Glowdot is pleased to announce that we have been contracted by Warner Bros. to develop and interactive experience to promote the upcoming Tim Burton film Dark Shadows, coming May 11.
The Glowdot Dark Shadows app will release for iPhone/iPod Touch in the Apple App Store and the web (Flash with Facebook integration) sometime in early May, 2012.
I had planned to do these business/strategy posts at least weekly, but its been a month since the last one! We’ve been unbelievably busy in 2012 — much more so than I ever expected, which accounts for the delay. But I do plan on picking up the pace whenever I get a break.
Lets talk a little bit about basing a business on software.
Too often, the software industry is painted by the media as some special class of business where the usual rules don’t apply. We read stories every day about a guy living in his parents basement who creates a little game that goes on to make millions, or a kid in a dorm room who creates a website and later sells it for a billion dollars. In fact, these sorts of stories completely dominate the headlines when it comes to tech business reporting. Its understandable that misconceptions abound about making money in software. Let’s tear a few of those misconceptions apart, shall we?
Just a quick note since we keep getting emails asking for an update: Gymboss 2 is shaping up nicely and should be available very, very soon.
And for everyone patiently waiting: I can safely say if you loved Gymboss, you will be really, really happy with Gymboss 2. It maintains the simplicity and ease of use of the original with a completely new interface, and a much more fluid flow between screens. And the timer itself looks about a million times better than before.
Stay tuned, we will make an announcement as soon as Gymboss 2 is submitted to Apple.
Happy New Year, everyone! One of my resolutions for 2012 is to actively start blogging, and sharing some of the insights I’ve picked up after 3+ years of mobile development, and 28 (gasp!) years of software development, from not only development considerations, to larger business, marketing, and strategy considerations as well. This is the first such post. Please feel free to let me know if there’s something you’d like me to talk about!
Many frequent visitors to glowdot.com found the site due to a highly publicized and fairly controversial blog post I made years ago, in the early days of the app store, talking about app pricing, marketing, general hype (and how to avoid falling for it), and other reasons why the app market is tough one. 3 years later, a lot has changed, and yet a lot has remained the same. The “race to the bottom” that I (and many others) were talking about then is done and over, and here we are at the bottom. In the current app atmosphere, figuring out how to price your app is harder than ever.
This topic came up in a discussion I recently had about non-mobile game software. We were looking at two models for pricing PC games: bundles, and volume sales.
With bundles, like the Humble Indie Bundle, several developers pool their games, offer them up in one big bundle, and let buyers name their price, from as low as 1 cent to… well, the sky’s the limit. Sounds great, and usually is, but as you can imagine, the average price is somewhere around $3, and that’s split among around 5 or so developers.
Volume sales, like Steam’s holiday sales, are a bit more software-specific, with developers dropping the price of their games to anywhere from $1.50 to $2.50 and hoping to make up the loss in volume. Also sounds great, and also usually is, but as I recently noticed in one game’s post Steam sale chart, the dropoff after the sale is pretty dramatic.
In each of the above cases, it’s kind of hard to see the forest for the trees. Consumers are getting a great deal on a bunch of games, and developers are seeing a sudden influx of cash. It all seems great until you take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The biggest issue, to me, is that these sorts of drastic, dramatic price drops and sales are messing with the perceived value of software.
This is exactly what happened with the app store. Because so many people jumped in so fast, the only way to compete was according to price. Which is great an all, if you are selling 1 million copies of something for a buck, but after time, consumers started to expect the lowest possible price. In their mind, apps were now worth a buck, and anyone charging more was out of their mind. The problem is, apps weren’t priced that low because of their worth, they were priced that low in lieu of actual marketing.
Here’s why that’s important: when we look at average app prices, or average indie game prices, we see a steady decline all the way to rock bottom. But when we look at the price of AAA games over the same period, what do we see? We see no change whatsoever. Games are still priced at around $60, and in some cases higher if they come bundled with (meaningless, let’s be honest) preorder perks or a cheap plastic toy.
So why do AAA games hold their perceived value? Because the AAA studios never backed down. They decided what their software was worth, set the price, and stuck to their guns. They competed with each other (and the indies, and the app store) through aggressive marketing, not through aggressive price slashing. And the result is, no effect on the perceived value of a studio game.
