Money and App Store

Original author: Emeric Thoa
  • Transfer

Statistics for an indie developer

Posted by Emeric Thoa

Translating My


When I said goodbye to working for a large gaming company and founded my own gaming studio, it was interesting to figure out how much money you could expect to earn as an indie developer. Having worked at Ubisoft to develop console AAA games, I had some thoughts. But they were already irrelevant for my new indie life. 20 million budgets in dollars, teams of 20 thousand people, sales of $ 70 per copy ... I understood that for an indie everything is much different, but information about how differently was very insufficient.

Angry Birds soared to Olympus, Plants vs. Zombies was already an example of success, Doodle Jump was a good example of success at the time I started, Cut the Rope sold a million copies a week. But, except for the cases that I call jackpots, the network had very little public data with statistics. This meant that the financial expectations from the first SQUIDS project were shrouded in obscurity. Since then, I have been collecting statistics and in this article I want to share information with fellow weapons - indie developers who are at the stage at which I myself was a year and a half ago.

Myths on the App Store

I will provide post-mortem and industry-specific statistics and justify what place our SQUIDS project takes in the big picture. But first, I will debunk some myths about the App Store in terms of money.

Myth # 1: There are so many iPhones and iPads that any decent game will make you rich

An elementary mistake is often observed while you are discussing statistics with a cup of coffee with your indie business associate. “Well, ok, there are 200 million users in AppStore. Knock at least 0.1% of them with your game for $ 1 and you already have $ 200k! ”


• The mass of iOS users do not have a credit card tied to an account. Think that there are still children and teenagers with iPods. They download only free applications.

• 88% of downloadable games are free. When they say that Angry Birds has 200 million installations, keep in mind that this is including the stripped-down and free versions. (The freemium model is not considered here, but do not be fooled into thinking that the freemium model is easier to implement)

• Do not forget about the Apple commission of 30%. $ 200k = $ 140k for the developer.

The user base can be huge, but many users never buy anything on the App Store, so don't be fooled by the “potential” and stay rational.

Myth # 2: Making iPhone Games Fast and Cheap

If compared with Assassin's Creed or Red Dead Redemption, then it is. iPhone game will not last for $ 50M and for 4 years of development. (A game on the console should not, in theory.) But, if you are doing something more than a Doodle Jump clone, this is a significant amount of work. If you decide to go along the path of cutting costs, you will have a minimally small team, say, of two people, and in time (full time) the development of at least something worthwhile will take, AT LEAST, six months.

Budget outline for iOS games:

• 2 salaries x 6 months
• Freelancer sound engineer
• Trip to a GDC-type conference, meet with journalists
• Iron (new computer, Winchester, iPad)
• Licenses for the software used, developers also need to live for something
• Website, paid Dropbox account (for example)
• Will you conduct testing yourself? Well, then ok ...

In general, your aspirations for earning a living through game development may not be taken seriously at all if you do not have at least $ 40k in the budget. (And this is a very low bar. Today, in order to become competitive in the App Store market, your budget must be at least $ 100k.)

Myth # 3: Updates to the game will lead to increased sales in the long run (the myth is also known as the “Angry Birds Tale”)

This, with a high degree of probability, is the story that most of the "initiates" have heard, and about which there is constant talk at all kinds of meetings and conferences. You say that you have taken a significant step towards becoming an indie developer on iOS, in response you are usually patted on the shoulder in a friendly manner and say, “Yes, uncle, but you understand that for mobile everything is very different from the traditional gaming industry. Even if you miss the first launch, you simply continue to release updates - and as a result, your game will soar to the level of pretzels of heaven. You will earn a ton of money six months after the launch, and in the first week you may not earn even a comparable amount. Look at the Angry Birds, comrades. ”

Yes, it could have made some difference a couple of years ago, but now it is irrelevant - unless you file the launch. If you miss your launch, but continue to improve and promote your game, perhaps the results will please, this is true. But you don't plan on flipping the launch, do you? In the App Store there is a “first launch effect”, you can also call it “priming”, and now, it is much more present than it was ever in the past.

