back to article Merry Christmas? Not for app devs: That gold rush is officially OVER

This Christmas was nothing but bad news for developers hoping to cash in on fast-selling tablets, if download and activation stats from the festive season are to be believed. Retailers and manufacturers have yet to say how many devices they unloaded on touch-happy seasonal shoppers, but app authors should be worried. A record …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hate

    Any app that comes with 'in app' purchases, has dubious permissions or is ad supported.

    Maybe developers should think again.

    The public are getting wiser.

    1. Peter Mount
      Happy

      Re: I hate

      I had a surprise yesterday when I installed a Unicode Map app on my android phone...

      When it prompted the app permissions it said the app required no special permissions.

      Now that's one developer who's got the concept of what permissions are!

      Also it's been the only one that's actually asked for none.

      1. cambsukguy

        Re: I hate

        Bit surprised it didn't want to access your location, most map apps do - unless Android doesn't consider location as a permission.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I hate

      Maybe developers should work for free? Seriously bet you hate paying for apps too - so you actually want free apps, with no in app purchases and no ads.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I hate

        "Maybe developers should work for free? Seriously bet you hate paying for apps too - so you actually want free apps, with no in app purchases and no ads."

        ERR, Yes! Stupid question!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I hate

          I was being sarcastic - you missed it.

    3. RyokuMas Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: I hate

      I hate putting in weeks of work off my own back for no return. I also hate people who think they're entitled to free apps, especially since most gamers think nothing of handing over £60+ for the latest sequel with better graphics of whatever it is they've been playing for the last five years.

      I don't like the fact that I have to put ads in my games, but with a conversion rate of less than 1% free trial to paid, mobile gamers have only themselves to blame.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: I hate

        RyokuMas - not a personal attack here but what makes you think your work is actually worth any money?

        I'd guess you are like many other app developers reinventing the sledge to drag behind the missus. It may be new to you and you may have worked hard at it but that doesn't give you a right to a living for it.

        You put adds in your games you are going to put of 99% of your potential clients as if the adverts are any good they will distract from your work and give the user a fucking awful experience which is one reason they dont upgrade. And with millions of free games out there you only have yourself to blame.

        1. RyokuMas Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: I hate

          @Tom7 - you're absolutely right.

          I subscribe to the Jeff Minter school of thought, as best described in the llamatron readme file, specifically the "This is how is was"/"This is how it is" sections. I would love nothing more than to let my games be judged purely on the merit of how good they are.

          However, as you rightly point out, there are millions of free games out there, which creates a race to the bottom (unless you're very lucky and create the next Angry Birds/Minecraft etc). A couple of years back, a mate and I released out first mobile games - both had no ads, and mine had a free trial (first half a dozen levels) with a paid full version, while my mate's was paid version only. Downloads of both were (and still are) pretty poor - however, my game's total downloads were more than double his. Our next wave of games were free with ads - each of these have download totals between 20 and 100 time those of the ad-free titles.

          From this I draw the following conclusions:

          1) Unless you're very lucky, already have a huge following, or have the marketing ability/budget to force the issue, nobody is willing to pay for anything up front.

          2) If not obtrusive, most people have no problem with ads.

          Additionally, discussions with other game developers have shown that 1% is a fairly standard conversion rate from free to paid versions.

          I certainly don't condone plastering ads all over the show (in my games, they only show when in attract mode or paused, never during gameplay), just like I don't condone pay-to-win via IAP. But unfortunately, while I use free SDKs and development tools where I can, it's not possible to avoid software licences completely - and getting hold of test devices can be even more difficult! The money to cover these has to come from somewhere, and the current attitude of "I want everything for free" (as portrayed by both my download figures and comments along the lines of "why should I pay") have pushed me towards using ads. If it were a £60quid AAA title - or even a fiver - I'd understand. But less that a quid? You can't even get a lottery ticket for that any more!

          At the end of the day, I'm still learning and trying different things, including ways of generating return from my games. Hopefully the next one will be my Angry Birds...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I hate

        Seriously?

        You're going to compare a $60 dollar game that took an entire team of people probably man-years to create, market, press into DVDs (or not) and distribute against an "App" which amounts to not much more than a glorified, customized browser (typically written by one person) that mostly just uses webservices against OTHER company's servers that don't get compensated other than via their ads?

