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By Shamus
on Thursday Mar 12, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games


Game: Dapple
Total Development Time: Six Months
Platform: iPhone
Development Costs: $32,000
Response: Favorable reviews, including a positive review on Kotaku
Return on Investment: $535.19

The numbers – along with a chart – can be found on the developer’s blog. After that post went up it was linked on Slashdot, which led to this follow-up post.

I’m just posting this here so that the next time I think I have an idea for an “awesome” indie game I can re-read this and then hit myself in the face with my Xbox 360 power brick until I snap out of it.

Thanks to Jay Barnson for pointing to that.

Comments (78)

1 2

  1. lebkin says:

    The chart showing when sales happened is the most telling part. The iPhone app store is so full of things, it is impossible to find good things without some kind of aid. Reviews are very important to filter out the waste. The fact that his app hasn’t gotten much press is probably the key part of the problem. Its hard to sell something if no one knows what it is. The name wasn’t familiar at all to me until I saw this post.

  2. MintSkittle says:

    Reading through the dev blog, we find this interesting bit:

    “First Sale – This was the first sale of the game, made maybe an hour after the game went live. I suspect this was purchased by an app cracker. Dapple was cracked and uploaded to pirate sites less than 5 hours after it went live. This was the only sale prior to that. So thanks, Mr./Mrs. Cracker, you were my first sale!”

  3. Drew says:

    It’s a shame he hasn’t been able to even begin to get a return on his investment, but I have to say, I can’t bring myself to spend any money at all on apps for my iPod touch. I don’t think of it as a “real” gaming platform, and if I need something to pass the time here and there, there’s enough free content for the thing that’ll get me by. I’d imagine many others feel the same way.

    It seems like if there was another revenue stream (say advertising, for example) that was available to iPod/iPhone applications, they might do a lot better. I’d check out dapple if I had to sit through an ad every time I wanted to play it. But I won’t pay $5 for it.

  4. Jattenalle says:

    Simplistic game for $5 on an over saturated.

    Also paying yourself a salary is not a development expense.
    In fact, he says:
    “You may be right, I may be crazy. However, people also misinterpreted the $32K figured. That figure includes the cost of my time. The number is significantly lower if you look only at cash that I paid out.”

    So those $32K re not actually spent money, it’s just some random number he made up. Which is, you know.. Kind of stupid to whine about.

    For the record, I have spent $500 billions making my game. Because that’s how much I say my time is worth.

    It would be much more informative to see ACTUAL costs, and not how much he values spending time making a game.

    On a side note, it sounds like he didn’t enjoy making it since he labels the time spent as an expense.
    Just thought…

  5. Jattenalle says:

    Edit doesn’t work… I meant to say over saturated market. And some other typos..

  6. Kameron says:

    Bzzz. Wrong answer, Jattenalle. Go back to Business 101. :) Developer’s salary is most certainly falls under “development” expense, whether it’s his time or a contractor’s or an employees. Now, he may be overvaluing his time, but that’s a whole other argument.

  7. gyfrmabrd says:

    @Jattenalle: “For the record, I have spent $500 billions making my game. Because that's how much I say my time is worth.” (/quote)

    Dang, you pre-empted my joke.
    On which I spent an estimated 64.8 gigazillion Pound Sterling in developement cost.
    This will cost you dearly!

  8. Josh says:

    “Return On Investment” is a specific term in economics meaning the ratio of money received to money invested. So, the ROI here is about 0.017, not $535.


    So those $32K re not actually spent money, it's just some random number he made up. Which is, you know.. Kind of stupid to whine about.

    He spent six months working on it, and that figure includes his low salary plus payment for various pieces he contracted out. Do you expect him to work for nothing?

    Oh… I see. You accuse him of “whining”. I doubt he could have written about this experience in a way that would please you. As for me, I’m glad for the informative articles he’s written.

  9. Luke Maciak says:

    Yeah, the $32K number is way out of proportion. I really can’t figure out where did he actually get that number from. There is just no way that developing this sort of game on your own would cost you this much.

    I guess we can assume he outsourced the artwork – but that wouldn’t set him back 32K. Nor would hosting, development tools and etc.

    He says the number includes fees he paid to his contractors and a modest salary he paid himself. How the hell do you justify paying yourself a salary on a small-scale solo project like that without any brand name recognition, backing, distribution deals or a plan.

    I was always under impression that when you are working on this type of project, you eat up the initial costs, minimize your spending (ie. do most of the work yourself so you don’t have to pay other people) and keep your day job unless you are prepared to live on ramen noodles and tap water for the next 6 months.

