Bytesize Adventures
Crafting bite-sized digital worlds

The harsh reality of indie iPhone game development

iPhone with pad and pencilIt’s been about 5 months since I set out developing games for the iPhone. I started with a decent amount of programming experience but no real knowledge of Ojective-C, Xcode, or indeed games development. Now, with my first game available on the iPhone app store, my first free update complete, and a website and blog under my belt, I thought I would take some time to review the experience.

I started this journey because I have a passion for video games and video game development. The iPhone platform presented me with an opportunity to develop a game for very little cost and publish it to a potential user base of millions. I won’t lie to you, the possibility to earn some money was a big draw and certainly acted as motivation in some small form.

I spent the first three months learning to program with Objective-C in Xcode. Coming from a Java and web scripting background, I expected to coast through but alas I found some of the concepts a bit difficult to get my head around. In the end it was sheer bloody minded determination and hours of late nights that saw things finally click into place for me. The first three months also made me realise that my original idea and code needed to be scrapped and I had to start again with a blank canvas (but this time with 3 months of experience to my name).

I think its relevant to share with you some of what was going on in my personal life. Whilst going through this learning process and developing my game, I had a full time job which made it difficult to spend as much time as I would have liked on my game. Mid way through my game development “journey” I was made redundant from my job. This gave me a new commodity, time, but with it a new worry, money! I was fortunate in that I was only out of work for a month before finding a new job. That month proved invaluable in allowing me to complete Star Fusion and submit it to the iPhone App store. Funny how things work out like that!

The final version of Star Fusion had changed significantly from my original concept. It was originally going to be loosely based on Icarus from greek mythology with winged creatures flying towards the Sun. Frustration at my basic animation and graphics skills forced me to abandon this and use a simpler theme. Utilising the cocos2d framework, development on Star Fusion was pretty fast and I completed the game in under a month. There were certainly difficulties but nothing that couldn’t be overcome by some late nights and lots of coffee!

After submitting Star Fusion and receiving some positive feedback I honestly believed that I would begin seeing a handful of downloads a day (at worst, I thought, 2 a day). How wrong I was. Initial sales of around 2/3 per day died quickly and within a few weeks I was constantly seeing 0 downloads/day. Its early days for my first update but so far i’ve seen only 1 new sale but a large number of existing users updating for free. Pretty gloomy from a financial perspective and i’m lucky that I have a full time job so I don’t rely on this.

So what’s the message? The message is one echoed by many indie iPhone game developers… The iPhone is a great platform to develop games for and you should definitely give it a go but do it for the right reasons. There is potential to make money if you manage to produce something that people click with, just don’t go in expecting it.

For me, it’s good enough that I can see my game on the app store. I get a lot of enjoyment from knowing that people, however few, have downloaded and played a game I designed and developed. Its been a great adventure so far and not one that I am going to give up on. I’m about to start work on my next game and look forward to seeing it in peoples hands.