Couplett 3 of 3: From the ashes (Approval at last)

(read part 1 and part 2)Rejection.

In our experience, it doesn't happen often but when it does, it's always unexpected. There are lots of developers out there who are riding the edge, whether on the technical end (pushing the edges of what iOS can do) or on the business end (like selling "borderline" things via IAP). We thought there was a possibility we might fall into the first category with Couplett. After all, we started off trying to do something with the camera system that Apple confirmed to us couldn't really be done. We found out that we actually fell into the second category.

The system we devised for rewarding users who spread the word about our app seemed like a pretty good one. You use our app, we give you content to keep using the app. If this was the end of it, we would have been fine. Where the trouble arose was when we also said "but if you want to skip all that, you can just buy tokens and reward yourself". You've done this in games. Lots of games allow you to purchase some sort of intermediate currency that you use in game. You may not spend 99¢ to buy a great sword outright, but you might spend 99¢ to buy 1000 gold and then turn around and spend 500 gold to unlock the sword. As with many things, Apple's guidelines here can be open to interpretation.

By our interpretation, we weren't doing anything different than these myriad games save one - we were not a game.

The concept of "gamification" is floating around a lot these days and the idea of rewarding desired behaviors is seen, for example, at Fitocracy (where you "level up" by completing exercises). We've applied some of these same concepts in GAME.minder. When you are "playing" something, it can add an element of fun that you don't get from simply "using" something.

After carefully considering the situation, we came to two conclusions:

  • Apple is wrong
  • but that doesn't actually matter

For those not intimately familiar with the App Review process, you do have the option to appeal. While we have never taken this option (our only other rejections were for simple things like mishandled screenshots), we have heard that it can drag on for months. As Couplett was now coming up on 1 year since inception, we decided to simply rework the model of Couplett into a more traditional freemium app where you get to try it out for free, and you buy add ons in-app. While the model of rewards was, in our opinion, an innovative model, the true innovation of Couplett is the 2 camera functionality and it seemed a shame to hold up getting that out there just to quibble over how people could pay.

We spent the month of January pulling apart the token reward system and rebuilding the app to allow for downloadable theme packs. One positive that came out of this change is that the app itself is now under 20 megabytes, allowing it to be downloaded over 3G. This extra time also allowed us to use the app "in the wild" so to speak over the holiday period which led us to another discovery.

As we have covered, it's not possible to have both cameras active at once. This means you only get to frame up the "main" picture, the front facing picture is shot "blind". Now at first, we considered this an ok trade-off but in my personal use over the holiday, I discovered that the front facing cameras aren't aimed exactly how you might think, especially on iPad. This lead to either a lot of "top heavy" front facing photos, or a lot of retakes to make sure things were framed up correctly.

Since we had the time, we took this opportunity to add a brief "check your hair" moment before taking the front facing picture. If you make sure your face is framed in the square, you should be golden to use any theme available without worrying about getting cut off.

We wrapped up the changes, reorganized our in app purchases, submitted and settled in again to wait.


On February 8th, Couplett was released to world and we had a bang up first day, peaking at #9 free photo app for both iPhone and iPad!

Couplett 1 of 3: Conception and Planning (and delays)

Couplett is finally coming out tomorrow, February 8th. For those that are interested, I thought I'd give a little insight into the year-long process that has brought Couplett to the App Store. A whole year, you say? Indeed. So how does such a simple concept take a year to come to fruition? Read on to find out.In January, 2011, I was having lunch with my daughter. We were having one of our favorites, Panera mac and cheese, while taking a break from some errands. I find that my favorite times with my children are when I get to spend time with them individually. My daughter had requested “the mac and cheese restaurant” and I was happy to oblige.

Being the age of cell phone cameras, I was taken by an impulse we all seem to have from time to time, “I want to capture this moment”. So there she was, across the table from me and I began the typical dance:

  • Launch camera app
  • lean over the table
  • extend arm
  • realise that I’m not sure the framing
  • weigh the option of using the front facing camera despite it’s lower quality...

Wait a second.

Why am I switching cameras? This device has 2 cameras, if I could just drop the phone in between us and use both cameras, that would be so much simpler!

Thus began an App Store search and I found that there wasn’t much available (or my search skills weren’t up to the task). I filed the idea away and set a RE.minder to talk to John about it on Monday.

After relaying the idea, John started playing around with the camera system and we made some interesting discoveries, the most important of which is that, on the iPhone 4, there is no way to have both cameras active at the same time. No matter how we sliced it, the best we could hope for was two images, captured one immediately after the other. We took this prototype with us to WWDC 2011 and confirmed this with Apple. Barring a redesign of the underlying camera system (or a significant change deep within the OS), we could not have both cameras active at once.