    This guy’s business model is simply unrealistic – he is trying to break into a over-saturated market with a simple puzzle game that LOOKS almost exactly like every other bejeweled clone out there. Yes, the idea is original but as he said himself – at a first glance the game looks like yet another “match 3 elements in a row” type puzzle.

    Again, I doubt that this guy spent 32K making this game. In fact, I doubt he spent much more than $1K on development related expenses (tools, hosting, deployment costs, advertising). I think this number represents what he would have to pay a full time developer (ie. himself) over the course of development. To me, that number would be “the amount of money I saved by doing this myself” rather than “development costs”. But I guess it all depends on your perspective.

    Unless of course he outsourced the whole thing to 3rd party developers and then paid himself a salary for managing the project. Then I guess I could buy the $32K costs.

  10. John Lopez says:

    I will disagree with the idea that one don’t count expended time that could be used on something else as a “cost”. It in fact has a more specific name in business: opportunity cost. The fact that he calculated his time spent based on a wage far below what he is capable of in fact *understates* the cost of developing the software.

    As an example: developer X earns $100,000 dollars a year, but decides to work half time to work on a side project for 6 months. After he is done, assume he resumes his full time employment.

    The developer clearly “forfeited” $25,000 in wages in persue his project. If he doesn’t cover that *opportunity cost*, he has lost money for his years work.

    People who pretend their time has no value either are failing to perform the proper assessment, or they are unemployable.

    (Of course, the above assumes he actually worked hard on the project, and didn’t take a 6 month mini-vacation where he coded a few hours a day: opportunity cost is the *best* alternative use of your time, but squandering time goofing off doesn’t count.)

  11. Luke Maciak says:

    @John Lopez – what about people who develop much more complex open source software on their free time. There are people who write compilers, programming languages and operating systems by spending 2-3 hours of their own free time each evening. Some of them make profit on their work – many do not. None of these people counts this as billable work time.

    I’m pretty sure one could reliably develop a game like Dapple within a 6 months to a year while holding a full time job.

    I don’t know – maybe I’m just failing to understand how the business world works because I actually love programming. Seriously, I can’t believe people actually pay me to do this stuff. So if I developed a game on my own free time and earned $500 on it, I would count it as pure profit.

    But I would probably not have earned that much because my first instinct would probably be to release that code under GPL for free. I guess I’m a lost cause. :(

  12. Ingvar says:

    Having written a few, small games (that, really, as “games” are a bit of a cheat, there’s no attract loop, there’s no simple-to-launch binary, there’s no high score table and there’s NO SOUND and at least one is woefully lacking in levels, that’s a bit of a problem for a level-based game), I can well believe that “six months” represents more-or-less full-time work.

  13. Cybron says:

    The value of the time spent on the project is ALWAYS part of the cost. Opportunity cost and such are Economics 101.

    Anyways, I’m glad he released this information. It certainly is interesting. However, I would like to see his cash spent before opportunity cost is factored in.

  14. Henebry says:

    I’d like to see his sales figures now, after his blog posting got the slashdot treatment. My guess is that this press will boost them for another temporary spike, perhaps dwarfing the first-day sales.

    • Shamus says:

      Guy: I made $500 for 6 months of work.

      Internet person: Whiner!

      Perhaps the iPhone market is oversaturated now. I don’t own one so I wouldn’t know. Was it this bad six months ago, when he began work on the project? If it was, wouldn’t it have been nice if one of the devs from six months ago had made a post like this one, so that this guy would know what he was getting into?

      No, indie devs should keep all their “whining” to themselves, so ever-more of them can fling themselves into financial ruin like lemmings.

      • Shamus says:

        Clint: Five times the usual price? Wow. Thanks for that crucial bit of context.

        Even if the game is of higher quality and worth more, there is probably no way for an iPhone user to see that ahead of time. I really wish game sales weren’t such a hush-hush deal all the time. Movie studios are always going on about sales and viewers and opening weekends. Video game publishers are not nearly as forthcoming, and those of us outside the industry keep looking for stories like this one to give us SOME glimpse into the sausage factory.

  15. krellen says:

    I don’t have an iPhone, so I can’t speak of reality, but his posting of his investment and return makes me more inclined to buy Dapple.

  16. Nick says:

    As a hopeful soon-to-be developer, this worries me. I’d like to know that a new game, favorable reviews, decent price, and excellent endorsement (good review on Kotaku) doesn’t always translate to good sales. In fact, at only about a hundred or so sales, this is downright depressing.

    As for the 32K cost, I’d have to say it’s pretty accurate. Time spent making this game could have gone to other work, which would give him more than 500 bucks returned in the end.

    And lastly, yeah, I think he’s using the wrong term for Return on Investment. It’d be more like -31.5K RoI.