A successful first launch, backed up by special means of promotion, such as Apple fraying, or other means of promotion, or winning a significant competition, or receiving favorable and influential feedback, are factors in increasing sales. Content updates will not give a significant increase (of course, if these are not crash fixes). Content updates such as new levels are good for holding the user base, but they do not increase the user base. This in no way means that you should completely abandon content updates, but do not place undue reliance on them.

Myth # 4: A good post on reddit or a decent viral promo video is enough to make it accessible to a wide audience.

Do you already have a good game? Then the key success factor for you is that your game is simply paid attention to on the App Store site. Another tale, about which I have heard many times (and which, in fact, I would like to believe): You are able to interest huge communities only due to a cool post on any forum or only due to a cool and cheap production video clip. Now, I clearly understand that this is just a waste of time and resources. It is impossible to develop from scratch or to influence in any way any significant community, unless you have already been a significant figure in this community for a long period of time. And viral videos are even more prone to Jackpot Syndrome than the apps themselves, which these videos should supposedly promote. There is no reason to believe that the video will receive 12 million views, as well as the fact that the video will receive 300 views (the last statement is much more likely).
Understand a simple thing like diffusion: attracting the attention of your target audience will be a long-term and difficult battle for you. Fight for this should be, starting from the very first day of development, and ending with a period of one year after the first launch.

Myth # 5: Apple Fiction

Some indies believe Apple features are a good luck factor. I do not think so. It’s clear that Apple functionaries are quite honest people, they only feature games that they like and which they consider to be high-quality products for their platform. But, like any publisher, they have their own party policy in this regard and they, of course, try to take into account all the risks.

• Features games that match the main intended audience (that is, a good education product for the iPad is more likely to be profiled than the Temple Run 2412)

• Features that potentially cover a wider range of devices and use the latest ones their features (if you can use the features of the new iOS 6 - the flag is in your hands)

• Fiche games from trusted developers / publishers (if you already have a published game with millions of sales on iOS - you have great chances)

• Fiche games from people who are personally familiar and known (even in 2012, relationships from real life give confidence to virtual life)

Infinity Blade 2 was not accidentally blacked out at launch: a game from a well-known publisher, a hit sequel, profiled as an iPhone 4 application, and Chair / Epic conducted backstage negotiations with Apple more than once.

On a more appropriate scale for indie, the same trends have shown themselves with the release of Jetpack Joyride, from the developers of Fruit Ninja. Similar to Tiny Tower (Pocket Frog developers). Even Bumpy Road (developers of Cosmo Spin) confirm the stated considerations.

The bottom line: if you are an indie without the support of a well-known publisher, if this is your first title and he does not use the new features of iPhone 5, then you will not be profiled. The good news is that if your game is REALLY READY for the app store, it's no coincidence. This means that theoretically, a developer can achieve Apple features.

So what?

Already realizing that the App Store is not a gold mine that you just have to go and dig out, there are still opportunities to earn a living by doing something that you like - the path of an indie developer. Let's look at successful players on this platform.


Just like in the world of consoles, some titles are simply huge enough to be beyond the bounds of success. Most were developed by small teams, but released at the facilities of very large publishers, thereby providing Apple's feature sharing, broad public relations support and media coverage. Here are some examples with statistics:

Infinity blade

developer Chair publisher Epic. $ 10M for 7 months, of which 40% due to iAP, as Epic reported. In January 2012, the Infinity Blade (1 + 2) franchise surpassed the $ 30M revenue threshold.

Cut the rope

Zeptolab developer, Chillingo publisher. Together they did everything possible to cover the Angry Birds like a bull sheep (they even made a better game), but "only" grabbed 3 million sales in 6 weeks.

Jetpack joyride

Halfbrick developer, widely known for Fruit Ninja. 350K weekly downloads, and this, as you know, was the beginning of a very impressive long-term success.

Order & Chaos

Gameloft developer (inspired by WoW). Earned $ 1M in 20 days, the price is $ 6.99, about 7,000 downloads per day, not counting iAPs.