        And you want to charge what amounts to a significant ratio of what a $60 game costs?

        Give me a freakin' break.

        You're probably just upset that your gravy-train is coming to an end and relatively quickly from the looks of it.

        Disclosure: I don't own a smart (sic) phone and probably never will and have yet to download a single app for the 2 tablets that I own.

        1. RyokuMas Silver badge
          Stop

          Re: I hate

          @AC 12:29

          "You're going to compare a $60 dollar game that took an entire team of people probably man-years to create, market, press into DVDs (or not) and distribute against an "App" which amounts to not much more than a glorified, customized browser (typically written by one person) that mostly just uses webservices against OTHER company's servers that don't get compensated other than via their ads?"

          No. I'm going to compare a £60 game against a game that in my case one person (me) has poured several months of the own time and effort outside their day job into, creating program code, graphics, sound effects, music and game content using various software development tools - some of which require ongoing licence fees - and testing on whatever devices I can get my hands on.

          Unlike the ongoing saga of sequels with better graphics for profit that AAA titles seem to be all about these days, indie games are usually a labour of love for their creators paid for with their own time and money. Certainly a completely different ball game to your service-consuming or fart app.

          As for my so-called gravy train, to date I have probably spent about ten times the money I have made on licences, devices and marketing/promotion costs. This is why I want to make a return on my work - to cover these costs and allow me to continue doing something I love.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I hate

        "I don't like the fact that I have to put ads in my games, but with a conversion rate of less than 1% free trial to paid, mobile gamers have only themselves to blame."

        As an occasional 'app' developer with some 20+ years of independent desktop/internet software development, I view that statement as a little more than arrogant.

        Don't take this too personally, but why should any developer believe they have some sort of intrinsic right to an income just because they produce unsolicited and thus speculative software for an already over-saturated market?

        Sorry, but for me, your reasoning is just plain wrong.

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I hate

        "I don't like the fact that I have to put ads in my games, but with a conversion rate of less than 1% free trial to paid, mobile gamers have only themselves to blame."

        Maybe it's a reflection on the quality of your games.

        Or maybe it's a result of the "race to the bottom" where devs give more and more in the free version such that most people won't "upgrade" to the paid version because there's just more of the same rather than something new ,in which case, only you devs have yourselves to blame.

    4. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: I hate

      Sadly the public AREN'T getting wiser. Look at the top grossing list on the app store:

      https://play.google.com/store/apps/collection/topgrossing

      There are a few pay apps and a few apps which are front end to subscription services, but the majority of those apps & games are "free". So how do they make so much money?

      Because most of them are glorified skinner boxes designed to hook people into some repetitive action/reward cycle and then make it increasingly difficult to get the reward without paying. They also encourage people to buy coins or gems or studs or some other in-game currency so people disassociate the real life spending from the in game spending.

      These "games" (particularly the multitude of skinned 'ville games) are quite simply a blight. Many of them are clearly targeting kids. It would be great if people were getting wise but clearly they are not. I doubt Google or Apple gives two hoots either since they get a 30% cut.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I hate

        "These "games" (particularly the multitude of skinned 'ville games) are quite simply a blight. Many of them are clearly targeting kids. It would be great if people were getting wise but clearly they are not. I doubt Google or Apple gives two hoots either since they get a 30% cut."

        You blood sucking programmers and providers (Apple/Google) can't be trusted, is what I read from that statement!

        Nothing new there. Capitalists are not known for doing the right thing now are they?

    5. BillG
      Pint

      Re: I hate

      Any app that comes with 'in app' purchases, has dubious permissions or is ad supported.

      Maybe developers should think again.

      The public are getting wiser.

      When I update an app and it wants the new permission of Google Play Billing Service, I don't update the app.

      Like a lot of people there are apps that I do not update because I don't like the new permissions.

      OTOH, I pay for more and more apps now if for no other reason that I don't mind kicking in only $3 to support the developer of a quality app.

      1. Eddy Ito
        Facepalm

        Re: I hate

        "OTOH, I pay for more and more apps now if for no other reason that I don't mind kicking in only $3 to support the developer of a quality app."