  17. David W. says:

    I have to agree with counting his time as a cost. Heck, he could have spent that time at McDonald’s more productively, if he were only measuring in money. Clearly stuff like fun at the job and investing in his company also has value for him, or he wouldn’t have done it. In his followup post, he mentioned: “My hope is that over time the company will develop a reputation for quality and that people will see that”. That means that he’s aware that a lot of what he’s buying is goodwill/reputation/brand, but of course there’s no way to measure the value of that, so it’s fair to leave that out of his calculation.

    On the subject of Open Source – I agree, it would be silly to write up a business study finding that you spent a lot of valuable time and got no income. The fact is, though, that’s exactly what you’re doing. It seems to work because of the alternate rewards of reputation and altruism, as Eric Raymond explained here: http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/

  18. Knut says:

    Although I hate seeing good, hard working developers fail, I have been missing stories like this. The press coverage on IPhone developers have been very one-sided in my opinion.

    There’s been quit a lot of stories in the press like “Single developer put an app on Apple Store, instant $$$!”, but I’ve not seen any until now about anyone who has worked hard and not being successful. Life isn’t fair, and I think it takes quite a bit of luck in addition to good marketing to make it. Perhaps some people have gotten unrealistic expectations by all the one-sided stories in the press? (not saying that this fellow is one of them, he seems to be realistic about the whole thing)


  19. Clint says:

    In the Slashdot article about this, the comments pointed out that a)This is a simplistic color-matching game, the likes of which has only been seen a million times before and b) The guy put it up on the Apple Store for five times the usual price for these sorts of things. It’s not too surprising that the app bombed.


  20. mithmurr says:

    Just wanted to point out, in the original post, he stated he “had a budget of roughly $32,000 USD.” Then, at the end of the paragraph introducing the chart, “(all funds in Canadian Dollars).” So he’s gotten back even less money that it first appears.

  21. K says:

    The problem is: Why would I want to buy another (boring?) puzzle game? I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands of these during the last ten years, and most of them have been free flash games.

  22. ydant says:

    $5 for a stupid game is a lot on the market he is selling on. Aren’t a LOT of games simply $1? If I can get my quick entertainment fix for $1, why would I pay $4 more?

  23. Kellandros says:

    Clint- how many of those comments about ‘another simplistic 3-color match’ were by people who actually played the game?

    If you read the first article, he mentioned reviews on fairly big sites(like Kotaku) that were positive, stating that the game had more depth than they expected.

    And for all the people claiming they could have written this in their spare time- how polished are your products? Menus, lack of bugs, consistently fun gameplay? Show it to a friend and ask if they would pay money for it. Can you come back to your own game and find it fun to play?

  24. Nick says:

    Indeed, more time is spent on a product polishing it to a shine than actually throwing it together. I could probably code a simple “match 3 game” in a weeks time, but spend a lot longer time making sure that when I match up 4 of one color it takes out all 4. There are actually a lot of situations in a simple game that you have to anticipate and code to prevent, which is much more time spent than coding the basics.

    As for pricing, all I have to go on is that a family member has an iphone, and remarks that people are much more willing to splurge on simple, $1 games than a $5 game, even if it’s more polished and deep.

    Since there’s no demos on the store, most people are actually in the habit of making a “lite” version of their program for $1, and those are where the money’s being made. People spend 99c on the DUMBEST things, but don’t splurge for things that cost a lot more but are better.

    It’s just the way things are. He could have sold the game for 1 or 2 bucks, and probably have made the 32K in days.

  25. Nihil says:

    Are good reviews really that relevant a factor? What percentage of iPhone users who browse the App Store looking for a game also read Kotaku?

  26. Brundswick says:

    Folly: iPhone as platform.

  27. skizelo says:

    Man, the success of World of Goo still has me optimistic for the indies. And Braid. And Audiosurf.
    Don’t hold out much hope for the iPhone though.
    Still it’s a sad story. Sympathies for the developer.

  28. SatansBestBuddy says:

    Lack of marketing so nobody knows about your game + 5x higher price point than competition = no sales.

    People may be stupid, but they aren’t dumb. (or is it the other way round?)

  29. Duffy says:

    Well arguably they are both since they will spend $10 on a bunch of silly apps they will never use more then once but not $5 on something they might play a decent amount. I mean, it’s all relative when it comes to stuff like this.

  30. ThaneofFife says:

    I have to agree with the developer here. I’m always interested in numbers for businesses like this (still really want to see the official numbers for Dr. Horrible), and think he was right to release them. It may also prove to have been a good marketing ploy.

