Archive for the 'iPhone' Category

Launching Hearts Attack, An iPhone Game

The first week of sales for Hearts Attack finished up earlier this week. It was a typical first week for an iPhone app; that is, a large spike of sales followed by a rapid crash to nothing. Here’s a graphic illustrating this:

Car Crash

Oops, sorry, wrong graphic. I meant this one:

First Week Sales Graph

Hmmm… not much difference really. As you can see I actually sold nothing on Sunday. Apparently everyone was interpreting “day of rest” as “don’t buy any iPhone apps today.”

This article is kind of a postmortem for the launch of Hearts Attack. I attempted a few different things in order to drum up sales. Some were more successful than others.

  • One of the things I did before the launch was some search engine optimization on the Hearts Attack product page. Dan Wood of Karelia has some good resources on how to do SEO.

    I was fairly pleased with the results. The product page ended up on the first results page for a few of the keywords I was targeting. It could be better, but not bad for a PageRank amateur such as myself.

  • On the day of launch, I issued a press release through prMac. I opted for their “extended press release” which sends the press release the same day and to more people. It’s only $20 so it’s low risk.

    I did see a couple of obvious benefits from this. The first benefit is “link juice” to the Hearts Attack product page and our company website in general. I had done some SEO earlier and discovered the biggest thing we were in need of was links. This helped immensely with that.

    Secondly, I mentioned in the press release that promotional codes were available upon request. Only three people ever asked for them, but I happily gave them away. I have not seen any reviews as a result, but hopefully at least I garnered some good will among reviewers.

    Speaking of reviewers, one thing I did not have ready at launch, that I should have, was a press kit. I kept mine simple in that it just contains screenshots and images of the app icon. I should have linked to it in the press release and product page, because it was something the reviewers immediately asked for.

    It terms of how many sales were made because of the press release, I don’t know. It did noticeably increase traffic to our site, but I didn’t have LinkShare hooked up at the time, so I don’t know how many of those visitors became customers.

  • I wrote about Hearts Attack here and tweeted about it. I both published my own press release and then followed up with the story about Hearts Attack came about.

    This drove a decent amount of traffic to our website, and resulted in a few sales from my friends and other people who follow me on Twitter. Like the press release, it also helped with the “link juice” of our website.

  • I asked my wife, Elaine, to write about it on Facebook since she has approximately 30 bazillion friends on there and I have none. Some say this is because I haven’t even created an account, but I think Facebook is just being stuck up.

    Anywho, this didn’t create much traffic, but it did create a couple of sales from friends who follow Elaine on Facebook, but not me on Twitter.

Of course the biggest driver of sales is being listed at the top in the App Store, which by default is sorted by the release date. Unfortunately being at the top is fated to be temporary, and I could easily tell when I fell down the list by looking at my sales.

In summary, I learned: I should have had LinkShare up and running to begin with so I could properly track conversions and know what approach is the most successful as far as sales. Second, I should have a press kit ready at launch and linked to it from the press release.

The Story of Hearts Attack

I’ve already posted the press release for Hearts Attack, but I thought I’d share a little about how Hearts Attack came about.

Way back in 2008 the original iPhone SDK came out, and I, like a lot of people, was excited about developing apps for the iPhone. My company is primarily a software development services company so I was mainly interested in learning the SDK so we could pick up iPhone contracts in addition to Mac ones. It also happens to be the case that my favorite card game is hearts, so I decided a good way to learn the iPhone SDK was to write my own hearts game.

After a couple of weeks I had the basic functionality implemented, and noticed I was playing it a lot. I realized then that I could probably make this into a product. Furthermore, releasing an iPhone app through the App Store seemed like a good way for us as a company to begin making the transition from a services based company to a product based one.

If I was going to release Hearts Attack as a published app, I knew the UI and presentation had to be greatly improved. I went through a lot of mockups for the main playing view, including one where everyone’s cards — all 52 of them — were always visible somewhere on the table (a truly horrible idea). Unfortunately I don’t seem to have most of the mockups around anymore, but I found a couple which you can see below. (See the product page for the end result.)

HorizontalLayout.jpg VerticalLayout.jpg
VerticalLayout3.jpg HorizontalLayout3.jpg

The biggest challenge I had was fitting everything on the screen and it still being legible and usable. By trial and error I figured out how small I could make the cards and still make them tappable, as well as their optimal position to make them accessible with one hand.

