Last Friday was a milestone in my app development career. Along with two friends, Troy and Jeremy, I released my first iOS game, Viva Stampede, one of the best match three games of 2013 (wink, wink).
Viva Stampede is noteworthy for several reasons.
Jeremy created gorgeous graphics and artwork for the game. We went with a kid-friendly zoo theme, complete with a coyote, hippo, rattlesnake, otter, panda, toucan, and, naturally, a deranged platypus. Because I had very little to do with that aspect of the project, I can compliment him without that compliment being a humble brag.
Viva is a match three puzzle game—a la Bejeweled and Zookeeper. It’s easy to learn how to play it, but mastering the game is another story. A quirky (albeit, brief) storyline and memorable Powerups, such as the Magic Net and Platypus Trap, all work together to make Viva worth playing more than once. (Now that was definitely a humble brag!)
We hired a fourth friend, Michael Grubb, to create an original soundtrack and sound effects for the game. I don’t know whether to call it world-jungle music, or a drum-line-jazz-flute medley, or urban-tribal-zoo tunes on crack, but Mr. Grubb knows how to create some ear worms. I find myself whistling melodies.
Beginning to end, the game cost us about $600 out of pocket. Granted, Troy took care of the lion’s share of the programming, and Jeremy did all the graphics.
Our approach to bringing this game from idea to reality was different than my past development projects, due in large part to a tool I discovered last December—AppStoreRankings.net.
I’m going to share the quick-and-dirty of our process. Maybe something similar will help other indie app developers put our more games for less money.
1. Identify a popular gameplay style and “reskin” it. Reskinning is all the rage these days, and you don’t have to look far on the App Store to find games that are for your eyes what a deep-fried Twinkie is for your heart.
Don’t create spammy apps that aren’t fun to play. Do find a simple gameplay style that would work well with a fresh theme. Some top match three games have done quite well, so we knew that simple puzzle games have staying power.
I was able to trade source codes with a friend, and get a solid code foundation for free.
2. Research popular themes. The App Store is a brilliant marketing tool because it allows you to do beta testing, crowdsourcing, and market research all in one place. For free. Anytime you like. Brilliant.
Troy, Jeremy, and I all did research on our own, and then we pooled our best ideas. Zoo and animal themes are very popular right now:
Popular gameplay + popular theme = recipe for success.
3. Do keyword research with AppStoreRankings.net. The next stage for us was identifying strong keywords. Most developers make one of two mistakes: they create a game that they like without paying attention to what’s already popular (or unpopular); or they model what’s popular but don’t put a fresh spin on the theme, graphics, and artwork.
That’s why you see spammy titles like “Angry Space Ninja Birds Temple Subway Dragon.” These derivative games that don’t look as good, work as well, or make as much money.
We wanted to avoid those two mistakes, so after defining a general direction, we decide to let keyword research determine the particulars.
Gettin’ Nitty Gritty Wid It
If you’re going to create a game with a zoo theme, you have hundreds of animals from which to choose. As you can imagine, lots of games already feature lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!
But the funky platypus, common coyote, and deadly rattlesnake were all underutilized and just as fun!
To say that your keyword choices affect your app’s success would be a gross understatement.
With over 800,000 active apps available for download, there’s a lot of clutter and a lot of competition. Now that the App Store only shows one app per “screen” when you’re searching for apps on your phone, those precious spots in the top 10 for each keyword (and phrase) can mean the difference between profitability and oblivion.
Here’s what we used AppStoreRankings.net to do:
- Choose the keywords in the title, “viva” and “stampede.”
- Choose keywords for the “subtitle”: “match,” “three,” “puzzle,” and “game.”
- Fine-tune the theme, including animals and storyline.
- Select optimal keywords to use in the 100-character META keywords section.
- Pick extra keywords to use in the app’s description.
Choosing the Right Keywords
Choosing the right keywords is an art. You’re often trying to predict the phrases that people will use, so you need to understand the relationships between keywords, and maximize the number of potential combinations.