These examples are what many people think - if the work is done well - playing on the App Store will bring a ton of money. There is no doubt that all the listed games bring financial profit, but even if $ 1M in 20 days is certainly quite a lot of money, I bet the development of Order and Chaos cost the developer more than the net income received. Such games are called Call of Duty and Skyrim and WoW on the App Store, but they do not even bring the money that is enough to cover development costs.
At the same time, there are games that have served as examples of the success of indie developers and may well be considered blockbusters. Unlike jackpots, their success was quite predictable long before the release:

World of goo

• The iPad version was released 2 years after the rather critical PC and WiiWare versions were taken
• The release price was $ 10, then it was reduced to $ 5, as a result, the total sales volume increased compared to the price of $ 10
• Apple fichering. 125K sales for the first month (this is only an iPad!). For comparison, 68K copies and 97K on Steam were sold on WiiWare for the best month.
• Conquered the bar of a million downloads on the App Store (iOS + Mac)

Tiny tower

• Freemium from successful Pocket Frogs developers
• 1 million downloads in 4 days
• 2.6% of users spent money on iAP

The heist

• 500K sold in the first week
• At launch, there was already an estimated user base, numbering 500K, each of which received a newsletter informing about the launch of the game
• Not quite the essence of the issue, but the same developers also released a successful camera + application, which collected 3 million sales. The developers also discovered and shared information that # 3 in Top Paid US means approximately $ 30K per day. From here we take the lesson that being in Top 10 gives about $ 15K per day.

That is, yes, it is possible to hit the jackpot in the App Store, but if you started from scratch, you probably won’t reach such sales figures. There is an exception - you will achieve it if you have a jackpot game.


Meet the real winners of the regatta, or rather the App Store lottery: jackpots hoping for a decent return, but in no way SUCH AN INCREDIBLE success. By far, the most striking example is Angry Birds, although Doodle Jump and Fruit Ninja are no less impressive jackpots.

Here are two more examples:

Tiny wings

Developer Andreas Illiger. Sales - more than 3 million. First place in the US for more than two weeks. Indie's Dream: a great game, excellent reviews from critics, outstanding commercial success. One developer for only 7 months of work. Wonderfully made from beginning to end, but try to clone it, and I can bet with you that you will never become top-1. This is a good example of a jackpot.


The game is a puzzle. I made a crazy jerk to the first place for a short time and gave occasion for dreams to everyone who is “in business”. The developer himself wrote a super mortem post, in which he said that in the beginning everything was not so promising. He also cited interesting data: the first place in Top Paid US is about $ 40-50K per day.

Observations of the French App Store for almost 2 years: Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Doodle Jump, and their sequels did not leave the top 25. What this means for the developer is that even Tiny Wings and Trainyard did not manage to hold onto the top 25 despite the outstanding success, and not a single game, counting from 2010, failed to accomplish such a feat. Stunning success can theoretically, of course, manifest itself again, but there is an opinion that the fundamental "brands" of the App Store have already been created. An opportunity for beginners to climb Olympus can only be the use of new technology or a significant feature from the new Apple device. Perhaps the next super-title will be the one that Siri will use (ha ha).


Let's go back to harsh reality. In this reality, in which you and I, and the rest of the indies, as well as other developers who are not published by the publisher from the top 5. Here are some statistics:

Hard lines

First week:
• 14 reviews, all positive
• 22 user reviews, all for 5 stars
• 452 sales in 8 days, which totaled $ 292.
After that, they received Apple authentication (not Game of the Week, but just New & Noteworthy).
More interesting facts:
• New & Noteworthy increased sales to 6,500 in 10 days
• 82,000 downloads on the first day of promotion on the Free App A Day, 500 sales when they returned to the paid application after 5 days of promotion. Without promotion, regular sales were around 50 per day.
• By Christmas 2011, including downloads during the promotion, when they were free, Hard Line had 258K downloads.


