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Recent days, I've been spending significant time in discovering chances of profitability of AppStore for developers.

I have found many articles. Some of them are highly optimistic, while other are extremely skeptical. This article is extremely skeptical. It even claims to have backed its conclusions by objective sales numbers. This is another pesimistic article saying that games developed by single individuals get 20 downloads a day.

Can I kindly ask to clarify from business viewpoint whether average developers publishing games and software on AppStore can cover their living expenses, even, whether they can become profitable?

Is it achievable to generate revenues of 50.000 USD yearly on AppStore for a single developer?

I would like to stay as realistic as possible. Despite the question might look subjective, a good business man will be able to esitmate chances for profitability and prosperity within AppStore.

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This is one of those questions that have no answers. It depends on your game. What is an average developer? How much games are you going to publish, and how much are you going to put into advertising? The only realistic thing is if you try it yourself. – DMan Jun 19 '11 at 18:16
@DMan: if you take a look at the article, I reffer in my question to, you see, that it is possible to answer this question. The article does it in excellent way. However, it is so skeptical, that I came here to discuss it. All the business is about numbers, prognosis, esitmates, statistics. Which means, assuming that all the developers strive to publish their best, what are their chances so be successful? – Bunkai.Satori Jun 19 '11 at 18:20
@Bunkai. Satori - As I have stated, there is simply too many variables. Some games just take off 'for some reason' and other, perhaps better games, don't. If you want one answer though, then their chances are slim due to the massive amount of apps and established brands. Not to say you can't try, because apps made by one person (like Tiny Wings) can be phenomenal successes. – DMan Jun 19 '11 at 18:22
There is no problem to solve here, just asking for opinions, highly subjective. – Maik Semder Jun 19 '11 at 18:33
If you don't make it to the top of the list you won't make any money. Angry Birds is more than medicore to not say ****, the marketing did everything for the game to be at the top of the list, so it sold units. You also need to take into account that if such a poor game can sell so many units on the platform whether you should be trying to make games for the platform of just digital toys. – Jonathan Connell Jun 19 '11 at 18:45
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Is it achievable to generate revenues of 50.000 USD yearly on AppStore for a single developer?

Of course it is, I can simply point to a single example of this being the case and it's "achievable". The thing is, in order for you to do it there are a lot of factors at play.

Can you make games quickly/cheaply? With the race to the bottom in terms of purchasing price, if you eat up too much time and money on a single game you're not likely to get any return on that investment

Do you monetize properly? The freemium model is getting more and more popular, for example. If you're not going freemium, you need to know how to price yourself in the market. You have to be fulfilling some kind of strong desire to place yourself above the $1 price point.

Are the games you're making high enough quality that people will want to tell their friends about them? Word of mouth is a very strong sales driver. If people aren't saying "hey you should play this", you're not going to make any money.

Is the content of the games appealing to the mass market? You can't just target the 17-34 male demographic with the games you're making if you want to go really wide with it.

Can you advertise properly? This isn't a case where "if you build it they will come". You have to send out demo codes to the right people. Try to get reviewed. Try to get popular bloggers, etc. to recommend it. Be active in community groups (facebook, forums, youtube, etc.).

Basically, the point that a lot of people in the comments are making is that it seems you're asking for the impossible analysis. You're giving a specific profitability number without talking about the product you're making at all.

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+1 very thoughtful – Maik Semder Jun 19 '11 at 19:49
+1, hi and thanks for your answer. To be honest, I am aware of all of those variables. Of course, there are factors that distinguish good game from a bad one. But maybe, there are some statistics saying, this percentage out of 350k games got profitable, and this percentage got highly profitable. This would give good estimate how realistic is to be successful in AppStore. – Bunkai.Satori Jun 19 '11 at 19:50
@Bunkai: The problem with statistics is that they don't paint the whole picture. Sure, your "average game" didn't make that much money, but the barrier to entry is so low that you can't really look at that. People are putting crappy clones upon clones out there, and maybe $500 per game is actually making some of them money. All I can say is that every game I've shipped on the app store has made a lot more than that article you linked to calculated, but I would say the quality of those games is drastically above "average". – Tetrad Jun 19 '11 at 20:06
I've just checked all your games and they look really entertaining and beautiful. Would you mind tho share, if you were the only developer who created graphics, code, music, and idea? Would you share, please, how much time did it take for you to create one such game? – Bunkai.Satori Jun 19 '11 at 20:37

I personally would run as far away as fast as possible from the AppStore.

If you are aiming for iPad, iPhone, you need some really good marketing to get the initial market penetration. Without this, your App will fall into the oubliettes of the AppStore, which is much more difficult to navigate on a handheld than on a PC.

