regret that at all. Most App Store users, though, probably couldn’t care less how many hours you spent designing the levels or the sound effects or the music, they just want a good solid gaming experience. You can’t really judge this accurately, you’re too close to it. I’ve seen more than a few tweets from IF members insinuating that people don’t “get” Ramp Champ and are judging it too harshly. Maybe the game is just not all that fun for most people?

    You can’t blame App Store users for the game not selling well. Something about Flight Control made it take off, and it’s something that Ramp Champ didn’t have. Maybe you should examine that. Was it gameplay? Was it marketing? Was it word of mouth? It certainly wasn’t any special treatment from Apple, as I bought the game long before Apple featured it on the store.

    Another disheartening thing you said in this post is that you were “forced” to reduce Twitteriffic’s price. Come on, can you really say that? That’s a really defeatist attitude. Sure, you felt pressure from your direct competition and overall App Store prices, but no one put a gun to your head. Look at apps like Things and PCalc that have not compromised on their price and still continue to sell very well. I bought Twitteriffic when it was $9.99 because it was a good application, and it was worth it. For 2.0 I probably would have paid even more. Granted, I’m not your typical App Store user, but again, people pay $10 for Things, PCalc, and many other apps every day. People pay close to $100 for GPS apps because they’re good at what they do.

    I’m really glad that you guys create great software that you love making as much as I love using, but you can’t go making excuses or complaining when people don’t “get” it.

  3. Ged says:

    Josh,

    Your points are well taken and I’d even agree that obviously something about Ramp Champ has not proven to be popular with users. If the majority of reviews and user comments about the game had been negative, or even “meh” I’d be inclined to take your side, but overall they are very positive. Also, if Skyworks Bowling hadn’t been sitting at around #50 in the top games list for the better part of 6 months, that would help your argument too. But the fact is that Ramp Champ is essentially the same game with about 20x more content and attention to UI. Are we completely off the mark with designing games? Do people want less not more when it comes to iPhone apps? I’m at a loss to explain RC’s poor sales. Do you have specific ideas about what we did wrong so we can correct in the future?

    As for Twitterrific, sure no one put a gun to our heads but not taking competition and their price adjustments into consideration when pricing your own equivalent app is foolish. Twitterrific stayed at $9.95 for a year while other Twitter apps entered the store. All at lower price points. To hold our ground would have been sales suicide. I respect that users like yourself would “Pay more” for the app, but you are few and far between. The reality of the App Store is that the majority of people only download free apps or those that are priced very very low. This evolution to the bottom happened over time although there has been resistance to it lately which is encouraging.

    Your thoughts are insightful and have given me new stuff to think about. Thanks for posting them here. I appreciate it.

  4. Greg Maletic says:

    Ged,

    Glad to see your new perspective on the App Store. (Twitteriffic’s huge success may have made its problems a little harder to discern.) The App Store is brilliant, amazing…yet highly dysfunctional.

    Josh,

    Whether Ramp Champ “deserves” to be a top app is a reasonable question to ask. But what is, I think, undoubtedly of concern is that 1) a lot of garbage rises to the top; 2) a lot of quality stuff sinks to the bottom; 3) the current App Store UI and its trappings (reviews, etc.) end up promoting the hell out of stuff in a manner that has little correspondence to quality.

    Personally, I think a money-back guarantee with a 1-week window would bring a lot of sanity to the iPhone app market. Virtually every other product in the world is sold this way…why not apps?

    The unfortunate fact is that Apple doesn’t perceive a problem yet. At some point they will. I don’t think we can expect change until that happens.

  5. Lee says:

    I was one of the buyers who didn’t ‘get’ RampChamp when it first came out. Coupled with the frequent crashing, it was a disappointing experience and failed to deliver what I expected from an app. I initially gave it 3 stars, but amended it to 5 after the update and sticking with it (I was sure I was missing something). I think it’s a great game and hope you do decide to release extra content.

    The simple way of looking at it though, is that a lot of app buyers want a quick fix for their 59p/99c. RampChamp doesn’t really do this (in my humble opinion) and you need time to appreciate the game further than the excellent graphics and sound. This may be why it didn’t do as well as you hoped it would. Different apps interest different people. I still don’t get that plane landing one, yet it’s become huge.

    Twitterrific is another excellent app that I would gladly pay more for. I’ve tried out other Twitter apps (including Tweetie, which seems to be a favourite) but keep going back to yours. Hey, I’m even writing this from the app in landscape view after following a link on a tweet!

  6. Jonathan says:

    I bought Ramp Champ after the crashing was fixed so that wasn’t a problem for me. The thing that was frustrating me, and it seems a few other iphone site reviewers, was getting a consistent feel for the distance you could roll the ball. I like games that when you lose/miss you feel it’s 100% your fault, not the app’s quirk.

    I nearly gave up on Ramp Champ for that reason, but after seeing a few people on Twitter clearly addicted to it, I searched around and found this @rampchamp tweet “Flick from bottom of ramp. Speed over distance = Power”. And that made all the difference. Before my shorter (but not tiny) flicks were sending the ball all over the place. And it didn’t feel like I was being _that_ inconsistent. Adjusting to flick from practically off the touch area to the top of the ramp changed the game completely, and so I gave it a 5 star rating (I just didn’t review it when I didn’t like it – unlike most people!)