• 4,000 sales ($ 0.99) from September 2010 to August 2011. Record sales in one day: 160 at the start
• 56K downloads during the time when the game was offered for free

Punch a hole

• Touch Arcade and PocketGamer review
• 249 sales in the first week after launch
• 2-3 sales per day after the first week of launch


• TouchArcade review
• New & Noteworthy features on iPad. About 1,400 sales per day in the first two days
• Peak # 21 overall in the US iPad
• In the first 20 days, sales were around 700 per day, later dropped to 100 per day


• Development budget $ 32K, initial launch price $ 4.99
• Kotaku review
• Peak downloads were on launch day, then downloads dropped to less than 10 per day. 131 copies sold in the first 24 days


$ 182 total for the first 20 days

Flower garden

Earned $ 21K for 8 months from April 2009 to January 2010
• added iAPs and a free version, which allowed to achieve income of $ 30K in one month
• Average income of $ 1,500 per week

Big mountain snowboarding

Released in December 2009 without marketing / PR support
• $ 50 per day for the first week after launch, then sales decreased
• New & Noteworthy fichering boosted sales to $ 80 per day, then sales fell back to $ 10
• Launch on iPad gave a small increase in sales, which soon fell again
• Added ads: gives about $ 4 per day (out of 44918 views, 946 targeted, conversion about 2%)
• Android version earns $ 5 per day

Ow my balls

• 14K copies sold per year, totaling $ 10k earned
• At the peak were Top # 1 free during the promotion, when the application was temporarily free, with 233,124 downloads in one day. Conquered the milestone of 1.1 million downloads.
• The day after the successful promotion of the free application received $ 600.


• Apple profichero
• Earned approximately $ 70k, most at a price of $ 0.99
• Mostly successful in Europe, only 9% in the USA
• 23% of users are pirated users, data for August 2010

Conclusions from post-mortem:

• Apple fichering gives a significant increase in downloads
• Reviews of large sites such as Touch Arcade have a big positive effect
• Reviews of sites like Free App a Day can lead to an incredible number of downloads that do not turn into a huge amount of sales in the long run (impact on the reputation of your game still obscure)
• The features of free games can even lower your financial performance, because you have acquired only a lot of users who are not your target audience financially


Dapple’s Owen Goss, a developer, has published interesting results from a survey of other developers regarding igrodela revenue on the App Store. Data is fully correlated with expectations during the founding of The Game Bakers.


1) The more games you have made, the more you earn from each individual game. Experience matters.


2) 80% of developers get 3% of the profit.

Only 20% of developers manage to make a living by developing their games, 1% of them earned a very decent car.


Worthy data analysis by Owen Goss from Dave Addey: 19% of apps earn $ 24k. 80% $ 300. It is quite similar to reality.

What about SQUIDS?

Take risks in order to eliminate the factor of chance.

The SQUIDS strategy can be described as super bold. We agreed to spend more on development than Angry Birds, and earn relatively less. That was the concept.

They also agreed to incur greater costs than Tiny Wings with the intention of earning less than them. It was clear from the start. There was a desire to exclude the factor of lottery, randomness.

The plan was simple:

• A high-quality game with a large audience reach (it is clear that it will be expensive, but it will give a competitive advantage compared to the average iOS game for $ 0.99).

• Target audience in casual midcore class. The target audience of casual games, still wanting to get something better and with more elaboration than Angry Birds. A new generation of iPhone games.

• Community, a large base of fans who really help build the brand. Low cost release despite wide audience reach.

• Cross platform. The game is high-quality, so there is a chance to make it cross-platform and release it on iOS, PC, Mac, Android, PSN, XBLA, etc. etc.

From here follow two other models that do not fit into either the blockbuster category or the jackpot category. Although we did not base our strategy on these models at the time, I admit that the comrades mentioned below went exactly in the direction I wanted to go with The Game Bakers. They had quite meaningful games that were originally aimed at a niche target audience, as a result, they received significantly greater audience reach.

Big Small War Game Rubicon Development

Used almost a similar strategy. Made a very high-quality game with wide coverage, released on iOS. Niche is a turn-based war game. When choosing a setting and a title, these developers decided to take fewer risks than our game (small toy soldiers seem to fit better into the mainstream than octopuses). As a result, the developers quite skillfully positioned and introduced their brand. The Android version was launched with great success, taking a place on the mobile market, which Nintendo refused to claim with its title Advance Wars.

