Facebook buys Oculus VR

Just a few hours ago, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will acquire Oculus VR.  For those who don’t know, Oculus has been working on the Oculus Rift for a few years now.  The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality, head-mounted display — a headset you wear that allows for  the sort of VR applications you might remember from such classics as The Lawnmower Man.

In all seriousness, though, Oculus is the real deal.  There’s a lot of speculation about what will or will not work in tech — the initial launch of the iPad, Google Glass, etc — but this one is kind of hard to deny.  One of the best ways to predict if something is going to be a game changer is to look at just who is getting behind it.

Oculus initially raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter.  The crowd has certainly thrown their wisdom behind it.  Later, no less than Marc Andreessen got behind the company and helped them raise another $75 million.  And most impressive, in my opinion, legendary game developer (the legend, to be quite honest) John Carmack came on as CTO.

Now Facebook — a company which has some serious buying power — has got on board.  I think its safe to say that the Oculus is going to make some waves.

I was able to demo the Oculus Rift developer kit (version 1) a few weeks ago.  It was interesting to say the least, but I went into it knowing they had some kinks to work out.  Most of those issues have been solved, and Oculus recently announced the version 2 dev kit which, according to Oculus, is pretty close to the final product that will sell to the public.  My initial impression of the v1 kit was that it definitely had a way to go — I almost instantly became nauseated after wearing it only a few moments.  But that’s one of the issues said to be fixed, so my optimism for the headset remains strong.

Game budgets in 2014 and beyond

Now that GDC is over, we’ve been processing some of the information we picked up at the conference, as well as the AppsWorld conference back in February.  The main takeaway from both events is the sharp increase in game and app budgets, and the rising standard of quality the market expects.

For the sake of comparison, we can look at Glowdot’s 2010 game Rogue Runner.  The first version of the game (which was subsequently followed by many many more) took around 6 weeks to make and cost roughly $15,000 to develop.  In total, with all the content updates and new features, game modes, etc that were eventually added, the cost was quite a bit higher.  But the cost to get to market was about $15k.

In 2010, Rogue Runner had over a million players, hit the charts multiple times, and was very well received.  Although the game continues to be played, in 2014, there’s no way Rogue Runner would achieve the same success.  The bar has simply been raised too high to succeed with such a low budget and quick turnaround.

Last year we completed three games, ranging in budget from $100,000 all the way up to $325,000.  Those budgets are more in line with the current trends, but as we learned at GDC and AppsWorld, other game studios have taken it even higher.

The numbers we heard went something like this: a minimum development budget should be in the range of $500,000 to $1.5 million.  Development time should be around 6-18 months.  Marketing budget, at a minimum, should be $500,000, regardless of development budget.

Whoah.  Whoah.

These weren’t just random numbers spit out by a self-proclaimed “expert”, these were numbers cited by veterans.  People who not only made money in mobile games, but who found success multiple times.

Do we think you need to spend this much?  Well, that’s complicated.  If you have that kind of money to spend, its definitely in your interest to spend it.  Given how competitive the market is now, cutting corners you don’t need to cut is, in general, a bad idea.  But you can develop a quality game for far, far less, as we proved three times last year.  Our most recent game, Playground Wars, was developed over the course of a year (simultaneous to several other projects) for a fraction of the budget range mentioned above, and it easily met and exceeded our quality expectations.  And we released it on multiple platforms (iOS, Android and Mac OSX)  But make no mistake, the game still had a significant budget.  But we know it can be done for less if your process is lean and efficient.

I suppose I can’t wrap up this post without mentioning things like Flappy Bird.  Flappy Bird clouded both conferences this year, and with good reason.  It completely disrupted everything — as we strategize about marketing, budgets and development, as we raise large amounts of money and assemble teams of highly skilled and talented builders, along comes a no-budget game made by a rather inexperienced developer that hits number one and stays there, eventually becoming a phenomenon that inspires an insane wave of “me too” copycats, some of which themselves were successful.  What does that mean?

Well, it means we saw a fluke.  As a colleague said to me during the Flappy Bird phenomenon, “sometimes the world goes rogue”.  Indeed.  One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t predict a fluke, and you should never base your business plan on wild luck.  Yes, sometimes a game or app hits that has no right to hit, but for the most part, a successful software business is the result of efficient and skilled development, planning, and marketing.  Flappy Bird was a phenomenon, but games like Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, and the like are the real winners.  And those games were the result of meticulous planning and pitch perfect execution.