Armed with this knowledge, it was time to dive into active development. Oh if only.

After WWDC in June, we were knee deep in the development of Uncle Slam. In addition, we now had a bright and shiny  (if borderline alpha) new iOS version to content with. But as we all know, Apple is never exactly forthcoming with projected release dates. Could Couplett be iOS5 only? Should we shift Uncle Slam's focus to iOS 5? Decisions, decisions.

(read part 2 and part 3)

Uncle Slam: the road to PAX

It's been quite a while since I last posted about Uncle Slam -- the game has a new name and everything now!After we got a good response to our impromptu demos at PAX East, we decided to go full bore on the game. So this summer we've been working hard to get the game built and ready for a real showing at PAX Prime. We're setting up an awesome booth where people can try out Uncle Slam, compete in tournaments, and talk to the developers and artists who put the game together.

Here's what you can look forward to at PAX, by the numbers:

  • 9 Presidents of the United States, including but not limited to: George Washington, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Abraham Lincoln
  • 5 stages, including the White House, Mount Rushmore, and some other surprises..
  • 7 Handelabra representatives, including developers and artists, to chat with about Uncle Slam and our other projects
  • 3 big screens showing all the action and keeping track of the Presidential Standings

Now this is still a Developer's Corner post, so I'll mention some of the technical bits.. we've come a long way since our prototype we had at PAX East. This is our first game at Handelabra, so it's been a learning experience setting up a pipeline for art process, scripting and packaging game assets, integrating with game engines and other technologies, and so on. I'm hoping to get some posts up after PAX Prime talking in more detail about how the project has been going. Uncle Slam has benefited hugely from open source libraries like cocos2d, Box2D, and RestKit, as well as useful tools like PhysicsEditor, TexturePacker, and Particle Designer.

How about some screen shots?

Uncle Slam is due out later this year, so keep an eye on this space. Better yet, set a RE.minder in GAME.minder! Even better yet, visit us at PAX Prime from August 26-28 -- we'll be in booth #6014.

Used games and the phantom "Publisher Buyback

I just finished reading this article about the "secondary games market", aka, Used Games. Well reasoned, it reminded me that I've had something to say about this for a while.

The Phantom Buyback

At PAX East this year, I attended a "Legal Issues in Gaming" panel run mostly by lawyers, several of whom represented big game publishers. At some point in the the panel, they asked for a show of hands "how many of you buy used games?" I raised my hand. Then they asked, "How many of you think the publisher or developer should be getting a cut of that sale?"

My hand went down and I was frankly shocked at how many stayed up.

Now I'll admit, I consider myself (maybe narcissistically) to be more informed than the average bear concerning intellectual property issues. This is a very clear case of first sale. Once you've packaged up and sold something, it's not actually yours anymore. If I choose to sell it to Game Stop for $20, and then they turn around and sell it to someone else for $40, that's the market working the way it's supposed to (but the less said about "the free market" the better).

To every publisher or developer who thinks they should get a cut of that sale, I would ask, how much of that $20 I got from Game Stop came from you exactly? And while we're at it, how many publishers actually run their own buyback programs for used games to compete directly with this model? Why settle for a cut of that resale price when you could have the whole thing?

My guess is because they don't like the entire concept of competing on price and having several used game outlets would open used games up to something most intellectual property never has to worry about - commoditization. Since copyright is essentially IP monopoly, most IP creators have gotten used to the idea of being able to name their price. Competition in the used games market (for both buyers and sellers) adds an element of instability that most would rather not deal with.

Digital Distribution or Digital Extortion?

Another point made by a panelist was that digital distribution would help this problem "self-correct". I agreed, but given the way things have been going, I think we were thinking about it in very different terms.

From my point of view, the "digital distribution" angle is very clearly happening in places like the App Store. We are seeing, in some cases, the exact same game that sells for $50 in a box going for $9.99 (if even that) on the App Store. And this is often times after additional development costs to translate to a touchscreen control system. But it's a lot easier to justify a $10 price tag when you know every sale is final (no resale of digital goods, for now at least) and the volume has the potential of hitting 200 million.

Unfortunately, I fear this is not the digital distribution you're looking for. I think he was referring to the increasing popularity of locking off parts of the game behind a single use code included in the box.

Some of you might remember the dust up when the Downloadable Content for Bioshock 2 was in fact already on the disc. Back then, many felt they were being charged for something they already paid for. The single use code does essentially the same thing. To the point where Game Stop has actually been sued over deceptive practices over the fact that stuff pictured on the box isn't actually included when the game is sold second-hand.

