Saturday, 8 October 2011

All Things To All People

HTC DesireImage by matthias.penke via Flickr
First off, a big shout to out to every independent developer out there. Yeah, even the iPhone ones. Whether intended or not (or even want it or not) you have earned my heartfelt respect. Why, I hear you ask? Let me tell ya.

Resources are great.

Having an endless supply and choice of images, sound bites, music is essential in putting a cohesive product together to blast through the popularity ratings and up the charts. Resources also give you the benefits of getting heads together to bash out ideas. Different opinions and perspectives are available to help prevent rash decisions and possibly come up with brilliant ones. They also allow work on all of the different aspects of development, and they can happen simutaneously to meet popularly frequent deadlines. Resources also come from specialist sources; music comes from composers, graphics come from graphic artists.

Independent developers have none of this.

All responsibility for every single aspect of the development process falls squarely on the shoulders of the brave devil who has undertaken the mammoth task of app writing.

Each and every time I come back to adding to one of my projects, the first thought that goes through my head is 'What hat should I put on today?' A new feature put in the day before needs audio, so I'm putting on the musical hat. The day before that had the code being written with placeholder graphics so yesterday I had on the artistic hat. The day before that I had to come up with the new feature, hence the project management hat. The day before that: I was talking to customers to find out what they would like to see in the app. I wore my customer services hat. And the cycle goes on and on.

Please don't get me wrong. I love each and every aspect mentioned above. I don't claim to be an expert (with the possible exception of the coding), but I'd love to spend more time on each. My two main gripes are that there is a noticeable drain caused by swapping the aforementioned hats and that (admittedly) I am impatient and would like to plough through the process at breakneck speed as I've so many ideas that I've often forgotten half of what I want to do by the time I'm in a position to add more.

Oh and we have to try and fit in 'normal life' (whatever that is) into that mix as well.

So the moral of this story is: app development takes time, indie development even more so. Please bear this (and all of the above) in mind when you formulate opinions on apps and their creators. If we sometimes come across as overly sensitive, it's because we're trying to be all things to all people and feel we're letting you and ourselves down when criticised.

I love writing apps for Android.  And I know that you love having apps on your Android (tell me I'm wrong).  But it's not easy, so if you enjoy our apps, show some support!

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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Flying Past The 10,000th Download Milestone!

Milestone, Bath RoadImage by Pete Reed via Flickr
Every day, at random intervals (what can I say? I'm not that organised), I take the numbers down, put them into a spreadsheet. From these I can then draw pretty little colourful graphs to show, in essence, what you guys have been up to with regards to my apps.

From around the 16th September 2011, the download statistics on all of my apps simply got stuck (a widely ranted about bug that I'm sure most of you already know about). Their graph lines just flat-lined. I had heard that this happened from time to time and it usually cleared up in a day or two. Well, not in this case. I thought, given the technology of today, waiting a whole day for an update was poor. Having to wait twelve whole days was just plain cruel.

At least my apps already had some statistics - some of my colleagues had posted new applications during this period and have had nothing, zip, nada to play with. They have no idea if their apps even are working in the real world!

That aside I was pleased to see early on this very morning that that these figures have now changed. Finally!

Zombie Pop, my (now) free live wallpaper, was (based on previous figures) on line to be breaking into the 10,000s just around now; a milestone I was looking forward to witness. What the developer page was now showing me was 12,284 downloads! Twelve thousand downloads in three months! 4 stars over 147 reviews!


And the trend seems to be getting stronger! As others have reported on their apps - there were noticeable upsurges on new version releases and national holidays.

It does now mean that I have to thank twelve thousand people personally for trying my live wallpaper/game! Thanks! :D

It's great that people are enjoying something that I enjoyed (and am still enjoying) developing!

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Friday, 16 September 2011

Lol! My Game Has Been Head Hunted!

Today I found myself both flattered and amused.  Out of nowhere appeared a message in my inbox that read:

"Hello Android app developer" (I've finally been recognised!)