    By the way – I liked the purchasing of add-on content for the same reason. I bought the original game, didn’t like it so much, so didn’t buy more ramps. Once I picked up on that tip, I bought the extras straight away…

  7. Aaron harpole,

    FYI, You mixed DS Media Labs up with DS Effects. Iconfactory did not partner with DS Effects.

  8. Dan Daranciang says:

    It’s late, and I’m sick, and I have to go to bed so I can at least attempt to go to work tomorrow, but I was reading this post and wanted to throw some thoughts into the mix.

    Flight Control is easy to get because you can play it simple-mindedly or strategically. So it appeals to both users who need a quick fix (think waiting in line at the grocery store) and users who want to play hardcore (think whoever’s getting 5-digit scores on the online scoreboard). I’m of the mind that with simple 99-cent games, no one starts out being hardcore, but rather, they get that way because they first enjoyed playing it the easy way.

    You can’t play Ramp Champ simple-mindedly. The control scheme is too sensitive and there is no tutorial to teach you how to be good. You have to intuit these things by trying things out on your own (which is rewarding, but isn’t fun) or by searching tweets (which isn’t even part of the game). So it’s easy to get turned off.

    Ramp Champ’s built-in ramps are actually very hard (the in-app purchase ones are to my mind actually easier and therefore more addictive). I love that you included achievements, because they hint at what the progression should be and give me more of a sense than anything else in the game what my goal should be. Thank God it isn’t just about getting a high score. But I digress – my point is that Space Swarm has tiny and hard-to-hit moving targets, and I’ve only succeeded in getting to “Wave 2″ once. Clown Town is fun, but you have to master the art of hitting multiple targets to have a chance at the rubber duckies. On the other hand, I was able to get the bronze & silver achievements in Happy Place with only moderate effort, and in Ninja Attack, I got the bronze & silver quickly, spurred on by the sound effects and the relative ease of getting to the side targets. If these had been the built-in maps, I would have gotten addicted more quickly. So in summary, I think the maps are hard. Flight Control has a very clear difficulty ramp that comes at you more gradually. And I do think, again, that a tutorial would have helped me get into the flow of things.

    And finally, it’s a cerebral game. The rewards are more subtle. You know that visceral feeling when you get your first frag in Gears of War? That’s appealing. You know how you feel when your first two planes crash in Flight Control? You know right away what happened, and you simply have to go back and try again. The graduated levels of success in Ramp Champ make for more of a “pleasant diversion” than a must-have app.

    On a personal note, I’ve been using Macs for almost 15 years, and I can’t tell you how many IF sets I’ve downloaded, going back to System 7. And it’s brought me untold joy to carefully paste IF artwork all over my Macs, personalizing everything to my own artistic tastes. I desperately want you guys to stay here and succeed. I bought CandyBar 3 to support you guys (as well as Panic), and I got Ramp Champ as soon as the reviews started popping up on the Mac web, more out of support than actually wanting to play skee ball. (To be honest, I gravitate toward the shooters when I’m at real arcades.) It’s become one of my favorite games, but it had to gradually earn that status, and there’s just a punch and simplicity in other games I like (Knights OnRush and TanZen, for example) that I feel Ramp Champ lacks.

  9. HE says:

    I was one of the buyers who didn’t ‘get’ RampChamp when it first came out. Coupled with the frequent crashing, it was a disappointing experience and failed to deliver what I expected from an app. I initially gave it 3 stars, but amended it to 5 after the update and sticking with it (I was sure I was missing something). I think it’s a great game and hope you do decide to release extra content.

    The simple way of looking at it though, is that a lot of app buyers want a quick fix for their 59p/99c. RampChamp doesn’t really do this (in my humble opinion) and you need time to appreciate the game further than the excellent graphics and sound. This may be why it didn’t do as well as you hoped it would. Different apps interest different people. I still don’t get that plane landing one, yet it’s become huge.

    Twitterrific is another excellent app that I would gladly pay more for. I’ve tried out other Twitter apps (including Tweetie, which seems to be a favourite) but keep going back to yours. Hey, I’m even writing this from the app in landscape view after following a link on a tweet!

  10. Ged says:

    He,

    We just released our second set of add-on content for Ramp Champ this past week and sales are going relatively well. We’re also finalizing the 1.1 update for the game which will include some nice fixes and improvements as well.

    Your comment about a “quick fix” seems accurate but what worries me is that is this all we can expect from the App Store? Are developers limited to creating novelty apps that feed the notion of instant gratification and that’s it? Hopefully this theory really only applies to games and not the rest of the App Store.

    At any rate, we appreciate your support of our efforts and products, it means a great deal to us. We’re not giving up just yet, so stay tuned. Good stuff is coming.

