A New App To Climb

Mon, Apr. 13 2015

I’m pretty sure I just finished writing the script for our new app and I’m only a week behind schedule. I can’t tell you the name of the app yet but I can tell you we’re planning to release it in May. The fact that I’ve finished the script fills me with a great sense of accomplishment and a powerful urge to sleep. Just a couple of weeks ago I can remember staring up at the daunting mountain of to-do tasks ahead of us, and thinking, “the climb starts now.” Here is that steep task list:

  • Finish character script
  • Illustrate and animate all characters
  • Finalize content levels
  • Finish app layouts and design
  • Source and purchase all music
  • Source and purchase all sfx
  • Design app icon - all sizes
  • App Store screenshots - all sizes
  • App video? - all sizes
  • Make social media promo cards
  • Write Parent/Teacher/Help content
  • Record scratch audio for content
  • Recording party for character audio
  • Contact friends, bloggers, teachers, parents
  • Oh yeah, programming
  • Internal Alpha testing
  • Kid testing
  • Feedback
  • Revise content and record final audio
  • Make the game better
  • Write app description
  • More testing
  • More feedback
  • More making better
  • Update website
  • Social media updates and email list mailing
  • Go

Today, we have a rough, playable game that we’re testing and refining as I type. We pushed the build late last week and immediately opened up a punch list in Google Docs to detail everything that is wrong, broken or missing from the current game. Needless to say, it is a long list. The good news is, I can already see that the core mechanic works and I am eagerly awaiting the next test build. The builds will be coming fast and furious from this point forward in a sprint to reach our final app. Stay tuned - I hope to have more to share with you later this week.

Apps, and the Meaning of Life

Fri, Mar. 13 2015

I’ve been thinking deep thoughts...if an app sits on your device unused, is it still alive?

What if it lives in the store but nobody downloads the app...ever.

Do apps ever really die?

Sure, there are lots of developers who give up and walk away.

But how many bother to remove the app from the store?

The abandoned apps that are left behind still matter in the app ecosystem, right?

The apps might be orphaned but their keywords still mix with the the secret sauce that drives search, don’t they?

Well...sort of.

A January 2015 Techcrunch report states that an app has to appear in one of the many Top 300 lists for two out of three consecutive days, in order to be considered a living app. Otherwise, the app is a zombie. Zombie apps can only be found by a specific name search or by searching for a specific app type. Organic search does not “see” zombies, so they become invisible to drive-by customers. It has been estimated that as many as 83% of App Store apps are zombies and the number rises to 85% for the Education category. That’s over a million zombie apps. Metaphysically speaking, it’s pretty much the Walking Dead out there, folks.

The topic of app life got me thinking about our own apps, specifically our older apps. When is it time to pull the plug?

Toca Boca did it this past year to their first baby, Helicopter Taxi. They clearly state the decision was primarily made to clean up the product line and strengthen the mission - Helicopter Taxi didn’t fit in the Toca family anymore so it became expendable.

We released our first app, Shake-a-Phrase, in May 2011 - 11 updates later, and it’s still shaking. Shake-a-Phrase remains a good little quirky app to generate random silly sentences and writing prompts - It’s a simple idea and it works as advertised. We get the occasional educational whale volume purchase. And we get the occasional educational whale volume return. Revenue isn’t what it used to be and educational purchases are in decline - but Shake isn’t joining the growing zombie population on the other side of the wall just yet. In fact, AppFigures reports that Shake-a-Phrase is alive and well - it is presently ranked #139 in Kids 9-11 for iPad and #61 for iPhone and it’s been hanging around the charts, in roughly the same spot, for the last year.

We had a decent educational purchase yesterday, but let’s not kid ourselves, Shake-a-Phrase can’t live forever. To be perfectly frank, it’s a little weird - it doesn’t really fit in our app family of educational games. Shake-a-Phrase is more of a classroom utility app than a game. We recently discussed making a new and better version of Shake-a-Phrase, but that means not making something else.

Here I am, lying in bed at night, contemplating a metaphysical dilemma. I don’t know when we’ll pull the plug on our first app, but I can tell you I won’t leave it to the zombies.

Our first app deserves better.

Day In The Life Of A Kids App Developer

Tue, Mar. 3 2015

6:30am - Wake, get myself and the kids ready

7:45am - Leave for the office

7:50am - Realize I want my 9yr old son to look at paper comps for new game #1, turn around...

7:55am - Return home, catch sister-in-law and 7yr old nephew on the way out the door (they live next door) show them comps, proceed inside and show comps to son, and 4yo daughter, who insists on registering her opinion

8:15am - Back on the road, dictate notes for the day, including character development for new app #2

8:50am - Arrive at office - coffee!

9-10am - Catch up on email, priority tasks, resist urge to play Alto's Adventure

10-11am  - Review app analytics and social media, try to figure out how to unlink personal Google account from Google developer account (you can, but you have to transfer apps to a new developer account and close the old one)

11am - Team meeting with Steve and Jim to review app #1 paper comp test results and prepare further testing, discuss tasks for the day

11:30-12:10pm - Read Forbes exclusive Notch/Minecraft "Tell All" and refuse to feel bad that people have been mean on the internet about $2.5B sale to Microsoft , look at "Mr. Tappy" product for play testing (recommended by CEO of Sago Sago), monitor marketing outreach for our new Marble Math Android releases, Unity 5 is out - cool.

12:10pm - Somehow, I end up here

12:15-1pm - Lunch, news, just a few quick games of Alto's Adventure

1-2pm - New business and client work...

2-2:15pm - Check #GDC15 Twitter stream, find this (see image below - this is NOT happening in kids game development, I assure you)

2:15-2:45pm - Investigate options for early stage Alpha testing of apps to replace TestFlight, consider Android marketing opportunities

2:45-3:45pm - Review more paper test feedback to firm visual direction of game #1, refine testing plans

3:45-4pm - Confirm scheduled client meeting tomorrow

4pm - It's snowing, send the guys home

4:15-5pm - Skype with Lis in Australia to review visual direction for new app #1 and progress on new app #2, tell her how much I like Alto's Adventure

5:15pm - Leaving early today, will write this blog post at home