App Store Integrity: A Fresh Perspective

Many apps on the store frustrate me. I don’t consider being hammered with ads and constantly dismissing nag screens to be a good user experience. Why do apps do this? You already know the answer. Because it works. If your app is popular and users have to see ads or make purchases to get anywhere, you are going to generate revenue. But at what cost? We are all trying to make some money on the store, so it’s tempting to just go with the flow.

Can You Generate Revenue Without Compromising Your Integrity?

I struggle with this every day. I think it’s mostly a user experience issue for me. I understand how advertising works and I’m not trying to vilify the ads. I don’t think apps shouldn’t have ads. I just don’t like the tactics that have come to be acceptable. I don’t mind in-app purchase nag screens in my apps, but I know to get more conversions, I need to present them more often. I need to nag much more. But what about the user experience? You could argue, and make some good points, that since this is what users expect, you actually are giving them the user experience that they want or deserve.

Am I different than my users in that I don’t like nag screens and ads? The answer is definitely yes, I am different from my users. I think most of my fellow developers are too. We care about our apps. We reward the developers of other good apps with purchases. It’s easy for us to forget how different we actually are from most of our users. But that doesn’t mean we should accept the norm when it comes to ads and in-app purchase practices.

The Crossy Road Way

Is there a way to have a free app that generates revenue and allows you to sleep at night? The developers of Crossy Road took a fresh perspective. I really admire how they were able to take a fun, addictive game and monetize it without ruining the experience. For example, you can play Crossy Road all day and never see an ad, nag screen, or review request. When Crossy Road first hit it big, the guys on ATP were discussing their monetization strategy and how they were probably leaving a lot of money on the table. They weren’t saying this was a bad thing, just pointing it out. Crossy Road may have left some money on the table, but based on their revenue, they’ve done very well. More importantly, they have respect for the way they present in-app purchases and ads. You can optionally watch an ad after you die every so many times. The app also may show you an in-app purchase that is available after you die. Instead of being a pop up ad, it’s just part of the regular screen. It’s a nice way of getting it in front of the user, but it doesn’t force the user to dismiss it to get where they should already have been.

courtesy of iMore

courtesy of iMore

Crossy Road also allows you to try out a character for limited time. The characters are unique and make interesting sounds. If you try one out and you like it, you are going to more inclined to buy it through in-app purchase, or watch videos to have a chance to ‘earn’ the character. I love the idea of allowing all the features of your app to be used for a limited time when first downloaded. Letting the user see what they would be paying for adds credibility.

My five year old son doesn’t care about how far he goes on Crossy Road. That seems to be the point of the game to me, but all he cares about is getting coins so he can get new characters. He jumps in front of a train as soon as he gets 100 coins to quickly cash them in for a new character. He is happy to watch the video ads every chance he gets. But, he never brings the iPad to me, wanting me to fix it after he has been redirected to the app store because of strategically placed cancel or buy buttons. The app keeps it simple and doesn’t try to fool you.

My Takeaways on App Store Integrity

  • Treat your users with respect, even if you don’t think they care.
  • Consider a paid app if you can make it work (then you can just drop all the BS and give the user a great app without restriction).
  • Look for ways to make ads available without killing the design of your app or getting in the users way.
  • Think of creative ways to generate revenue. Don’t just look at what all the other apps are doing to squeeze every cent out of users.
  • App store integrity is important. Don’t compromise your values for a quick buck.
  • You can probably always learn something from an Australian company named Hipster Whale.

Development Cycle Length: How Long is Too Long?

Matt Hall - Crossy Road Development Cycle

Matt Hall – Crossy Road

I was listening to the AppMasters podcast with Steve Young that featured Matt Hall, one of the developers of Crossy Road. There was a little nugget in the podcast that wasn’t really expanded on, but I felt really hits on the pulse of the App Store in it’s current form. Matt stated that the development time for Crossy Road was about eight weeks with three core team members. Why is this significant? How long should a development cycle be for your average iOS developer?

Let’s Compare

On the flip side of the Crossy Road development cycle length is Monument Valley. Monument Valley was in development for 55 weeks and is estimated to cost around $852,000 with eight core team members. Both apps have been a huge success. On January 13th, 2015 the Guardian reported Crossy Road had made over $1 million from ads alone since November 2014 or about $350,000 a month. Monument Valley, according to Tech Crunch, has made over $5.8 million since April 2014, or about $680,000 a month. Both took different approaches regarding development length. The Crossy Road team didn’t want to take the chance on spending a year in development for something that may or may not stick. Monument Valley had a larger team and more money to spend, mitigating their risk. Both teams took on risk, but in different measurable ways.