  11. Calvin says:

    Greg – “Personally, I think a money-back guarantee with a 1-week window would bring a lot of sanity to the iPhone app market. Virtually every other product in the world is sold this way…why not apps?”

    I think there is a refund policy in place in the App Store but it has to be very well justified. You will find very few digital media products are returnable. Can you return songs to Amazon or iTunes? Different rules for different products. Entirely fair.

    Apple has created an impulse buy mentality within the App Store and we all know the consequence of doing something on impulse. This in turn drives prices down further because the higher the price the more buyers reconsider instead of just clicking “Buy”.

    We all need to remember that Apple created this market to make money. They’re not interested in helping developers become rich. They want to sell hardware. Right now they’re right where they want to be!

  12. Steve says:

    Anyone using “Skee Ball” as an example is only proving your point for you. It’s just another 1 success with 1000 other failures lined up right behind it. All I can say is welcome to reality. This is the world we live in, and we are on the same life raft on the sinking App Store Titanic.

  13. David Fuller says:

    Allow a layman’s comment from a marketing professional who has no involvement in software development – but who has huge respect for your company’s success and clever marketing over the years.

    Obviously you are disenchanted with the AppStore. Like many developers you blame Apple for the store not working as you perceive it should, and thereby ruining your chances of success with your apps. It seems a common thread across the web.

    No doubt the AppStore is not perfect, and no doubt Apple will adjust its functions as the store matures. But your two experiences have more to do with simple sales and marketing as opposed to flaws in the store.

    Twitterrific started big, to lose traction due fierce competition. Nothing would have altered that course. Cheaper, better (to some customers’ needs), more hyped apps inevitably would have brought down your price and sales figures. It doesn’t matter if it is pizza, clothes or electronics, that happens in any consumers oriented market. The fact that Apple may be slow in releasing updates is irritating but it doesn’t really change the dynamics of the marketplace.

    Champ Ramp looks to have been something of an eye opener for you in that it was one of the few products, perhaps only product, you have developed that just wasn’t hugely popular. Think Newton. Products are developed every day that look like they should be barnburners – many are not.

    Moreover it had quality issues. Many potential barnburners never recover from a bad start. Blaming Apple for a slow release of the update is really shifting responsibility. Without the quality issues this would never have been a consideration, and had the app caught the public imagination, it would have overcome even the quality issues.

    Competition and a false start are hurting your sales. While alterations to the AppStore may or may not temper sales figures somewhat, from a strictly sales and marketing perspective, they would not have dramatically changed anything.

  14. david says:

    In other words, the App Store is a microcosm of the software industry. Imagine that.

  15. Quiiick says:

    I was really looking forward to Ramp Champ after seeing the first screenshots, but was extremely disappointed when I finally bought it.

    Although the game looks fantastic (like everything else from IconFactory) the gameplay itself is terribly frustrating. How could you not realize this while focus testing?
    It’s not the AppStore that is broken, It’s Ramp Champ touch-interface that is.

    On a side note: inApp purchases is a distasteful way to augment the full price for a game. InApp purchases a are no-go IMHO!

  16. Ged says:

    David,

    Not really. In the real software world applications are not sold for pennies like they are in the App Store. In the real software world “novelty” apps don’t rise to the top, quality apps and games like World of Warcraft rise to the top, not iFart and Sound Grenade.

    The “microcosm” of the App Store is nothing like the “real world” and that is the entire point of my post. Does this really matter in the end? No, not really because developers (like myself) will either learn how to deal with the differences in the App Store or we’ll get out all together. I’ve indicated that we’re not ready to give up, we just have to shift to the differing landscape and not worry about it so much. I’m okay with that.

    Regardless, my points about the faults of the App Store stands. The store needs improvements and I’m sure they will eventually come. Sooner would be better than later.

  17. Erik says:

    Well written and thoughtful, but to be frank – Ramp Champ sucks and so does Frenzic. Making something pretty does not guarantee success. There’s nothing compelling about either game’s experience. Twitteriffic on the other hand is fantabulous because it works well and looks good.

  18. Quiiick says:

    Of course the AppStore needs improvements. Lots of improvements. No doubt about that.

    But the problem here may be that you tied the missing success of one app (Ramp Champ) to hard to the shortcomings of the AppStore. It looks like the relationship between these two things is not so much the cause for Ramp Champ’s poor ROI.

    You’re a design company at heart and I guess you just don’t have the accurate and deep intuitive understanding to game mechanics yet.

    The gameplay of Ramp Champ, as I said before, is not only frustrating it is also way to linear. Essentially it’s a one trick pony and get’s boring very quickly because of that.

    Combined with the frustration, this is something gamers do not appreciate and you will not have a lot of mouth to mouth propaganda for Ramp Champ because of this.
    But this kind of promotion is IMO very important for games, maybe more important than the exposure the app gets in the AppStore or the reviews on blogs.

    There are other very simple games in the AppStore like “Zombies & Me” or “Must Eat Birds” (just to name a few which I like a lot) but the big difference here is that these games provide a lot of strategic diversity within a very simple gameplay concept. And that’s what’s sorely missing in Ramp Champ: interesting strategic opportunities.