Venture Technology!

If you are finding it tough to get your app to market, I invite you to read this post in full. I’ll discuss a few of the reasons why so many apps fail to materialize, and a new business model we are rolling out this year to allow us to reach some small- to mid-size clients in 2014 and beyond. If you find this informative, feel free to bookmark this site, as we are planning to reveal our massive Guide to App Development in the near future, where we will share many insights we’ve gleaned in the over 10 years Glowdot has been in business — and particularly the 6 years we’ve been in the app development game — which will help you as you start your search for an app developer.

First of all, in case you find this page with no knowledge of who we are: Glowdot is a full-service software development studio located in Santa Monica, California, also known as “Silicon Beach”. Our specialties are mobile apps (iOS, Android, et al) and games. If you have looked into companies like ours in the past, you might notice one thing that sets us apart: our clients are big. Very big. And some of the biggest ones we aren’t able to show you. We’ve worked hard over the past few years to cultivate a top-shelf team of designers, artists, project managers, sound designers, musicians, and, most importantly, programmers. And as a result, we have been privileged to work with some of the biggest businesses and brands in the world.

That’s not to say we won’t or don’t want to work with smaller clients! In fact, quite the opposite: we’ve been actively looking for ways to make smaller projects work for years. Working with big, well-funded companies is easier for us because those clients tend to know what they are getting into, understand the costs involved and why it costs what it does, and have a good understanding of the process and requirements of software development going in.  As a result, the process of negotiating a contract is usually very smooth and pleasant, with very little need to explain every detail.

Smaller clients, on the other hand, are sometimes, to an extent, out of their element.  They may have a very wrong (usually shockingly low) expectation of  the cost and time factors.  They may have an exaggerated sense of the value of an idea versus the value of the execution of that idea.  And so on.  Usually these issues cause the process to break down long before they even start.  More and more I am hearing that those seeking a developer are having a hard time even getting a response to their emails, and on the other side I’m hearing more and more from developers that they are screening potential clients based on that initial email — if there is even a hint that the client has too low a budget, or off-base expectations, that email goes right into the trash.

I’ve long maintained that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Developers should be taking the time to educate their clients, and the process of hiring a developer or studio should be a conversation.

So let’s start the conversation!

Your budget is too low

The number one biggest problem.  The budget issue is clouded by so many factors I’m certain I’m going to forget most of them, but here are a few.

Offshore development studios offering sub-par services at ridiculously low rates.

I can sum this up with 6 words: you get what you pay for. In the six years we’ve been developing mobile software, we have not once seen a quality app come out of one of these agencies.  Literally not once.

The mobile app market is incredibly competitive.  In order to succeed, you must be best-in-class or the market will reject your offering.  You simply cannot cut corners anymore.  I could spend a full day listing out examples of first-to-market apps that were destroyed by bigger, better competitors who did it right from the start.  The example almost everyone knows of is Facebook vs. MySpace.  Fewer people know MySpace initially lured users from another, earlier site called Friendster.  The moral of the story is the better platform wins.

These outsourcing agencies keep their costs low by employing programmers with a lower cost of living, little to no experience, and a couple weeks or months of education.  Compare this to a top-shelf developer in California, who has anywhere from 4 to 8 years of education, usually post-graduate at a major university, and 10 or more years of experience.  If you hired the second programmer, they would cost you anywhere from $140,000-$180,000 a year plus stock and benefits (and the benefits for talented developers are insane!)  A developer in India, on the other hand, may run you $24,000 a year, flat.

That’s a vast difference in cost, but the trade-off is a vast difference in quality as well.  I’ll repeat again: we have never, ever seen this work out well.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get an app at the end of it.  But not the level of quality the market demands.  In the worst case, you’ll get stuck in a hell of revisions and redos that may end up costing you as much as a competent developer in the first place.

Advice from friends and colleagues

“You can get that app built for $5000, I know a guy…”

“That’s a one week project.” (or worse: “that should only take a couple hours”)

Good software takes time.  Good software requires a team of talented, experienced and highly educated people working long hours for weeks if not months.  And it is a never ending process.  New platforms, changing platforms, adding features, removing features.  The process is always ongoing.  Anyone who tells you software can be done quickly or cheaply simply doesn’t understand software.

Our advice: be open to the conversation about time and budget.  If what you hear sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

How can we fix this?

