Despite our best efforts, it is looking unlikely that Season Pass 2 will launch on time on iOS. The Steam, Google Play and Amazon releases will occur as scheduled. For those interested in the specifics of why this is the case, read on. If not, just know that we plan to keep you posted with more updates as information becomes available.Read More
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!
(read part 1)As late summer rolled on, we finally began to give Couplett the love it so desperately needed.
Early in development we faced our first big question. We knew we could build the photo taking functionality (we’d already done so with the prototype) and we knew that we could further optimize it. But what to do with these two photos? Through the design process, we came up with two distinct options:
- simple yet limited
- complex yet complicated
When going through the initial design phase of a project, it’s always good to throw as much against the wall as possible to see what might stick. Did we want Couplett to be an app that let you do anything you could possibly think of with two photos or did we want it to be something that let you do a couple things really fast, and really well?
We explored some options, built some prototypes and started to get a feel for what would make for a fun experience. What we settled on eventually was the concept of “Themes”. We took as inspiration what you see in iMovie or iPhoto - A single thing to select that brings with it all the options you would need for the composition. Instead of choosing a mask, a border, a color, a filter, a crop level and whatever else separately, you select a single theme and we design the themes to have all those things preselected for you. We then offer a few simple options (like position and size of the inner picture) and you’re all done.
It was around this time that we found Terrena, a full time graphics guru. What we realized we needed for Couplett was themes that were truly designed, and Brittney was already otherwise occupied with Uncle Slam. It was also around this time that we came up with the model for Couplett - Tokens.
You've seen "tokens", "gold" or "coins" in lots of popular games. You earn them in the game for performing various actions but, more importantly to us, you can skip all that and just buy them. When done correctly, you have something like Jetpack Joyride where you can just skip ahead a bit if you're frustrated. When done poorly, you have a Smurfberry situation.
Our goal was to incentivize the sharing of Coupletts (and hence, the sharing of the app itself). For every sharing action, you would earn tokens. Facebook, Twitter and Flickr sharing would earn more (since you were sharing with a larger audience) and sharing via email slightly less. This would then be the mechanism to unlock new themes, and as with many of the games out there, we would also offer the ability to purchase tokens in bulk if you just wanted the themes and didn't much care about sharing.
Development proceeded at quite a clip once Roben joined the team and there was even some friendly competition with the Uncle Slam team to see who might ship first. Uncle Slam won that contest by about a week but both came together so closely that it made the most sense toe schedule their releases together. December 16th would be the day. We submitted the final build and settled in to wait.
4 days later, we received the email you never want to get-
Your app Couplett has been reviewed, but we are unable to post this version. For details, or to directly contact the App Review team, visit the Resolution Center in iTunes Connect. Do not reply to this email.
It's hard having pride in your work. It's hard taking the extra time needed to make something you are proud of instead of just something close enough. In a perfect world, we would always have time to make a product completely perfect before sending it out the door. But as we all know, we live quite a ways down the road from a perfect world.Over the weekend, I had an experience via the app store that surprised me but probably shouldn't have - I downloaded a truly bad app.
The realities of the App Store and the current economy mean that we as developers constantly try to live in an uneasy lagrangian point between speed, quality and cost. Being first with an idea can mean the difference between success and failure but being first with a bad implementation can be worse than losing the race.
Here at Handelabra, we do our best to make sure our products are worth using. When we make mistakes, and we do, we work our butts off to fix them. But not everyone does. In the new world of indie development and self-publishing via the App Store, there's something interesting happening - the breakdown of quality control.
Yes, Apple must approve any app before it is released and yes, they have a list of rules that ostensibly guard against the bad eggs but my experience this weekend reminded me that the role of publisher is not completely vestigial.
Software development is an interesting thing. It's an incredibly technically precise endeavor that requires a wonderfully artful touch to be done well. And as with any complex undertaking, its hard to find people that have all the right skills in a single body, or even to assemble a team with all those skills in only a few bodies. But the absence of certain aspects doesn't make them any less necessary. And unfortunately, some small developers, when pulled too far by the gravity of costs, lean on Apple to fill the roles they don't have the time or the money to do themselves. But the problem is that Apple, via the app store, is not in a great position to fill that role for us.
We all love Apple, that's why we develop for Apple platforms. But Apple's goals with the App Store approval process are very different than ours with our products. Their goals are to maintain a consistent experience, to protect iPhone and iPad customers from "objectionable content and provide customers with incentives to stay with the platform (and to make sure we're not using any of those sweet, sweet private APIs). Our goal (and I hope I'm not speaking out of turn) is to create compelling, useful and bug-free experiences for our customers. Letting Apple be your quality control department is a mistake. Sure, they may catch some truly egregious bugs (or not) but the factors they are controlling for are probably different from those that will most effect the customer experience of our software.
The App I used this weekend clearly passed Apple's gatekeeper (although it's questionable whether it should have). But before even getting there, it should have faced a much more meticulous gatekeeper who was concerned with the app and it's experience and not simply whether Apple would approve it.
And cards on the table - I'll admit that I'm as guilty of this as anyone. When we've been polishing an app or an update for a month, I want it on the store so bad I can taste it. I'm constantly being reminded by my team that it's more important to get it right, and make it solid before letting it out, short term revenue be damned.
But then, I'm lucky enough to have a team that takes pride in their work. My job in this case is to get out of the way and let those inner quality assurance beasts come out to play.