    As for the app. price, I was struggling with this on Nintendo Wii recently. Some 80s and 90s console games can be as much as $10 (though it’s usually less), but some of the Wii Ware (purpose-developed titles for Wii) are considerably more. So, do I buy 2-3 classic console titles, or do I buy “Final Fantasy: My Life as a King?” Still haven’t decided yet… But that being said, I don’t think $5 is an exorbitant app. fee on any platform, esp. for an app with good replay value.

    As for his development costs including his time spent, I think that’s completely reasonable. As posters above have pointed out, it’s basic economics to include your time as a cost. And contrary to Luke, above, if you’re starting a software business, then you have to make a living, and you have an expectation of getting paid. Sure you can do open source in your free time, and that’s a great public service, and might even generate business, but creating a paid app. and paying yourself for the time spend creating it is a legitimate business decision.

    Moreover, what he paid himself doesn’t appear to have been unreasonable. Even if he pocketed every cent of his $32k costs as his six-month salary, he’s still only making $64k per year before taxes. This is a nice middle-class salary, but it’s by no means unreasonable. I’m aware of administrative assistants who make more. (Disclosure: I am an unemployed lawyer and make $0 per year).

    So, three cheers for the dev. who is NOT whining when he posts info like this. And, thanks to Shamus for sharing it with those of us who don’t regularly read Slashdot.

    P.S. Shamus: If you develop a game for a platform I own, I’ll buy it no questions asked (assuming I have any money left to my name).

  31. JKjoker says:

    as a new company he should have gone for a $1 buck price and feel happy if he managed to break even and promote his name

  32. JoeTortuga says:

    The price of this game, without a free demo is more than I’d pay. Yes, $5 is not that much money, but the price of iPhone games seems to sit between “free” to about $3, clustering around the $1 price point.

    If you put out an excellent game with no demo, but which looks like a million other games, but charge outside the normal price range, gamers will go elsewhere.

    Of course, dropping the price to $1 would mean he’d need five times as many sales (since Apple’s cut is proportional to price), and that may not have been possible either.

    He’s a new developer, and he’s doing now what he should have done in the first place: which is putting out a free demo. I’d bet his conversion rate goes up quite a bit once people try the game. That, and pricing issues are the things to take away here.

    32K seems like a very slim, reasonable budget. He had to at least have a macintosh, professional software to develop with. He has to at least estimate what his time is worth, or you can’t value what projects are worth your time.

    I wish him luck, and when the demo comes out, I will try it. If his price was <$3 I’d probably buy it on the strength of his blog entries. It’s not, so I’ll wait for the demo.

    FWIW, I am really enjoying the various iPhone/iPod Touch games. We’re still seeing what the platform is capable of (very few games use multitouch yet, for instance).

  33. Rick says:

    Sounds like your average small business/start-up company. Most fail. Not everyone working out of their garage turns into a millionaire. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have done this, in fact, I like his entrepreneurial spirit (it’s what drives America!). He seems like a very realistic person and business owner. I’m sure he’ll take what he learns and maybe he’ll improve on his business model (pricing, marketing,etc.), try again and then make more. Maybe a few more tries and he’s making money.

  34. Mari says:

    Wow. I’m such a rube. Just this month I spent $5 on a “simplistic puzzle game” that I genuinely enjoyed (after playing a free version for a while). The game was called Peggle and comes from that most hated of all developers, PopCap. How dare this idiot think that just because he developed an equally enjoyable game he could have a piece of the success that’s rightfully PopCap’s?

    Seriously, whether it’s been done “endlessly” or not there is, for some of us, a great deal over $5 worth of entertainment value in a simple puzzle game. That would be why I still play Tetris all these years later, why I still play Bejewled 2 when I just want to zone out for a while, or why I’ve spent more than my fair share of time playing a modified pinball game that sings “The Hallelujah Chorus” at me when I beat a level. They may not be fancy but they’re fun. They’re certainly the kinds of games I play on my cellphone when I’m avoiding talking to people by pretending to be engrossed in something else.

    I don’t think this guy is being unrealistic here unless he was expecting to have made his millions by now (which he doesn’t ever imply is the case).

    As far as his development costs, they seem reasonable when looked at objectively. Certainly there was opportunity cost involved. He contracted out art, music, and sound design. Presumably these are areas where he was ill-equipped to do the work himself. Certainly not every programming engineer has a dual minor in music and art. Yet these are areas that are certainly involved in creating a polished product that you intend to sell. No, you wouldn’t contract those out if you’re programming a simple match-three game for your high school comp. sci. class but I’m hoping you didn’t expect to sell that to the public (though some of the iPhone offerings I’ve come across have, in fact, seemed like somebody’s homework project). And for his own salary, well, considering we’re discussing a six-month commitment, I find it hard to imagine that he inflated his own value too much. Bear in mind that if we were talking about $32K as being ONLY his time that would put him at estimating his own worth at around $60K/year, a number that isn’t at all unreasonable for a “code monkey” these days. If somebody else were paying him that much, plenty of his peers would be selling him on job opportunities that pay better. But this $32K isn’t even all about his time. It’s his time, his equipment (that computer he’s coding on wasn’t free, folks…nor were the dev software and tools), and two to three other people’s time as well. Welcome to real world economics aka entrepreneurialism 101.

