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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperBusinessWhy do stupid iPhone apps sell so well?
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joulimousis
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« on: September 01, 2010, 05:58:47 am »

I was wandering about the stupid apps phenomenon. There’s all kind of dumb small iPhone apps that sell by the kazillions lately and many wonder the same thing. Why is this? Why do great games get buried under these kind of things? Why are people so interested? And I’ve come to three possible answers. What to you think?

  • People like new technology better than content.
  • There are more “fart sound lovers” than “this particular game lovers” out there.
  • People saying that this app or that app is stupid increases its visibility.

I've detailed a bit more the subject on the blog is you care to read.
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Juan Becerril
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brunhildr
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« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2010, 07:15:06 am »

ahaha, great questioning! I just would say "people" in general, "most people" it most accurate since not everyone have fart sounds apps [I don't even own an iPhone, so...].

I do believe that "[most] People like new technology better than content", specially because it's a new tech and most of then are astonished but touching and playing at the same time. Therefore, in sometime it won't be news anymore and better content will be more important.
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ஒழுக்கின்மை
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« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2010, 07:19:59 am »

the top 10 best-selling iphone games of 2009 were:

Quote
The Sims 3 -- EA Games
The Oregon Trail -- Gameloft
Need for Speed Undercover -- EA Games
Madden NFL 10 -- EA Games
Tiger Woods PGA Tour -- EA Games
Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles -- Gameloft
Flight Control -- Firemint
Cooking Mama -- Taito
Civilization Revolution -- 2K Games
Wheel of Fortune -- Sony Pictures

source: http://www.joystiq.com/2009/12/09/and-the-best-selling-top-rated-iphone-games-of-2009-are/

interestingly, most of those aren't cheap shoddily made games, but actually ports of AAA games
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Alistair Aitcheson
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« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2010, 07:24:03 am »

I admit to knowing little about the app market, but this seems like a strange proposal. Do you have any statistics to back you up? Like sales figures for "stupid" apps on a bar chart compared to "non-stupid" apps? How do you define stupid?

To one person, an app for calculating chicken cooking times is ridiculous. After all, all you need is a pocket calculator. But to others it's a lifesaver. Easy to use with no prior knowledge of cooking required. In short, one man's "stupid" is another man's "inspired". Same thing with the "torch" app, which just shows a white screen. I think that's genius.

I think there's a lot of value in these apps, and rather than saying "they're stupid, they shouldn't sell more than 'quality' apps," you should be asking yourself how you can use what they do to help your stuff be more marketable.

There's no reason to hold art style, gameplay and sound atop a pedestal, let alone to claim that they are superior in games. The iPhone isn't a "gaming platform" per se, and there's no reason that games should be regarded a superior product. Many of these apps have a simple design that is entirely functional and easy to use. That's why they sell. In many ways, games (in the traditional sense) are too complicated.

I think there's one easy way to put it that a lot of games miss. Simplicity. A lightsaber sound effect app is easy to use, fun to fool around with and you can show it to your friends. With many games, even the simplest one, when you show it to your friends they have to spend a while learning to use it, and even then you can only show it to one at a time. The lightsaber sound effect is simple to explain and can be enjoyed even by people who aren't playing with it but can tell what's going on.

So if you're wanting to distill the success of these apps into your own, what you need to ask yourself is "can I make this simple enough to be described in one sentence?" THEN, you might be able to compete with these so-called stupid apps.
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joulimousis
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« Reply #4 on: September 01, 2010, 08:00:50 am »

A lightsaber sound effect app is easy to use, fun to fool around with and you can show it to your friends. With many games, even the simplest one, when you show it to your friends they have to spend a while learning to use it, and even then you can only show it to one at a time. The lightsaber sound effect is simple to explain and can be enjoyed even by people who aren't playing with it but can tell what's going on.
That's exactly my point.

And about the post itself, I never said that there should be games instead of "small" apps. I'm just trying to understand why they are so popular, and learn from it.

The post is written with a humor tone more than accurate statistics.
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Juan Becerril
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Alistair Aitcheson
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« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2010, 08:27:20 am »

A lightsaber sound effect app is easy to use, fun to fool around with and you can show it to your friends. With many games, even the simplest one, when you show it to your friends they have to spend a while learning to use it, and even then you can only show it to one at a time. The lightsaber sound effect is simple to explain and can be enjoyed even by people who aren't playing with it but can tell what's going on.
That's exactly my point.

And about the post itself, I never said that there should be games instead of "small" apps. I'm just trying to understand why they are so popular, and learn from it.

The post is written with a humor tone more than accurate statistics.


I think I may have misunderstood your tone, and I apologise!

But I think everything we can learn from this is still worthwhile. Although the question of how a lot of AAA conversions have managed to hit the top of the lists could also yield a lot of useful insight for us. Why do you think that is?