"I am contacting you as I saw your app 'Livestock Vs The Undead Lite' on the web and found that it runs great on the range of Android tablets that our company caters for.

"As such, I have put it up on our Apps download site; AppsLib (  It's a specialized marketplace for users with android tablets to download app suited for, and tested on their devices."

It went on to say that they've created a developer account on my behalf and sent login details.  Sweet.  In fact, after logging in, I discovered that they have uploaded Zombie Pop Lite and Time Flies live wallpapers as well.

So if you have a tablet, please look up my apps on their site,  I'd be really interested to know how they look on tablets.

Given that the game is still in beta,  I was genuinely surprised and the extra attention is most welcome.  This gives me more incentive to push it into a fully fledged release.



Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Latest Release : Zombie Pop Live Wallpaper v1.2

Just a quick announcement: the release of the latest version of my Zombie Pop live wallpaper.  This is getting to be quite a fun project, seeing as it started life as an offshoot from my tower defence game.  Its latest incarnation includes the following:

+ Customizable zombie head (Supports transparent backgrounds for better effects).
+ Popping sounds.
+ Zombie sounds.
+ User defined 'horizon'.
+ Exploding body parts.
+ Varying zombie speeds.

Yes, you can turn your brother, your best friend, your cat or anyone in your photo gallery into a flesh eating minion of the undead - there to blow to smithereens at the touch of your finger.  As you can see, I'm struggling to get a decent screen capture without the tearing.  Still working on that.

All good cartoon-y fun.  Do you think I should do a gory version...?

Find it on the Android Market here

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Monday, 12 September 2011

The Android Culture - It's Own Worst Enemy

Let's face it, most iPhone apps range from good to brilliant. They are polished. They have high production value (having had significant funds pumped into production and top artists, musicians and a team of developers on the credits). They are new to any platform (kind of, ie Angry Birds and Smash the Tower, Plants Vs Zombies PC and Plants Vs Zombies for the iPhone).

SAN ANSELMO, CA - MARCH 18:  An image of the p...Another truth is that the best Android apps have already proved their worth on the iPhone market and reaped their rewards there first (with the possible exception of device specific apps that tweak/bend/backup your operating system in weird and wonderful ways). It's true! Try and find a high selling app on Android that hasn't been in the iPhone market for months.


It's quite simple. Apple offers a market where a developer has a hope of making more than pocket money from their hard work. An iPhone owner understands things like 'you get what you pay for' and 'you don't get something (good) for nothing' and what they therefore get is quality. Although I, a dedicated fighter for the Android's cause, thoroughly enjoy developing, I also like eating, heating my house and having a regular supply of electricity in my sockets.

Android's chance of a brilliant future is being dimmed by Google's inability to steer it's user culture away from freetardium (a new word I've just invented). Freetardium is the watering down of a brilliant idea to a point where it has no flavour, colour or consistancy. It's a world of free 'water effect over a [insert popular film/cartoon/person here] picture' wallpapers, sleazy flesh peddling apps and borderline copyright infringements. It's a world where your favourite game is ripping out all of your personal data without your knowledge and streaming it to some anonymous offshore server.

I am of the opinion that the main reason why some of the apps have been converted to the Android market at all is more to protect itself from cloned rip-offs rather than in an attempt to make any more money.

'But people do make money on Android!' I hear you cry. Yes, but not directly. The highest earners on the Android market make their money through in-app advertising. Even Roxio, makers of Angry-Birds, realised this and have gone down this route. So, to make a decent revenue, you have to sell a further slice of your soul to the advertising agencies.

I was chatting with my iPhone developer buddies and an interesting fact was raised. Each of them have tried different methods of monetizing their apps (that were deemed allowable by the mighty fruit). They agreed unanimously that the feature limited demo/full price unrestricted model worked best. But that wasn't the interesting fact, it was that the free app with in-app advertising was the least appealing and/or successful.