  35. Robert says:

    The problem is his pricepoint.

    Teenage kid lounging bored with me at the dentist, waiting our turn, about to start setting fires and otherwise being a teenager: “Dad, can I buy this game on my phone? It’s a dollar.”

    Me: “Will it buy me ten minutes of sullen quiet?”

    Teenager: “Yep.”

    Me: “Do it.”

    At $5 it turns into a fight.

  36. smIsle says:

    bottom line: I can’t deduct wages I pay myself on my taxes. Therefore, it’s not an expense.

    I do a lot of one off projects hoping to see a return someday. I published a book in the kindle market last year – spending $0 and about 5 hours of my time. So far it has returned about $25, meaning I made $5 an hour on that project (so far). That’s the nice thing about IP – you take a loss for the “cost” of producing an item, and then hopefully gain it back. When you work for yourself you have to take the flops with the success. There is no huge corporation willing to subsidize your efforts until you get it right. But, if you *do* get it right, they also have no cut into your profits.

    Anyone who works a book, or computer game, or anything else independent of an employer, does not get a wage. That’s just how it is.

    Also, it took 6 months to make a bejeweled clone? wow.

    EDIT: If he had come up with his great game idea, and then contracted out ALL of the work, paying his programming friend “a modest wage”, then he could count it as an expense. Would he have paid as much? Would he have risked that much actual money on his idea? Would he have spent a bit more on marketing (the only thing that puts him above his competition)?

  37. DaveMc says:

    @Robert: “Will it buy me ten minutes of sullen quiet?” Ha! Very nice line, kudos.

    You look like such a sweet little girl in your picture, it’s surprising that you’re so cynical already … :)

  38. K says:

    I wanted to add something: I do not think the iPhone is a good platform for games.

    It has a tiny screen, compared to PCs, consoles or even PSP and DS. It has devastatingly inaccurate controls. This outright kills any game that goes for accuracy, or for speed. In fact, it also kills anything that needs complicated controls, because you only get that by showing menus, and these need a lot of screen space which makes the game look bad.

    Either people re-invent the wheel and produce games that only work on the iPhone, or the games will suck. Use the motion sensor? The light sensor? The wireless? The GPRS? Anything of that might work, but trying to emulate a mouse is horror. You cannot look at what you type, since your finger is in the way!

    It is fun for five minutes to play around, but not more.

    SmIsle: That is not how it works if you cannot afford to be unemployed for 6 months. When you have an idea, you get someone to invest some money, write a business plan and so on. Believe me, I just wrote a thesis on that. Then you tell the investor: “I will have these expenses, will need this hardware and of course, I need some money to eat and sleep too.” If he pays the 32k, you are good to go. If he does not, you either find someone else or you do not even start. You cannot just risk 6 months of your work time in the hopes of selling something in the end. Well, unless you have a lot of money to begin with.

  39. LintMan says:

    I can’t follow the links to read his blog now, but did he say he really did not work a full-time job and spent 6 months writing this game full-time? Or was it 6 months of “evening and weekend time”. People seem to be implying the former, but the latter seems far more likely to me. How many people would actually take a risk like that, on something so unknown and unlikely to pay off? Sure, someone might occasionally do it while they take their stab at writing the next “Great American Novel”, but I doubt many of those people would say the novel then cost them $32K to write.

    That said, if he really did quit a regular job and work full time on the game, counting that opportunity cost as salary isn’t that outrageous. (Though it’s a slippery slope – EVERYTHING has opportunity costs, and I don’t think it’s usually worth getting into the business of putting actual prices on them). If his claim was actually quantifiable in the sense that he went through $32K of his savings in that time, then I’d say it was absolutely reasonable.

    On the other hand, if he wrote it in all his spare time after work and on weekends, then I’d call this a “hobby he hoped to make some money doing”. Ie: If he had spent 6 months making a fancy wooden dining room table and chair set in a home workshop in the evenings, instead of a game, could he still claim a $32K investment in building it? Unless it was some amazing work of art, who would pay that? What if he spent 6 months playing WoW and then tried to sell his level 70 character? Could that be a $32K “investment”?