For example, most people searching for a game like Viva Stampede aren’t just going to search for “match.” They’ll search for “match puzzle,” or “match game,” or “match three game.”
We also had to consider the various ways that people might type out “match” and “three”: “match three,” “match 3,” “match-three,” “match-3,” “matchthree,” “match3,” and so on.
Other people aren’t familiar with the match terminology at all, and think more in terms of slide games, line games, or tile games. We used the Keyword Spy feature to poach keywords from some of the best match three games.
AppStoreRankings.net also helped us figure out which keywords were the most valuable. The best keywords have the right ratio of number of searches in relation to the number of apps targeting that keyword (i.e., the competition).
We knew that Viva would never be able to rank in the top 10 for “game,” but after the game was live for only a few days, it did rank #1 for the phrase “match three game.” Not bad!
Extra Keywords in the Description
Even though keywords in the app’s description don’t seem to factor heavily into Apple’s current ranking algorithm, they can attract the attention of Google’s ranking and indexing bots.
In other words, it can’t hurt to throw as many good keywords into the description as possible because your app’s iTunes page is a web page. iTunes pages tend to rank well in general for their keywords.
Don’t take my word for it. Do a Google search for “viva stampede,” and you’ll see that the Viva Stampede iTunes page ranks #1.
The Rest of the Story
So once we had a solid foundation of popular gameplay, a fresh spin on a popular theme, and strong keyword choices to boost discoverability, we actually started building it.
I won’t go into all the other decisions that went into making Viva Stampede a great-looking, addictive game, but we’re pleased with version 1.0.
We think it’s already one of the best match three games, but we’re biased.
Download Viva Stampede for free by clicking here—http://georiot.co/yAa—and let us know what you think.
As a freelance iPhone developer, I can tell you that mobile apps are funny business. I mean that literally and figuratively. Since the middle of June, I have been working on two new apps, and this post will introduce the one that went live yesterday, Whamsy Sound Bombs.
My family has a long history of pulling pranks. My dad masterminded most of them. He is so kind, mild-mannered, and unassuming that people outside the family would never guess, yet every April Fool’s Day, my dad would concoct some scheme or, in an offhand manner, share some carefully-crafted yarn for the sole purpose of deceiving one of his children.
I won’t say that we were unsuspecting. In fact we had grown accustomed to it, and were on our guard. My dad’s gift was a subtlety that never triggered suspicion.
“Hey Austin, Lindsay called,” he said to me on the morning of April Fool’s my senior year of high school.
Lindsay was my girlfriend at the time. My dad delivered this piece of news at about 7am, so I picked up the phone and gave her a call. She was getting ready for school. She hadn’t called me.
The payoff for my dad wasn’t the phone call but my having to explain why I had called.
Now that I’m a grown man you’d think that I could see these pranks coming from a mile away. I don’t. In 2010, my dad employed a secret weapon, my older sister. She has been the victim her fair share, but must have graduated to Accomplice.
She and her husband Jim had welcome their third child into the world that February. On April 1, she left me a voicemail saying that they were pregnant again.
I knew what a surprise that must be, and I was certain they weren’t planning or ready for a fourth kiddo. I left a message saying that God must have a plan for this child and that I would be praying for them.
She called me back hysterical with laughter. They were not pregnant.
The next year, my parents were going on a cruise in the Mediterranean, which my dad had won as a bonus from one of the insurance companies he represents. On April 1, my mom sent out an email explaining that a bunch of people had dropped out of the cruise because of unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa. The insurance company sponsoring the trip was desperate to fill their spots and were offering a special rate to anyone who was interested: $1000 per couple, airfare, food, and daily spending allowances included.
What a steal! I called my mom, and my mind was already moving money around in our various bank accounts.
Freelancer iPhone developer loves funny business.
Enter Whamsy Sound Bombs, the apple of my freelance iPhone developer eye. You can it year round to pester family, friends, and soon-to-be enemies. First, you pick a sound from a wide selection of auditory annoyances. Next, you set the time and date on the app’s alarm and tap “Activate.”
