Ok folks, let me bring you up to speed. I run a mobile game development company called Supergonk. I make quiz games on various topics - things like “guess the capital city” or “how well do you know the Bible?”.
My first game, Capitals Quizzer, initially launched on iPhone only, and was slow to start. I continued to improve it by adding iPad support, more game modes, improved graphics and sound, etc. Despite the game being free-to-play, it struggled to achieve many downloads until one important update: localisation. As soon as the game was available in non-English languages, it skyrocketed. The game reached #1 in free apps in several territories, including Germany, France and Spain.
Since those humble beginnings Capitals has continued to receive many updates. It’s now available in nine languages, has thirty-four game modes, and is quite a nice package now. Over 14 million game sessions have been played, with many millions of unique users downloading the game. Capitals has been rewritten several times, and it’s technology has gone on to spawn five other quiz games.
These games all share a common code base, and are now available not only on iOS but on a variety of Android stores too. I also recently launched a version for the new Blackberry Z10, with Q10 support arriving soon as well. Oh and the Mac OSX version is almost ready to go now. I’m currently juggling 36 different SKUs; in other words when a new version is ready to be released I need to re-build and package the games 36 times and upload it to all the different web portals.
Doing all of this is a LOT of effort. I’ve spent about a year and a half getting the games onto all these platforms; it’s a serious endeavour. The real cost of multi platform development isn’t just getting the thing running in the first place, but also all the ongoing maintenance. The platform holders all do billing in different ways, and require a lot of hoops to be jumped through before they become viable for business. Sorting out the financial side of things isn’t trivial - it’s a big job. There’s also silly things, like screenshots. Each platform/web portal requires their own screenshots in their own resolutions, in all the languages they support. For all my games on all platforms we’re looking at almost 1,000 screenshots to maintain. It’s mental.
HOWEVER, the burning question is: was it all worth it from a financial perspective? Was it worth spending months and months building support for all these other phones, when I could have just made more games for iOS? Let’s find out…
Part 1: Creation
iOS: this was the first platform I built for, and the easiest to work with. All the tools are very well made, everything makes sense, and there’s lots of support if you need it. There are also a lot of third party libraries to do things like analytics, advertising and other monetisation. Easily the best platform to work with, by some margin.
Android: Quite a pain to write for if I’m honest. There are lots of annoying language quirks (like having to support both C++ and Java, and bridge communications between them), lots of hardware issues (like infinite numbers of screen resolutions, file size limits, varying memory limits, etc.) and the pain of multiple marketplaces. I decided to support only three: Google Play, Amazon App Store and Samsung Apps. Each store requires it’s own unique version, with unique integration code and permissions. Here’s the mini breakdown of each store:
- Google Play: They have a pretty terrible code and web portal, although it does seem to be gradually improving. There are lots of mad “gotchas” to watch out for; for example Google rolled out a massively complex and error prone IAP (in-app purchase) system for version 2, only to ditch the entire thing and basically start again for version 3 a few months later. That wouldn’t be so bad, but the two versions have different feature sets, so you need to support both if you want to cover all bases. Arghhh! Even with all this stuff integrated properly, about 1/3 of the time the user’s purchase will just fail for no apparent reason. That’s potentially a third of your revenue down the toilet. Double arghhh!!!
- Amazon App Store: The best of the Android stores. I would say that it even rivals the iOS setup. Their code is simple and works well, and integration was a breeze. They are currently in the business of matching Apple feature-for-feature, which is great. Amazon is the developer’s friend on Android for sure.
- Samsung Apps: Their code is fine and integrates well, and their web portal is fine once you get past the initial confusion. I would say this is an easier store to support than Google Play, but not as nice as Amazon. One highlight is that they send you videos of your app should you fail submission for any reason. That’s a really nice touch and extremely helpful in diagnosing any issues.
BlackBerry 10: A really nice platform, and great to work with. The company is also great at interacting with devs. I had a few issues getting the tools up and running and also getting my first batch of apps approved, but this was pre-launch and to be expected with early software. Overall, BB10 was great to work with.
Mac App Store: I haven’t actually launched on OSX yet so can’t talk to the submission process, but integration was an absolute cinch if you’ve already got an iOS build. For my IAP and GameCenter integration I changed two (just two) lines of code between iOS and Mac App Store. It really is that trivial. Awesome stuff.
