ustwo™ is a multi platform development studio based in London, UK and Malmo, Sweden – 50 strong and growing rapidly in notoriety. During 2009, the studio developed and released 16 apps including the infamous MouthOffTM, .TM (48hour series), SteppinTM, and Reebok’s iSprint.
ustwo’s apps have sold globally and have become brands in their own right. Mills is well known within the industry with his refreshingly honest and open approach being well received by developers, gamers and fans alike.
I’ve written this Mobile Appifesto™ to share some of the many lessons that we’ve learnt over the last 12 months. In that time we’ve launched 16 apps on the iPhone platform (although much of this is applicable to all platforms) – we’ve experienced the highs and lows of iPhone app development. This Appifesto’s intention is to help inspire some of the design focused newbies to the world of app development and I hope it sets a precedent. It really is the only way.
Build solid foundations
Focus on creating a studio, company or tribe, (influenced by Seth Godin’s Tribes – a must read). This will form the basis of your brand, your very own style, your USP, what you stand for and this thinking will influence what you produce and create. Ultimately if you can create an app that users identify your handiwork in – you’re there.
Long term vs. short term
Think about longevity when it comes to your career as an app developer – it’s not about short term wins and the chances are that you won’t be one of those bedroom developer success stories that we’ve all read about – you’re probably more likely to be struck by a bolt of lightning. But remember, lightning does strike and when it does, it burns. Plot and build the bridges to success. It will come to those who really want it.
Passion leads to excitement, excitement leads to action, action leads to success. All of these are required in the game of app development – they are the necessities and bedrock to creating something special. You have to be driven by love of what you create over chasing the pot of gold. If you believe in what you are doing, others will want to taste the quality.
I’m talking about design solution led, fully animated and UI focused apps that remain on iPhones and aren’t deleted in a few hours. I’m talking quality apps that innovate and make the community proud. Think of apps that you would want to use. A great idea is not just unique, it actually serves a purpose.
No room for copycats in this industry – that’s for total joker pretender studios. (Twitter clients are the exception as they are all pushing one another to make a better experience for the rest of us). Countless copycat apps are just blocking the pros pathway to success. If your idea has been copied – remember imitation is a form of admiration. Use the frustration of seeing bad apps made by passionless developers to drive you to succeed.
All about logical, engaging and beautiful user interface design – if users like using your app they will spread the word – simple. Bad design will mean instant deletion and bad ratings.
Think about sound from the very minute you start out. Sound adds an invisible physicality to button presses and motion on a touch screen. Sound immerses the user into the experience and helps to hold the attention. Without sound an app is only half the man.
Bring the best people to the table and work with them to help you. As a small developer don’t be afraid to ask your network for help – they could help you in aspects of business you may not have experience in. For example you may be the world’s best developer but know nothing about marketing – use your contacts, if you don’t have them, find them.
Speed is key – you must get your apps out there quickly. Not only to beat copycats, but also to keep development costs down. Every minute you spend on your app is quantifiable by the need to sell another app to recoup the costs. There are 2 schools of thought when it comes to the basics of development and building your app – either develop as you go (i.e. build and test) or plan it all out first then build the structure around it. All you need to be aware of is time is money.
Flash is a perfect tool to build a test version of your app before getting heads down into the iPhone SDK. It allows you to see the design, sample gameplay, test transitions, and get a feel for your app. All about testing, testing and more testing – simple but so many apps have too many bugs when launched.
Knowledge is power
Hone your skills continually pushing the boundaries of what you know. Read as much about your chosen area as you can and make sure you know your stuff.
It’s going to be almost impossible to get any traction with the ‘big tech journos’ so look to build relationships with niche and growing app review sites that will one day lead the way – AppBoy, AppSmile, app.it.ize.us, 8 bit Feed, CreativeApplications, PocketGamer.biz, Razorian Fly all gave us help from day 1.
Embrace other developers as fellow comrades in the battle for survival, learn from one another and pay respect to the masters out there and let their work inspire you, BUT don’t be afraid to speak your mind, get your views out there. No man’s an island.
Tell your story to whoever will listen – the first steps in marketing what you do. It’s all about engaging with as many people as possible including users, potential users and influencers. So many marketing channels to explore from working with publishers, to banner ads, creating an email campaign, creating a website or a viral video on YouTube. Try and be as creative as possible and experiment – see what works for you and what drives downloads.
Harness the power of social media intelligently! This is the simplest way to build a fan base and generate interest surrounding what you do. Get people on your side who will help spread the word. For example someone with 1000 contacts maybe able to influence his or her contacts on your behalf.
Master the basics of PR – build anticipation – tell your story and engage with your audience. All about turning eyeballs into downloads. Some tips – on the day your app launches write a simple press release about your app and send it out to your favourite iPhone related sites. Should guarantee some PR coverage. You can then build on this – more sites – a bigger audience. List the sites that pick up your releases and give them future scoops.
Use Flurry, AppViz or similar to fine tune your approach – understand what updates have driven downloads, the importance of seasonal fluctuations in terms of sales and which marketing efforts have had a positive impact on your app.
Approach big companies and organisations about the possibility of doing a branded version of your app. Anything is possible especially if your app has achieved a moderate level of success – a branded version will give your app a new lease of life. Big corps are always hungry for niche ideas and creativity.
If you take a knock like with anything in life – get back up and keep trying.
Feel free to leave other tips, opinions and questions in the comments!