Bravo lawyers, bravo. You turned it around on them.

But the overarching point in my mind is really quite simple. If you don't want people to "wait till they can buy it used", you price it to move. Hell, I've bought every Lego Star Wars game new and I then sold them back but I've almost re-bought several of them over xbox live because, two years later, who can argue with $19.99? If it had been $19.99 to start, maybe I would have just kept it instead of getting $25 back from the $50 I spent. After trade and buying it a second time, I still will have spent less than buying it new and keeping it.

With a value proposition like that, why wouldn't I trade my games and more importantly, why would I care if the developer didn't get a cut of the used sale? Clearly the game is only worth $19.99, right? So why shouldn't I be incensed that I paid $50 in the first place?

Why indeed.

RE.minder PRO

Earlier this week, I talked about what's new for the RE.minder you download for free from the App Store and some of you may have noticed something about "RE.minder PRO".  'What could that be?' you asked yourself. Read on to find out...First the really good news - if you are one of the incredibly generous people who used RE.minder and decided to send us a couple bucks to turn off the ads, you already have PRO! Your "no ads policy" helped fund the upgrades that are coming so we figured, who better to benefit from them than you! So what exactly is PRO and what does it get you?

PROs are Advanced

Lots of people are finding really great ways to use RE.minder but they are also finding, as great as it is to set repetitions "anywhere from minutes to months" (thanks App Store reviewer Spoat!), it would be a lot more useful with a few added constraints.

Now, in addition to "repeat every" you can also turn days of the week on and off and set an end date, or total number of repetitions.

To put them all through their paces, let's say you have a routine you want to be reminded about every 8 hours, but only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and after 15 repetitions, you want it to stop. With RE.minder PRO, you can set that up super quick. We're expecting this to be a very popular feature.

Another thing PROs tend to like is setting everything they way they want it the first time. With the advanced workflow, you can go directly into advanced edit mode while you are setting your RE.minders and change the title, add notes, change the sound, icon, color, repetitions and everything else right away, without a trip to the RE.minder list first.

You also might have noticed a message that reads "touch + hold to edit" in the screenshot to the right. PROs like to customize and the Quick Pickers can now be rearranged to your heart's content. Just tap and hold and you can drag your favorite icons to the front of the list or even drag unused ones completely off into oblivion (don't worry, you can bring them back from the info tab). For more on this, read about the Add On Packs below.

Add a little color

There are two important changes along the color spectrum in RE.minder 2 and the first one is global color schemes:

Our current favorite is "Threat Level" (third from the left).  There are 9 different color schemes included in RE.minder PRO. If it's popular, we'll see about adding more.

Also on the color front, PROs can now change the icon and icon color of any RE.minder at any time. Choosing automatic will have the icon colors stay within the bounds of the selected color scheme but if you want something to really stick out from the list, this can be really great.

One last thing I insisted on, PROs can set the default sound for new RE.minders to Random (within a given category).  I just like being surprised, what can I say.

And needless to say, PROs aren't bombarded with banner advertising (but you knew that already, right?)

Add On Packs

The story doesn't end there though! Something else we have up our sleeve for RE.minder 2 are Add On Packs for icons and sounds. We've gotten a lot of feedback on how much people like the sounds we 've included (even to the point of people requesting to use them as ring-tones!) so we've bundled up a bunch more for you to add if you like. The add on packs available for RE.minder 2 will be:

  • Musical Sound pack - 20 new sounds of the Musical and Simple varieties including rock, blues and electronic
  • Fun Sound Pack - 22 new sounds of the Fun and Simple varieties including cartoons, animals and electronics
  • Extra Loud Sound Pack - We've taken great care to mix our sounds "properly" so they are in line with expected volume levels. But we've had some requests for louder sounds so this pack contains dynamically compressed and juiced-to-11 versions of 17 sounds from the various packs. We can't add a subwoofer to your phone, but these are as loud as we can make them.
  • Fun and Games Icon Pack - Over 20 new icons to use in your Quick Picker bar in the Media, Sports and Games and Transportation categories
  • Home and Office Icon Pack - Over 20 new icons in the Food and Drink, Medical, Office and Social categories
  • Miscellaneous Icon Pack - Lots of other icons we liked but either couldn't think of a category for or were too quirky to fit elsewhere.

All these packs are available from the new RE.minder Store in the Info Tab along with the RE.minder PRO upgrade.

I've done my best to be comprehensive over these two posts but there's really so much new, I'm sure to have missed something. We're putting the finishing touches on RE.minder 2 as we speak and expect to submit it within a week.  Assuming all goes well, RE.minder 2 will be on your phone before May becomes June.

We hope you like it!