Glowdot is experimenting with a new model in 2014: Venture Technology.  Before we talk about what this new model is, let’s talk about what it isn’t.

Can you build my app and we’ll split the profits?


I won’t go into this too much, because it’s been covered to death out there on the Internet, but suffice to say this offer has become a running joke in the industry.  No one will ever build your app for you for free (essentially providing many thousands of dollars of investment in time) and cross their fingers hoping for a return.  And even if they did, the split would not be 50/50.  It’s a model that many people still seem to think is legitimate, even though it makes almost no sense.

But… its not entirely nonsensical.

The idea for this post came from repeatedly seeing a few patterns emerge in our industry:

First, the start-up process.  Someone has an idea, they raise some money from a venture capitalist, which they in turn spend on development.  Either they hire a team and get to work, or they hire an outside agency like Glowdot and they get to work.  The venture capitalist invests in the company and the developer or developers get paid.

One really great place to start your research is to look at how much money these start-ups initially raise.  They don’t raise hundreds or a couple thousand.  In some cases they raise millions to get their product out the door.  More typical would be raising somewhere between $50,000 and $200,000 to get an app out on one platform.  Understandably, that’s a whole lot of money to most people.  And raising it might very well be impossible if you don’t know the right people.

The second situation is the under-funded client who simply cannot afford the realistic bid and so chooses among the bids he or she can afford.  Which in turn leads to a client choosing a sub-par developer and wasting their money.  It is a situation that continues to disturb us — we hate to see people throw their money away.

So we’ve come up with an option for certain clients: instead of sending you back out to find the proper funding, we can offset the cost to an extent by providing Venture Technology.  This does not mean we can build an app for you for free, or even for the same price as our offshore competitors.  We simply can’t.  But we can offer some portion of our services as an investment in you, your idea, and your business.

The bid is the start of the conversation, not the end!

One thing we need to do a better job of is making our smaller clients aware that the bidding process is the start of the conversation, not the end.  When we offer a proposal on a project, we are calculating a timeline and a price that we feel is true and fair to a product that we are proud to put our stamp on.

At the same time, we know that clients are also getting bids from low-ball, low-quality developers who often have no business offering a proposal in the first place.  We’ve heard that during this RFP phase, clients have seen bids range from $700 up to nearly a million.  No wonder there’s so much confusion!

Our bids are always going to be higher.  We don’t outsource, our team is best-in-class, and we pride ourselves on building the best software we can.  This naturally makes us expensive. But we also don’t want to see businesses that can’t afford us go down in flames simply because they can’t afford quality.

If we believe in your idea, and your determination to make it work, we can adjust our costs as an investment in your vision.  Not only does this offer us some compensation (in the best case), it keeps us engaged in your business in the long term.  Since software truly is a never ending process, you really want a technology partner more than you want an app developer.  And that’s what we do best.

We can also help shape your project to match your budget, by advising you on technologies and features that may or may not give you the biggest bang for your buck.  Lots of great software starts out small and gradually evolves into the full vision, and we can advise you on how to best grow into the big picture.  As our COO Michael is fond of saying, asking “how much does it cost to build an app” is like asking “how long is a rope”.  There are so many variables involved, too many to accurately reflect in a project bid.  So we typically offer you the longest rope we can.  From there, we can start adjusting to match your budget.

As a final note, understand this offer isn’t available to every project.  We have to truly believe in your vision, your idea, and your ability to pull it off once you have working technology in your hands.  And you have to have at least enough funding to cover our minimum costs.  But if we do, and you do, let’s start the conversation and see if we can help you build world-class software and change the world!

We have already taken on a few clients under this offering and we are very excited about the conversations we’ve had, so I invite you to reach out to us so we can talk.  Software is our passion and there is nothing we love more than discussing great ideas with energetic and enthusiastic entrepreneurs!

Playground Wars – Available now on iOS!

Our newest game Playground Wars is out today for iOS devices (iPhone and iPad).

Get Playground Wars for iOS here

Playground Wars is a 2D castle defense game for iOS (and soon, Android and Facebook). In the game, you command Alex, a boy who’s playground has been invaded by bullies from the next street over. Recruit your friends and use special perks and upgrades to battle for the title King of the Playground over 112 hand crafted levels!

Playground Wars features:

* 4 locations, each with night and day settings
* 5 types of weather
* 10 friendly units
* 14 enemy units including really great bosses
* 9 special attacks
* 112 levels
* over 400 upgrades to your units, perks and playground

Playground Wars is FREE in the app store.