I think the same thing needs to be applied to indie software as well. Of course, there is no way to get every developer, from Los Angeles to Beijing to collectively agree to stop undercharging for software, but they don’t have to. The trick is to stop competing with bedroom developers who undercut themselves in lieu of marketing, and start competing the way the AAA studios do. That means: develop a quality product, pick a price, and stick to it.
Of course, you’re going to look silly being the only app on the app store selling for, say, $10. But so what? Why give your game or app away for a dollar (or worse, free) if it’s worth $10 in a sane world? What is the point of building that app in the first place if you are just going to sell it for a fraction of its actual value?
One of the reasons people are scared to do this is that they don’t see software as a business, and if they do, they don’t see it as any other business. The truth is, software is just like any other business. Just as you wouldn’t open a bookstore and sell a single book, you really shouldn’t create a developer account and sell one app. You need to stock your shelves. The fear of confident pricing is really based on the fact that many developers only have a single item to price.
But look at EA or Activision, do they base their entire year on a single game? Of course not. They are shoveling games out right and left, for different platforms, audiences, etc all year long. This allows them to be a bit more risky and confident in their pricing. If one $60 game doesn’t sell, one of their other ones will probably make up for it.
Another really important piece of advice I have is this: if you are going to slash the price of your product, at least have a good reason for doing so. If you are going to make your $10 game free, don’t do it to generate exposure for the game. First, that doesn’t work, and second, what exposure you do generate is in the people who just got your game for free, and now have no reason to ever pay you for it.
One good reason to drastically drop the price of your game is to generate buzz for another game. If you have an older game that stopped selling long ago, and you’ve got another one coming out, slashing the price of the old game can be a great way to get more people into your audience. If the first game was good, people are likely to at least take a peek at what else you’ve got coming.
Another good reason might be that you’ve completely rethought your revenue model. More and more games are going freemium these days (also a direct result of the drop in perceived value, and something I will blog about in the future), and dropping your app to free is a pretty obvious move when you are now selling IAP. Just keep in mind that freemium is pretty much the de facto revenue model now, so where you were competing against a bunch of .99 apps before, you are now competing with 100 times more free apps. Most importantly, don’t make the switch until your new model is in place.
I have much more to say on the matter of pricing, and I hope to get to some of those thoughts soon. In the meantime, feel free to let me know your thoughts!
Hiding Hannah, the new interactive children’s book from Squeaky Frog, developed by Glowdot Productions’ Glowdot Kids division, is out now in the Apple App Store, for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.
Hiding Hannah had a tremendous launch day, rocketing to the top of the App Store charts (#27 iPad Books, #60 iPhone Books, as of this writing), and a 5 star app store average rating in the first 12 hours!
We’re very proud of this app, and absolutely sure you and your kids will love it.
We have been getting swamped with emails (and even calls!) about Zen Jar and Gymboss lately, so I wanted to let everyone know the status of those apps.
When Apple released iOS 5, we were shocked to discover that a lot of older apps completely broke. I’m still not sure exactly what caused it, because the SDK is so drastically different its hard to pinpoint exactly which change caused the failure. Zen Jar and Gymboss are actually two of our oldest apps, now over two years old! Hard to believe they have been out that long, but in those two years, those two apps have accumulated millions of users — There are somewhere around 50,000 active users of Zen Jar, and literally millions of users of the Gymboss timer.
Since we started building apps pretty much from the launch of the Apple App Store, a lot of our older apps are based on an older iOS SDK. Zen Jar and Gymboss are two such apps, based on iOS 3. Obviously a lot has changed between iOS 3 and iOS 5 — remember iOS 3 didn’t have multitasking, didn’t have push notifications, didn’t have copy/paste — the list goes on and on.
At any rate, the short story is that the iOS 5 issue hit us completely by surprise. We had always planned on making a new, improved version of Zen Jar but hadn’t scheduled it, and we were actually in the preproduction phase of a new Gymboss 2 timer app when iOS 5 struck. But we also had several other projects on our plate at the time.
So we are working on new versions of those apps! And they will be leaps and bounds above the original versions, but as I’m sure you can imagine building an app takes time. We’re working as fast as we can though.
In the meantime, please feel free to post a comment here for either of those two apps telling us what you’d like to see in Gymboss 2 and Zen Jar 2. We have some ideas, but we’d love to hear what the users want!
