David Frampton, creator of DuckDuckDuck and Chopper, says that all he wants is for the best apps to float to the top of the best-sellers list, customers to find the best apps for what they want and for the developers of the best apps to make the most money. That's not the case but it could be worse, Frampton adds. AppCraver talked to Frampton via email about life as a developer in the App Store.
1. Tell me about Majic Jungle. Who are you and what makes you unique?
DF: Currently Majic Jungle Software is just me. I'm a 27-year-old, based in Wellington, New Zealand. I am hoping to get some people on to help me out at some point in the future, but am wary of expanding too fast, so for now I'm a one-man band.
DF: Graphics is an area that I work hard on in my games, probably because this is my background, and what I enjoy the most. I also try to make my games/apps really easy to pick up and play. I don't believe in lengthy instructions that no one ever reads. If my grandma can't figure it out, I'm probably doing something wrong.
3. If you could be something other than a developer, what would it be?
DF: An artist again. One day I'll start painting again, and I'm really looking forward to it. But I won't be done with software development for a while yet.
4. Buyers have very high expectations, perhaps overly so, for apps that cost a mere $4.99. Are they unreasonable or do you think it’s a model that devs inadvertently created by releasing so many inexpensive apps just to get attention?
DF: I blame the App Store design for creating a market that has driven prices down so quickly. In some ways it's very similar to the music model where charts and word of mouth have the biggest effect on sales. Unlike the music industry though, there aren't a handful of big publishers controlling the price. There are instead thousands of developers fighting to the death to get noticed.
Buyers are doing what they'd do in any market, comparing one app with another of a similar quality. They're getting angry at $4.99 games because they can get good ones at $0.99. The fact that they have to pay ten times that amount for a PS3 game, or have already paid a hundred times that for the iPhone itself just doesn't enter into the equation.
5. Many devs I’ve spoken to would like Apple to make it possible for them to offer some kind of 'try before you buy' option. What’s your view?
DF: As far as I'm concerned there already is a 'try before you buy' option - Lite versions. Any official tie between a light and full version on the app store would be nice, but I can't see it making any real difference to the current low-price situation. I fully agree that it is hard to find good apps out there, and hard for developers to get their good apps noticed, but this is a problem that needs solutions other than simply a better demo system.
6. What’s the development cycle for one of your apps? Do you envision dev cycles to lengthen, driven by the increasing need to create shinier apps?
DF: Anything from a few weeks to a few months. I am not keen on starting anything I think will take longer than a few months for the iPhone, as the risk is too high in such an environment. With so many apps coming out so fast and cheap, and with unknown changes to the App Store in the future, it's very much make it as quick as you can and hope for the best.
Also, the average gaming session on an iPhone must be a lot shorter than on living room consoles. Being a portable device, it lends itself to shorter games with less depth. So I can't really see apps getting much more depth, or needing more time spent on them in the near future. That is, until the App Store or the iPhone changes.
7. How does your work affect the price point for your paid apps? In other words, what do you contribute to an app that you believe gives it value?
DF: My work doesn't influence the price at all, the market determines it. This isn't the kind of industry where you make a widget for a dollar and charge two, or even spend six months of work and charge X to sell Y copies and pay for your time. I just do the best I can and then play with price until it feels right. With Chopper it turned out I made an awesome hourly rate. With DuckDuckDuck I would have got a better hourly rate working at Starbucks. You just never know.
8. Do reviewers like me bother you? How about people in the App Store?
Sometimes reviews annoy me, but only really if they flat out get something wrong. 'There's no sound' is a common one. Turn off the silent switch dummy! I'm a little tired of people complaining about prices too.
My impression is that App Store reviewers are generally on a par with YouTube commenters. They're mostly very young and not at all representative of the average purchaser. It's a shame that these reviews have so much weight, especially the first handful of reviews, as three of them will stay on the front page forever. I'm sure many an app has been destroyed by a couple of unfair one-star reviews early on.
9. As you note on your blog, once you drop the app’s price, there’s no going back. But if an app isn’t moving, what else can you do? Is a Lite version the only a viable option?
iShoot proved once and for all that Lite versions can help sales. Since then, Lite versions have been popping up all over the place, as developers try to emulate its success. iShoot was a good game that just hadn't been noticed. That's the perfect candidate for a Lite version, whereas if an app is not very good, and particularly if it looks better in the screenshots than it actually is, a Lite version could easily harm sales.
10. App sales are tied to position in the App Store. If you don’t get on the best-seller lists or don’t get mentioned as a hot or featured app, doesn’t that put you between a rock and a hard place?
DF: Web-based press has proven to help sales only a very small amount. Web-based advertising then, probably doesn't help at all. In fact I have never paid for any advertising as I think it's a complete waste of money.
There are other methods of marketing available that can help, but in the end they all equate to not much compared to being featured by Apple or being in the top lists. I would love to see less arbitrary ways of getting noticed on the store, open policies that developers can aim for. I'd really like to see way more detailed categories too, and perhaps top 100s in each price tier instead of one for all prices.
11. What features do you hope Apple will implement in future versions of the iPhone/SDK?
DF: I'm really looking forward to getting live video feeds to play with, though I'm not quite sure what I'd do with them. And of course better, faster hardware.
12. What do you think we’ll see on iPhones that will make us shake our heads and say, 'Gee, would you look at that!'
DF: I think utilizing all the input possibilities as well as networked/online features with really pretty and unique graphics is something that we've only got hints at so far. Ocarina did it well, but it's just a start.
13. The big game studios promote their developers as rock stars. If you were a rock star, what instrument would you play?
DF: I'd be the composer. I made the Chopper theme song myself and it's passable, I think. I'd be much happier sitting in the back creating stuff than waving my arms about on stage! In saying that, I was in a band once, and played lead guitar and sang. It was a bit of a failure.