Confessions of an iPhone game maker

Joel Rosenberg isn't exactly a household name, but if you goof around on your iPhone, you've probably downloaded his addictive puzzle game, Blocked.

Joel Rosenberg isn't exactly a household name, but if you goof around on your iPhone, you've probably downloaded his addictive puzzle game, Blocked. The increasingly brain-busting block-shifter sells for US$0.99. Have you ever wondered what goes into making, marketing, and selling an iPhone app? Rosenberg, an online citizen journalist for the Sacramento Press and coder by night, took the hot seat to answer a few questions.

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PC World: Let's get the big question out of the way. Will you be able to retire based off the success of your first game?

Joel Rosenberg: Although I really enjoyed developing and selling my first iPhone game, I'm happy where I am right now.

PCW: But you have had some success...

JR: Well, when I was number one for that nice little period last month, I was seeing 10,000 to 15,000 downloads a day. But even at number ten they dropped off significantly, and two months ago I was selling 5 to 15 units a day, so it's hard to make predictions.

PCW: That's not shabby at all. How much of that $0.99 sale do you get?

JR: Apple gives developers a 70 percent cut of the sales across the board, so about $0.69.

PCW: You aren't rethinking your career?

JR: I feel like seeing success on the App Store requires some good design and programming, and a great deal of hard work, but too much is left up to chance for a one-man development shop to earn a steady living. I'll make another iPhone app in the future, but if I stick with it, it's because I'm doing something I love as a hobby first and foremost. If it makes money, great. If not, well, there's no loss or disappointment. However, if my next app is as successful as this one, maybe I'll change my tune.

PCW: In the meantime, though, not too bad.

JR: Yeah, I'd fall into the category of the hobbyist who was fortunate with his first attempt. That said, I've been developing professionally for ten years or so. I decided to make an iPhone app mostly out of curiosity; I wanted to learn a new language and explore Mac development.

Creating a Game on a New OS

PCW: Considering this was your first time with a new OS, how long did it take you to make Blocked? Was it difficult?

JR: I'd say somewhere between 40 and 80 hours over the course of a month or so in my free time. There was a bit of a learning curve in the transition from Web development to device development, but Apple has done a great job getting the average developer up and running quickly.

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Apple organized a set of tutorials, sample code, and documentation that seemed to be directed just to people like me: developers from other backgrounds who were trying their hand at mobile development for the first time. Those bite-size chunks helped me learn just what I needed in order to get my app started.

I spent most of my time in the beginning and final stages of development. I really wanted the interface to be simple and polished, so as I neared completion, I removed features I initially thought were useful but ended up distracting from the core purpose of the game. The proper iPhone development cycle should start with a lot of thought and design of the interface, and end with a good look at performance and memory leaks.

PCW: No bigger turnoff than constant iPhone crashes. Besides improving stability, what else have you been doing with your game?

JR: Listening to customers. Although I'm glad I cut some features, people really want ways to extend the game once they've completed it. Blocked currently has 100 levels, and I'm only keeping track of whether a level has been completed or not. In my next update, I'm adding move counts so that people can try to improve their records after completing the game.

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Darren Gladstone

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