How the App Store turned a simple idea into a steady income

Discussion in 'iOS Apps' started by sventto, Nov 15, 2009.

  1. sventto macrumors newbie

    May 10, 2009
    Hey, for those of you developing for the App Store, or thinking about developing, I thought I'd share my story, how I've gone from not even owning a Mac, nor knowing any Objective-C, but just having an idea, to a ready game that is now earning me a solid income.

    The games I've developed are iAssociate and Associate This, both word association games, with iAssociate being a version that is selling for $1.99 and Associate This being a free version that includes a small set of the levels found in iAssociate.

    I submitted my first version of these word association games back in April this year, and since then I've gone from getting just a few sales per day to getting hundreds of sales per day, in fact far surpassing my salary from my day job.

    If you are interested in reading the full story behind this then please continue reading below (warning, this is a long post)

    Fredrik Wahrman (Developer of iAssociate and Associate This)

    If you want to check out the games in iTunes you can find them from the following links:

    iAssociate in iTunes

    Associate This in iTunes

    The story begins

    When I initially got into developing games for the iPhone one of the things that attracted me to the platform was reading about success stories such as Trism and iShoot. After reading about them it seemed as if it would be possible for pretty much anyone to just launch a game and wait for the money to come in.

    That was then.

    Now, about seven months after launching my first game, Mercury Mind, on the App Store I must say I think a little bit differently about the situation. When I launched my first game I think I was a little bit too optimistic about what kind of sales to expect, I was thinking that I’d real fast earn back the money I had invested in getting into iPhone development. The investments I had made to get started were :
    • Bought a Mac (Cost me 579 euros)
    • Bought an iPod Touch (Cost me 289 euros)
    • Bought a couple of iPhone development books (Cost around 60 euros)
    • Bought the iPhone developer license (Cost me 79 euros)
    In other words, in total I had spent almost 1100 euros (translates to roughly $1600)

    So, when I finally got Mercury Mind approved and marked as Ready for Sale I was pretty much hoping to earn this sum back in almost no time.

    First day sales

    After the first day had passed I was anxiously waiting for my first sales report to come in. I was pretty much constantly refreshing the reports page, hoping to see the report there. When it finally appeared I almost didn’t dare take a peak, I knew that I’d get a lot of sales, it was just a matter of how many, 200 ? 500 ? 1000 ?

    Imagine my surprise when I finally took a look at it and saw that my sales were as high as 9! Yes, that’s right, 9 sales! (At $2.99 each) What makes it even worse is that out of those 9 sales a couple were to friends of mine, so basically I had earned almost nothing on my own. I obviously immediately panicked, thinking that the only solution to this was to drop the price to $0.99 as everyone else was, as surely then the sales would start to come in.

    And sure enough, the next day when I got the report my sales had increased. To 19, so nothing much. After that the sales dropped at a steady pace, so that on the 8th day they were 0, followed then by 1-2 sales per day. After the first couple of weeks my total sales were 64, earning me around 45 euros ($60)

    Lite version

    After those two weeks my Lite version was finally approved and marked as Ready for Sale. I was once again expecting to follow in the footsteps of iShoot, after all, that story goes that once the Lite version of iShoot was released the game skyrocketed to the Top 100 lists and the rest is history.

    For me it didn’t go quite that well. Sure, the first day downloads were better than the sales I got with the full version, they were just above 400. But they were still nowhere near what I was hoping for. But, being the ever optimist I was sure that they’d start climbing upwards immediately, so no worries really. What followed was then a day with around 300 downloads, then 200, then 150, then 100 and after that back to under 100, settling down at about 40 downloads for a long time.

    Lite conversion rates

    Despite really low sales, the addition of the Lite version at least showed me that the idea of my game, word associations, was good. I got pretty good conversion rates of people switching from the lite version to the full version. Depending on the country those varied quite a lot, but in the major, english speaking, markets I managed to get a conversion rate of around 15%, even a bit more, meaning that now I was at least earning a few bucks every day.

    Enter iAssociate

    After looking at those kind of stats for a while I decided it was time for a change. I decided that I’d try to re-brand my game to something a bit more easy to understand and remember, something that would be easier to sell basically. That’s when iAssociate was born. I felt that with the name iAssociate I had a much better chance in succeeding, the name both uses the popular “i” prefix, as well as describing exactly what the game was about. So, my hopes were again really high when the release of it was nearing.

    Results from name change

    When the first day sales for iAssociate were due I was once again really nervous to see what they’d be. This time I was sure that I’d make a much bigger impact, after all, the name was now perfect so nothing could be in my way. When the stats then finally came, I saw that yes, I had indeed managed to sell more, it was nevertheless quite depressing to see that it was just 13 sales. And even though the sales didn’t drop as fast to 0 as before, they still dropped to 0 after just 2 weeks, just before I got the lite version of iAssociate out.