Voila! You have just created a sound bomb. You then turn up your phone’s volume all the way or, if you’re feeling especially roguish, you can plug it in to the nearest sound system. You know the time is right if you intended victim is sleeping, or engaging in some activity where peace and quiet are desirable.
Thanks to Whamsy, a rude awakening to Police Siren, Smoke Alarm, Dog Whistle, Bomb, Grenade, Vomit, or Scream is the only thing standing between you and a ruined relationship.
The app also serves as a sound board. You can loop and blend sounds, sort alphabetically or by choosing favorites, and even record new sounds.
I may be the proud parent of Whamsy, but I still assert that my illustrator is a design ninja. You don’t have to be a freelance iPhone developer to appreciate the custom icons that he created for all 63 sounds, not to mention all the artwork for the app’s screens, buttons, and toolbars.
You can check out Whamsy for yourself by click this link: http://glob.ly/2nw.Read More
oDesk iPhone developers – 14 steps for Hiring the Best
In this post, I’m going to give away all my secrets for finding and hiring great oDesk iPhone developers. At this point, I’ve spent quite a bit of time combing sites like oDesk and Freelancer for undiscovered talent.
By “undiscovered,” I mean, cheap.
When I was first getting started and moving uncertainly through the morass of thousands upon thousands of freelancers around the world, I’d put up a job posting, set certain criteria, and see who showed up.
Screening applicants was both tedious and time-consuming, so I started hunting for the kind of creative professionals I wanted rather than hoping they would come to me. Though I still on occasion use public job postings, and have connected with some great contractors with them, my preferred method is what follows.
- Go to oDesk.com. (Use Freelancer.com as a backup.)
- On the “Find Contractors” page and click on “Advanced” next to the “Search Contractors” button.
- Set your search criteria:
· Category: Software Development (Sub-Category > Mobile Development)
· Location: Any Location (unless you already have a preference)
· Feedback Score: 4.5 – 5.0 Stars
· Hourly Rate: Depends on your budget, but I don’t recommend setting the minimum for less than $10/hour.
· Minimum Hours Billed: 100
· Tests: Top 10% > I check those related to speaking and writing, and will sometimes add “iPhone Programming OS 4.0.”
· Contractor Type: Both Individuals and Agencies have their strengths and weaknesses. I usually search for both.
· Last Activity: 0-15 days
· English Level: 5 Stars (Unfortunately, oDesk iPhone developers assess themselves, so the stars don’t tell you much.)
· oDesk Readiness: I check this box, but don’t think it matters much.
- Click on “Search Contractors,” and then, to further narrow the field, click “more…” above the search field. Type “iPhone” in the title field and refresh the search. I’ve found that typing in specific Skills isn’t all that helpful because oDesk uses several synonyms, such as “ios-development,” “iphone-development,” and “iphone-app-development.” You can potentially miss out on strong candidates if you use only one of the synonyms because most contractors don’t include all of them.
- Begin evaluating the portfolios of specific developers. Never take fishing advice from a fisherman with an empty creel.
- Download some of the developers’ apps and play with them.
- Assess the developer’s skills based on past projects, tests, reviews, and experiences.
- Pick 3-5 of the best candidates.
- Create a simple job posting for your project, but don’t divulge too many details. Start out with a flat rate for the project.
- Send an invitation to interview to each candidate with enough details about the job to pique their interest.
- Interview on Skype. If the candidate isn’t interested in talking on Skype, he’s out. Just like that. You’re the boss. Ask straightforward questions about experience, past projects, time differences, scheduling, and pricing. But don’t be afraid to show some personality. You will, after all, spend a lot of time collaborating with this person.
- Ask for and check references. Talk to one or two past clients.
- Consider asking each oDesk iPhone developer to sign an NDA. This is overkill, considering that most freelancers don’t have the wherewithal to steal and implement your ideal, and it would be difficult to enforce in other countries anyway. But an NDA does offer a degree of protection for your intellectual property, and it brings credibility to your project.