Part 2: Performance
In my mind there’s only two metrics worth considering here: downloads and revenue. For the following data I’ve combined all six of my games into one total. First up, downloads. This is the number of downloads (as reported by the app stores, not active installs) for each platform in the last month (from 7th April 2013->7th May 2013).
- iOS: 66,103
- Google Play: 18,623
- Amazon App Store: 2,292
- Samsung Apps: 2,919
- BlackBerry 10: 872
I’m seeing almost three times as many downloads on iOS than all the Android platforms combined. Whilst this isn’t strictly a fair test (the games have been available for longer on iOS and had a longer period to establish themselves), it’s still pretty conclusive. A lot more people are playing my games on iOS than Android. Unfortunately, BlackBerry 10 barely even registers.
Now onto revenue. I’ve combined all types of income (direct purchases and all forms of advertising) and normalised it to $100. The real numbers are much larger than this, but doing this normalisation gives a good way to compare the app stores.
- iOS: $100.00
- Google Play: $7.30
- Amazon App Store: $1.39
- Samsung Apps: $0.99
- BlackBerry 10: $0.00
So for every 100 bucks made on iOS, I’m seeing less than ten dollars from all Android marketplaces combined. To put that another way, I’m making ten times as much money on iOS as on Android. Considering there are only 3 times as many users on iOS I think it’s fair to conclude that Apple are a lot better at getting people to buy stuff on their platform.
As for BlackBerry 10, I haven’t made a single cent on that platform yet. Not one person of the 872 who have played have decided to spend any money, and advertising is a no-go on the platform as no mediators currently provide an easy-to-integrate SDK. Ouch. :-(
Part 3: Conclusion
To answer the question of “was it worth going multi platform?” is a difficult one. The answer will be different for every developer. For me it’s been a great learning experience; I’ve enjoyed improving my programming skills and learning how to build a really complex set of systems from the ground up. It’s given me a great deal of knowledge in an area where I didn’t previously have it.
I’ve also gained an appreciation for just how long it takes to do what many indie devs call “the little things”, like managing business relationships and taking screenshots. I think I’ve about reached the limit of what one person can manage successfully on their own - in order to grow the business any further would require more full-time hands, and that’s a whole other decision to make.
In terms of profitability, no. It hasn’t been worth it. So far Android has failed to live up to it’s promises of being a viable platform to grow a business on. It simply doesn’t make enough money to justify the time it takes to support the platform, at least for a small developer like Supergonk. BlackBerry 10 is non-existent in terms of creating revenue, although it’s still brand-new so we can cut it a little slack. Will it grow in the future? Well they’ll have to do something pretty major in my opinion…
Anyway, if we’re talking in pure business terms then I almost certainly would have been better off concentrating on iOS and iOS alone. I’m lucky that my iOS revenue has been able to “carry” the other platforms, but many devs don’t have that luxury.
So for me it’s been fun. I’m a much better developer now than when I started this whole multi-platform experiment. Should YOU take your games onto every mobile platform under the sun? Well, that’ll depend entirely on what you want to get from it I suppose. Just don’t hope for endless riches… that certainly hasn’t been my experience.
Part 4: The Future
This single month snapshot doesn’t tell the entire story. Generally Android is growing, whilst iOS has (for me) reached a peak. The momentum is certainly with Android at this stage - I think it’s still got a lot of growth in it. Here’s a graph of the last six months of downloads on Android:
Notice the green trend line - it’s definitely going up. Hopefully it’ll continue to climb over the next few months. That said, it might just be because the apps are relatively new on the platform and it’s just establishing itself. Perhaps it’ll flatten out from this point onwards. Who can tell?
Now let’s compare it to the same graph for iOS:
That said, my iOS downloads have looked like that for years now - it’s very stable. It tends to always track downwards ever so slightly, and then spike back up again when something big happens (like a new version getting released, or the game getting featured). Still, iOS would have to drop majorly, in a way I’ve never seen before, to be comparable to Android revenue. Personally I don’t think that’s going to happen. In my experience iOS is still the cash cow and I see no reason for that to change in the near future.
Will these trends continue? It’s really hard to say. Perhaps I’ll do another update in another 6 months and we can see…
Thanks for reading! If you want to give my games a try, visit supergonk.co.uk.