The fact that it's completely the opposite on Android again is obvious: Android users can't, don't or won't pay for apps. They would rather have invasive advertising obscuring their playing area than cough up less than a dollar. Which is dumb. By donating that dollar they are investing in their own future enjoyment. That dollar will keep developers interested in the platform. That dollar will help bring around the next upgrade/release/version of their favourite game. That dollar may contribute to the next ground-breaking game that would sweep the world. Not paying that dollar and subsequently downloading apps is not only self-centred but short-sighted and seriously not cool.

'What about the gazillion more apps and downloads that are made from the Android market than the iPhone market?' Yes, this is happening and is growing at a phenominal rate. However, as with all statistics, they don't paint the right picture. The iPhone app developers, being incentivised by income, are far more likely to develop their apps to perfection. Whereas their Android counterpart is more keen to release twenty variations in the hopes that one is popular. Another statistic, which as a developer I am more interested in, is average time an app spends on a device. Unfortunately we have (other than building some sort of heartbeat broadcasting code into your app) no way to work this out. Comparing the two markets against that metric would give a completely different picture, with Apple winning hands down. It's back down to Cost vs Quality vs Quantity.

If this is sounding like a whinge, it sincerely isn't. I am not asking you to buy my apps (but it'd be really nice if you did!), in fact this isn't about me at all. It's about you. It's about how you want the future of your favourite platform to go down. It's a plea to you to not let this fantastic opportunity of a brilliant platform turn dull.

Google - yes, you know who you are. Please get your act together. We are here to help each other, not for you to wipe your feet on.

If you do buy apps, little of the above applies to you and I salute you. You are feeding life into something that could be wonderful, a dream shared by all android users, and I can't thank you enough.

If you are an Android developer and disagree with any of this, please let me know. You guys rock and have my deepest respect. If you are an iPhone developer then you know what you've done wrong and should go and reflect on that.

Here's to a bright future!

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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Livestock Vs The Undead

My story is far from unusual.  I had an android smartphone.  I liked playing tower defence games.  I had a modicum of development talent (Java being the eighteenth programming language I taught myself).  I wondered if I could mash the three together into some sort of Frankensteinian monster of a game. 

Just before I embarked on the slippery slide of android development, I had come across what is termed as a Production on Demand (PoD) site called Zazzle.  We've all had ideas for great T-shirt designs and slogans at some point. Well, this site lets you actually take that idea and slap it on not only T-shirts, but hoodies, ties, caps, cups, bags and a hundred other items.  You can then set up your own site-within-their-site and sell your freshly baked items to friends, family or anyone else you can convince.  It taps into your creativity in a big way and is quite addictive.  Let's just say: I went nuts.

A month later, with help from my wife (who joined in shortly after I did) I had racked up over a staggering 4,000 items!  At that point I came back to my senses and realised that (a) it was gobbling up too much of my time, and (b) the remuneration was relatively pitiful in relation to all the effort you put in (not Zazzle's fault - I just don't have young and/or trendy, fiscally endowed social circles).  Our store, is still open (with 5,577 items at time of writing), but my attention has now been firmly refocussed.

By abstaining from Zazzle, I found that not only did I have some time on my hands, but I had built up a sizable library of self drawn stock images.  Add some of those images to smartphone/idea/iota of talent and what you have there is a starting point.

Livestock Vs The Undead was born.

The alpha was at the time the best game I had ever played.  Looking back it was embarrasingly bad.  It was little more than chicken hurling bananas (Yes, bananas. What? It was there to use, Ok?) at zombies.  (Same zombie, different colours.)  Don't get me wrong. The coding was sound and most of the code is still beating away in the heart of the latest version.  It was just that it didn't do much and needed a host of stuff throwing at it.

My first piece of advice: Don't release anything onto the market too soon. 

Blinded by enthusiasm and pride of getting something working, I naively signed it off, plugged it and rolled it out onto the android market.  I paid heavily for this by getting some less than constructive criticism on the market that will remain there forever, no matter how many further releases I add.  By jumping the gun, I have branded my poor game a loser.

