In wargaming there is a principle known as “The Fuzzy-Wuzzy Fallacy” and without going into excruciating mathematical detail it’s premise is that quantity relates to quality at a better ratio than you might think…specifically a unit with 2X firepower is not worth 2 opposing 1X units but rather the square root of two because the guy with the BFG9000 can still be pwnd by a single low-tech arrow. [see: Pippin’s comment on Boromir].

How this applies to app development is simple:
App customers are absurdly cheap.

Ergo: multiple, inexpensive, interlocking projects stand a better  chance of making a profit than a single expensive project.

The app economy has been interesting. We started out in late 2008 as the economy was in the process of self-defenestration. Not knowing what we wanted to do or how to do it, we just started making G. As video games go, G was pretty low-cost, but as apps go it turns out to have been rather spendy. But at the same time Soma’s alter ego, Code-Monkeys, put a small $50/mo ad in Google and we sought to do work-for-hire for other folks to pay the bills. All together it’s given us a pretty wide base of experience both in the development and marketing of apps in more than one distribution space.

G offers something  like 30-40 hours of gameplay, lots of art and music, and a rich story – and we were told repeatedly that $3.99 was just too much to pay for such a title. Now we can complain and kvetch about the whole thing but I’m more inclined to learn and move-on. Ok, so if the people buying apps are more price-sensitive than anything else then we simply need to plan accordingly and give folks what they want. Namely bite-sized, inexpensive, more-or-less-disposable entertainment. But how do we do that without compromising on the core principles of Soma Games, specifically to create games that are deep in story and rich in artistic content?

Enter the Fuzzy-Wuzzy Fallacy.
I think that is a situation like this, the trick is to spread our efforts across several projects and make it a point that the projects are interconnected so as to make the most of resources, especially the creative ones, which we can leverage more than once. But I’m not really talking about sequels here though that might be a good strategy as well. Our next game, F, will in some ways be a sequel to G but only in the sense that it will continue the larger storyline 10 years in the future. The gameplay however will not be anything like G. We will be creating a layer that will encourage people who like F and want to excel to go back and purchase G, not only for story context but also or rank and rewards that improve their chops in F. We started this whole on-line component in G as a way to track and compare scores but it really has a much larger purpose of allowing for character careers across multiple games. We also plan to learn from our experience on G. F will not have 50 levels like G did. In hindsight, G was too big in that sense and may have made people feel like the story moved too slowly depending on how challenging they found the levels. If the story is our central focus it’s important that we allow it to move along and not stifle the narrative with too many puzzles.

All of this is only to state what we’re coming to feel is an obvious conclusion: when it comes to building apps:

  • Cast your bread upon many waters as opposed to blowing your wad all at once.
  • Look for and create synergy between your apps. Not just cross-marketing, but cross-cooperation.
  • There really is no predicting a hit, don’t try.
  • Plan on making the most of the long-tail.
  • The app economy is like a bird, use a shotgun – plan for multiple platforms from day one.

Good luck and good hunting.

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3 Comments
  1. Thanks John – two things come to mind as critical components: you need to make a product that stands out. As Seth Godin puts it, you need to create a Purple Cow. There is no “build it and they will come” thing going on anymore if indeed it ever existed. Quality matters!
    Second, build and engage your tribe. We’ve found social media to be a great channel for us. Both cost-effective and…well effective effective…if that makes any sense. 🙂
    Good hunting!

  2. This is an excellent insight into the mindset required for successful app development. I just recently purchased a Mac myself with the intent to develop apps for the iPhone OS. Are there any other tips you would care to share with aspiring developers? I haven’t done anything like this before, but I’ve got a book I can follow, and about a million ideas.

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