    The results I then got off the lite version were actually worse than with Mercury Mind. The downloads for that version dropped down to just around 20 after only two weeks, meaning that I was still only managing to sell a few copies every day.

    2 1/2 months == 500 euros ($750)

    After having had my games out for about two and a half months I had barely managed to scrape together 500 euros, and at the rate I was selling games I was now earning around 5 euros ($7.50) per day, meaning that with this rate it’d take over half a year until I would’ve recovered the money I spent to just get started.

    Reviews, forums and ads

    Even though the sales weren’t really as good as I had expected one thing I was still happy about was the fact that of my customers actually quite a few emailed me back, letting me know that they really liked the game. Some even went as far as stating that it was the best game they had every played on the iPhone. Anyway, all this feedback kept me encouraged to try to make something of my game, as I knew that with the right kind of publicity it might still make it.

    The first try for publicity was to try to get some reviews out. I wrote a small pitch that I tried sending out to a lot of review sites, thinking that if they only tried the game then surely they’d write a review about it, as after all, even games that had no content, or were just copies of other games, got reviewed.

    This actually turned out to be a LOT harder than I had thought. Of the emails I sent, I actually only managed to get a response from a couple of them, one was, who said that they were too busy to review it, and the other was, who actually did a review of it (you can find it from here: iPhone Word Game Round Up at

    So, as I wasn’t getting any reviews out in a hurry, the other option for me was to try to post info about my game to various iPhone and gaming forums. This was actually fairly straightforward, find a forum, create a profile, add a post with general info about my games, repeat. I do think this helped boost my downloads a bit as this way I managed to get the word out about the free version of my game, which people then could try on their own to see if they’d want to purchase the full version. Forums such as and seemed to work farily well, at least my posts got a decent amount of views there.

    The last thing I tried for publicity was spending money on ads. The first ad I bought was a month long ad at an iPhone game review site. I was trying to promote the free version of my game, and based on the sites daily visitor stats it seemed like a good idea. But, after getting the ad live I never saw any kind of increase in my downloads, not even a twitch. So basically that was a wasted effort, not only didn’t I get any increase in my downloads, neither did I ever get the any weekly reports on how my ad was doing, so I actually don’t have any data on this. (And I didn’t bother to ask for it afterwards either as obviously it wasn’t working). Besides the ad I also purchased a review for my game, and while I think the review itself was pretty good I here also didn’t notice any increase in sales. (And based on the amount of times the review was viewed it seems as if the review sites promised number of views were greatly exaggerated)

    Something more needed

    While these efforst had produced a small increase in my daily downloads there was still no great reason to celebrate. I barely managed to earn a bit over 10 euros ($15) per day, so, while a nice extra income to get, it wasn’t still as much as I had hoped for. So, it was once again time to work on a new strategy.

    To get to my new strategy I’ll briefly go into how the App Store worked at that time. Back then it was such that whenever you made an update to your game it would appear on the What’s New list, thus producing a larger amount of downloads for a few days while staying high on that list, before again dropping back to normal. These apps were sorted in such a way that every App that was updated on the same day was sorted alphabetically, meaning that my game, iAssociate, appeared in the middle of the list as it starts with an i. This meant that when I had an updated out I sometimes didn’t even make it to the first page of the What’s New list, which meant that I got less downloads just because of the name of my App.
    So, because of this I decided to re-brand the free version of iAssociate and name it Associate This.

    Entry of Associate This

    When the first day downloads of Associate This came in I was for the first time pleasantly surprised. It actually managed to get around 1000 downloads the first day. After that the downloads then slowly dropped down to around 300 per day during the following week and a half, a really slow pace compared to my previous efforts. Thanks to this it now seemed as if I finally had a game that would keep generating income at a steady pace (I was now earning around 50 euros ($75) per day). For the first time in the 4 months that I had had my games out there I was really pleased with the way things were going, patience had paid off.

    Back down again

    After a couple of steady weeks the downloads for Associate This then dropped for a few days in a row, dropping as low as just under 150. I was already thinking that this was it, now it’s again gonna drop down to close to 0. Even when it the next day got back up to 200 I still didn’t feel to good about it, but as it was to be that climb then actually continued for the next few weeks, so that I eventually got up to around 500 downloads per day. The reason behind this is the App Store ranking system.

