Friday, February 02, 2018

Apps versus Games

At the end of last year I took some time out from making games to try my hand at developing my first app. The app is Skip and Save and was designed with the Apple Watch in mind, but also works on the iPhone and iPad.

I designed Skip and Save with the Watch in mind

Creating this app was a new experience for me. And for the most part it was an enjoyable one.

I completed the app at the start of December 2017 and submitted it to Apple with a release date of 24th of January - roughly 8 weeks before launch so I had the best possible chance of being considered for Apple featuring. Apple recommends giving them 6-8 weeks notice and if you’re a developer I highly recommend you do this too - more details here:

I built Skip and Save, which is a saving app, primarily for my use. As I mentioned in a previous "making of" blog post, I often skip a treat and “bank” the money putting it toward buying something else later on - like a book or game. Regardless of the financial success of the app this was something I wanted to use and I figured I could also release it for others to enjoy.

So how does making and releasing an app compare to making and releasing a game?

Making the App

I enjoyed building the app just as much as building a game. It was a challenge to learn new stuff like how the UI system works and how the Watch handles complications. It was also a challenge to use storyboard in Xcode to make my app responsive to  different layouts and device sizes. I’ve used XAML before and found it much easier to create UI layouts. This is something I hope Apple can improve on in the future. For any Unity developers I can tell you it's easier to create responsive UI in Unity than Xcode!

Building the Watch component of the app was also much easier than the iPhone component. I figure this is due to the maturity of the WatchOS side of things. The Watch app took 25% of the total development time.

Marketing the App

Where apps depart dramatically from games is in the release/marketing phase. I had to find out which sites cover apps and the best app press release services. I did a lot of research and consumed a lot of App developer podcasts for best practices.

I reached out to sites that featured Watch and iOS apps with press info and pre-release promo codes. I also promoted the app leading up to it’s launch using the new Pre Order scheme on the App Store.

Sadly, on launch day, I got zero press interest and no featuring. Brian Mueller, the developer of Carrot, recently tweeted this:
"CARROT To-Do got 26 downloads and zero press coverage on launch day."
So I guess a lot hasn't changed in the last five years.

In my experience the App news sites are a lot tougher to crack then the game sites. My press release did seem to reach the far corners of the web though, as I received many emails from marketing folks offering to “promote” my app for a fee!

Apps are Different to Games

Here is where I think apps diverge in a BIG way from games.

With games you are solving a specific problem.

Players want to be entertained.

With a game, regardless of its genre, art style, team pedigree or core mechanic, your title has the potential to solve that problem. Your game simply has to entertain people!

With an app you’re solving a specific problem. This means you’re only appealing to those people that have that problem.

Skip and Save's market is people who are interested in saving money, and in a very specific way. So the potential market is a niche audience.

People don’t think “I need a new app, here’s a free one I’ll download it and give it a try!”

They think, “I need a better photo sharing app, let’s see what’s available.”

From my own experience with games, I tend to download a lot each week in different genres and from different developers because I want to have fun. And any game has the potential to scratch that itch.

This is obvious in hindsight, and as I mentioned I was making this app regardless as it’s an app that I wanted to use. But I do feel for my fellow non-game developers. They have it tough!

Will I make another app? I think I will. I have some problems that are specific to me that I want to solve. Only this time I'll focus on the Watch and not worry about the iPhone/iPad version - so this will drastically reduce development time. The Watch is how I use Skip and Save and the Watch is probably how I will use my future apps.

But for now I have a game to make :-)

- Johnno

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