iPhone Success – An Insider’s Guide to Game Development

By James Brightman

iPhone is a great platform for indies and garage developers to quickly get games up and running and available to consumers, but just because you can build a game in a couple months doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed like Angry Birds or Tiny Wings, or even get noticed among the thousands and thousands of apps available on the App Store.

As the former Apple games guru, industry veteran Graeme Devine has first-hand knowledge of the iOS ecosystemIndustryGamers picked Devine’s brain on what mistakes iPhone developers make and how they can succeed.

“One of the things that makes a successful iPhone game or iPad game is to actually use the device in a way that was meant for it to be used. It seems simple enough, but most game developers forget that. They immediately rush to put a virtual d-pad on the screen, put something in between the user and the world that they’re playing in,” he began. “If you look at every Apple application, from the photo application to the weather application to the stock thing, there’s no interfacing between you and whatever you’re playing with… you’re directly manipulating the world. The games that do the best, Angry Birds in particular, really pay attention to that. They really use that touch environment really, really well.”

Devine noted that an even bigger problem, however, is a general lack of polish that many iPhone games suffer from.

“The other thing that 99% of people on the store, I think do, is they don’t finish the damn game. There’s no level of polish, there’s no level of play testing, there’s no thought to progression, peaks and valleys, or any kind of ramping. They get the thing done, and they get the thing out and onto the store. ‘A million dollars please!’ It’s not going to happen that way. There’s probably less than a thousand great apps on the store, probably less than a hundred which are absolutely triple-A, first class. And yet, there’s more than 100,000 apps on the store.”

Some of these developers are completely new to the business and simply don’t know any better. “I think there’s a lot of first time people out there. I think that’s fantastic; I think that’s awesome. The fact that you can be in a house making a game part time and you can be out in 90 countries when you put something on the iTunes store… it’s incredible the day and age that we live in where we can do that. I think people would do better if they didn’t rush to get it out there and make their million dollars. If they would actually polish the thing for a little bit, it would make a big difference,” Devine continued.

Another major problem is that many developers simply hope to be featured by Apple on the App Store. That’s a big no-no, according to Devine.

“I would say if your entire marketing plan counts on Apple featuring you, then you’re dead,” he remarked. “If you haven’t polished your app and you just want to get it out there, and you haven’t thought about where people play the game or what people are doing with the level of polish, then your app might rise to number one, but it will quickly fall. The average cycle of an app in the App Store, I read, is 10 days. That’s ridiculous. There’s no way that’s ever profitable.”

He concluded, “But apps that are polished and have good gameplay that ramps, and people pay attention to them putting out updates, those ones tend to stay there for much, much longer and are probably profitable. You have to have a plan. I think most developers, their plan is, ‘finish game,’ and there’s no plan post-‘finish game.’ I think if you have a plan post-‘finish game’ … how you market it, your social marketing plan, your Facebook connection into the game, your plan to update your users, your plan to listen to users, to get feedback from them and improve. [If you do those things] I think there’s a modest market there that does well.”