    More helpful would be for him to say how many hours of actual TIME he spent, and have the cost figure include only actual $$$ spent. Then we could compute the cost ourselves, based on our own idea of what value to place on time spent. “6 months” could mean anything from under 200 hours to 2000+ hours.

  40. Brackish says:

    I want to see a detailed line-item breakdown of this $32,000 cost estimate. There’s a reason for that…

    A large part of my current job is to negotiate contracts for multi-million dollar projects. Another large chunk of my time involves working up detailed labor, material and overhead estimates for said projects and writing subcontracts. I’ve been doing it for years and I know all of the primary warning signs for contractual and financial shenanigans. There are hundreds of ways to hide money and disguise unnecessary expenditures as “overhead.” Until I see detailed facts and justifications, that $32,000 number is completely irrelevant. Maybe it’s a real cost and he can prove it line by line, but it is incumbent upon him to convince me.

    Harsh? No, that’s the way competitive business operates. Otherwise you’re a chump and will get trampled accordingly.

  41. smIsle says:

    I hate to follow myself, but …

    I don’t have an iPhone, but looking at his chart of sales tells me that the iPhone system of finding new games to play is date based, with the newer games at the top, another popularity based list, and a search option to help you find specific games.

    In that sort of environment, if you don’t break through the popularity bubble, your game is doomed to be forgotten. Your highest sales will come on release day when it is near the top of the date-based list – if it never gets to the popularity based list OR isn’t good enough to be recommended by friends, then there is little that will save it. This makes creating simple, cheap (time and graphics-wise) games as quickly as possible the only way to make a lot of money without creating that one in a million instant hit games.

    And, I guess I should say … 6 months seems like a long time – if he were ONLY working on his game. I suppose he had a day job, which makes 6 months a pretty decent development time for a simple game. I didn’t mean to bash on him there :-)

  42. Corsair says:

    What makes you think this guy is under any obligation to convince you?

  43. smIsle says:

    K: In that case, your investor becomes your employer in a way – but in that case, you had better make back the $32K, or at least a whole lot more than $500. Rather than wasting YOUR time if it flops, you are wasting the investor’s money instead.

    As far as working for nothing while you try and make something that actually floats .. I guess that’s why I’m poor still :-) But, I have a lot of fun while doing it, and I sure haven’t quit my day job (which is working on an independent business software project – so I’ve put my money where my mouth is :-) )

    The best thing to do, I think, is to have a product / game that can evolve over time. You spend a weekend making something fun, but unpolished, you get a few people to play it that you know, you spend as little as possible. If it IS fun, more people will start playing it – you should have a way to earn money off of it (duh!), and as more people make it more profitable, you refine it, add new features, and attract MORE people to play your game, and so on until it’s a great game, and changing it will make more people upset than happy, and leave it at that.

  44. Robyrt says:

    I didn’t realize just how harsh the iPhone market was until I saw these numbers.

    People are complaining about paying $5 for a game, and they want it to be $1 instead. Basically, they value a match-3 game at the price point of one song on iTunes, or one can of Coke, or 1/2 a Rock Band song, i.e. 5-10 minutes of fun.

    As a hardcore gamer, I am used to spending lots of money, very infrequently, on entertainment. (Street Fighter IV, with custom controller? That’ll be $150 USD, please. Now go play it for a month.) The casual market wants to spend a very small amount, very frequently. (Text messages. Individual songs. If you could buy a pack of 3 M&Ms, it would fly off the shelves.)

  45. Ancorehraq sis says:

    What is this Grahamesque cargo cult entrepreneurship?!

    Between the hilarious serious business OMG THIS IS A REAL COMPANY website (look at that adorable contact page!) and referring to himself in the plural, the guy must be expecting success and financial freedom to ambush him like an angry spawn-camping orc.

    Of course, the *real* business model here is pointing the blogodrome towards the plight of poor iPhone game developers. Seems to be going well for him.

  46. Lupis42 says:


    Why does he have to account anything to you? Or anyone else? He’s chosen to blog about it, but why would he really care whether you believe how much he’s spent?

    I don’t mean that to be offensive, I’m just trying to point out that we’re not really entitled to go over his financials just because he chose to give a heads up to other iPhone devs, and if we were, the thing to do would be to talk to him.

  47. Mari says:

    Robyrt – I noticed that, too. It’s hard to imagine complaining about spending $5 on a game when you turn around and spend $60 on a different game and yet it doesn’t seem to bother most people. It brings to mind a phrase that seems forgotten or misunderstood in this day and age, to “nickel and dime” someone. The implication of that phrase means to bring about financial ruin through a variety of small expenses rather than a few large ones. It’s surprisingly accurate, too. More people go broke on the daily Starbucks and $1 iPhone apps than on the $28K car and $150K house.