    App Store Rankings

    The biggest deciding factor of how many downloads your game gets is how it’s ranked in the App Store. Visibility in the App Store is limited to searching for a specific game or browsing through a list of all the games in certain categories. Besides these there are various list of the most popular games. There is for instance a “What’s Hot” list, a “Staff Favourites” list as well as Top 100 list in all the different categories, such as Games, Entertainment, Action Games, Word games, etc. Being on any of these lists means that you get additional exposure, which means that there is a much better chance that someone notices your app.

    When it comes to the sudden increase in Associate This downloads that can pretty much be credited to the fact that I managed to get on these Top 100 lists. Every game can have two categories that it belongs to, for Associate This and iAssociate these are Word and Puzzle. In the App Store there is currently over 1000 Word games as well as somewhere around 7000 Puzzle games, so obviously getting into the Top 100 list for Word games is much easier than with Puzzle games, but at the same time being at the Top 100 list in the Word games category doesn’t translate to nearly as many downloads as being there in the Top 100 Puzzle games list.

    So, the reason behind my improving downloads was the fact that I had just entered the Top 100 Puzzle games list. I had always been in the Top 100 Word games list and now I had finally managed to climb into the Top 100 Puzzle games list.

    Positive Spiral

    Once Associate This started to get more downloads this then it started a positive trend. Since Apple calculates the rankings somehow magically based on the last X days it means that whenever I get new downloads from today it at the same time replaces the downloads from X days ago when calculating the rankings. Which means that as long as my downloads are rising then the days I “lose” when calculating the rankings have much lower downloads, which means that my average is getting higher all the time. That way I then again rise in the rankings, which yet again will give me more downloads, resulting in a positive, self feeding, spiral.

    And besides this working for Associate This, it also works for iAssociate. Thanks to the conversion rate of about 15-20% the sales of iAssociate slowly started to climb, so that iAssociate also managed to enter the Top 100 Puzzle games list from where it also could start a climb upwards. That is pretty much the situation today, both games are continuing their climb in the rankings, while I am putting as much effort into promoting them as possible.

    Current Rankings

    iAssociate : 26th among US Puzzle games, 7th among US Word games
    Associate This: 26th among US Puzzle games, 8th among US Word games

    So far I’ve only once been ranked at the number 1 spot, it was a couple of days ago when I managed to get into that spot in the Word category in the Finnish App Store. Hopefully more rankings like that would follow, I do have a couple of #2 and #3 rankings so who knows…

    At the end of the Rainbow…

    Right now I must say that I’m really happy about how both iAssociate and Associate This are performing in the App Store. The income from iAssociate is now at a level that far exceeds my salary from my normal day job, even though the time I spend with this “hobby” is much less (well, it’s less due to the fact that I have to spend 8 hours a day at the office).

    My daily downloads are now at a level that is almost as much as what they were in total during the first 3 months, and so far I still haven’t seen them trending down so hopefully I will still be able to take them to another level.


    Considering that I had no skills with iPhone development or Objective-C programming when I started with this project I must say that the results are currently far above what I expected. I had initially seen this as a way of getting a small steady income every month, nothing more than a supplement to what I was already earning from my day job. What I instead now have achieved is an income that far exceeds that, and who knows, if everything goes my way I might still even be able to increase it further.

    So all in all, after a lot of long days, trying to push this game out to the general knowledge of the masses I must say that it has totally been worth it. Not only because of the fact that my sales are high right now, what is actually just as important to me is the fact that I feel proud of iAssociate. I feel that I’ve created a game that is actually really enjoyable, a game that almost anyone can enjoy.I’ve heard back from people everywhere between 12 and 76 years old, boys and girls, husbands and wives, and everyone seems to be having a good time playing iAssociate.

    So, a big thanks to all of you out there who have purchased or downloaded my games! And especially to those of you who have sent me feedback, I really do appreciate any feedback I can get, good or bad, as I will try my best to keep improving this game. So keep the feedback coming, don’t hesitate in contacting me if you have anything that you’d want to suggest or ask!

    Fredrik Wahrman
  2. thegoldenmackid macrumors 604


    Dec 29, 2006
    dallas, texas
    I could have sworn this was posted three hours ago?
  3. icedmocha macrumors regular

    Sep 15, 2008
  4. sventto thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 10, 2009
    Yes, it was posted three hours ago but sadly I wasn't paying close enough attention to the forum rules then when I posted a link to that article instead of the article itself, which meant that the thread was banned. Hopefully this way it'll be ok with the moderators.
  5. dukebound85 macrumors P6


    Jul 17, 2005
    5045 feet above sea level
    was it challenging learning how to code?