I began thinking about what would make Hearts Attack unique or different from its competitors. Back then there were literally just two iPhone hearts games in the App Store, and I felt pretty confident that what I had was already better than them, but I wanted to be sure. I decided on: oddball talking computer opponents, a tutorial that gave not only card suggestions but the rationale behind the choice (a pet peeve of mine), and multiple undo support for mis-taps and tactical errors.

The last step was to get professionals to do the sound and graphics. I ended up hiring a sound designer, a graphics designer, and a character illustrator. The sound design went smoothly, but getting the graphics done was a lot more involved than I anticipated, which is another story for another day. Jordan of OneToad Design created the app icon, playing backgrounds, and the special card backgrounds for the queen of spades and jack of diamonds. Lara Kehler did the character illustrations, which turned out great.

Unfortunately, Hearts Attack went on hiatus in early 2009. I was working full time on an iPhone contract, and simply didn’t have a lot of time to put into Hearts. Secondly, I had lost all desire in finishing it. It was becoming increasingly apparent that iPhone users didn’t want to pay more than $0.99 for anything, despite all the whining I did about it. I convinced myself it wasn’t worth releasing Hearts because it would never make back the money it cost us to make. Hearts stayed dormant for an entire year.

A couple of months ago, I decided to pick Hearts Attack back up again. I had the time and, as someone pointed out to me, it would never make money if I didn’t release it. I was tempted to update the app to the latest SDK (I started Hearts back before you could even use nibs on the iPhone) and add some features. I decided against this, because I really just wanted to ship it. I did have to update it to the 2.2.1 SDK because the current Xcode tools no longer ship with the 2.0 SDK.

Instead I focused on fixing the bugs and adding polish. Fortunately for me my wife happens to be a professional software tester with iPhone experience, so I got lots of good bugs to fix. I also prepared a press release, created a website, and otherwise got ready for the release. After I felt the app was stable enough, I submitted it to Apple on Friday. It was approved on Monday.

At this point, I’m still not convinced I’ll ever make back the money we spent on sound and graphic designers. A hearts card game simply is never going to be a big seller, and price point isn’t high enough to make up for that. Right now, I’m tending to think pessimistically about sales, but I’m going to do what I can to drum up sales and see how things go.

It’s a “wait and see” situation as to if we develop any more iPhone applications to sell ourselves. Of course, regardless of how well Hearts Attack does, we’d be happy to develop your iPhone app for you.

NSConference 2010 Quiz

For the uninformed, NSConference is a Mac developer’s conference put on by Scotty “The Scottster” Scott and his faithful sidekick, Tim “The Faithful Sidekick” Isted. They’re kind of the Batman and Robin of the Mac programming conference world, but have a slightly lower probability of bat-gassing you than the real dynamic duo.

This year they aren’t content with bringing conference justice to only the UK, so they’re branching out to the good ‘ole U.S. of A. by way of Atlanta, GA. To help you decide which conference you should attend, US or Europe, I’ve prepared the following quiz:

  1. What is your opinion of Seattle?

    1. It’s nice, but isn’t nearly rainy or dreary enough.
    2. I like their coffee.
    3. The residents have too many teeth.
  2. Describe your driving habits

    1. I like to drive on the left side of the road.
    2. I like to drive on both sides of the road.
    3. I like to merge right six lanes without signaling while going 147 mph on the off ramp and giving the finger with both hands in my black Camaro.
  3. The pinnacle of human achievement is…

    1. Afternoon tea
    2. Sliced bread
    3. Hee Haw

Scoring: Give yourself -1 points for any 1 answer, 0 points for any 2 answer, and 1 point for any 3 answer.

If you scored is less than zero, you should attend NSConference Europe; if greater than zero, NSConference USA. If you scored exactly zero, you are truly a cultured individual and should attend both.

Personally, I’ll be attending both, and not just because of peer pressure and insightful quizzes. I’ll be presenting a talk on how to implement a watercolor brush using Core Image and OpenCL and maybe some duct tape. If you enjoy the graphics articles that I post here, you’ll probably enjoy my presentation. If not, I hear Steve “I’m Batman” Scott does a mean Adam West impression.