  48. Julian says:

    @Mari (48)
    I agree completely. I’ve “nickel and dime”‘d myself on a smaller scale. Usually, I take 10 pesos from my savings to use in school for a week. I never buy anything expensive with those 10 pesos, but spending, I dunno, 2 on a bottle of soda, 1,50 on a pack of Mentos, etc, starts adding up without you noticing.

  49. Magnus says:

    Surely with regards to “nickel and dime” payments, the key is not to splash out on a big mortgage or car repayments and leave yourself plenty of day-to-day spending cash. (plenty is of course very relative).

    In the UK there is the expression “look after the pennies, and the pounds look after themselves”, but I’ve always been of the opinion I would rather fritter away a few quid here and there than have a large capital expense or repayment that means I have to cut back on the little things. There are times when that can of coke, starbucks or whatever just provides enough of a pick-me-up for that day. Never underestimate the value of a small indulgence.

  50. Mistwraithe says:

    Those who believe the developer shouldn’t count the cost of his time are so off base it isn’t funny. Sure if it was just a hobby then maybe not (although even then if he ever wants to look back on the development work and evaluate its true profitability then he needs to).

    However if it was a commercial venture which he wanted to make a profit then he MUST count his time.

    Take an example… say I tell you that if you stop work for 6 months (without going on welfare) and do nothing then I will give you $1000. WOOOPIE, that’s $1000 profit. You must take this deal, it is free profit.

    Um, except of course, you’re going to starve on just $1000 for six months since you are no longer earning your salary.


    The true value of my above offer is $1000 – your lost salary for six months which is likely to end up quite a substantial negative number!

  51. ngthagg says:

    I think counting his own pay as part of the cost is quite reasonable.

    It allows the developer to compare the financial success of the game to other activities. Try comparing making a match three game to a shooter to a tower defense game to an rpg. The time you spend planning, developing, and debugging is going to vary greatly. (And the idea that programming is fun so you don’t need to charge for it is naive at best. When you are creating game with the intent to publish it, it’s a job. If you expect to have fun the whole time, you’re in for a disappointment.)

    And what happens when you start outsourcing parts of the game, as this developer did? He paid other people to handle the artistic parts. If you value your time at $0/hr, and aren’t particularly skilled artistically, do you hire a contractor to do art? Low cost, poor result vs high cost, good result is a tough decision. But if you accurately price your own contributions, the question is a lot simpler, especially when you consider that your own lack of experience of skill is going to increase the time to do the art.

    What if you’re designing a 3D game of some sort, and you’re considering purchasing assets of some kind: maybe a set of character models, textures, or even a 3D environment builder. These things may save you weeks or even months of time, but you’re going to pay for them. Is it worth it? If your time has no value, then you’re always better off developing everything yourself.

    Open source developers don’t really enter into the discussion, since I doubt they expect much of a return from free software.

  52. ThaneofFife says:

    @ smIsle: Just because you might not be able to deduct your wages from your taxes doesn’t mean that it’s not valid to consider your own salary a business expense. The main reason tax rules like that exist is to close gaping loopholes. If you could deduct your wages, you would be incentivized to pay yourself an astronomical wage to avoid paying any tax whatsoever.

    And I still think $5 is reasonable…

  53. nerdpride says:

    Is it just me, or does Apple taking 30% or something sound ridiculous? I’d stop there before I heard about the guy’s abysmal sales.

    His latest blog was about putting the product on sale, 3 bucks instead of 5 I think, seems like it could be a good idea. Of course, makes you wonder if he’s just losing the money on sales to the pity crowd (or just regular people who would’ve bought it for five bucks anyway).

    And to think, if there were hardcore fans, they’d want a sequel ASAP.

  54. Marauder says:

    I just noticed that Dapple is currently “on sale” on the App Store for $2.99 I may check out the “Lite” version once it hits the App Store but it does not look very compelling to me.

    For the record, I’ve paid $9.99 for the one of the X-Plane ports (X-Plane Airliner) and will probably grab another (x-Plane Extreme) at the same price… I’d love to see Austin Meyer’s sales numbers.

  55. Noble Bear says:

    I agree that the developer’s time is worth something and it makes sense to quantify it so he/she knows when their breaking even/making profit.

    On a deep structure level, to just post that it all costs $32k feels arbitrary and ungrounded. It would have been better if he had shown an itemized list of expenses so we can appreciate the scope of his fixed expenses verses self compensation, also a rough count of total man hours would be nice.

    Breaking it down like that would not only be instructional for other would be devs but also for would be artists like the one he outsourced the graphics and music to.