    Yours, Quiiick
    (from Switzerland)

    (english is not my native language, so please apologize any funny spelling I may have done)

  19. Ged says:

    Quiiick,

    I have disagree and I’m not trying to be difficult. Ramp Champ has strategy built directly into each ramp. There are hidden puzzles that are both challenging to figure out and challenging to complete once you have figured them out. Also, if your critique about strategic diversity was accurate, then why do games like Skyworks Arcade bowling, which has even LESS strategy and is more linear than Ramp Champ, remain in the top 100 for over 6 moths? There is only one ramp in that game and NO goals to complete. It just doesn’t hold water.

  20. Ged says:

    Erik,

    I see. I’m curious what games in the app store do you consider to be “compelling”?

  21. Quiiick says:

    Yeah, maybe I’m wrong. But my gut-feeling tells me otherwise.

    “challenging to figure out and challenging to complete” may be the problem here.

    The challenges also need to be entertaining, not just there.

    I stopped wanting to figure them out because the gameplay was so frustrating. So I never had a chance for a real “challenge to complete” so far.

    I do not want to criticize “Ramp Champ”. Far away from that. I just want to figure out what went wrong and why I had such a terrible experience with this game.

    Maybe it’s just me …

    But I’m a hardcore gamer for more than 20 years now, played hundreds of games and almost never had such a frustrating encounter.

    I really admire the looks of the game and would want to love it but you really can’t imagine how many times I almost threw my iPhone at the wall because I could not succeed in doing what I wanted in this game.

    And of course there are other reason beyond “goals to complete” with can make a game successful. So, another game (Skyworks Arcade) being more successful despite it’s linearity is not proof that it doesn’t matter. It may be a terrible game, never played it.

    On the other hand I also fail to understand why people watch all this junk on television either or why some products sell like hot cake despite their obvious shortcomings.

  22. Talos says:

    We (Iconfactory) spend at least 3840 hours (8 designers for 7 months) on art and design of Ramp Champ. DS Media Labs working on the programming side on and off for 7 months.

    And as we speak, DS Media Labs is continue improving the guts of the Ramp Champ. We definitely won the most art work and hours pump into a single app on the App Store.

  23. Sean says:

    In reality, it is just a phone. A majority of people consider phones as “disposable”—getting a new one every couple of years or so. ‘Ramp Champ’—in my opinion—doesn’t belong on my phone, rather, on my Mac, tethered to my 50″ television. If I were an iPhone developer, I would focus on quick, impulsive games, in the .99 – 2.99 price range. They don’t have to be “gorgeous”, they just have to play well… and quickly. ‘Canabalt’ is a perfect example.

  24. Quiiick says:

    @ Talos

    Interesting figures. Thanks for sharing them.

    I’m a graphic designer myself, so the amount of time it took you to create this beautiful looking game doesn’t really surprise me. I’m well aware what it takes to bring something to perfection. Although nearly 4000 hours really IS a lot.

    Did you anticipate this enormous amount of work when you started the project?

  25. Josh Holloway says:

    After poking around App Store reviews today, and seeing the customer response to Tweetie 2′s “upgrade price,” I have an overwhelming feeling that I realize what one of the most fundamental problems of the Store is… it seems to me that the primary kind of user of the App Store is probably a spoiled 14-year-old kid whose parents got him an iPod touch for Christmas, and who either doesn’t have a credit card or is using his parents’.

    Looking at some of these reviews… it’s just sickening to think that these are the kinds of people that are driving sales in the store. Reviews that are poorly written, unreasonable, misleading, or outright lies are the norm. It’s bizarre to see so many reviews talking about how hard it was for them to spend a dollar, and seeing reviews that say, “add X feature and I’ll give this five stars,” is like seeing a developer being held hostage.

    I apologize if I was too harsh in my original post. I now feel like I understand a bit of your world. I’m thanking my lucky stars right now that I didn’t invest much time or money in learning iPhone development… the App Store is really not an economy I want to participate in at this time.

    Well, there’s always Mac development, I suppose…

  26. Stav says:

    I have just read your article and i do understand your frustration being a developer and avid gamer from a young age. Twitterific is great and i have started using it.

    I have been a competitive gamer for 27 years and have played just about every genre of game out there starting from asteroids. In fact my gaming is definitely an addiction from a young age but thats another matter.

    When assessing if a game will be a success or not i look most highly at playability over anything else.

    I never saw ramp champ so i have just bought it to try out and see if i agree with you that the game failed purely down to the let downs of the ‘broken app store’.

    Whilst i agree there is a degree of luck in getting noticed and that apples lag time in reviewing apps can really penalise developers and take control away from them for a minor mistake, i can also say that ramp champ, on the first 5 minutes of play does seem to be missing a sparkle which i beleive is needed to pick up and play and keep playing.

    I’ve always said that a game must be easy to pick up but impossible to master in order to be a success and ramp champ control method does not seem to conform to a linear skill level and starts out too difficult, thus leaving much to chance. So it fails in the easy to pick up department. Paper toss on the other hand seems to have that balance of flicking the paper and it conforming to the expected outcome plus its a novel idea of throwing paper into a waste paper bin which most people can relate to.

