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Windryder

Starting out in iPhone development

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After several months of contemplating my options for post-school employment, I've finally decided that I want to give indie game development a shot. I think by now I've considered most of the available platforms. From what I've read and heard from others, it seems like the iPhone market is where I'll want to be. However, since the iPhone has been around for some two and a half years by now and the App Store, according to Apple, has around 140,000 apps, I'm wondering if a lone developer like myself will simply be crushed by the competition. I have a fair amount of game programming experience, mostly in C++ and Java, but I have no doubts as to whether I can handle the technical side of things. As far as art goes, I'm pretty green but I'm hoping to learn as I go. Eventually I'll go looking for an artist with whom I can join forces, but until then I'm planning on running solo. I should probably point out that I still live with my parents, so I won't be depending on my success in iPhone games to pay my bills. :) My question to all you iPhone developers and industry veterans out there is this: would it be reasonable, given my skills and current situation, to try my luck at iPhone game development or should I look elsewhere? Any input is highly appreciated!

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If you have the time, resources and inclination, why not go for it? I don't think you will have much commercial success due to the crowded market place (as you noted), but there is value in designing, developing and publishing a game start to finish even if it does not become a commercial success. At worst you gain some skills that make you more desirable to potential employers. Good luck!

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Original post by kdog77
I don't think you will have much commercial success due to the crowded market place (as you noted), but there is value in designing, developing and publishing a game start to finish even if it does not become a commercial success.


A very good point. While I can't deny the fact that I'd love to pull an iShoot, experience is more important to me than money at this point. With that said, I do hope to make some money, or I'll be broke for the next year or so.

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So I do iPhone Development on the side for fun and a very small amount of dollars. Best month ever was $200

Here's the thing. All the iPhone millionaire stories are from when the iPhone was a new platform. iShoot came out almost the day the App Store opened, as did a lot of the other hits. There are certainly some recent indy successes: Pocket God, Trenches, Knights Onrush but they're super rare. Most of the biggest grossers now are big publisher titles: EA, Gameloft, ngmoco, etc

I would never assume that iPhone development would be my full time job unless I got lucky. Sure there's always the chance that you have a runaway hit, but that's super duper unlikely. The only real market driver currently is past success. The app store is a positive feedback loop so the better you do, the better you do. Apps that appear in the top 25 lists automatically start generating asstons more cash. Also, if you have one successful title, you'll have others because fans will follow your company. The only real backdoors are: getting featured in the store (editors choice), getting reviewed somewhere that attracts enough fans to boost your sales enough to enter positive feedback loop land, creating a free version which makes people want to buy more. It's just hard to figure out a successful marketing strategy since most of the consumers simply look at the top 25 lists and maybe search around for free apps.

The only other advice I can give you is that, in general, the quality of your graphics is hugely important. If you're green in art, you're better off getting an artist-friend to do the art for you. Though there are certainly exceptions, the general thing that separates the app-crap from the app-gold is how professional your app looks art-wise.

But, it's definitely a super high-risk career choice. App Store success is highly unlikely given how many apps are there and how the store itself is designed.

Though I suppose if you're going to try crazy risks, right out of college is the best time. [smile]

good luck!

-me

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Original post by Palidine
Here's the thing. All the iPhone millionaire stories are from when the iPhone was a new platform.... Most of the biggest grossers now are big publisher titles: EA, Gameloft, ngmoco, etc

Agreed - all the big players have moved in now with their license driven games and marketing budgets. There are lots of games released every day and only a few of those will ever get reviewed/press coverage.

Quote:
The only real backdoors are: getting featured in the store (editors choice), getting reviewed somewhere that attracts enough fans to boost your sales enough to enter positive feedback loop land, creating a free version which makes people want to buy more.

Agreed - the problem is that getting picked is a lottery. There is no way to know what will get you selected so it is out of your control.

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The only other advice I can give you is that, in general, the quality of your graphics is hugely important.