You also need to think about your game development if you are aiming at portable platforms. You need 'casual' games; games with short game sessions (5-10 mins) that have good feedback and make the player want to continue.

If this is what you are looking at, I would definately try to use something like Unity so you can aim for Android and iPhone with the same source (but it will cost more), and maybe make a PC version available; if your game is really good and people want to play it while going to work, they'll buy it.

If the question was about App Hubs in general (which I doubt) lots of Indie developers go for Steam, I remember reading a 2DBoy article (World of Goo) saying the guys at Steam were cool and they managed to negociate the percentages.

Of course the beauty about using Unity is that you could also sell a PC version.

In any case, I would search for project post-mortems from Indie developers that make AppStore games, and maybe even try and contact some.


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+1, thank you for this message. It vas very valuable. This article seems to be so persuasive: it divides the revenues sold to developers by number of paid games published. The result says that a game averagely generates $500 yearly. Thi is too low. And it is in accordance to what you say. – Bunkai.Satori Jun 19 '11 at 19:59
@Bunkai.Satori That is very low. The problem is that as an initial investment if you are using Unity for example the initial package would be 400$, 1500$ for the Pro version, add another 400$ to that if you want to target Android too. It could maybe be a future option when you have money to spare or a good IP with a user-base already, or if the development will be quick and painless. – Jonathan Connell Jun 19 '11 at 20:05
yeah, but if you wish to have really outstanding game developed as an individual, creating graphics will take you several months only. Putting everything together, well, one should estimate more than one year of development time, if the game should be competitive to top selling games. Is it even possible to achieve game quality comparable to top games released by Gameloft or EA? Those companies release game, with predictable success - as they offer unique entertainment experience. – Bunkai.Satori Jun 19 '11 at 20:11
@Bunkai.Satori Yes but on portable devices I don't believe that it is what you and I would qualify as a 'good game' that will sell the best. I knwo that jhocking on this site has made an iPhone game, he could maybe give some insight on that. – Jonathan Connell Jun 19 '11 at 20:18
3nixios: maybe you are right, that those games brought by Gameloft or EA might not necessarily be considered as the best games. In my opinion, however, those games offer quality that maximizes chances to be commercialy successful. The games should return profits. And if that is happening, the business can go on, and keep creating, although none of their games will ever be #1. – Bunkai.Satori Jun 19 '11 at 20:42

More than a half of the market games are really:

  • school projects
  • a result of investments into casual (freelance) programmers (teachers are paying for guitar sheet and chemical apps, animation studios are putting out cartoon toys for children - I ever seen a Nickelodeon themed netbook)

And the most of other projects are developed as any other shareware (what the thing with the amateur game developers calling shareware a freemium? did they completely missed a good class on CS history?), that formalizes a normal workflow of "how much we're paying to our outsourced programmers, we need that game TBD in a month or so". So if you're writing a casual shareware - sit down, start coding, and get ready to reap some minor profits.

Or, say to yourself "I'm about to create a multiplatform game where user needs to throw * from * to hit * off the *", think about it, and keep coding - having a warm feeling of doing something new || something of personal interest. But the end is very same, unless you're suddenly able to take this project to your boss and ask him for letting you code games in a work hours, asking him also to fund the project (e.g. buying MacBooks for a home-brew team - one for a cat, one for a dog).

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@mhambra: +1, very good answer indeed. It would mean, that most of the players do not see this place as a source of income. They just put there lower quality products with hope, they can make some pocket money. This woudl mean, that perceiving AppStore as a main source of income would mistake. – Bunkai.Satori Jun 19 '11 at 22:44
@Bunkai.Satori they're expecting some income, that is certainly based on the amount of time and money they put in (e.g. if you're going to play roulette with $100, you'll likely lose $100 or win $200 - yet in programming, you may lose $50k job because of spending work time on writing that games). it seems smarter to write ad-supported games (if you make a coffee cup adventure for a town cafe for $300, it's better than expecting 300*$1 shareware sales), than producing a large volume of shareware/casual games. – kagali-san Jun 19 '11 at 23:13
@mhambra: understood. – Bunkai.Satori Jun 19 '11 at 23:23
@Bunkai.Satori but sometimes indie games are way too good for invested time/money.. see fl0w (not for IOS, though) – kagali-san Jun 19 '11 at 23:25
@mhambra: it looks really fascinating. It looked like it has been released by Sony. I have never seen something like that. Really nice indeed. – Bunkai.Satori Jun 19 '11 at 23:31

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