    I don’t think he was whining and I don’t think he was being unreasonable, but what info he provides means next to nothing with out more details to provide a context.

  56. Decius says:

    If he was working 2 hours an evening, and 5 hours on each weekend day on this project, that’s 30 hours a week. Figure that that’s half of 60 hours a week, which is what I’d expect a developer-in-charge of a project to work. 32k/6 months is half of 128k/year.

    If you wanted to hire a developer-in-charge to make games for you, including all of design, artwork, coding, testing, and any contracted work comes out of his salary, could you find one who would work for less than that? I don’t think so.

    So, if he was working this as a serious hobby in addition to a day job, 32k for a six month project is undervaluing his investment.

    In effect, he was the investor that put 32k into the project, hired himself and his contractors, and has seen a meager $600 income result.

    The reason a sole proprietor cannot deduct his salary is that his corporate income is his personal income – It would have to be an expense and an equal income. If he is running a legit business on the side at a loss, he CAN deduct business expenses from his day job income.

  57. TA says:

    If he was working 2 hours an evening, and 5 hours on each weekend day on this project, then it wouldn’t have taken him six months to do it. I’m not a programmer, but I have several professional programmer friends, and they wouldn’t need more than a week or two to do this, including QA. Maybe a month if iPhone coding is particularly obtuse.

    $32,000 isn’t by any means an unreasonable salary for a professional developer-in-charge working full-time for six months, but it’s a completely ridiculous number to budget for this project.

  58. Caffiene says:

    I agree that 32k seems too much…

    Is it too much for an experienced, full-time lead programmer on a project? No.

    But we arent talking about an experienced professional working on a professional project, really. The question is should a solo programmer, releasing their first solo game for a new medium, seemingly without a strong business plan and without the necessary market research, expect to make $32000 in sales? Well, no… I dont think thats a recipe for success.

    Its a learning experience for him, Im sure. I wouldnt say it was completely stupid, but obviously there were some bad decisions made. You could say that the 32k was his mistake, because it was too optimistic. Or you could say that the investment was fine and his mistake was poor market research. Or you could say his project was too large for an initial attempt. Really, its all interrelated and hopefully he’ll learn from it and his next project will have more realistic goals (or, he’ll correct his mistakes and make a profit on this project).

  59. ngthagg says:

    I’m not sure if everyone got this far in the followup post:

    I did all of the game design, all of the programming, all of the project management, and all of the marketing for Dapple. I hired people on contract to do the artwork, the sound design, and music for the game.

    So the $32,000 figure in calculations is an upper end, and the value is lower than that.

  60. SteveDJ says:

    Ummm, Xbox 360 power brick? Don’t you really mean: PS3 brick? :)

  61. Zach says:

    Does it have a lite version? Lack of a free trial does an app in for me. There are just too many good app’s that I can try before I decide to pay for the full version for me to go around buying them at random.

  62. Klay says:

    I will continue to think about that Lightsabre app for the iPhone, think about how much money its making, and slap myself silly for the rest of the day for not thinking it up first.

  63. Jattenalle says:

    [Insert quotes from the people that didn’t agree with me here]

    My point was that his figure of $32k is not expenses only.
    The reason for my assertion is that people value their time differently.
    I’m actually making a game, and have worked on it for the better part of two and a half years now.
    Total expenses? $300
    Because I reason that working on my own game, doing what I enjoy, is not an expense for me.

    As such, his “informative article” is not at all informative since I can not find out how much he actually SPENT versus how much he thinks he should have gotten PAID.

    When you write an article about how much money it cost you to develop something, claiming it’s informative and helpful.
    You don’t add in arbitrary values that you assign yourself with random numbers.
    And you definitely don’t bundle it all together claiming that’s the “final” expense, without saying how much is what.

    For all we know $31’950 could be his salary “expense” with $50 being actual expenses, as in money he had to SPEND as opposed to “get paid”

  64. Strangeite says:

    As an iPhone owner, I must say that the $5 price point is just too high for a no-name game. I can buy Monopoly or Crash Bandicoot for $5. While I agree with people that the average price of iPhone games are too low, that is where the market is. A developer that ignores the market’s price point does so at his own risk.

    Personally I think the best business strategy is those developers that release an application and give it away free for a couple of days. Typically they get far more press and surge in downloads. Then you raise your price and let word of mouth, high ranking in the “Top Downloads” list and good reviews drive your sales. That is what I did and I believe I sold more apps because of it. Now granted I had a small speciality niche app, but it was word of mouth by those that downloaded it for free that drove my later sales.

    Also, those that think he should not count his time in development costs have obviously never ran their own business.

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