I'll get the PR puffery out of the way early. We released our newest game, Avernum: Escape From the Pit HD, on the iPad last week. There are almost no old-school RPGs on the platform, and this is a good one.
I wanted to talk a little about how much changed on the iPad (and the iPhone) in the mere eight months since we released our first game for it, Avadon: The Black Fortress HD, in June, 2011. It really fascinates me.
First, everything that was crazy before is more crazy. iPad sales have taken off even more than before, and competing tablets are being crushed by its awesomeness. (Yes, I think that the iPad is the superior tablet computer. Please feel free to pillory me in comments.) My previous game, Avadon HD, is selling far better than it did 4 or 5 months ago, just from increased popularity of the iPad.
Second, developers have noticed. The flood of new games for iPad and iPhone has not slowed at all. In fact, it feels like it's increased. I don't have figures to back this up, only my gut feeling. If you have a link to hard figures, please let me know in comments and I'll add it to the article. There are dozens of new games every day, and your blessed placement at the top of the New Releases list won't last long. At all.
Because of this, even though I think I've done a far better job marketing Avernum HD and creating its store page than Avadon HD, it is selling far worse. Avadon HD was the best-selling RPG for several days. Avernum HD got to #2 very briefly and then immediately plummeted to #18. It's not THAT worse a game, but the flood of competitors cannot be resisted by my cute, niche little product.
Do not feel sorry for me. It is still, by any reasonable human standard, makin' us good money. But it's really rough out there. I am strongly considering posting detailed sales figures in a week or three, just to let people see what the money end of iPad development is like.
Third, free-to-play is where the money is.
I just looked at the RPG section of iTunes. As of 3:56 PM, Pacific time, April 9, 2012, the #1, #2, and #3 games on the Paid Apps list are at #25, #27, and #6 on the Grossing list. (The #3 game is $6.99, which is why its grosses are so high.) The #18 sales rank for Avernum HD nets it #46 most grossing. Freemium games kick ass.
This is a relatively recent change. In June, when Avadon HD was #1 or #2 on Paid Apps, this resulted in #3-4 on Top Grossing. I never made #1 Grossing, but I came close. Now DragonVale rules the world.
This makes me feel obsolete. I should write a freemium RPG where you can pay real money to get a +5 Paladin Sword of Awesomeness or whatever. But I just can't bring myself to do it. It's ironic. When I started, I was one of the young turks challenging the old order with shareware by giving part of my game away for free. Now I am one of the old, cranky reptiles being pushed aside by an awesome marketing angle I'm just too old and inflexible to take advantage of.
I love developing for the iPad. I love the device. It is, to quote an imaginary guy in a story Mike Daisey made up, "a kind of magic." And, since I'm the only person writing my sort of game for the platform (which is weird), I foresee reasonable earnings from it for me for quite a while. Not everone with an iPad wants a game where you spend 99 cents to buy a hat for your dragon.
But it's the sexiest, moneyest, most cutthroat competitive market out there. I can scrape out some dollars because I have an established fanbase. If I was just starting out, I would be terrified of making my way in iTunes, and rightly so.