Tales of App Store failure
I'd like to highlight the realities of the income you get on the app store without major press coverage or promotion on Apple's front page. "Dead Panic" is still on the launch pad sales-wise, but this post will serve as a nice counterpoint to future rich-and-famous stories, and show what can happen if the party never starts.
My Sales Figures
Stories about how "the app store gold rush is over" are very popular right now. In that spirit, I present my first two weeks of sales results:
This is what an app store debut looks like. The big spike is launch day, and it marks my maximum - 118 sales sales per day. It was followed by a week-long personal promotion blitz, including every message board thread I could create, every promo code sent to news outlets and web sites, and every Twitter and Reddit post I could crank out until my tunnels got carpal'ed.
Regardless it's mostly downhill after that, with a small spike on the 18th when I got articles on TIGSource and AppVersity. Then we slide again, to a low of 11 copies a day. At that point I'm off the new releases list and off the top strategy games list. If that's my game's "natural state" in the app store, it represents about six hundred dollars a month (pre-tax) which is not enough to sustain development.
This is a sharp contrast to the heady days of last June, where just being appearing on the app store would guarantee you a place in the charts and hundreds of sales a day.
This isn't the end of the story - getting featured on the app store or covered on some larger web sites would make a huge difference. Releasing updates and a free version (both planned) would give me subsequent bumps. But even assuming that updates give me the same bump as my initial release, we're talking about 500 new sales after each release. At two updates a month, I can make $2000 a month - just enough to pay my rent and groceries, but no extra to cover the sunk production costs.
Other Dev's Sales Figures
This actually puts me in pretty common company. Owen Goss, a professional game developer who left his job to go indie, posted his sales figures for his puzzle game Dapple - he only sold 131 copies in the first month.
Veiled Games has released their sales numbers too. If you read ahead in the blog you'll find that they were eventually featured by Apple, and quit their day jobs - but if that had not happened their app would likely have languished at 20-30 sales per day, and you can't put "get featured by Apple" in your business plan any more than you can put "win the lottery" in your personal budget.
Many other devs posted their sales numbers in this thread, including initial sales for a #1 kids game. Again the picture becomes clear - "just being there" in the app store is only good for a few sales a day. Single-digits. After that it's down to the quality of your app and the success of your promotion.
It's possible to link my sales to the quality of my game - but although "Dead Panic" is not winning any awards for art, it's solid and fun. We can at least say that if your app is *less fun* and *more ugly* than mine, your sales will be worse than this.
Is the party over?
This was destined to happen for economic reasons - if mowing lawns paid a thousand dollars a day, workers would flood into the landscaping business until the pay was brought in line with other similar jobs. The same thing happened with iPhone developers, flooding the platform until development is about as lucrative as any other platform.
Anyone who's developing for the app store needs to see these numbers alongside the stories of iShoot, iFart, and Flight Control, and understand that while the app store is far from a wasteland, it is no longer a license for devs to print money.