Mac App Store – Sneak Peak

In two days, the Mac App Store will open its gates.

While there is the usual amount of speculation out there on technicalities and its potential overall success, it seems widely unclear what will happen on Opening Day.

So last week I sent out a casual lunch-break tweet to my network, which mainly consists of fellow app and game developers. The reply/DM results were eye-opening. I engaged four of them in a deeper conversation, sharing the essence in this post. See other idevblogaday posts for more great stuff from Indie devs!

Who is Who

My four participants are well known in the iOS world. Dave Frampton (Majic Jungle Software) is sending his successful Chopper 2 game into the race, Bryan Duke (Acceleroto) his famous Air Hockey game, Matt Martell (Mundue) his flagship reMovem and Craig Kemper (Little White Bear Studios) chose to go with his Nr. 1 iPad blocks puzzle game, Compression. Jointly, their iOS apps account for somewhere around 20 million downloads and I guess it’s safe to say those devs know their way around.

Questions

What I basically wanted to know was, how do those successful Indie Devs see the opportunity of the Mac App Store. So I asked five questions, how do they see the potential of any app on the Mac App Store compared to it’s iOS equivalent, what do they expect for their own app, what is their launch price and how did the development of the Mac app go, in terms of effort and resulting quality.

Answers

Edit: Check out my follow-up post to see the launch prices!

This is Sparta!!

One thing is immediately clear looking at the table. There will be no price race to the bottom. This race is over before it even began. iOS developers will by and large adopt the same price points and the same strategies for the Mac. They are going in hard. Longterm prices are calculated on a similar level as their iOS pendants.

I confirmed the pricing strategy reflected in the above table with pretty much every iOS developer working on Mac apps. Those prices reflect a simple fact. It’s a number’s game. Again. Volume only comes at the right price point. Only a high volume gives you a shot at the charts. And the importance of early chart positions certainly is cemented in the minds of every iOS developer. Very relevant on a platform that in theory has 4-5 times the outreach of the iOS platform (looking at web access statistics).

It’s worth noting that iOS developers have learned that it’s not all $0.99. While that might be a good promotional price, most quality apps in fact swing around the $1.99 price point, some go up all the way to $4.99.

Why does a 1:1 adoption of the price on the Mac seem so natural for iOS devs?

For once, Apple made the code re-use for a native Mac app very straightforward. Every dev I talked to mentioned porting times of less than four weeks. Which were mostly spent on all types of adjustments, like keyboard and HD support. Also, graphical assets for mobile games are typically originated at a much higher resolution anyway, as everybody in the iOS world needs to prepare for a foreseeable future of HD displays. The point is, if you already have the assets and re-creating a native Mac app is relatively low-cost, there is no immediate pressure to go with another pricing model on this platform, if the reward could be an early (chart) success. Even with the conservative “10% of iOS sales” expectations, even with the low prices we are going to see, a Mac port of a successful app quickly can turn ROI positive. With a huge upside potential.

That all said, this will make the next days really interesting.

Culture Clash

It is one thing to go with low prices if you always worked with those, it is something else when you practically spent the last years training your customer on a certain price point for your Mac software product. Where $9.99 is considered low and quality niche products can easily go above $50 or $100. I heard some stories from classic Indie Mac Software developers who think their whole strategy will be to determine if they add the 30% Apple cut to their old price or if they should just keep their price levels.

The way I see it, Apple is about to open a big, fat convenient freeway into this territory. It will not help the classic developers to stand there with a “Don’t spoil our prices” sign, when the hordes of new devs are going to populate this new road. Of which a significant number has learned to ride the number game and live comfortably with those low price points.

Quality? Grade A!

That other sign I saw several time held up by the old territory residents says something sarcastic like “My screen is 10x bigger than your screen”.

