Developer Owen Goss founded Streaming Colour Studios in 2008 to make independent games that were fun and nonviolent, he says. Previously, Owen spent 5 years in the games industry in Vancouver, BC in Canada, working for Electronic Arts and Disney's Propaganda Games. We decided to check in with Owen after reading his Streaming Colour Dev Blog.
1.You blogged about the difficulty of generating a profit with iPhone apps in “The Numbers Post (aka Brutal Honesty.)" What prompted you to write that post, after you said you were reluctant to do so?
When it came time to actually write the post, it was hard to share with the world that the company wasn't an instant success. If you've been reading the blog, then you'll know that I never expected instant success; that I always intended to grow the company gradually by putting out quality titles. However, it's still hard to say, "Hey look everybody, I haven't sold a whole lot of games yet." I felt that it was important to post the numbers anyway. If only so that other burgeoning indies can take a look at it and see some real numbers.
2. What it is about your app Dapple that you believes gives it value?
There's a lot about Dapple that I believe gives it value: First is the gameplay. You have to mix paint colors in Dapple, and that mechanic forces you to think and strategize. Dapple also has a professionally composed soundtrack that people love. But mostly, I think it's the polish and attention to detail that really makes Dapple stand out.
3. How did you settle on a $4.99 price, which is higher than the majority of apps?
When I was preparing to release Dapple, I took a look at games at various price points on the App Store. I looked at other matching games, and I looked at games that I felt had a similar level of replay-ability and polish as Dapple. $4.99 seemed like a good price for the game. Right now, the game is on sale at $2.99.
4. Why are reviews by the big app sites so important? Aren't the reviews in the AS helpful or do they hurt sales?
Reviews from app sites are important because they allow people to read an informed opinion on the game before they buy it. Not everyone will agree with every review, but if you find a reviewer whose opinions match your own, it's a handy way to know what to look for. App Store reviews are also incredibly helpful, I don't mean to downplay them in the least.
5. App crackers are starting to become a big problem for devs. What can you do? It takes a lot of resources to pursue these guys.
This is a question to which I'm not sure there's a good answer. I'm not sure how many people who pirate a game would actually pay for it if they didn't have the option to pirate it. Ultimately, I'm happy that people enjoy playing the game. But I hope that people pirating iPhone games realize that they're usually not stealing from mega-corporations, they're still from independent developers. I would hope that someone who downloads a cracked version of Dapple and likes it, would support our continued efforts in making great games, and buy a copy.
6. How important is being featured in the App Store to your introduction and sales?
This afternoon Dapple showed up in the Canadian App Store's "What's Hot" list, which is very exciting. Obviously, this just happened, so I don't have any first-hand data on that to share. From what I've read, it can be huge for an app to be featured in some way. From a lot of other devs I've talked to, getting featured in the U.S. App Store is what can make the difference between profitability and losing money on a given app.
7. You say you're a long way from reaching your sales goal. Are you still committed to develop for the Apple platform or is Android, Palm or something else starting to look more attractive?
I am a long way from the break-even point with Dapple, but I think it's an attainable goal. I am still committed to iPhone app development. That's not to say that I'm not considering other platforms. When I founded Streaming Colour Studios, it was founded as a games company, not as an iPhone games company.
8. If you can't profit from your app, will you continue to do updates?
I do have updates for Dapple planned, yes. Because I'm looking at this as a long-term commitment and not in terms of short-term gain, building a relationship with fans of Dapple is really important to me. I want people to know that we produce quality products. However, we will never use updates as a means of releasing an unfinished product. I want people to know that if they download version 1.0 of one of our games, that it will be a quality game from the get-go. When we push out a release, it will be to add asked-for functionality or respond to player feedback.
9. What's the rationale for a Lite version? Is it the same idea as "try before you buy" or something else? Devs have been asking for a trial version of apps, right? Think that's in the cards?
We created the Lite version of Dapple so that people could get a feel for the game before buying it. You have to play it for yourself, see the way the paint mixing works, and feel the flow of the game to really understand why it's worth your hard-earned dollars. I hope that people will play the Lite version and see this for themselves.
10. What do you think about OS 3.0? Got any plans to do things differently with existing projects?
I'm very excited about what Apple announced about OS 3.0! Obviously I can't talk about it too much, but yes, it has created a flood of creative ideas about things we can do with the new features. I think a lot of devs are really excited about the possibilities it opens up for the platform, especially in the gaming space.
11. Big studios with big budgets and big dev teams are getting into the business. How do you think that will affect the hit-driven side of the business?
I think if big studios with big budgets start putting out some big, quality titles, everybody wins. Players get quality games, which will raise the bar for all developers. However, with big budgets comes the need to make more money, which I think could raise the expected prices for quality titles a little bit. Right now, I think the concern for a lot of big developers is how to make enough money to warrant investing in a larger team for a longer period of time, if the expectation is that no game sells for more than $5.
12. Apps are cheap but it seems that devs are more responsible for pricing than anyone else. Devs market free and $1 apps and that has affected the way buyers view apps. Essentially, devs have trained buyers to pay as little as possible. True or false?
I think that's partially true. The App Store is like its own little free market. The pricing is determined by what consumers are willing to pay for a product. The market is driven lower by the fact that rankings in the store are based on sales volume, not revenue, so cheaper apps tend to rank higher. This is by no means a rule, but apps are more likely to get into the top 10 if they're priced lower, it seems. So, this drives the price down. Then the consumer sees a great game in the top 10 for $0.99, even though it might have been released at $4.99, and the expectation becomes for games of the same quality to release at $0.99. This is hard for developers entering the space, as we then have to make a decision about whether to price what we think the game is worth, or what we think the game can sell at. However, I suppose that ultimately, whatever price people are willing to pay for a game determines what the game is worth.
13. It's well established that low prices lead to high sales but not necessarily high profits. Okay, what does equate to profit?
Haha, I wish I knew! I'd be rich! Seriously, though, I don't know. Low prices can lead to both high sales and high profits, and it can also lead to low sales and even lower profits. Part of the challenge of selling a game on the App Store — as with selling a product anywhere — really is figuring out that sweet spot where your price is high enough to make money, but low enough that people see the value in purchasing it.
14. Dev cycles will get longer as buyers expect more from apps. What does that mean to you and other companies? Will you look to move your prices up to compensate?
The only way to move prices up is if players see the added value for the price. My fear is that dev cycles will get shorter as devs try to make apps for less money, so that they can sell at a lower price point. I hope that there is a way to convince players that an app is worth more if they see the added value. I think that's the only way we'll see bigger budget titles on the platform.
15. What do you think about the premium section — $19.99 — in the App Store that's being kicked around?
This ties in to your previous question. If this is happening, then that's when I think you'll start to see the big games companies really jumping into iPhone development full-steam. If you look at an Xbox 360 game, they often have budgets in the $10 million to $30 million range. That's a lot of money, and impossible to make back selling a game at $1.99. Even if we want to see games in the $500K to $1 million budget range, I think the only way that will happen is if people are willing to pay $19.99 for a game. The challenge will be to convince the players that it's worth that much more.