        Exactly. If it's a useful app and doesn't ask for access to the world I have no problem paying cash. The worst offenders are typically the most trivial. For my work phone (WP8) I've run across "flashlight" apps that only turn on the LED, to me that's worth a buck if I can avoid all the other junk including MS's developer crap but at least one of these still want access to things like phone and owner identity, network data, camera, microphone, data libraries, accelerometer and directional sensors. Seriously, an LED flashlight? I'll give it the motion sensor since it has a shake to activate but it's not voice activated or network activated. I'm fairly confident my data libraries aren't going to turn it on and I don't know what it plans to do with the camera. It seems like they just used everything available - but hey it's the pay version so there are no ads.

        Likewise I've found some non-free RPN calculator apps that have the same requirements but some of those I can understand if they let you store or upload functions but what's with needing the mic, camera and compass on a calculator? Sorry, no sale. I wish I could search apps and sort them by permissions/requirements.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I hate, I am AC at 08:07

      I love it when I hear the bleating of app developers who complain they can't break even unless they throw ads at you or sell your personal details on.

      If the app was any good I'd pay for it, you would get my money, my appreciation and thanks for making it.

      If you develop crap, expect crap in return but don't expect me to subsidise your work by having ads thrown at me or my detail sucked up and sold on.

      It is especially abhorrent when in app purchases are aimed at children.

    7. tracyanne

      Re: I hate

      Absolutely. the first thing I do is check the required permissions, if I think any of those permissions are in any way strange I don't touch the app, no matter how desirable it might seem, and pretty much any app that requires my contacts list or access to my phone calls is a no no. I impress this message on all my family and friends, so far it seems to be working.

    8. Matt Bridge-Wilkinson

      Re: I hate

      And dont forget forced rating requests all the time... grrrr

  2. AMBxx Silver badge
    Joke

    Windows Phone

    Can we Windows phone users start to feel smug yet? Nothing to download, so no stats to worry about ;)

    Seriously though, is anyone surprised by this? Seems like we've been here before.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Windows Phone

      Yes, most families who may be interested already had a fondleslab and/or couple of phones, so era of mega-growth (OK, lest say kilo-growth) is over.

      Incoming news about bears...

  3. Zot

    I wonder if this is inversely proportional to the numbers of Apps released.

    Could this be the result of a flooded market, or just a Freemium aware public?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: I wonder if this is inversely proportional to the numbers of Apps released.

      Visit the Apps stores. It is without a doubt about a flooded market.

      And crapware. Tons and tons of crapware. ...and tons...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The growth in raw numbers of devices is due to cheap Android phones / tablets but the reality is they are little used for more than making calls and sending texts. I know some of the older generation and they have 'smart' phones but not for their smart features - just because they look better or it's pretty much all that is available now.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The centralisation of the app stores make buying software like getting a product from Argos.

    It's hard for any app developer to truly make their software stand out and the reviews in the stores are vastly unhelpful, with many low scores being given just because the app doesn't work on their particular device.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes it's so much better to spend more time hunting around on Google (with their bias based on who pays the most for the ads) to buy untested apps from a developer who may choose to only show favourable reviews?

  6. tempemeaty

    Achieved?

    Market saturation that is...

    1. Al_21

      Re: Achieved?

      Time to start making apps for GGoggles (or any similar product - I cant think names of any other)?

      Get ready for that wave to come - just not too early, else you'll sink before the wave arrives.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: Achieved?

        Apps for the apparently imminent tidal wave of smart watches?

        So then we can have smartwatch apps that are to telling the time what smartphone apps are to making phone calls?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They can't double forever

    Because smartphone/tablet sales are no longer doubling. Simple logic, unless devs were naive enough to think that everyone was going to greatly increase the number of apps on their devices to make up the difference. I know I have about 10x more apps on my phone than I use on a given day, and at least half of them I've probably used 3 or 4 times ever. If iOS worked like Windows and tried to "helpfully" clean up unused stuff I'd probably have at least half of them moved into some disused apps folder...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    App Permission

    I'm in the process of writing my own very simple Andorid app to provide a torch.

    I went through all the Torch apps on the Google Play store and couldn't find one which didn't require one or more of the following:

    Access to the phone status

    Access to the network

    Access to location (both coarse and fine!)

    Access to social media

    Access to storage

    and various others.