Agreed again. Doing your own art simply isn't an option unless you are a good artist. Your title simply won't compete in today's market.

The chance of success on iPhone is minimal. What is worse, as a closed system you are subject to the whims of Apple.

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Wow, all this sounds even more discouraging than I'd imagined! Based on what you said I'm not so sure about making the $700 investment into a Mac Mini any more. Is there any other platform where a lone developer like myself could stand a chance?

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Android market place is still pretty fresh, and no need for any expensive hardware to develop for it. Well, an android phone is probably required. But you need no $100 developer license from anyone in order to code and deploy/test your stuff on the device, and development can be done on any PC.

The downside is that since the android platform is so open as it is, your game will most likely be available for free on various "warez"-sites moments after you release it. Not really any different than on iPhone I guess, but not as many people have jail broken iPhones.

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Original post by Windryder
Wow, all this sounds even more discouraging than I'd imagined! Based on what you said I'm not so sure about making the $700 investment into a Mac Mini any more. Is there any other platform where a lone developer like myself could stand a chance?

"Standing a chance" is not the same thing as "guaranteed easy success." Nothing is guaranteed, except that nothing is going to be easy.

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Original post by Tom Sloper
"Standing a chance" is not the same thing as "guaranteed easy success." Nothing is guaranteed, except that nothing is going to be easy.


I understand that running a one man shop in this business won't be easy. The question is not so much "am I guaranteed to succeed" as "am I (more or less) guaranteed to fail?".

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Original post by Windryder
So what would you recommend?


What is your goal? What is your comfort with risk?

If you want to guarantee that you won't be broke in a year, risky entrepreneurial ventures are a bad idea. Starting your own company is always super risky. Especially in a market where you're most likely to fail.

If your goal is to have a portfolio of quality looking games and you don't care if you're broke or are willing to risk that, then it's a fine idea.

Living at home with no "i'm going to starve" potential is a good environment for risk.

There is no correct recommendation, it's all about your comfort with risk.

-me

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Original post by Palidine
[...] There is no correct recommendation, it's all about your comfort with risk.


Like you said, since I live at home and don't have to pay for food and accommodation I won't have to live on the street at least. I consider the experience of completing quality games (and growing my portfolio) to be very important factors as well. With that said, I hope to make enough money to cover my monthly expenses. I need about $200 a month for phone bills, taking my girlfriend out every now and then, etc. If it's less one month and more another, no problem. If it takes a while before my work pays off, then that's big deal either.

You mentioned that you earned $200 your best month. You also said that you do this part-time. I'm considering doing this full time since I technically don't need a day job. Based on your experience, is $200/mo a level that I could realistically reach after completing a few games (again, I'll be working full time)?

After reading all your very helpful replies I'm getting increasingly reluctant towards spending $700+ on the development hardware and Apple developer fee. Ideally, this being a very risky endeavor, I would like to keep my upfront costs low. I have considered PC development, and looked at sites like BigFish Games and distribution on Steam. Would this be a reasonable option?

Quote:
Original post by Palidine
The only other advice I can give you is that, in general, the quality of your graphics is hugely important. [...]


Thanks for pointing that out. Unfortunately the people I know cannot produce professional-grade art. Perhaps contracting an artist is something worth considering? I would have to spend some money, but I'd be comfortable with that if I believed in the game.

Thanks a lot everyone for your replies!

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Original post by Windryder
since I live at home and don't have to pay for food and accommodation I won't have to live on the street at least. I consider the experience of completing quality games (and growing my portfolio) to be very important factors as well. With that said, I hope to make enough money to cover my monthly expenses.
...Unfortunately the people I know cannot produce professional-grade art.

Sounds to me like you're not ready to go into business for yourself, then.
You're trying to serve multiple (and not necessarily compatible) purposes:
- Live off the folks
- Build a portfolio
- Make money
- Become a self-publisher

I don't think you can do all four of those things at once. I think your focus for now (insofar as the topic at hand applies) is to build a portfolio. Become a publisher later, after you've gotten good at what you do.
You might have to do this in your spare time, while working a "day job" of some kind.