    ive taken some c courses when i was in school but still feels intimidating

    awesome story:)
  6. dvdhsu macrumors 6502a


    Mar 28, 2008
    Palo Alto, CA
    Congrats! I've been thinking about starting something like this. After hearing your success story, I'm tempted to. But I'll need a decent App idea first . :p

    Hope your app sells even more! :)
  7. GimmeSlack12 macrumors 603


    Apr 29, 2005
    San Francisco
    I'm fairly curious about this as well. Good post OP, glad things have gone well for you but overall it's interesting to hear of the overall experience.
  8. sventto thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 10, 2009
    The coding part wasn't actually that bad, it was actually really straightforward. Before starting I picked up two books, that according to amazon were supposed to be good at the time, The iPhone Developer's Cookbook, which goes through the iPhone SDK in small and easy to understand examples, and Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X, which teaches Objective-C.

    The main part that kept the coding simple for myself was the fact that I started off with a really small project. The first version that was released to the App Store was a really bare bones version, almost no own graphics, everything was just UITextFields, that had some lines drawn between them to represent the associations. Besides that there were no moving parts, no animation whatsoever.

    After I got the first version out I then gradually started improving it, adding more features as I got to know the SDK better, that way the game gradually evolved to what it is today.
  9. bit_bucket macrumors regular


    Jul 18, 2002
    West By God VA
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. This is good stuff.
  10. Applepi macrumors 6502a


    Aug 15, 2007
    I've always wanted to develop my idea, but too intimidated to try. After reading this story, I've become inspired and I think I am going to put my idea to work. Thanks for this.
  11. sventto thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 10, 2009
    Glad to hear that, as long as you manage to stay motivated then I'm sure you'll do just fine!

    P.S For those of you interested, iAssociate is currently ranked as the Top 141st Game which Associate This is ranked #121. So, I still haven't made the Top 100 lists, but based on my daily sales I'm still doing quite fine =)

    Does anyone here have any experience with the Top 100 Game list ? How much has it affected your download rates ?
  12. MEJHarrison macrumors 65816

    Feb 2, 2009
    Great article. I've forwarded it on to a friend. And great game too!
  13. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    May 19, 2002
    Just wait, it'll be posted again. Or wait a day.

    I think the advertising is bordering on abuse, or really really close.
  14. sventto thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 10, 2009
    My intention is definetly not to spam these forums, sure, in the original post, which I then had to repost, I did include some links, but more than just trying to promote my games I actually wanted to write about the whole process that I've gone through so far. (But sure, I do realize that when writing a post like this that it will serve as an ad to my game, but then again, it would be really hard to write anything at all without mentioning what game it's about)
  15. shotts56 macrumors 6502

    Sep 23, 2008
    It might be advertising, but he's doing it in a way which is interesting and thought-provoking. I am genuinely interested in reading about the process and pitfalls developers have gone through over the past 18m. I would welcome more such posts like this from him and other developers.

    Surely preferable to the usual threads like "this sucks!" and "this is my wishlist for..."
  16. Escolated macrumors newbie

    Nov 11, 2009
    I really enjoyed reading this. I have had quite a few ideas brewing and your story seems to inspire me to do some more research on these ideas. Thanks for this. I wish you much success with iAssociate :)
  17. sventto thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 10, 2009
    Just thought I'd update those of you who are interested in this with the fact that I've now made the Top 100 charts for free games with Associate This, it's now at the 95th position. I must say that I'm amazed at the speed at which this moves, still some weeks ago everything was still going along at a quite steady pace (decent income level pace) and now all of a sudden a really fast climb in the rankings has started, along with a really good boost to the number of downloads.

    So far hard to say where this will end, still a lot of sleepless nights remain before I'll see how far up I can make it...

    Also, I had an interview yesterday with, if you are interested you can find it here:
  18. sventto thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 10, 2009
    Regarding that an interesting thing happened to me regarding my start to iPhone development. When getting started with it I picked up a few books to learn how to develop for the iPhone, one for Objective-C (Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X) and one for the iPhone (The iPhone Developer's Cookbook).

    Just recently I then got an email asking me if I wanted to review my game, I of course replied that yes, please. The next morning I had another email waithing, asking for some more details about it. The reviewer's name was Erica Sadun. At that point that for one reason or another rang a bell, I was sure I knew it from somewhere. And after thinking about it for a while I figured out from where. The book that got me started with everything, The iPhone Developer's Cookbook, was written by none other than Erica Sadun. Seriously, what are the odds of that happening?

    I of course had to email her to ask if she indeed was the who I thought she was, and as it turned out she was!! I must say that this was a really cool coincidence!!

    So, to cut this short, if you are interested in getting started in iPhone development then picking up her book might be a good idea, at least it worked for me =)

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