AppCraver recently spoke with Phil Nash at Two Blue Cubes, the development team behind Virtual Conquest. He answered our questions about developing apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
1. When did you start developing apps for the iPhone?
Phil Nash: August 2008. Pretty much as soon as I was accepted into the dev programme (I didn’t go the jailbreak route).
2. What was the inspiration behind your app?
Phil Nash: Obviously the concepts of Virtual Conquest are derived from the strategy board game, Risk. However the real inspiration was a version of it for the Palm OS called Aggression. It’s interesting that some of the app store reviews have picked up on that. A few years ago I was doing a lot of traveling with work, and would spend a lot of time waiting around, especially at airports. A colleague on my project that often traveled with me showed me Aggression running on his Palm T3, and I was hooked. It really got me through a lot of departure lounge blues. I got it for my T3 too, but later Fed-Ex managed to lose it and I’d been missing it since. When the App Store was opened I thought someone was bound to have been working on something similar for the iPhone, but to my surprise there was nothing. At that moment I knew exactly what my mission would be! Virtual Conquest is not an Aggression clone, however, and I designed the user interface entirely with the iPhone in mind. The gameplay is actually closer to the original rules of Risk.
3. How did you settle on your price point for the app?
Phil Nash: At the time of the app store launch the buzz in the blogsphere was that it was a volume sales market, and people would be making ridiculous amounts of money for $1 apps. How true this is is open to question, and a lot of people have readjusted their expectations now. Rightly or wrongly that initial sentiment set the tone for app store pricing and now people with high quality apps are finding it difficult to compete at prices that reflect the work that has gone into them. While a lot of time and effort has gone into Virtual Conquest (and continues to), it is still an indie title that has been brought to market it a relatively short space of time without too many bells and whistles initially. So I knew I would be starting with low price. That price will increase a little once the features are there to justify that. Of course everyone who has bought now at the low price will continue to get updates for free.
4. Roughly how many apps have you sold?
Phil Nash: I’ve been working so hard on the game that I haven’t had time yet to write a script to keep track of them. But from what I have seen I think it would be somewhere between 2000-3000. If that sounds like a high margin of error, the main reason for that is that my first update went live at the weekend and the response has been phenomenal! Because there was quite a serious bug in the first release it was getting a fair bit of bad press, and I even updated the app store description myself to warn potential buyers of the bug. I’ve also tried to keep a low profile and not promote the game or the site myself while the bug was still at large. That’s had a serious impact on sales of v1.0, and it will take me a while to recover from it. I’m grateful to the balanced review sites, such as AppCraver, who acknowledged the initial problems – but also recognized the potential. I’m please to say that, at time of writing, the five most recent reviews in US app store (six of the last seven) have awarded it five stars!
5. How did you like the developer tools provided in the iPhone SDK? is there anything missing?
Phil Nash: It’s nice that I can talk about this freely now. The NDA was a ridiculous burden. Overall I think the development tools are great. My background over the years has primarily been in Windows development and Microsoft’s development tools are very familiar to me. I hadn’t used XCode that much before I started development on the game, but at this point I’d say it’s comparing very well. As always there are some things that are better and some that are not so good. The SDK itself is very strong, and quite easy to get into, with a lot of power if you dig a little deeper. I’m not entirely sold on Objective-C as a language – at least compared to more modern languages. But it’s pretty good for GUI work – especially when compared to C++. I do wish other languages had the argument labeling syntax.
6. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?
Phil Nash: Privately owned. This is not, personally, my only source of revenue… yet – but I hope to be able to take that step in the future.
7. What are some of the other iPhone apps that you like?
Phil Nash: I have a few Rubix cube games – Before the app store launch it was one of the ideas I was thinking of. Looks like I would have had a fair bit of competition if I had gone that way. I love Omnifocus (a GTD system) – while simple, I think it’s one of the apps that fits the iPhone like a glove. I also like MindMaker, which is a new mind-mapping tool. It’s quite basic so far, but does the job well enough. I have about three screenfuls of other apps – many of which I never use.
8. What kind of features should apple implement in future versions of the iPhone / SDK?
Phil Nash: Cut and Paste!
I would love to see support for a VM based language, but I don’t see that happening. I’m looking forward to the notification service, if it ever comes. I don’t really miss them personally, but if SMS forwarding and MMS were supported it would stop of a lot of people I know from moaning.
9. What’s the development cycle for iPhone apps like?
Phil Nash: The development itself has been pretty smooth, despite the lack of community due to the NDA, until recently. The Apple docs are good enough and the SDK pretty easy to get into. Debugging is harder than for desktop apps, but far superior to any other mobile platform I’ve worked with. But when it comes to submitting your application to Apple it just seems to drop into a black hole. You don’t know where it is in their system, or even if it’s really in there. You just log in every day waiting to see if that amber light has gone green. Then one day it does. When I submitted my update, however, the first time through it was rejected after a week. Rejection letters are still subject to NDA, but it all amounted to a misunderstanding on their part. Nonetheless I had to resubmit and go to the back of the queue – knowing the I could still be rejected again. This was even harder with the update because all this time I knew there was a buggy version out there, accumulating more and more bad press. It took me four days to get my update ready – but two weeks to get through the approval process! Apple have made some positive changes recently (NDA lifted, app store reviews for buyers only etc), but transparency (as well as reasonableness) in the approval process has to be the next thing!
10. Are you working on any other apps that you will be releasing soon?
Phil Nash: I have lots of ideas, but there’s still too much work to be done on Virtual Conquest, so I think it will be a while.