Minimum Viable Product

Shipping the minimum viable product minimizes your risk by getting your app in the store without investing in too many features or dragging out development. That doesn’t mean you don’t polish your app or ship before it’s ready. It just means you can’t spend your time adding a bunch of features when you don’t even know if your app will have any success. It is increasingly easy for a well done app to be lost in the App Store shuffle. If you don’t nail the marketing AND have a great app, it’s very difficult to sustain any kind of success.

As you are working on your app, you’ll be thinking of all the features that you need to have. In my experience, you can throw out at least half of them for the first release, probably more. Work hard on polishing the core functionality. Think of the problem your app solves and focus on that. If a feature isn’t needed for the app to solve the problem, save it for a future release or drop it altogether. Apple likes simple. Users like simple. If your app solves the initial problem and finds any success, users will lead you down the feature path. Paying attention to features actually needed shortens the development cycle and minimizes the risk that you may be spending all your time on something that isn’t a viable product.

Do You Really Need That Feature?

Overcast - Development CycleMarco Arment has talked extensively about his podcast app Overcast on the ATP podcast. When it was first released, the big knock I heard everywhere was that it didn’t support streaming. A podcast app that doesn’t support streaming? Seemed odd. Not supporting streaming out of the gate had to do with how he was implementing his groundbreaking Smart Speed feature along with limitations of the streaming framework. Marco had revealed earlier that he knew this was a must sought after feature that he planned on implementing. At some point along the way, however, he came to realize that streaming wasn’t actually as in demand as it appeared. Most of his support emails were less about streaming and more about being able to save podcasts you’ve already listened to. So Marco has shifted gears and now has no timetable or commitment to offer streaming. I think it’s a good study in assuming a feature is crucial for survival when it actually isn’t. I remember thinking when I first downloaded Overcast that I wouldn’t end up using it because of the lack of streaming. After a week or so, I realized I didn’t miss the feature and have been a happy Overcast user ever since. Not only did Marco leave this seemingly obvious feature out of version 1.0, he has learned it’s actually not in as much demand as originally thought.


The Success of Quit That!

A few months ago, I created an app that lets you track bad habits you are trying to quit. It is a simple app and I borrowed (heavily) from Stuart Hall‘s 7 Minute Workout app. I had read his awesome An App Store Experiment article and it motivated me.

The app is called Quit That! and it has received a lot of praise and some success. I measure the success not on how much it’s made (not much), but on downloads, reviews and customer support emails. As an independent with a full time job, I’m trying to build my knowledge and portfolio, learning along the way. The feedback I have received from the app is immeasurable.

Quit That! Main Screen

Quit That! has been downloaded about 8,000 times. That’s not a ton compared to some of my other apps. Engagement is good, though, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to get tons of emails telling me how much the app has helped them. There are plenty of bad habit apps on the store, but I wanted one that was dead simple without all the features that can bog down the main purpose.

“Ah!! A free app, a good app, that is without ads, and voluntary donation!! That is to my heart. Beautiful. Thank you.” -Anne

“Just donated. No intrusive ads, early iPhone 6 support. This is a great model for apps and you’ve helped me give up smoking for 23 days. Thanks from the UK.” -Paul

I get emails like this all the time. Also, if you take a look at the reviews, it’s more of the same. People from all over the world love the app.

Quit That Reviews

Now the hard part. Quit That! doesn’t make any money. I’ve made less than $100 since it was released back in August 2014. I wasn’t trying to make money on the app. It was more of an exercise to see what I could do with a week and some motivation from Stuart Hall (Thanks Stuart!). The experiment part of it for me was making it donation ware. Not a good model to make money, huh? Here’s the donation page I used.

Quit That Donate Screen

I wanted to make it personal. (BTW, I know it doesn’t look the best on iPhone 6 Plus, I only have so much time!) I think it works pretty well, but you’re not going to hear a bunch of stories of developers living off their donation ware.

Why is Quit That! successful?

  • I learned a few new tricks while developing it (nice clean flat ui, iCloud, etc)
  • I learned more about ASO and marketing the app with no budget
  • I get great feedback which motivates me to improve Quit That! and my other apps
  • I have genuinely helped many people fight their addictions (have I mentioned this is cool)
  • I added to my arsenal of app templates if I want to create something similiar (I already have and will post about that experiment soon)
  • I did make $100 so it paid for 1/5 of my new iPad

Success in the App Store is what you get out of it. Quit That! is a step in the right direction. I do plan on adding a few features and making a Pro version, so maybe I can turn Quit That! into a nice app that pays for dinner every day.