It's hard to make money on Apple's App Store, just ask Tony Takoushi


AbraWORDabrA Trailer

Fresh from the announcement of his new mobile game development studio one month ago, games industry veteran and ex-Halfbrick Studios developer, Tony Takoushi, discusses the main concern for all iOS developers - Apple's App Store is way too crowded, and it's getting increasingly difficult to get your title noticed.

Tony's new studio, Total Arkade studios, launched their first game release, a word-based action puzzler called AbraWordabra, to consistently positive reviews with an average score of 80 percent on many major sites. Unfortunately for the new startup, AbraWordabra has been met with disappointing sales so far. The 30-year games veteran puts it down to the large signal to noise ratio that's plaguing Apple's popular distribution platform.


‘The iTunes store is a very different place from two years ago,’ says Takoushi. ‘There are around thirty games being released a day, and even if you can get some oxygen for your game, there is no guarantee it will succeed no matter how good it is.

Apple has done an amazing job empowering developers letting them to grow and make games that just wouldn't have been made before, and that's something special. They have literally blown the market wide open...the downside is that you also get a lot of poor quality games from opportunistic developers.’

Things don't fare that much better for AbraWordabra on the Android platform where pirate copies were available within a day of launch which Tony believes had a negative impact on sales. Most heartbreaking for Tony and his team is the fact thatAbraWordabra teetered on being a huge success. During the approval procedure, AbraWordabra was shortlisted for a highly global banner position on the App Store but missed out in the end. Receiving the highly sort-after promotional boost from Apple this way has meant an incredible amount of sales and success for many developers, but for Total Arkade studios, it was not meant to be.

As for the future, Tony is hoping he can keep his team on a work-for-hire project with publishers or find funding for another title.


GTA's picture

Eh, the app store isn't that different from 2 years ago. Just as many games were being released then. You'd be mad to do iOS, it's that simple, and you'd have been mad to do it 2 years ago. No one makes money from it outside the very big names. Apple's done a great job of making devs think there is money to be made there, though! There's gold in them there hills!

Matt H's picture

I couldn't disagree with you more. I still think people are crazy not to try their hand at iOS. LOTS of people make money from it. It depends on how much you're expecting to make. There's 10 spots in the top ten with rapid turnover. One day in any of those top 10 slots and you're around $20K richer. Time and time again Australian devs, big and small ones, are cracking the top ten with well designed, polished titles that people are itching to play: Ski Safari being the latest huge Australian success story designed and produced by just two people.

GTA's picture

I hear what you're saying but this kind of throwaway math is what gets devs into trouble.

Basically you're saying as long as you make the top 10 for a few weeks, you're OK. As if that's some simple thing to achieve... even great games with solid PR aren't guaranteed a top 10 spot. There's a lot of luck.

I don't know, you might be doing it with your stuff, but the reality is not many others are. Even many of the "successful" Aussie products aren't making much money, really. When you add it up against the number of guys working on the games, against the time they've invested. At best they would be better off working a salaried job, at worst they lose everything they invested. And they're certainly not making enough to fund even a small studio going forward. So then "success" starts getting defined in fuzzier terms.

There's some really great Aussie products out there, sadly not many of them making real money. There are a lot of frustrated folks (rightfully so) as a result.

It's bad advice to tell people they're crazy not to have a crack at iOS. You may as well tell people they're crazy not to buy a lottery ticket.

souri's picture

I actually think you're both right, but you're both sorta looking at opposite sides of the spectrum. It's hard to make bank or hit it big on the app store, but there's still opportunity to make a decent living from it. There is a middle ground. You just have to be smart about it, and I'm sure there's a whole lot of luck involved too.

Firstly, the horrible statistics for iOS development e.g top 1% make a third of all revenue, gross average for an iOS game is $700 (although I'm sure the hundreds of thousands of throw-away trash in the App Store pushes that average down).

It's certainly not a gold rush like it was before when you could make a simple novelty app and make $100,000+ a month.

However, I'm still a believer that if you can keep your teams and footprint *small* and choose wisely on the sort of game you make (find your niche, or if you're going for some of the more popular genres, you have to do exceedingly better at it), you can make a decent living out of iOS development. The advice given at Brawsome's blog as well as the recent marketing related workshop by Surprise Attack on the type of games you choose are great.

Having said that, it's deeply troubling to read stories like Tony's who've done just that and have had disappointing results. It is a mad-house at the app store. Competing with 30 new games a day as well as the myriad of holiday sales and what not that happen all the time is something you need to be wary of.

sal's picture

As an insider who worked on Tony's game, I can tell you the real reason it failed. Poor management. Tony is of the mindset that games can sell on content alone. He completely neglected the fact that games are about gameplay, and if you look at the trailers (or if you are one of the under 1000 people who downloaded the game - play it) then you will realise that it is just plain *boring*.

Top that off with the fact that the project was plagued with issues stemming from poor scheduling (the game was slated to be complete in under 6 months, and ended up taking 2 years, including a complete rebuild from the ground-up with a new engine). Despite all this, the Android version of the game is still plagued by bugs that make it unplayable. I have not played the iOS version of the game, so I cannot comment on their quality. Promises of future patches are unlikely to be fulfilled, given the game's disappointing (but warranted) sales. If Tony wishes to continue with his startup then he should consider fixing the many teething issues with AbraWordAbra before continuing with other projects, lest he permanently align his brand with poor worksmanship.

The final nail in the coffin was Tony's approach to hiring. Being a part-time lecturer at QANTM Brisbane, he contracted students directly from the course, asking them to work for free on the premise that they would be fairly credited at project completion, and would thus have a successful commercial game to list in their portfolios. Obviously this turned out to be a waste of time for all involved, and serves only as a grim reminder of the state of the Australian game industry.

Murry's picture

Hmm, I was a half-brick employee, for a good couple of years, and i feel like i have a pretty damn good handle on things.

The app store is a commercial market, lucrative for those that get to the top and poor for the rest, this shouldn't be a surprise. By Tony blaming the market he is shifting all the blame for the product failing onto the market and wiping all hands clear from the game itself.

Ok, here is a little challenge for you guys, and i am honestly curious, go out and find me five(Hell even one) app store games that you think are of the appeal and quality of angry birds or fruit ninja but has appalling sales.
You are probably going to have a pretty hard time. I spend a lot of time going through lists of new games on iPhone and it is a god damn rarity to find anything like that. In fact i haven't.

I would argue that if you know what you are doing and have a pretty good head about yourself, if you make a game that stands above with all the right boxes ticked you will get looked at. Just like any commercial market.

I'm about to stick my head above the trenches and give it my best shot with something i have been developing myself. I'm pretty confident, but there are no guarantees, and it should be a good test to see if I'm a hypocrite or not.

Endgame Studios's picture

Souri posted a few Aussie ones in another thread - good games but the sales didn't measure up. I won't repost them all here, but here's another one off the top of my head - Sunny Day Sky:

5 star reviews, great little Flash game, awesome cute character art & neat audio...

I wouldn't say it's as good as Fruit Ninja, I think Fruit Ninja's really the perfect smartphone game, but it's good - good enough to be in top X lists and it's not.

There really are plenty of examples unfortunately.

Good luck with your venture though! Keep us all posted.