    I’m sorry to be so frank and please remember that its only my opinion, it takes a certain understanding of the gamer market to hit the right formula and i certainly haven’t mustered up the courage to plough our resources into making a game yet as it is the most highly competitive category in the app store. The risk of the amount of effort versus the reward seems to great for our team at present. I admire your courage in having a go and can feel your pain.

    I will certainly feel let down if our apps do not hit their expected targets as so much time and effort goes into them not to mention the family sacrifices people can make.

    A game mentioned in another comment, Flight path, did hit this formula of gameplay. From the first 10 seconds that i played it i could see why it was a hit and why it then stayed a hit for so long. It was a breath of fresh air to the games industry and brought about a new type of using your finger to draw lines and manage your planes.

    Tower defence games also seem to be popular, i know i loved the concept from the moment i discovered desktop tower defence, a very popular flash game written by an independent, being easy to pick up then making you come back for just one more game to try to beat the next level.

    I run many businesses with GZero.com being my latest venture. I wish you and all the developers luck and many successes in the future and hope that the people that put the time in do get the rewards but we must also always remember to understand what we are embarking on before doing so and expect to be let down at any time, that is the nature of business.

    Best wishes, Stav

  27. Steve says:

    Some of the mass attitudes towards apps are a result of the mass attitudes towards “free” stuff (often pirated or shared without licenses) online. The app store is going through in a much shorter time what the music industry has gone through over several years. Things will balance out in an equilibrium of the factors affecting sales and prices, etc. The best chance for success in any market, whether it be music or writing or apps is to be cutting edge and great. It’s tough to be on the top (front edge) all the time, because the only place to go is down (by definition)!

  28. Ged, I’m sure you have already seen this, but for everyone else, Marco Arment just put up a brilliant post on his blog analyzing this situation, and I think he said what I’ve been trying to say much more eloquently that I ever could.

    http://www.marco.org/208454730

  29. Phil Bowell says:

    I’ve discovered both your post and Ramp Champ via Marco’s post, linked above by Josh, intrigued I checked out the game more in depth. It seems like something I would play so I picked up my iPhone 3G and tried to buy it. Turns out the game is too big to download over the cellular network, I need to download it via WiFi. I probably will when I get home (no WiFi at work) but surely this is contributing to the reduced sales? Not everyone will remember to buy it when they are on WiFi or their Mac/PC and I’m guessing most will go for something else if they can’t buy your game on the spur of the moment.

  30. Ged says:

    Josh,

    Yes I did see it and it is indeed an excellent analysis of the App Store. I pretty much agree with all of it as a matter of fact. I’d like to talk more with him personally and get some additional thoughts, but thanks for pointing me at that link, I appreciate that as well as your latest comments you posted above. Thanks.

  31. Jan says:

    To be honest I thought about buying Ramp Champ but I didn’t. Why? It wasn’t the graphics, thats for sure. The game looks lovely. But from the description and reviews I didn’t really get a clue what this game was all about. Was it something like “throw a ball and hit this and that”. Well, I deleted Paper Toss after trying it for like 5 minutes so that sort of game really didn’t interest me. Was it another sort of game? Then I didn’t get an idea what sort of game it is.

    The thing is all the games I bought made clear what they were about. Also they looked like a real value for money as many levels were included. In app purchase of more levels seemed to me like you want to get me hooked with some few levels and then start charging again and again after some few levels – I couldn’t figure out how many levels were included and if I could play for quite some time (instead of just some few levels) before I would have to think about buying more levels.

    From my perspective the idea and the marketing of the game don’t fit into the App store where people don’t spend a lot of time reading all the reviews but simply buy on impulse instead.

  32. I agree 100% with what Dan Daranciang said up there. It takes more than “pretty” to make a game successful. I bought Ramp Champ recently and bought it because it looks amazing and it’s truly inspiring. I think this is a game that appeals more to us, designer/developer crowd, than to the casual gamer. To be honest, it’s quite frustrating to be good at RC, not because I don’t want to, but because the controls are quite hard to fully “own”…

    Hopefully things will turn around for you and RC will pick up… eventually…

    Oh, and I *love* IF and all your work so, please, keep it up! :)

  33. Scott says:

    I disagree with both Ged and Marco (see link in above comments to Marco’s post). Since this is Ged’s blog, I’ll focus on my disagreement with what was written here.

    My main criticism is that I think the common refrain of a “race to the bottom” has been disproved by Apple’s “Top Grossing” charts. Most of the games on there are not the 99¢ turds that tend to get massive but short-lived fame in the “Paid Apps” section. Rather, they’re the games that either: (1) are produced by a recognizable name (e.g., most of the EA games); (2) have a great deal of depth and content (e.g., Pocket God); or (3) are particular successful examples of excellent iPhone-specific game development (Fieldrunners, FlightControl, Doodle Jump).