• Released in March 2011, earned $ 150k of revenue by August

• Development costs of around $ 100k

• Fichending at New & Noteworthy yielded $ 6,000 per day, but the pace quickly dropped to less than $ 1,000 per day

Sword & Sworcery Capybara Games and Superbrothers

Capybara and Superbrothers did it right. Everything is just, as it were, contrary to the expectations of users from what they are accustomed to consider “a normal game”. And they made a hit. A year before the release, they released a teaser aimed at the niche of fans of retro quests point-and-click, initially set a high price ($ 4.99), iAPs were not provided, the release was only on the iPad. Budget $ 200k. There were great general risks in connection with the context of the game. As if they were indie developers on the PC platform, confused the App Store with Steam. But still, they sold more than 300K copies in 6 months, received many awards, both in nominations for commercial success, and in the concept and content of the game. Respect.

SQUIDS statistics

Addition to all the previously mentioned post-mortem:

• SQUIDS - development time - 10 months, released on October 11, 2011. The period of collecting statistical data - 92 days in the App Store.

• The main team, short of 6 people, is geographically scattered all over the world, but its head office is in France. We were assisted by several freelancers (voice acting, animations, storylines), and we collaborated with a QA company.

• The budget of the iOS version of SQUIDS amounted to more than $ 100K.

• Much effort has been made in marketing and PR, including a visit to GamesCom in Germany and PAX in Seattle, two trailers, hired PR representatives and a community manager. Total marketing / public relations budget was about $ 30k.

• With the launch of more than 200 sites and blogs posted reviews of SQUIDS. Almost all of the reviews were excellent, with the exception of three, which, unfortunately, turned out to be one of the most iconic (Touch Arcade, Edge and Slide to Play). Reviewers from Touch Arcade and Edge liked our game, but it seemed to them that there was a problem with the design of our in-game purchases (in-app purchase).

• 84% of users gave us 5 stars in the rating (1,373 five-star reviews out of 1,634 reviews in total). Of all 1,634 reviews, only one was complaining about the iAP model.

• Fichering at New & Noteworthy lasted 2 weeks. Most profitable day exceeded $ 6,000 at $ 0.99.

• SQUIDS for 7 days held the position # 1 among paid applications in France. This meant about 1,700 downloads per day. The best position in the USA was # 33, which overall brought a little more than # 1 in France. SQUIDS was the top # 1 RPG in 51 countries, including the United States.

• SQUIDS for the first month brought a total income of about $ 75k, with about 100k downloads, then dropped out of top positions during massive promotions dedicated to Thanksgiving and Christmas releases.

• iAPs accounted for about 10% of revenue. They were conceived to give players the opportunity to get stars that were in-game currency without replaying already completed levels. There was no intention of making iAPs the basis for monetizing the application.

• The update (universal version) was launched on December 2 at the same time as the launch of Infinity Blade 2. (No panic!) Although we went around IB2 on the iPad in France, it affected sales slightly and brought about $ 1,500 a week to launch the update.

• Localization in 7 languages ​​(English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian)

• Received wonderful support from fans who continue to write excellent reviews and send interesting e-mails, for which they are especially grateful.


Even if the App Store is not a gold mine capable of turning any game developer into a billionaire, it is still a revolutionary phenomenon in the industry. This allowed very small teams to make great games relatively inexpensively and monetize them quite simply, with the potential to attract millions of players. Such activity and such impressive creativity of indie developers have never been seen before.

SQUIDS will soon be released on PC, Mac, and Android, as intended from the very beginning. It is believed that the cross-platform is the very move that gives the indie developer a chance to become a real studio in the future.

As for the money: despite the fact that SQUIDS did not make developers rich, the income from the iOS version almost covered the development costs, and there is hope that the subsequent release on other platforms will make the title profitable and allow the development of a sequel to it.

As for the studio, it’s not about the sudden acquisition of innumerable wealth, it is just about how to make games that we personally like, excluding dependence on external factors.

Also popular now: