It’s obvious from the start that a game like Over The Bars was not designed for Angry Birds style numbers- the sport of cycling is a niche in and of itself, and to further filter that down to the subset of cyclists that are also owners of KICKRs looking for an arcade cycling game, and you’ll see the potential audience is quite limited. This doesn’t make the work any easier- the app still needs high resolution 3D graphics, engaging AI, quality music and sound, and hundreds and hundreds of hours of development work. So the decision to charge $9.99 for an app like this should hopefully make sense when you really think about it. But I wanted to further talk about the current state of the app store in pricing and the pickle most developers have found themselves in!
Yes, it’s true- there is now the perception and expectation that a mobile app or game should be free. Whether you subscribe to this belief or not, surely you’ve seen the pattern with free-to-play games becoming more common than paid games. And the games that are paid are usually 99 cents to 1.99 in range. Have you ever stopped and wondered why that is?
For starters, there are now hundreds and hundreds of millions of smartphones out in the wild- a huge potential audience. Developers saw the gold rush opportunity with this big audience and rushed to support the platform, which is why you see millions of apps in the app store and a large percentage of those are games. Simple supply and demand economics along with an early encouragement by Steve Jobs to price apps cheap so they can get into as many customers hands as possible resulted in what is called the race to the bottom. That is, if you wanted millions of users, you had to be as close to free as possible. The 99 cent price point had some early success stories with the likes of Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Doodle Jump and more selling millions of copies at the low price point and creating millionaires out of fortunate indie developers.
Many others have found success by giving an app for free and charging to unlock various upgrades in the games. This is a pure numbers game- get millions of people using the app and then even if only a small percentage will pay for it, you can still make a healthy living. But often, finding the millions of people willing to use the app is a huge challenge, and many challengers have failed to reach that level of critical mass to make any sort of noticeable income.
But as with any creative industry (movies, music, etc), there are many dreamers seeking the same success as the breakaway stars to the point where you can find starving artists giving away printed CDs on the street corners of Nashville, hoping to land their music in the hands of the people that can make them a success. The apps world is no different in this regard- many apps exist with a free price point, with no business model other than amass a large following and hope to generate ad revenue or a buyout from a big company. Sure, a few have hit the jackpot in this regard, but most developers discover they spent their hard work and have gained nothing financially. For some, that may not be a problem- this may be a hobby for them, and money was never the carrot dangling in front of them. But for those of us for which this is our livelihood, our means to earn a paycheck, this is unsustainable.
And that’s why the app store is littered with abandonware- apps that have received no updates in years and have stopped working with the latest OS updates that Apple trickles out at a regular pace. This further makes things difficult for the developer as they are now distributing their apps in a virtual wasteland of shattered dreams and competing with free apps that get no love from their developers whatsoever, creating reduced confidence in smartphone users that the app store is going to give them something useful or fun to load to their new phone or tablet.
Despite all of this, as a developer I believe there is hope for the future of apps and games for mobile device for the simple reason that they are great platforms with great capabilities. I think there needs to be some changed expectations on behalf of developers- most people are not going to get rich off this, but if you make something great, price it at something that can mean success for you- even with a smaller but passionate audience, you can now find yourself with a sustainable income and a paycheck each month! And this too means changes for smartphone owners- that to support quality apps and games being developed, you have to be willing to pay for them.
Sure, there are tens of millions more who won’t be willing to make this change, and apps priced at 10 dollars or so are not going to find millions of buyers, but hopefully there are enough that will to support the development for indie devs like me. I may be wrong in this, and time will tell if that’s the case. But my hope is that there are enough people like you interested in apps like Over The Bars and willing to pay a reasonable price for an app that has cost me many weekends with my wife and children and so much hard work!