I'd suggest a large marketing budget and a relatively low-risk production scale compared to their console products. Do you think a lot of large companies like EA see their apps as elaborate adverts rather than a fully-fledged product in themselves? Any ideas?
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« Reply #6 on: September 01, 2010, 08:43:50 am »

They appeal to a very wide range of people and are very easy to spread via word of mouth.
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joulimousis
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« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2010, 08:50:39 am »

Do you think a lot of large companies like EA see their apps as elaborate adverts rather than a fully-fledged product in themselves?

I think it's very likely to be that way. As in any brand these days, it's important to spread it to as many mediums as possible.

Pd. excuse my bad english!
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Juan Becerril
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« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2010, 10:44:40 am »

It's not necessarily that they sell so well. The issue is that they are usually able to make their money back and then some. Stupid iPhone apps are cheap and easy to make. And if you can get a couple thousand sales on them, you're good to go. Crank out thirty or forty in one year, and you're rolling in the dough. Simple human stupidity combined with curiosity makes this despicable cycle a profitable venture. This is a major reason for the oversaturation that the iPhone market suffers from.

Good apps especially suffer because of this. More often than not, they get lost in the shuffle, and are dragged down by their own increased production costs. Their creators put a greater amount of time and effort, and yet get punished for this care and attention to detail. The major AAA ports have the advantages of brand recognition as well as substantial marketing budgets.

The iPhone market is a pretty savage place right now. I would strongly advise against using it as your sole target platform.
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joulimousis
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« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2010, 11:50:41 am »

Simple human stupidity combined with curiosity makes this despicable cycle a profitable venture.

That sums it up!
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Juan Becerril
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« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2010, 12:12:14 pm »

Jou, what "dumb" aps are you talking about? Could you show us a top selling "dumb" game and a comparable "great" game that you feel should be selling better? Best of all would be if the two games are very similar, for example the same genre, content, or even price.

At any rate, I think the following factors are probably great factors to consider:

Price is one issue, the cheaper you make a game the more copies you will sell.

Recognition is another, a totally new game is mysterious and suspicious, whereas a sequel to a well-known and liked entity entails little risk.

Last, some genres just aren't as popular as others. Given the choice between a short platformer game and a webtoy style app, I'll almost always go for the platformer because that just interests me more.

Maybe I could do a little analysis with minitab to determine confidence factors, like how much does name recognition, genre, or price point actually influence sales. It's been a while since I've done statistical analysis.
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joulimousis
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« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2010, 12:53:20 pm »

Jou, what "dumb" aps are you talking about? Could you show us a top selling "dumb" game and a comparable "great" game that you feel should be selling better? Best of all would be if the two games are very similar, for example the same genre, content, or even price.

Again, it's not supposed to be a profound statistic analysis. It's just a bit of humor based on the popularity of small apps. And I just think it's a good way to start a discussion.

Price is one issue, the cheaper you make a game the more copies you will sell.

Do you really think this?

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Juan Becerril
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« Reply #12 on: September 07, 2010, 07:19:51 am »

They appeal to a very wide range of people and are very easy to spread via word of mouth.
exactly. Really, what would be the rage of a Ninja Gaiden App?Huh? Really few people would be able to play it well. It has a lot of game quality, but really few people can have fun playing it. That's different from the light saber app, which is easy to handle and many can enjoy.
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« Reply #13 on: September 07, 2010, 10:33:26 am »

Impulse buying. Think dollar stores.
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bvanevery
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« Reply #14 on: September 07, 2010, 10:52:30 am »

I think it would be worth examining the psychology of people who will buy an iPhone to begin with.

Especially, people who will line up for early orders of an iPhone 4.0 that are clearly broken, when these same people had a perfectly functional iPhone 3.0.  My Dad is one of these people.  He has too much money.  He greatly enjoys buying things, not for the actual having of the thing, but for the sense of power and prestige that it gives him.  Doesn't matter what it is, he almost always has to have the latest greatest gizmo.  It took years for me to retrain him that every new piece of Microsoft software is bug ridden junk, that they're deliberately trying to use him as a test lab, that OS churn simply makes SW and HW vendors a lot of money for nothing, but he did eventually figure that out.  Hasn't figured it out in the Apple universe though.

Anyways the technical terms for such people are "early adopters" or "gearheads."  Could be a passion for technology, or a passion for spending money, or some combo thereof.  Interestingly, I don't think my Dad downloads any apps at all, but he does consume plenty of music.  Anyways I would expect a gearhead to grab any stupid app they can get their hands on, whether it's a lightsaber or a fart or whatever.  It's gear.  It's not evaluated in terms of its usefulness or long term value or whatnot.  Like the other poster said, it's an impulse buy, it's GEAR.  The iPhone is a great platform for people who want more gear, gear, gear.

