Going Indie with App Development – Am I Nuts?

Over the past year I’ve done quite a bit of app development for mobile devices from iPad to Android to Windows Phone 7. I’ve developed apps using native code, HTML and Flash (AIR for mobile). Quite honestly, even amidst the ever changing platforms, new dev tools, fragmentation and multiple programming languages, I’ve really enjoyed it. Oh, and did I mention that all of these app projects were done for clients?

Let’s face it, client work pays the bills. I’m fortunate enough to be involved with agencies that are great to work with. At the same time, the projects have been pretty high profile (even though in a lot of cases, I can’t publicly state that I worked on them). All in all, there is little to complain about. At the end of the day, I’m thankful for what I get to do.

Yet I long to build something that’s my own. My IP. To be able to direct how something takes shape and evolves. This is a common motivation for all indie developers. There is more than enough client work out there to keep us devs busy for years to come, and yet, many choose to step out on their own, amidst all of the uncertainty and risk involved.

I’ve done some homework and uncovered some things that will shape how I approach development on my own apps. After all, with client work, you get in and get out after you’ve done your part, but as an indie, design and dev is only one part of the process and you have to wear a lot more hats. And I’m not walking away from client work completely. I still need to pay the bills. But I will be spending time working on ideas and building things that I will own, and that’s exciting.

I recently read the book “Appillionaires” by Chris Stevens. It profiles several indie app dev teams that made it big through building out their own ideas (in this case, specifically in the Apple app store). As I read through it, I was fascinated by the stories of the often 2 person teams consisting of relatives working out of their homes, beating the odds and creating something that really caught on. At the same time, I was completely cognizant of the fact that for every success story in that book, there are thousands of stories of devs that couldn’t even recoup the $99 they paid to join the app developer program.

Over the past week, it’s become more and more clear that the odds are stacked against indie devs trying to replicate the success of Angry Birds or Doodle Jump. This is just a sampling of what you have to contend with:

  • Competition from industry giants like EA and GameLoft with multi-million dollar budgets and huge teams building games that no indie shop can match in terms of polish.
  • An app store environment that is set up in a way that the rich get richer and the poor get buried, never to see daylight. App discoverability downright sucks and there isn’t any motivation for Apple or Google to improve it.
  • Consumers that expect incredibly high quality apps at a price point matches that of a pack of gum.
  • Even though Apple’s big claim is that developers have made billions of dollars on the app store, the top apps make a disproportionately large percentage of that. Estimates for median app revenue from the app store ranges from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, over the lifetime of the app (see links below). In most cases, not enough to justify the time invested.
  • Curated app store with approval process that can sometimes be mind numbing.
  • Trying to cover multiple platforms by either rewriting the same app with different codebases, or using a single codebase for deployment with feature limitations.

Fortunately, more and more developers are being more transparent with their experiences and are even taking the time to share their research which is priceless for those of us starting down that road.  Here are some great resources I’ve found:

iOS Game Revenue Survey

iPhone vs Android app sales: numbers from an indie perspective

Android still trails iOS as a Money Maker for Devs

Going it alone as an Indie Developer

Appillionaires: Secrets from Developers who Struck it Rich on the App Store

App Marketing: An Indie Developer’s Journey

Making a Living From Mobile

The App Store is Still a Viable Business Model

Creating a Top Grossing Game without Mass Downloads

An Indie Developer Experience on the Apple App Store

5 Keys to Android and iPhone App Development that often get Ignored

So if you’ve read all of these articles and the you are still up to facing the enormous uphill battle that awaits, then you’re ready to enter the world of indie app development as I am. I’m not saying I’m going to quit my day job, but I will be taking time to move forward with my app ideas. And I’m not talking about spending a few hours building a crappy app just to get it published, but something I put some time into.

And I’ll be sharing my experiences along the way. For better or worse…

3 Responses to “Going Indie with App Development – Am I Nuts?”

  1. Peter Carabeo-Nieva November 7, 2011 at 9:24 am # Reply

    Phil, I’m currently embarking on the exact same journey and I’ve been enjoying your recent blog posts. I’ve been focusing mainly on casual game development in pure AS3 using Flash Builder and Flash Pro. I’m also reading Appillionaires, about half way through and should be done with it by the end of the week. Last month I attended Adobe MAX where I had the chance to attend several game development sessions and got to interact with several indie game devs. All of the sessions have been posted online and they’re a wonderful free resource for technical information as well as inspiration: http://tv.adobe.com/channel/max/max-2011/ I’d enjoy communicating further with you on the topic of the indie app developer journey, feel free to email me and/or add me on facebook, my profile name on there is “petercn” which is also my twitter username.

  2. Phil Chung November 7, 2011 at 10:37 am # Reply

    Cool, sure let’s try to keep in touch via Twitter. I use Facebook mostly for personal, not work related, content. I’m going to blog as much as time allows, but ya, I’m always looking to hear from others and their experiences.

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