When rapid change happens, it’s almost to be expected that a technical battleground develops. Some Mac devs try to push the notion that “ported iOS” apps are somehow inferior to native Mac apps (pardon, I meant to say “software”). But from a developer perspective, this is a very questionable claim. We are not talking about a cross-platform approach with ugly design elements, a meta compiler and three daisy-chained interpreters to get these apps to run. This is as native and as natural as it can get and Apple did a great job paving the way.

Now of course there are colliding paradigms and other hurdles to overcome. But seriously, four weeks or less to port the above mentioned apps, some of them year-long projects, and equip them with Mac specific features? That’s a) a really low cost tag and b) leaves enough space for the motivated developer to get it right. And when I asked my four peers where they spent most of their time, I got the same answer from each one of them: In making the app perfect for the Mac environment.

This is not only about making money or squeezing any efficiency dollar out of a porting job. This is what made Indie apps a roaring success and with it the whole iOS platform:

In priding themselves to have the best chopper, air hockey, remover & blocks puzzle game out there!

And the winners are?

Mac Users. Expect great software, constantly updated, low prices, simple one-click purchase, charts, reviews, all the good stuff.

Developers. The nimble ones.

And the biggest winner is Apple. Again.

Edit: Think developers are patiently waiting for the door to open on Thursday? Not quite! Dave Frampton just lowered the price of his iOS version of Chopper 2 to $0.99, for the first time ever. I’d say he is lining up the troops! I will keep reporting here what is going on the next days and what the ultimate launch prices will be!

This post made quite the round today, got featured on TUAW, MacRumors, The Next Web, Techmeme, Business Insider and more. Big thanks to all who picked it up and tweeted about it!

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7 Responses to Mac App Store – Sneak Peak

  1. Flint says:

    I’m willing to bet that a lot of these developers are assuming that somebody who enjoys playing a game (app) on their iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch – would probably also enjoy playing it occassionaly on their Mac – thus no reason to reduce the price at all.

    A more accurate picture might be to check on developers who are developing an app soley for the Mac – not merely ones who are “porting” their iOS apps to the Mac.

    • Markus Nigrin says:

      Flint, thanks for making a perfectly valid point. This is only a snapshot. A lot of devs who release an app that is originally developed for the Mac seem to hold back on their launch pricing decisions to the last minute. Anybody is welcome to post information about his own upcoming app in the Mac App Store in the comments. But I have the vague feeling that a lot of things are still in the air and we will ultimately see Thursday.

  2. Srini Kumar says:

    You nailed it !! It’s a joy to develop for Apple’s platform, and unlike building a website with your time, there’s pretty much a clear business model. Great article !!!

    - Srini from TinyVox

  3. Pingback: For traditional Mac developers, Armageddon comes tomorrow | ZDNet

  4. Simon Edis says:

    Thanks for the great article Markus! We did an eleventh hour port of our iOS game “Galactic Gunner” to Mac and managed to get it submitted and approved in time for launch day. We decided to launch with an introductory price of US$0.99 (normal price US$2.99). Our reasoning is that there will be a lot of people just wanting to experiment and buy a few apps on day one, and we don’t want price to be an obstacle for them. Also, because we use Unity3D, the port to Mac took less than a day so we look at this as an incremental income source for us. Looking forward to seeing the Mac App Store sales reports!

  5. Awesome post. I think tomorrow will be an interesting day and hopefully a big win for customers as well as developers. My title, Clandestiny will be a launch title for the Mac App Store too. It’s a puzzle adventure game with over 30 puzzles and 40 minutes of fantastic animation. You can check out the trailer on our website.

  6. I for one am excited as heck about it. When I made the Mac version of my popular iPad app where you write in the sky (“SkyWriting” – http://www.skywritingapp.com) it wasn’t until half way through making the Mac version and deciding what features to add that I realized – duh – there’s a keyboard now, folks might want to “write” in the sky by typing! Took a lot of extra work to get bezier curves out of letters folks type and turns those into smoke, but it’s a huge added feature for an app some people have told me they use to write all their thank you letters on!

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