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I'd also recommend a day job -- while I'm sure your parents are happy to have you, I'm equally sure they would appreciate you helping out by at least giving them some token amount of rent, even if it only covers the extra utilities and food. Plus, if you're at least pulling your own weight, there'll be a lot let "Aren't you going to get a *real* job?" type conversations.

If you can, try to get something part time so you can focus on your game more if that's what you really want to do, even if it means delivering pizzas -- I knew a guy in college that delivered pizza's part time, and actually paid for all his school and lived in relative comfort while sharing an apartment with just one roomate.

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Original post by Windryder
After reading all your very helpful replies I'm getting increasingly reluctant towards spending $700+ on the development hardware and Apple developer fee. Ideally, this being a very risky endeavor, I would like to keep my upfront costs low. I have considered PC development, and looked at sites like BigFish Games and distribution on Steam. Would this be a reasonable option?


We recently submitted a complete game to the portals and its getting no love at all. Its complete, has two hundred levels, two modes of play, a unique twist on a casual standard, professional graphics, and bug free (at least as far as we can tell). We had lots of people play it and everybody enjoyed it and picked it up very quickly with no coaching. We thought the game would be a shoe in to be picked up since since there was near zero investment on the portals part. So don't think just because you make a game portals will be lining up to take it. Also portals only deal with a small subset of games. If you are wanting to make something like a RTS or platformer then portals aren't for you anyway. Steam might be a bit better option and I think we will try it if the other portals decline.

Something else to think about if you have a Xbox 360 is the Xbox Live indie games. You won't be getting rich on that either but its open to a wider variety of game types.

Don't be making games because you think its going to be a payday. Unless you come up with that 1% game that is made at the right time you are going to be sorely disappointed. Make games because you want and if you get a few bucks because of it all the better. Juding from your posts though you should just be trying to get some portfolio stuff done to help you get a real programming job then trying to be a live at home one man studio.

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Original post by Ravyne
I'd also recommend a day job -- while I'm sure your parents are happy to have you, I'm equally sure they would appreciate you helping out by at least giving them some token amount of rent, even if it only covers the extra utilities and food. Plus, if you're at least pulling your own weight, there'll be a lot let "Aren't you going to get a *real* job?" type conversations.


I've had this discussion with my parents, and they seem to think that it's more important that I have a job -- whatever that may be -- and that I work hard, than actually earning a lot of money. They've also been very supportive of the idea in general.

I hear what you're saying about getting a day job, but the current situation here in Sweden might make that difficult. It's notoriously hard for young people fresh out of our equivalent of high school to get a job here. I've considered doing computer support/repair part time and developing games when I have a moment to spare.

Quote:
Original post by jtagge75
Juding from your posts though you should just be trying to get some portfolio stuff done to help you get a real programming job then trying to be a live at home one man studio.


Well, here's the thing: I don't really want to work for one of the big studios right now. In fact I'd much prefer the freedom to make whatever I feel like making. I also think that the experience of running my own business(es) would be valuable to me.

[Edited by - Windryder on March 6, 2010 7:58:01 AM]

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Wind blew:
>I hear what you're saying about getting a day job, but the current situation here in Sweden

Maybe you haven't heard that the entire world is in a big recession right now. It's hard for everybody to get a job. That doesn't change the advice -- regardless of the current economy, getting a job is more reliable than going the lone wolf game development path.

>might make that difficult. It's notoriously hard for young people fresh out of our equivalent of high school to get a job here.

You don't have a degree? That makes it even harder.

>I've considered doing computer support/repair part time and developing games when I have a moment to spare.

That's exactly what I suggested you do.

>Well, here's the thing: I don't really want to work for one of the big studios right now.

Good, because without a degree it's unlikely they'd hire you anyway.