I hate gear.  It's the antithesis of what I am as a software developer or a human being.  I don't own an iPhone, but I do have an iPod... because my Dad gave it to me for XMas.  I've figured out what I can genuinely use it for.  Mainly music.  Sometimes mapping / store locating / product review reading while out and about.  I do not carry my iPod with me at all times, as it's not useful enough for that, and I have a regular cell phone.  A rather perfunctory cell phone that has better audio quality than a lot of other phones, because talking is mainly what a cell phone is for.  My psych profile is specific tools that do things well, that I really need to get done.  I'm not in "dollar store impulse buy" mode, and frankly I'm a lousy musical consumer too.  Dad gave me the iPod 9 months ago and I still haven't moved beyond his music collection that came with it.  I managed to chop it down from 4500 songs to 3000, so that when I hit "Random Play" I have a much better chance of listening to something I like.

Forgot to clarify, using my Dad as an exemplar: iPhone owners are also very likely to be conscious of social prestige.  A fart or lightsaber app is a social prestige app; it is gear that you can show off to your friends.  I dislike social prestige consumption, beit trendy clothes, trendy music, or their marriage in trendy technology.  Apple is the arch lifestyle marketer nowadays, and for me the graphics designer fashionista stuff gets really old really quick.  And I say that as a visual artist to boot.
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Vino
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« Reply #15 on: September 13, 2010, 10:41:56 pm »

I would say you don't impulse buy at a dollar store any more than at a regular one. You typically walk into the store with the mind to buy something.

A lot of "stupid" iPhone apps do well simply due to good marketing. Good PR gets Apple to notice you, and that puts you in the featured list, which moves units.
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Richard Kain
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« Reply #16 on: September 15, 2010, 09:31:15 am »

Price is one issue, the cheaper you make a game the more copies you will sell.

Though partially true, there is the matter of diminishing returns. Lowering the price too much can severely cripple profits, even if it does increase sales. Garnering a few hundred extra sales can be a boon. But it can also hamstring a product. If you drop your price by 50% and it only results in a small percentage increase in sales, then you made a mistake. Your overall profits will be considerably less than what they would have been.

Finding the balance between cost and demand is a fundamental aspect of commercial economics. If everyone just prices their apps at $1, it shows that none of them are taking the economics seriously. Defaulting to the lowest possible price to increase sales is not the best approach.
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brunhildr
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« Reply #17 on: September 16, 2010, 06:08:20 am »

Though partially true, there is the matter of diminishing returns. Lowering the price too much can severely cripple profits, even if it does increase sales. Garnering a few hundred extra sales can be a boon. But it can also hamstring a product. If you drop your price by 50% and it only results in a small percentage increase in sales, then you made a mistake. Your overall profits will be considerably less than what they would have been.

Finding the balance between cost and demand is a fundamental aspect of commercial economics. If everyone just prices their apps at $1, it shows that none of them are taking the economics seriously. Defaulting to the lowest possible price to increase sales is not the best approach.

Great! So the great trouble in your point of view would be estimate correctly the demand. But the problem originally raised by the topic was why really simple and sometimes stupid apps have this BIG demand while quality apps don't. If price is not the point any longer, what's it?

Some have said here that could be the stupidity in consumers, others that was barely a consumption issue. Personally, I see it mainly as symbolic validation of some characteristics and also a kind of social attributes.

In our society, we must consume in order to exist or prove our existence. Period. This kind of consumption doesn't always evolves money, sometimes it's only the corroboration of some values, simbols. A good example was the beginning of the lifespan of the contemporary consoles. Many had already chosen which console was their favorite and defended it internet forums every 20 sec even though "buying it" was still not an option. When each if those players chose their favorite consoles, they weren't only choosing from given options, they were matching which of their preferences/status would be better fitted in each console. That's why, today, we kind have a stereotype of each console player [like wii casual family, Xbox hardcore player and/or microsoft fan boy and so on]. Also, in choosing one among others consoles, the player intend to communicate other players of some symbols which belonged to the console and now are part of the player.

With apps it works on a similar way. For example, the fart app that was mention. Mainly, those who buy such simple and non-challenging softwares are saying that some times or all times, they like to use their cellphones for non complex activities. Also, that they believe that they can use it in a funny way, which also corroborate that they think that this joke is funny. Also, they want other people to believe they are funny using that app in such way.

Of couse, that's not a exact science, and some may have different reason for doing such things, but generally those reasons are related with other symbols consumption or other social values, that may not be the mainstream ones, but are socially created.
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bvanevery
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« Reply #18 on: September 16, 2010, 08:05:03 am »

Finding the balance between cost and demand is a fundamental aspect of commercial economics.

Great! So the great trouble in your point of view would be estimate correctly the demand.

Uuuh the great trouble in your point of view would be to estimate the symbols.  You didn't free us from the realm of inexact science.
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brunhildr
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« Reply #19 on: September 16, 2010, 01:47:49 pm »

Finding the balance between cost and demand is a fundamental aspect of commercial economics.

Great! So the great trouble in your point of view would be estimate correctly the demand.

Uuuh the great trouble in your point of view would be to estimate the symbols.  You didn't free us from the realm of inexact science.


You're missing my point. My intention wasn't to me more accurate than anyone, I just was trying to bring the discussion back to it's original theme. But feel free to tall about demand!
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