- Conduct a second interview on Skype. Disclose the full details of your app project, and provide links to similar apps. Even better, storyboard your app in advance, and send the developer drawings of what you have in mind so that the two of you can discuss each feature in depth. Trust your gut. And don’t sit through sales pitches.
Now, hire somebody!
Ask either for a simple “Hello World!” app or a working prototype of your app in the next 48 hours.
This will test your new developer’s ability to code quickly and meet deadlines. Next, establish a clear timeline with milestones and deliverables. You might even want to offer bonuses if the developer hits milestones.
Now you’re off to the races. If the project takes a tumble, fire your developer and find a new one. The great thing about oDesk iPhone developers is that there are plenty of them.
But let’s be optimistic: you’re well on your way to app infamy. You’re next step will be implementing a smart business model and killer monetization strategies. Chad Mureta can help you get started. Check out this video.
In my next post, I’ll recommend several of the best iPhone development books.Read More
As I mentioned in “Hire iPhone Developer,” Part I, you want someone who has experience with iOS development and the iPhone SDK, along with Objective C, Cocoa, and C programming (or simply “C”).
One thing that is important to remember is that you’re not paying for a product. You’re paying for a positive experience. Clean code is only the beginning. The difference between an experienced developer and one learning on the fly (and on your dime!) is the difference between six weeks of momentum, excitement, and profit and three months of frustrations, excuses, and delays.
Here are 7 qualities that you should look for in a developer:
· Fluency in your native language
Communication is difficult enough without important tasks, changes, and nuances getting lost in translation. Exhaustive explanations sap one’s enthusiasm, and over time, one’s budget. Your developer is still on the clock when he is misunderstanding your directions and writing the wrong code. oDesk iPhone developers tend to embellish on their “fluency” so be sure to have a Skype chat with each prospect before hiring anyone.
· Similar working hours
It’s best if you and your developer have similar working hours—three or four overlapping at minimum. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem or make a decision is to hop on Skype and talk for a few minutes. Going back and forth in email, and in different time zones, can add entire days to your development schedule.
Does your developer take pride in his work? Of course, very few people will answer no to this question, but you can still get a fairly good read by asking for references and contacting a few of his past clients. You should also look closely at his portfolio and download some of his previous apps. Sloppy work and integrity rarely go together. If he’d make a sub-par app for someone else, he’d make one for you.
· Attention to Detail
Did the developer answer to all your questions? Did he address each aspect of the project, line by line? Look for someone who is thorough and meticulous from the get-go. Brown cows have a good shot at staying brown.
Your app will benefit from a second set of eyes and a second brain to scrutinize each feature and think strategically about the user interface, the app’s core functionality, and even marketing. Your developer should bring his own ideas to the table and help you simplify and improve your concept.
You don’t want a developer who is slow to respond to emails, and neither does a developer want a client who is slow to give feedback and make decisions. Set expectations at the beginning of the project by asking for a response to all communications within 24 hours. Address any lapses in communication quickly. The problem with excuses is that they start with “ex-.” You’re likely to get an ex-developer if he makes many. If the developer never planned on making your project a priority, then he shouldn’t have accepted it.
· Willingness to teach and offer guidance
Everybody has to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your developer should take the time to explain everything from terminology to best practices. Mine recommended that we use a code repository called Assembla. He encouraged me to simplify my idea and save extra features for updates. He even gave me pushback on weak ideas and kept me focused on the most important tasks. You want someone who will be patient with your inexperience, yet will take directions when the time comes.
The people who are best at sales are often the worst at execution, so don’t hire based on personality. If you’re looking to make a new friend, you’ll probably hire the wrong person, but if you focus on finding the best iPhone developers, then you may just make a new friend by the time your app hits the App Store.
In my last Hire iPhone Developer post, I’ll share the specific steps that I use on oDesk to separate the wheat from the chaff.Read More
So you’ve come to the next line your to-do list: hire iPhone developer. If you’re new to iOS app development, then this definitive task comes with a retinue of questions (and implications): Where do I find one? How do if he or she is any good? How do I keep from getting ripped off?