    Ramp Champ doesn’t fall into any of these categories. It’s a visually-stunning game, and as a paying customer, I appreciate the care and effort that went into its creation. However, and I suspect like many others, I played it for 15 minutes and never returned. It simply doesn’t feature the kind of compelling gameplay that keeps me engaged or draws me back. Fieldrunners and FlightControl, on the other hand, have exactly this kind of appeal. They’re games that are work perfectly with the iPhone interface. They’re games that I could play for hours and want to come back to after I stop. Ramp Champ, on the other hand, is an example of shallow, repetitive, and rather frustrating gameplay. It’s an unsatisfying recreation of a game that I can easily (and would prefer to) play in real life; it simply doesn’t lend itself to 9 square inches of capacitive glass. The same cannot be said for games like Fieldrunners or Flightcontrol, which when played, seem like they were meant for the iPhone. (The other Skee-Ball app, “Skee-Ball,” which I downloaded solely for the purpose of writing this comment, is visual vomit but features much better gameplay.)

    All of this may sound harsh — in reality, I have a great deal of respect for what you’ve created. The game is truly a piece of visual art, and if the project has been as unprofitable as you make it sound, it’s a shame that more games with these kinds of graphics won’t be made in the future. Unfortunately, the iPhone isn’t the best medium for distributing pieces of visual art, and if the economics of the App Store mean that your artistic skills are channeled elsewhere in the future, that may be a testament to its efficiency rather than a criticism.

    Few games receive as much attention as Ramp Champ. The Daring Fireball link alone is more than most developers can dream of. If the game wasn’t successful with the mass market, I’m afraid you only have yourself to blame. Unfortunately, a blog post lamenting the lack of even *more* free advertising just makes you sound petty.

    - Scott

  34. Jay says:

    Hi. Just wanted to say that I had just bought an iPhone right about the time that Ramp Champ came out. I was in my initial spending spree, and bought dozens of apps, many of them in the $5-$10 range. I looked at Ramp Champ at least 10 times, but every time something about it just kept me from making the purchase. Probably the biggest thing is that the description and the screenshots just don’t make it clear what the game is about. It seemed like a snarky dark carnival type thing, but without more information, I just wasn’t going to drop my cash. To make it clear, I read the entire description several times, but without making it more clear what I could do and showing more screenshots, I won’t buy it.

  35. lookmark says:

    I’ve been a huge fan of Ramp Champ from day one. It’s a gorgeous game with a huge amount of polish and delightful details that’s surprisingly challenging (and IMO, completely addictive).

    At the same time, I’ve noticed Ramp Champ not really able to catch fire in the App Store sales charts, which I’ve found really frustrating. If ever a $1.99 game deserved to hit the App Store Top 10, it’s Ramp Champ. It’s just a pleasure. I’ve mentioned Ramp Champ countless times on forums discussing iPhone games, but to little avail.

    I’ve also noticed Freeverse’s incredibly bland-looking Skee Ball rise its way to the top, which I find very depressing. I mean, good for Freeverse for licensing the name and making it simple, but the difference in visual quality between these two apps is enormous. And RC has a great deal of depth as well.

    I’m not sure exactly what the solution is. I feel that if Apple picked up Ramp Champ for a 3 second spotlight in one of their Touch TV ads, that might give it the boost it needs, but of course that can’t be a model for successful, high-quality investment of resources in making apps and games. It’s definitely a vexing and dispiriting problem.

  36. maique says:

    sorry to read this, i quite love the game and, even though it can be pretty hard to master (and i’m really far from that), i’ve also bought all the extra packages. i find them really cheap, considering all the work that went into making them.

    i don’t play as often as i wanted/should, but i guess you deserve the euros and cents your asking for it, and i would buy them for that reason alone. it looks great.

  37. Peter says:

    Agreed with Jan and with Marco’s article. Buying your app required a lot of study and thought, and that’s not what you want when you want the impulse buys that sit at the top of the App Store rankings. I can give some examples…

    I still don’t understand how someone could understand what the game is about from the text description. “Experiencing the wonders of the ocean depths” doesn’t help someone who has no idea what they’d be playing anyway. It’s only until you hit that one screenshot that it becomes more apparent, and even then, the text feels bombastic for the product. Also, the clear advertisement of “Ramp Packs” is a turn-off. The game doesn’t sound like it can stand on its own, and there’s no way to tell whether the existing four levels would be sufficient. The heavy implication is “if you really loved me you’d spend more money.” Except I am still wondering whether to even spend anything in the first place. Would have been better to submit a Ramp Champ Lite with one or two levels and a few knickknacks, then have a paid version with perhaps 5-6 levels and the promise of future ability to get more later.

  38. Ted Brown says:

    I also think you’re too close to the situation to be reading it correctly. I completely agree the App Store has tons of issues, but I think most of the non-success of Ramp Champ has to do with the game itself.

    Like many others, I completely agree that RC is beautiful. It has an insane attention to detail and rivals nearly any visual design in the store today.

    But, like many others, I completely agree that the gameplay is frustrating, not terribly fun, and doesn’t create the drive to keep playing. Even people who say they’re “addicted” to the game frequently preface that remark by saying the game drives them crazy with frustration. This is not a good thing.

