Monday, April 6, 2009

Couple More Quick iPhone Thoughts

Thanks for the great comments on my iPhone post. I did want to quickly address two points people made.

It's so agonizing missing a Gold Rush. The New York Times is taunting me with tales of untold wealth I have missed. But I still think I made the right call.

First, some pointed out that the iPhone has some people who play it seriously, like multi-hour sessions on a train or whatever. I have no doubt that there are a number of users who play long sessions, but the apps that are selling like crazy really seem to lend themselves to short sessions.

When in doubt, my main business rule is this: I always make the sort of game I would want to play. If I don't do that, my heart isn't in it. Even if a large percentage of iPhone users wanted highly-involved 40 hours games (which I still doubt), I sure don't use my iPhone that way.

Second, someone suggested that I write a quick app for the iPhone, to try it out. Throw something together and see if it floats.

Here is my bit of advice for aspiring developers:


It is theoretically possible to put a small amount of time into something successful. But when that happens, you will have made something very easy to rip off, and your profits will eventually fade. So I really hope you had a Tetris-quality idea makes you a millionaire quick.

As for me, I write RPGs. And I don't think it's possible to really quickly write a Diablo or Rogue clone which will hit the sweet million dollars spot.

Of course, I might just be whistling past the graveyard, trying to convince myself that I didn't just pass up on a chance to make a fortune. But I, like all small business owners, have to make lots of decisions all the time. At some point, you just have to live with the calls you make and go on to the next thing.


  1. Now that you've established a name for yourself Jeff in my opinion it's important to maintain the very high quality of your products. Doing something quickly just to see if you can make a quick buck could have serious side effects on your reputation. I completely agree 100% with only doing something if you are going to put in as much time and effort as you can - Chenoa

  2. I think you're right not to go for the iPhone, but there is a lot of evidence for long play sessions on handhelds:

    - The GBA was awash with 'tactics' games that lasted hours at a time
    - Advance Wars is a turn- based wargame that sells millions.

    I mostly play long games on my handhelds, usually sitting on the sofa at home just feet from my consoles. Books are handy and portable, but it doesn't mean that you only use them for quick sessions.

  3. I think what you're missing is that RPGs are probably currently the lowest ranking income generation out of all the genres. Let's take a look at the hot games out there right now:

    -Rock Band
    -Wii Games
    -FPS Games

    These are the hot titles and genres right now. The only thing that makes a dent (and is reflected by the "hot apps") is MMOs. Single player RPGs have been going to the wayside for a while, and only crop up as popular when someone like Bethesda releases another Elder Scrolls game or Square-Enix comes out with another FF.

    While that being said, I took a look at the games in the RPG section and was not overall impressed. Out of the top 20, EIGHT, almost half, of the games were clones of Drug Wars with (insert random theme here) slapped on top. You could pretty easily slip in there if your game was halfway decent.

    However, if you don't want to take the risk, as in development time to do so, that's your call. However, I would be wary of how long your quality games are going to hold out against a tide of easier to access and market graphical "one up" games. I'm sure you've got plans for the future to move out of the graphics and play style you have now, but I hope you implement it before it's too late.

  4. Warren Buffet would call this "staying within your circle of competency", a mindset he claims to have helped him gain his fortune.

  5. I think there would be a business model if:

    (1) it was viable to translate BoE (I'm assuming BoA would be too graphically advanced/too large a screen size) to the iPhone, enabling touch screen controls with whatever redesign that took

    (2) it was possible for you to monetise the hundreds of existing scenarios out there - maybe with a 50:50 income split between Spiderweb and the scenario writers (and presumably Apple takes its 30% cut upfront)

    The reason I think BoE would work is because of the more "short burst" play in many of the smaller scenarios. That said, I've spent at least 20 hours or more on each of Vay, Innotia, Arvale, Dungeon & Hero and Quest. I would also point out that I had *already* played Arvale and Quest on Palm, yet I still rebought and replayed them on iPhone, and enjoyed them just as much. I know I would repurchase and replay Spiderweb games for iPhone.

    Either way, I don't think you are "missing" the gold rush. It isn't going away. The iPhone is only growing as a platform in terms of user numbers, and users have an ongoing appetite for new games when it comes to apps.

    Some app categories are things that you'll probably invest in once, like reference books. You buy one weather app, one finance app, one dictionary, one encyclopaedia at home (or you did before Wikipedia arrived).

    But when it comes to games, they're like novels. Endless, continual consumption and appetite. So that "gold rush" is going to be around for a long time. Maybe biding your time is the best strategy - you may never end up making a game for iPhone, but when and if you do, you'll have a much better idea of what might work and what would or would not be commercially viable.

  6. "When in doubt, my main business rule is this: I always make the sort of game I would want to play. If I don't do that, my heart isn't in it."

    Totally agree.

  7. I am one of the people who would play a good full-length RPG on the iPhone as long as it could be done in short sessions. I do have to acknowledge, though, that I am probably one of the very few, and it might not be worth your time.

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