Glowdot visited Gamex 2011 to talk with the gaming industry and the major Swedish educational institutions within it. We made a lot of interesting connections that will be useful for Glowdot’s expansion to the
Swedish and Europan market. To target this market, you have got to be here, and our new presence in Stockholm allows us to reach this market effectively.
Among the more interesting connections made were with KTH – the Royal Institute of Technology. We look forward to presenting ourselves, our background, and our knowledge to their students to give them some of our insights in the mobile and interactive gaming industry.
Gamex is Sweden’s largest entertainment show. Among the companies participating were Disney, EA, Intel, Activision, Paradox Interactive, Playstation, Nintendo and Warner Brothers.
Michael Eng, Glowdot
We are pleased to announce that the first app developed as part of our Glowdot Kids app division has been submitted to Apple, with an Android version to follow in two weeks.
We have been building an engine for interactive book development here for the past 6 months, and were eager to launch a few demo projects when we met with Squeaky Frog, LLC about “Hiding Hannah“, and we fell in love with the idea. We had been internally discussing taking interactive children’s books for the iPad and Android tablets to the next level, by incorporating more game-like elements into the mix, and Hiding Hannah fit with our vision completely. We had been previewing a lot of really great books on the iPad, but none of them did much more than make a couple sounds or animate a sprite when you interacted with them. We envision a much more engaging experience in these books: combining all the narrative power of an old-school children’s book with three decades of gaming history to create an experience that simply would not have been possible even two years ago.
Hiding Hannah is a twelve page interactive book about Hannah Howard, a little girl who loves to hide everything, including herself. Each page is a self-contained mini-game, in which the reader is tasked with finding Hannah, something Hannah Hid, or even Hannah’s parents. Every read-through is different, as Hannah hides herself, or her object of choice, in a different place each time you load a page. Hiding Hannah contains beautiful artwork by Sesame Street Workshop digital media artist Melanie McCall and is narrated by Tom Kenny, voice of TV’s Spongebob Squarepants. Packed with sounds, artwork, animations and interactive elements, we think you’ll agree that Hiding Hannah takes the interactive children’s book to the next level.
The expected release date of Hiding Hannah is November 10, 2011.
The mission of Glowdot Kids is to take your idea for interactive works — whether just a concept, or an already published book — and apply our game development experience to bring it to life on modern devices like the iPad, iPhone and Android tablets. We can even bring it to the desktop (Windows and Mac) or the web — or all of the above.
If you are an existing publisher who would like to convert your published works to an interactive format and publish to mobile and tablet devices, we can help you from concept, to development, all the way through the publishing process. And if you are an aspiring author who is looking to publish your concept, we can even help you with art, sound, music and story.
We are extremely close to releasing our first interactive children’s book for iPad, iPhone/iPod and Android devices. This represents a first step into a niche market that I feel is going to be very important to Glowdot in the coming months and, hopefully, years.
Glowdot has been developing software of just about every kind, for just about every platform, for over 10 years. But by far our favorite type of project is games. And not just because we love games, but because we love the opportunity to be creative, to create new worlds, and to put all of our artistic and technical knowledge and skill into making something immersive, alive and breathing. Games are a lot like movies that way — the really great ones make you forget momentarily that you are playing a game, and actually make you feel like you are the main character (or, at least, feel a sense of empathy for him).
Interactive books are an interesting type of project. They aren’t quite a game, but they aren’t quite a straightforward app either. They really walk that fine line between the two worlds.
It is for that reason that I have always told potential new clients, when convincing them to go with us, that an interactive book is the hardest app an app maker can make, and the easiest game a game maker can make.
If you take a company that builds social apps, or business apps, or utilities, or any other kind of “standard” app, you are asking then to forget everything they know, and learn a whole new set of skills to build an interactive book (or game, for that matter). In terms of technology, they are moving away from the iOS SDK and the CocoaTouch libraries to a game engine like Cocos2D or Unity — and that itself requires a good deal of learning time. Essentially, for an app developer to make an interactive book, he’s basically learning on the job, and the end result is, essentially, his first game app ever.