    In addition, while the tickets and prizes mechanic is very well designed and neat, it is relatively boring. You collect prizes that are locked inside an application. You can’t share them, so they become pretty pointless.

    In the long run, the App Store, even with all of its problems, does not cause applications to be unsuccessful. If you made a large marketing push, got blogged about and reviewed and talked about everywhere but still can’t sell the product, then it’s not the store–it’s the product.

    All this being said, I completely support the IF. I love you guys and what you do, but I think with Ramp Champ you just didn’t hit the mark. It’s hard to take sometimes, but you have to be able to see it when it happens.

  39. lookmark says:

    I’ve been a huge fan of Ramp Champ from day one. It’s a gorgeous game with a huge amount of polish and delightful details that’s surprisingly challenging (and IMO, completely addictive).

    At the same time, I’ve noticed Ramp Champ not really able to catch fire in the App Store sales charts, which I’ve found really frustrating. If ever a $1.99 game deserved to hit the App Store Top 10, it’s Ramp Champ. It’s just a pleasure. I’ve mentioned Ramp Champ countless times on forums discussing iPhone games, but to little avail.

    I’ve also noticed Freeverse’s incredibly bland-looking Skee Ball rise its way to the top, which I find very depressing. I mean, good for Freeverse for licensing the name and making it simple, but the difference in visual quality between these two apps is enormous. And RC has a great deal of depth as well.

    I’m not sure exactly what the solution is. I feel that if Apple picked up Ramp Champ for a 3 second spotlight in one of their Touch TV ads, that might give it the boost it needs, but of course that can’t be a model for successful, high-quality investment of resources in making apps and games. It’s a vexing and dispiriting problem.

    Marco’s analysis is certainly interesting, though. It seems RC may have fallen between the cracks.

  40. lookmark says:

    @ Jay – if you google Ramp Champ, you’ll find TouchArcade’s review, which has gameplay videos.

    It’s just an iPhone version of skee ball, really, but layered with challenging goals for each “ramp” and a deliciously drawn collection of prizes to keep you playing.

    I have to really disagree with those who think RC’s gameplay is somehow lacking. The physics are a bit quirky, perhaps, but that just takes a little practice; there’s a real depth of play with the goals. The game can be enjoyed on a casual level, but it’s far from easy, and both challenging and very satisfying when mastered.

  41. As an early tester of Ramp Champ (and one of your featured reviewers), I’m disappointed the game hasn’t taken off as well I thought it would. To be honest, the success Freeverse is having with Skee-ball was where I thought Ramp Champ would be.

    I bought Skee-ball the day it was released too (I have this thing about carnival games — I just love them) and was even ranked as high as #18 before the huge, huge influx of users.

    Ramp Champ, to me, is the more engaging game, but Skee-ball has more addictive physics. That said, I certainly get more value out of Ramp Champ (though Skee-ball is a ton of fun).

    I think what hurt you guys, honestly, was the crashing issue. I was a beta tester and the last beta version was perfect and solid — I don’t know what changed with the update to Apple but my iPod touch 2G was crashing like crazy. I have to say, if I didn’t already get the game, if I hadn’t been addicted back when the graphics were still being developed and I got to experience the changes in the ball physics, I probably would have been turned off too. The reviews were pretty high and pretty positive overall, but I know the few times I looked at them in iTunes and on my device, the crashing issue was frequent and very near the top. That’s a definite deterrent to any would-be buyer.

    Something has to give for developers to get updates out faster — but I’m also genuinely curious why the last beta was so stable and the final version was a crashy disaster.

    I love the new add-on packs and I hope that maybe Skee-ball will build a bit of a Ramp Champ resurgence. I will say that the network capabilities that Freeverse has with Plus+ make a difference — even if you don’t really do anything with those capabilities.

    For future games, you guys should definitely focus on integrating as many social features as possible — even if they are gimmicky — because from my experience as a reviewer (and as a wider market-assesser based on what readers write in that they like and whatnot), that seems to make a big difference. I don’t know.

    As always, I wish you luck and you know I’m one of Iconfactory’s biggest fans!

  42. bkharmony says:

    I bought Ramp Champ. I like Ramp Champ. But Ramp Champ lives in an odd corner of the iPhone game ‘verse. It seems like a little 5-minute time waster, but it’s much more than that. The “shallower” Skee-Ball is that 5-minute time waster that most people want on their iPhone, and it’s set at the price most people want to pay.

    Bottom line: any app over .99 needs a “lite” version. Like it or not – and I know it’s dumb – but most people aren’t going to take a chance on an app unless it’s either a buck or has a lite version to try it out.

    Drop your price or (preferably) make a lite version and I bet you’ll see different results.

  43. Hunter says:

    That’s a ton of time and effort to put into a product on the App Store. Did the project come in on budget and if so, how did you determine what budget figure to use?

    It seems with the downward price pressure in the App Store, doing a big budget game may not have been the best idea… Since you’ve been in the App Store since day one with Twitterrific, I would have expected you guys to have a pretty good understanding of how prices have been falling.