    Camera access I can understand, as you need this to access the flash, but why on earth would I want a torch app to know where on the planet I am when I turn it on, or to be able to access my non-existant social media accounts - what's it going to do? Post a tweet "Hey everyone, I just used a torch! #lightbulb"

    Seriously, I'd even have paid a small amount of money to get an app that just provided a torch without all the other crap. Now I'll just do it myself.

    1. Joe Harrison

      Re: App Permission

      I went on the same journey. Droidlight wants camera and flash permissions that is all. You don't need a Motorola phone as implied in the blurb.

      https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.motorola.dlight&rdid=com.motorola.dlight

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: App Permission

        Thanks - missed that one as I searched for "Torch" and that one is called "Flashlight"!

        Doh!

        Just what I was looking for.

        1. BillG
          Angel

          Good Torch

          The Torch app that comes with CyanogenMod needs only two permissions: Hardware Controls and System Tools

      2. MrRtd

        Re: App Permission

        Similar journey for me, but I ended up with Nexus Flashlight, the two permissions are reasonable - take pictures (obviously because the app needs the camera for the ability to use the flash), and prevent phone from sleeping - nobody want their flashlight constantly shutting off.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: App Permission

      "but why on earth would I want a torch app to know where on the planet I am when I turn it on,"

      <sarc>Well obviously it's to help you, the user, otherwise why would it? It's part of the educational element to teach you that you don't need a torch during daylight hours.</sarc>

    3. CFWhitman

      Re: App Permission

      There is also Search Light. No permissions besides camera, no ads. You have to be careful to avoid some similarly named apps though (unless you get it from F-droid).

      1. Dave Lawton

        Re: App Permission

        Thank you for this pointer, unless I'm mistaken, this is the one by Scott M.

  9. Grubby

    Same old

    It's no major surprise, the same happened with the internet. There was a huge bubble where everyone was creating websites, each trying to grab as much land as possible and create an audience without any real idea about how they'd make money from it. Then advertisers got onto it and the more popular sites also became the richer sites, meaning more to spend on the already popular site, and so on and so on. Meanwhile the smaller sites that failed to grab the audiences took less money and so didn't stand a chance. Now if I look at my browsing habits I must visit less than 10 sites on a regular basis, reading the news, sport, social etc.

    The trend with apps is almost identical. I already only use about 5 or 6 apps and rarely download anything else, my app habits are the same as my browsing habits.

    Both follow the same trend and in my opinion it's because both are limited to how they can make money, direct or indirect. Direct is obvious, customer buys app, or customer purchases within app. The indirect rout has a lot more room for innovation with advertising, marketing revenue share promotions etc but they all boil down to the same thing, incentivisation, making money when the customer spends somewhere.

    I would like to be able to program as I would like to break this model up as there are other ways to make money without scamming people out of their cash with in app purchases aimed at kids, or gathering all their information and selling it on, one day I'll read my 'for dummies' book I've had for a year without opening :)

  10. bigtimehustler

    What surprises me is that people believe continual growth forever is possible. There does obviously come a point when the people who want to have a smartphone and download your app already have done so, there are only a limited number of people living on the planet, even if you assumed they would all do it, that still points out to you that growth can not go on forever. It's a crazy concept to be shocked it does not happen or think otherwise.

  11. fandom

    Two sentences in the article stand out to me:

    "overall download numbers have crashed"

    and

    "The number of apps downloaded increased by just 25 per cent year on year"

    For a company that supposed to be about stats those Flurry guys don't seem to have a good grasp of numbers.

    1. Gio Ciampa

      Wish I'd seen this post .... before saying pretty much the exact same thing...

    2. Phil Endecott

      Yes, it's hard to think of any other product where at 25% year-on-year increase is a "crash"....

      1. Matt 21

        So how would you describe a drop from a 90% increase to a 25% increase?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Growth...

          ...just less of it!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Executive pay. If they only received a 25% pay increase after receiving 90% the year before, no doubt in their mind their pay would be 'crashing' and thus make it time to prime their golden parachute...

    3. Tom 13

      Re: by just 25 per cent year on year

      But, but, but, they HAVE crashed!

      Last year those were triple digit numbers. And all the tech polls told me real programs are dead and the only way to make money in the future will be with Apps. And those Apps installs will keep up their insane installation numbers.

      /end sarc

      Where's the "whiny voice" icon?