Realising my mistake and lessons learnt, I am basically treating the current game as a beta. At some point in the (hopefully not too distant) future I'll rename/rebrand and re-release it to start afresh.

The game is significantly better than it was. However I want to take it to a stage where I can look back at it at some point and consider it 'done' or even 'not bad' by my own standards.  If I am going to monetise this thing, I want to give my customers value for money, else I'd consider the project a failure.  It's not even the volume that interests me.  If 20 people buy it and love it, that's success in my books.

Ok, some stats now.  Android Market is both good and bad.  It's good that it allows us lonely developers to reach the masses.  It's bad in that (at the time of writing) the statistics it provides make little to no sense.  Figures go up and down almost at random.  Comments and ratings rarely make it onto the system.  The best I can make out of it is just taking the average from a daily reading.  At this point in time it looks like:

D - Downloads, I - Installs, C - Comments

Not too shoddy for a beta.  It was originally released in May 2011 and has been growing steadily.  (Not anywhere as great as Zombie Pop - but that is another blogpost.)  I've also made it clear (since the initial release fiasco), that it is a beta on the market and it still gets a few downloads per day.  I am convinced that the naff, very early comments are putting a lot of people off.  Google should implement ratings by app version to show a fair differentiation between the qualities of the releases.  

There is a definite spike when a new release is made (not shown on this graph) which I'll hopefully be able to demonstrate when I put v1.4 live.


Friday, 19 August 2011

Released Into The Wild

Android MarketImage via Wikipedia
So where am I up to, I hear you ask with feverish interest. Well, let's see...

Project #1 - Livestock Vs The Undead

In May 2011, I started work on what is currently titled 'Livestock Vs The Undead' (a working title whilst I coerce it into a semi-acceptable state). I unleashed v1.0 onto the Android Market in June 2011, which is where I embarrassingly stumbled over my first faux pas: I was asking for a payment for it.

On other more lucrative fruit-based mobile platforms, I would've been laughed at for not charging. The Android community, it turns out, is a different culture altogether. Reputation and respect has much more weight here, and this has to be earnt. So I picked myself up, dusted myself down and rethought my strategy from scratch.

I withdrew the paid-for version of the game, tweaked how far you could take the game and released it as a free download. With the intention of letting the dust settle and await some feedback from the community, my mind was ablaze with possibilities and I thought 'Some of this code would make a great live wallpaper' so I moved immediately onto:

Project #2 - Zombie Pop Live Wallpaper

As a kid I loved it when my Dad had porcelain statues delivered (he sold them for a living). It wasn't the statues themselves that interested me. It was the plastic bubble wrapping they came in. I know it's sad but I did enjoy tirelessly popping each unsuspecting bubble.

So, I had this warm fuzzy memory floating around in my neurons, and I had these zombies marching down my screen. The rest as they say is history: ZZPop LW (as it was called) was born. This was released onto Android Market in June 2011, along with:

Project #2b - Zombie Pop Lite Live Wallpaper

Wanting to test the water on whether people would cough up some money for an improved version of something they liked, I branched the development into a feature lite version. It is still a full playable version, just with some cosmetic restrictions. Again this was released in June 2011.

Project #3 - Pixelnote Live Wallpaper

As my mind was still fresh with Live Wallpaper development, I thought, 'wouldn't it be neat if you could draw straight onto your wallpaper without having to open up another app?'. Taking what I had learned on the last two and a half projects, I brought Pixelnote into existence. I realised that due to limitations of the medium and touchscreens I could only take the idea so far, but what the hey.

Pixelnote was released in July 2011 onto the Android Market.

Around this time, I started looking at the Amazon Android App Market. Even though, being outside the US, I can't actually download anything at this time, it didn't stop me from publishing the game and three wallpapers.

Since then I've released updates for both Livestock Vs The Undead and Zombie Pop and am currently pushing Livestock forward by quite a way (v1.3 is in beta and is looking better).

And that's pretty much it in terms of development. I'll do a post on each of the projects in turn next with a bit of background and the thought processes I went through.


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