  44. Karen says:

    I’m very sad to see that Ramp Champ hasn’t been a big success – it has been one of the games that I’ve kept coming back to and I enjoy finding the strategies to unlock the various goals. Perhaps the extra memory of the 3GS meant that I didn’t see the crashes – the program has always been rock solid for me.

    The physics of the game are tricky to master, but again I see that as part of the challenge. I wish that Apple did offer a demo system – although a Ramp Champ Lite might also help. I can’t help feeling that, if more people experienced the game, then sales might be better. In contrast, I found Frenzic OK for a short while, but soon lost interest in it. Ramp Champ is one of the games that have found a permanent place on my phone and I’m very happy with the in-app purchasing of extra levels, which again has helped maintain the game’s appeal.

    It often seems that a lot of app purchasers are looking for something free and simple. I hope that the Iconfactory continues to produce quality, thoughtful apps at a fair price.

  45. dave says:

    Just because you make an app doesn’t mean you will make millions nor is it Apple’s responsibility to market YOUR app for YOU.

    If you want to make the cash then make something people want and that works right.

    No one here to blame but yourself and quite frankly I am getting sick of people bitching about the app store. I actually appreciate that Apple brought us the app store and gave developers like you the opportunities that it brings. Sure there will be issues as there always is with new platforms.. get over it, Apple will get it dialed in.

    Now m$ has had all these years to do this and didn’t do a damn thing to bring you a platform like this and can you imagine the issues they would have had if they would have done this first??? My god it would have been a disaster.

  46. Ben says:

    Came here through Marco’s post and just thought I would quickly share my thoughts.

    I personally think Marco’s analysis hit the nail on the head (as usual) —but from my perspective I think it’s Ramp Champ that let you guys down, all with some help from the App Store. There is no denying the fact that the UI in Ramp Champ is probably one of the most polished in the App Store but I think the let down is the gameplay. It simply wasn’t that good. There’s an annoying feeling of ‘luck’ in the game rather than any consistent skill or learning curve. It’s just an inconsistent and frustrating affair.

    I love your guys work and I hope you continue to develop Apps, but when it ces to games I think everyone needs to remember that gameplay comes first. It’s the same with consoles and it’s the same with the iPhone.

  47. Richard says:

    I really really wanted to like this game. But after fifteen minutes of play I had only seen ducks a few times and hit none of them. My scores at the end were no better than my scores at the beginning. I’m guessing I have average skilz for this sort of thing… why target only those with elite skills? That means a lot of people *not* spreading the news to their friends….

  48. Bill says:

    I’ll tell you that I hadn’t heard of Ramp Champ before finding a link to this blog. I can tell you it took me a while of staring at the screenshots on the store to actually get a sense of the game. Most people probably just look quickly and then buy or move on.

    I went ahead and bought it, but haven’t yet played it. This wasn’t due to the app store page “selling me”, but rather that I had read this, liked Frenzic, enjoy supporting good iPhone devs, and the fact that you’re in NC like me :)

    Hope sales pick up for you!

  49. Craig Hunter says:

    I was lucky enough to get into the iTunes store in the Summer of 08 when the ball started rolling, and enjoyed modest success with several apps. Since then, I have released many more apps, most far better than the originals, and it’s been hit or miss (mostly miss). I think that, no matter your intentions or the efforts you sink into an app, it’s largely a gamble. It can be confusing and very humbling, but that’s the way it goes. I definitely sympathize with many of your comments. Having released several duds into the App Store, I have much lower expectations now. I’m still developing and still having fun at it, but I am a lot more realistic about things.

    Even after 15 months, I am still learning about customer’s tastes on the app store. It can be hard to peg. I will say that my notions about what makes a good game (based on growing up with arcade games, Commodore computers, and home game consoles) doesn’t always match what younger generations expect. What I consider to be challenging, and to require practice to achieve mastery, is often too hard for younger people to buy into. As I learned while teaching a few years back, generation-Y and younger folks have a very narrow field of view and are geared to a different form of entertainment and stimulation. They need to be reeled in. Rich graphics, while appreciated by folks like me, aren’t nearly as important as compelling, obsessive gameplay.

    Bottom line, don’t depend on the App Store ecosystem to make your app successful. First it has to be noticed, then it has to catch on. With such a big market, that’s a lot to count on for success. In a way it’s like the grocery, and you’re just one more product sitting on the shelves. Traditional forms of spreading word, such as through bloggers and PRs, don’t really drive a lot of traffic to the App Store. You really have to be a success within the App Store itself, or spend big bucks on some equivalent form of mass exposure (ie, network TV commercials).

    I guess I am curious — how do you promote Mac software, which doesn’t really have an “app store”, but sits out in the wild? Can you take the same approach with your iPhone apps?

    Good luck!

  50. Francis says:

    Your number one mistake is your expectation is too high for a design company initial foray into the game selling industry a very competitive category.

    Number two is, games is all about game play.

    Number three, you should have sold each “ramp” as a $0.99 game.

    Number four, what’s with the icon???

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