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WWDC 2010: Mighty Mighty Good Games

Not all of the developers on the App Store are starting up gigantic companies or breaking new indie ground. A large number of them, like Darren Sillett and his wife Samantha of Mighty Mighty Good Games, are just experienced programmers who choose an idea and stick with it, iterating and testing to see what works and what doesn't on the App Store. Sillett's biggest app is one of a few versions of Sudoku on the iPhone, but since day one, he and his wife (former Microsoft developers -- Sillett actually worked on Windows Vista) have been playing with this idea of word games on the iPhone, and they've tested all of the tricks. They've released free versions, included ads, tried different pricing and versions, and so on. As a result, they've found success with over ten million downloads of their free apps and over 200k in paid-app sales.

Sillett told me that his next big step will be to bring some of his apps to the iPad, and he's planning on going universal. While there will be some extra stuff in the iPad version, he thinks that universal is the best choice for his customers, at least while he's testing the waters. We also talked at length about iAds; Sillett says that ads have proven more beneficial for him in just the last few months, as ad companies and customers have really started to move the market along.
Apple's own solution seems like a good system, but Sillett says that "the biggest unknown is the fill rate." If every developer on the App Store jumps in to the program, Apple will have a lot of ad inventory to sell, and Sillett is skeptical that they'll sell it all right away. Still, Apple's system will definitely be the "first class citizen," even if there will "still be niche places for other companies" like AdMob.

I asked him about Game Center as well, and he told me that he'd looked at and decided not to use OpenFeint. "It was very invasive," he said, and they wanted to "force people to log in. They wanted to put their branding on everything." He's not yet sure what Game Center will offer in terms of branding, but the benefit of a system run by Apple is that, with its link to iTunes, everyone on the iPhone has an account. Then again, there are some features that Apple's service doesn't have, like turn-based multiplayer, that OpenFeint already does.

He's looking forward to the new tools in the iOS 4.0 release (especially the new UI automation features that Apple is adding), but as a developer, Sillett says he'll take his time implementing them. "I've still got 1-2% of my users on 2.5 something," he said. The bonus of the new iPod touch update not having the usual cost will be nice, but users are generally slow to upgrade anyway, so his apps won't reflect most of the new features for a while.

While we here at TUAW obviously cover the App Store, we also talked about the Android marketplace. Sillett said that his experience in Apple's store has been leagues ahead of releasing software on other mobile platforms, and I asked him why. He said that the Android store just doesn't help developers in terms of sales; there are only about 300 characters open for an app description, and there's a barrier of entry in the form of creating a Google Checkout account (which is far less likely than having an iPhone account). As a result, Sillett says "the sellthrough rate is pitiful." And his buyers on Android are usually App Store customers anyway; they have left feedback saying that they played the same game on the iPhone (and wonder if they have to repurchase the app for Android).

It was good to talk to Sillett at WWDC. It seems like he's a developer out there in the trenches. He's one of many that are just working away on the App Store, trying a few different approaches until they find what works.

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iPhone App Store

Not all of the developers on the App Store are starting up gigantic companies or breaking new indie ground. A large number of them, like...