Get Playground Wars for iOS here

Playground Wars for Android will be available today as well.

Playground Wars – Coming Soon!

We are pleased to present the first gameplay footage from our upcoming iOS, Android and Facebook game Playground Wars!

Playground Wars is a 2D castle defense game with loads of strategy and variety.

* 4 locations, each with night and day settings
* 5 types of weather
* 10 friendly units
* 14 enemy units including really great bosses
* 9 special attacks
* 112 levels
* 450 upgrades.

Playground Wars is also a terrific demonstration of the team we’ve built here at Glowdot over the last few years. We’ve assembled an amazing group of talented coders, game designers, sound designers and musicians, voice actors and artists, and experts in UI. Playground Wars, like all of our games and apps, demonstrates our skill at developing engaging, beautiful software while still staying lean, efficient and cost effective, and ultimately delivering games that are far and away top of class on every platform imaginable.

Playground Wars will be out on iOS, Android and Facebook later this month.

Gamification: the new normal

We’ve posted a few times about several game developments we are currently involved in that are, to put it mildly, extremely exciting. We love projects on the cutting edge, and that edge right now is gamification.  While our projects are still a short ways away from release, we are still talking to clients every day about gamification: what it is, how it works, and how it can empower your campaign or brand.

EngineYard has posted an interesting infographic which lays out some of the more interesting statistics related to gamification. I’ve embedded it at the bottom of this post as well.

Some of the more interesting points:

  • Gamification spending will go from $100m a year to $2.8 billion in just 3-4 more years (that’s a lot of games!)
  • Current “gamifiers” include Ford, Bayer, Mariott and others — companies you would typically not associate with games.
  • Games are being used extremely successfully as employee-facing programs, as well as customer-facing.  Glowdot in particular is working on a couple employee-facing games currently and we are seeing huge benefits in the areas of training, retention and acquisition.
  • Americans still play games mostly on websites and social networks.  (75 million mobile, 191 million social and web).  Glowdot’s game platforms allow us to hit all of those platforms (and more) — iOS, Android, Windows 8 and the web (via Flash) in a single development.  That’s a potential reach of hundreds of millions of users in one streamlined development.
  • Even Al Gore is behind the trend: “Games are the new normal”

Here’s the infographic:

Courtesy of: Engine Yard

Gymboss sound settings

I’ve been noticing a lot of hits to the site lately related to sounds in Gymboss. If you can’t hear the alarms in your Gymboss app, the problem is that your sound effects are muted or set too low. There are several channels that an app can put sounds through on iDevices, and Gymboss does so through the system sounds channel.

Try the following if you can’t hear sounds in the Gymboss app:

  1. Make sure the device isn’t muted. Flip the switch on the side of the device to the position that doesn’t show the little orange bar.
  2. Make sure your volume is all the way up using the volume buttons on the side of the device
  3. Double tap the home button to bring up the task bar. Slide it all the way to the left until you see a volume slider. Turn that slider all the way up.
  4. In the settings app, go to Sounds. Make sure the Ringer and Alerts volume slider is all the way up.

If you happened to come here looking for this info, please leave a comment letting us know if any of these worked for you. Thanks.

Hiding Monsters – An interactive children’s book for iOS

Hiding Monsters is out now in the iOS App Store. It is the follow up to last year’s Hiding Hannah, the highly acclaimed interactive story book for kids.

Hiding Monsters again features artwork by Sesame Workshop artist Melanie McCall and is narrated by Tom Kenny, voice of Spongebob Squarepants.

Hiding Monsters for Android is coming soon.

Get Hiding Monsters for iOS in the App Store

Hiding Monsters release pushed to July 12

Due in part to an issue Apple is currently having with iTunes, the release of Hiding Monsters has been pushed back to July 12.

We will post here again with any news.  Thanks for your patience!

Hiding Monsters release date set

We have scheduled a release date for Hiding Monsters, the follow up to last years extremely well received interactive children’s book Hiding Hannah.

Hiding Monsters is tentatively scheduled for a July 5th release date, and will be available on iOS for iPhone, iPod and iPad, as well as on Google Play for Android, and Amazon Marketplace for Kindle Fire devices.

As with Hiding Monsters, Hiding Hannah is the brainchild of Squeaky Frog, and is narrated by Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob Squarepants.

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