This really became clear during my research phase into this new market. Almost every interactive book app I found looked like a first project in a game engine. That’s not to say they were bad, per se, just that they were a little amateur. You could tell that the developer was in a little over their head, a little afraid to take risks, and a little bit lacking in knowledge as to how to breathe life into a scene. I have yet to see an interactive book on the iPad that is more than a collection of buttons that trigger a sound or animation, or video embedded in a page, or a really remedial use of a physics engine to sort of randomly and meaninglessly bounce objects around a screen.
But they can be so much more. The flipside is, for a game developer, interactive books are a dream project. They contain everything we love to do (sound design, animation, art direction, interactivity, atmosphere) and none of what we hate working on (fine tuning controls, wrestling with physics, hacking around collisions, etc). For us, they are wonderful projects because we get to spend all of our effort on the things we spent the most time becoming great at. And those things, not coincidentally, are all the elements the end-user cares the most about as well, because those are the elements he or she interacts with and engages with.
To that end, we’ve internally come up with a sort of “grand concept” for any interactive book project that comes our way, and it is so far ahead of what is out there currently that we’ve decided a large part of our focus will be on these book projects. Our first one, teased above, was done on an incredibly small budget and came out better than anything in the app store right now. I can say that with full confidence. And we’re so excited to do more.
And here’s the other exciting thing about this: we can offer up and coming authors access to the largest market on Earth right now, and we can package their idea into something thrilling and exciting for far, far less than it would cost to print and publish a physical book. And for books that are already on the shelves, we can take that print book, create a digital, fully interactive version of it, and help publish it to the app store for a fraction of the total investment to publish the physical book. And considering how quickly the big book retailers are folding, the time really is now to get your book published digitally.
If you are a publisher, or have a book idea, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We’d love to share some of our ideas with you.
We all know about the passing of Steve Jobs this week. I think its safe to say the world doesn’t need another blog post about his death, what it means to the modern world, modern software, and the tech industry. To be sure, Jobs built Apple into a powerhouse in the last few years (and the last years of his life), and without his work, and Apple the company, Glowdot would not be what it is today.
But this post is about Dennis Ritchie, and I’m willing to bet most readers haven’t heard of him. And that’s a shame, because without him, none of the Apple products or apps you know and love would exist — or at least, they wouldn’t exist in the form you know them. Dennis Ritchie was truly the father of the technologic world as we know it now. And that his death has gone largely unreported, while people build shrines outside of Apple stores to Steve Jobs, is kind of a shame.
Ritchie created the C programming language. Every language I use on a daily basis is based on the C language. Objective-C, which almost every app you use on your iOS device (per Apple’s pretty strict demands) is built in Objective-C, which is C with an object oriented extention. When I build apps and games in Unity, I use C#, which is sort of a mix of C++ (itself an object oriented extension of C), and Java (a C-like language). And even PHP is C-like. The influence of the C language is really everywhere, from language structure, to commonly named built-in language methods (like printf, for example). It’s just impossible to understate the influence of C.
But Ritchie also helped develop Unix. OSX is built on Unix. iOS is built on Unix. The majority of the Internet is built on Unix, or Linux, which is an open source implementation of Unix.
Keep in mind we are talking about technologies created decades ago, which have been snowballing ever since, culminating in our purely digital world — a world that quite simply wouldn’t be possibly without C, Unix, and the Internet. Everything we do and use is an extension of these technologies.
I started programming on a Commodore 128 in 1986. My first programming class was in high school in 1993 — a class in Pascal (an ancient language no one uses anymore, which is nothing like C). But it wasn’t until my first year of college, in a class called “Unix Programming in C” that I really decided this was what I wanted to do with my life. The textbook for that class was the same textbook in any C/Unix class – “The C Programming Language” by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie. Messing around on a C128, making primitive games and generating beeps was one thing, but learning Unix and C, socket programming, even early text-based GUI programming, opened the world to me. Even in 1993, these now old technologies inspired the same explosion of ideas that our new i-devices do for me today.
As an interesting side note, the “Hello World” program, which anyone learning programming surely knows, originates from the K&R C book (although it is attributed to Kernighan, not Ritchie). If you haven’t heard of Hello World, it’s the first step to learning a new language — making a simple program that simply prints “Hello World” to the screen.
So this post is my little RIP to a true legend. Dennis Ritchie. Thank you for my career.