When the App Store first opened on July 10, 2008, high demand and a scarcity did their usual work: they drove up prices. Xcode monkeys could charge whatever they wanted, and getting an app developed was very expensive.
The market has since matured to the point that affordable developers are as easy to find as green in the springtime—if you know where to look. When both flowers and weeds poke their first pale green spikes through the dirt, how do you tell them apart? The relative abundance of developers has brought similar challenges. How do you distinguish the posers and rookies from the really experienced and truly talented? You want a seasoned professional, not a fly-by-night opportunist.
While the App Store is minting millionaires, inexperienced developers have a strong financial incentive to pass themselves off as experts. I recently read the oDesk profile of a developer who claimed to have 5+ years of experience developing iOS apps. The App Store has been around just shy of four years. Yikes.
You need to answer two questions: 1) Where do you find an iPhone developer? 2) How do you identify a pro, especially when you yourself are green or your knowledge is limited? This rest of this post will answer the first question, and I’ll address the second question in the next one.
Where do you find an iPhone developer?
Don’t let your inexperience worry you. I began navigating these same waters in January 2012 and will happily share how I avoided Scylla and Charybdis and found a rockstar developer. Since April 6, my first app Mustache Bash has been downloaded over 215,000 times. Not bad for a total noob!
You can look for developers on Craigslist, LinkedIn, and in developer forums. You can also try Google searches or ask friends and family if they know any developers. I was able to find a developer in Knoxville where I live, but he had a full-time job. I knew a nights-and-weekends arrangement would delay the release of my first app, and though his hourly rate seemed reasonable, it was 250% higher than that of developers with similar experience on oDesk. I ended up hiring someone on oDesk.
Elance.com, Freelancer.com, guru.com, and vWorker.com provide similar services. All five serve as online communities or marketplaces where you can find and hire freelancers around the world.
For people convinced that outsourcing is a consummate evil sabotaging the U.S. economy, you can find plenty of people in the U.S. working on oDesk.
I am most familiar with oDesk, so that’s where I’ll start. Here are some benefits of using the service:
1. Convenience – A bunch of developers all frequenting the same place online simplifies the process of locating and evaluating developers.
2. Competitive Pricing – Multiple people will bid on your project, and you can use their hourly or flat rates and level of experience to determine the best value.
3. Transparency – oDesk has a feature called the “Work Diary” that takes screenshots as contractors work. This doesn’t matter much if you’re paying a flat rate for a project, but if you’re paying hourly, then you can check in on occasion to make sure that the contractor is actually logging time on your project and not on Facebook.
4. Easy transactions – oDesk automates payment. You put in your credit card information, and the system takes care of the rest, including payment verifications sent automatically to your email.
5. Tests – oDesk provides a variety of tests that evaluate the contractor’s proficiency with everything from English spelling and grammar to email etiquette and iPhone programming. Test scores provide an objective, if limited, means of assessing a contractor’s skill levels.
6. Ratings & Reviews – Past clients leave ratings and reviews for contractors. You want to hire someone with at least a 4-star average and recent track record of satisfied customers. The last 5% of the job is the most important and is often all that we remember about a project. Hire someone who finishes well.
Now that you know why oDesk is a good option, I also recommend that you set up a profile on Freelancer. Some of the same people maintain a presence on both sites, so don’t be surprised if you see the same names twice. You will be able to find more talented developers this way.
Do not divulge all the details about your project. Sneaky app developers KNOW that newcomers will gush about their projects on outsourcing sites and will look for ideas in other people’s postings.
You now know several good places to search for an iPhone developer. In my next post, I’ll discuss how to differentiate the pros from the amateurs so that you can cross “hire iphone developer” off your list and move on to the next step.
I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but I can’t plug Chad Mureta (affiliate link) enough. I’m indebted to his knowledge and experience, and thanks to his training, I was able to find a great developer and start making money with apps.