>In fact I'd much prefer the freedom to make whatever I feel like making. I also think that the experience of running my own business(es) would be valuable to me.

Yeah, sure. You might want to read my articles on that --
http://www.igda.org/games-game-august-2004
http://www.sloperama.com/advice/lesson29.htm

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Original post by Windryder
Well, here's the thing: I don't really want to work for one of the big studios right now. In fact I'd much prefer the freedom to make whatever I feel like making. I also think that the experience of running my own business(es) would be valuable to me.


Games are just business, publishers aren't going to just take any old game you throw at them. There is a reason why most games on casual portals are very similar, its because those concepts sell very well. Its why you don't see very many RTS and FPS on them as portals are geared towards 35 year old women.

Most lone wolf programmers who are "successful" (and that is used very loosely) have day jobs that pay the bills and games are just a hobby that makes a bit of extra spending money. They probably also have a dozen games that didn't sell that were made before they were "successful".

There is no reason why you can't setup an account with something like BT Micro and self publish your games on your own site. But the old adage of you have to spend money to make money is very true as unless you advertise the crap out of your site and games nobody will know its there.

Something else to think about if this is your "job" is that you are going to have zero income for the next four or five months while you work on the game. You aren't going to slap together something in a month and expect to retire to an island in the south Pacific the next month.

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Original post by Tom Sloper
Maybe you haven't heard that the entire world is in a big recession right now. It's hard for everybody to get a job. That doesn't change the advice -- regardless of the current economy, getting a job is more reliable than going the lone wolf game development path.


I'll just disregard your somewhat condescending tone. I understand that getting a job is more reliable regardless of whether it's easy or not, but I feel you might have missed my point a bit. I don't really need reliability -- I don't pay for food or a roof over my head. I'm about to graduate. I'm really sick of school, and feel a desire to try something different. I can deal with the risk, as I've pointed out. I really just want to know if the iPhone is a reasonable starting point for me, whether I work part time or full time. Based on previous posts in this thread, the answer seems to be no.

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Can you cover all the upfront costs needed to start developing for the iPhone? Registering a LLC, hiring an accountant (or learn how to do this yourself which will take time away from developing), the Apple SDK license and access to a Mac?

Additionally, can you cover your expenses for the time you need to develop your first (and even second and third etc) games?

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Original post by yaustar
Can you cover all the upfront costs needed to start developing for the iPhone? Registering a LLC, hiring an accountant (or learn how to do this yourself which will take time away from developing), the Apple SDK license and access to a Mac?

Additionally, can you cover your expenses for the time you need to develop your first (and even second and third etc) games?


Yes.

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Get a part-time job. It doesn't have to be related to computers.

That way you'll have spending money for your girlfriend and a way to help out with rents and maintain credibility with your parents.

Equally important, you'll find that you'll be more focused during your free time (i.e., your software development time) when you are forced to spend other parts of your time working a job you don't necessarily want to do (other than for the money). You'll work faster and harder during your "on time" when you also have no choice about having "off time."

As for iPhone vs other platforms...you've laid out the pros and cons already, haven't you? It costs money to buy an iPhone, buy a Mac, and pay the developer's fee. You're not going to make much money and I highly doubt you'll make enough to pay for the overhead.

Do you already have a PC? Go into PC game development. There's no overhead you haven't already paid for, and you'll develop just as much experience and just as good a portfolio as you would for any other platform. Plus, your friends can play your games too.

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Thank you, Gauvir_Mucca, for your excellent reply and valuable insight. You've managed to touch upon all my questions in a few sentences.

I haven't actually thought of it that way before -- that getting a part time job might inspire me to work harder on game development. Instead, I've mainly seen a job as an obstacle that will stand in the way of my "career" in games. You certainly have a point.

I do have a PC, and since it appears to be hard to both grow my portfolio and make money at the same time, as Tom Sloper pointed out, developing regular PC games seems like a good choice even though it might generate little or no income.

Thank you all for your advice. I think I have a better idea of what I should be doing now.

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