  12. Mark Stronge

    Elephant in the room

    One of the big issues not mentioned it that iOS app developers could not cash in on the Christmas rush as the app store submissions and modifications backend was closed for nearly a week. Compare that to android where developers could promote their apps and offer Christmas discounts etc. at any time.

  13. Gio Ciampa

    This must be a new meaning of the phrase of which I was previously unaware...

    "overall download numbers have crashed" vs "downloads grew by just a quarter"

    Since when did "crash" mean "didn't rise by as much"???

    (Usual apologies to D.N.A.)

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What I want is to buy & play a complete game.

    I don't want a game where I'm expected to pay continuously to upgrade or achieve. I'd quite happily pay £%, £10 or maybe even £15 (for a corker) upfront for a decent "Command & Conquer", "Dungeon Keeper" or "Sim City" port. I don't want one that's free but restricted unless I buy bits.

    Given the choice between buying a magazine that I'll read once or twice for £5 or an app that I'll use for a month, I know what I'd prefer.

    App Developers seem determined to use "free" games to trick people out of as much cash as they can rather than selling a complete game on it's own merits & reviews....

    It's not the Apps that are the problem, but the model.....

    1. FunkyEric

      Or you could argue that it's not the model which is broken (as it is the one that appears to allow some people to make some money) but the customers expectations that are broken. We've been brought up with a "free" internet so we expect free stuff from it. So what if you have to put up with a few ads or be a little patient in you gameplay.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        FunkyEric - You missed my point - I don't want to play for free.

        I want to pay UP FRONT and then play the game.

        End.

        Of.

        Works for my Xbox, PC & Boardgames!! Not sure why it's such an outlandish concept when it comes to tablets/phones....

        I don't mind paying a couple of quid, or playing for free & then upgrading for a couple of quid - I've lost more down the back of the sofa whilst typing this! But I do want a decent gaming experience that won't keep nagging me for more money....

        1. Tom 13

          Re: You missed my point

          I think he quite got your point, it's in his first line. You are in the minority of people who are willing to pay upfront for the game. If there were a bunch more like you, maybe the market would change.

          Unfortunately, while he was bemoaning the current market, the length of the rest of his post obscures that.

    2. Andy 73

      I admire your commitment, but sadly you're in the minority. My observation is that

      1) Most people prefer free to paying up front for an unknown experience

      2) The deluge of low quality apps has lowered people's perceptions of the value of apps to near zero.

      In other words, most people expect to be given disposable or poor experiences, so they just don't pay. In essence the market has moved away from paying up front for the developer's effort, to paying (by in game purchases etc.) for each additional hour of entertainment/use. The end users have been shunted over to a model where they only have to pay for stuff that they actually use - but then they get hammered. It's a vicious cycle - developers produce dross, app purchasers don't pay. Perhaps the biggest issue is not which party is most to blame, but that the app stores do very little to help higher quality apps rise to the surface. I know apps that have been broken for the last year and yet still get shown as first results in searches because they had a massive following on some early version of Android.

      I'd love to be the developer that breaks the mould, spends a year creating a AAA experience and then charges 10 quid for it, but as I'm not EA or Rockstar, I can't.

      1. CFWhitman

        I think that you're correct to a large extent. The good game apps are obscured by all the junk from people trying to make a quick buck. If you want people to buy your game up front, then you have to promote it among people who are paying attention and looking for a good game they are willing to pay for.

        The Humble Bundle and its new Humble Store sell games to people looking for a good game to pay upfront for. There are also sites and forums where you can read reviews and recommendations to help separate the wheat from the chaff even on the Play Store.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ten Sizes

      Yes!

      Also I just got an HP tablet with Google Play, and its misery to find an app that works. How can a google search utility suck so bad? I pity the pain of app developers, but almost nothing in the android app market has a price on it! You find out everything after you install! I cannot believe Google Play is really a google product, and the droid app market will only improve when google enables better search. Right now its supremely time consuming and annoying to find apps.

  15. Doogie Howser MD

    Quantity vs Quality

    Maybe slightly OT and probably said already, but what the hell.

    Apple and Google claiming to have 10 zillion apps in their stores to download/buy is pretty meaningless. Like one earlier poster, I installed about a dozen apps on my new 2014 SGN 10.1 and I had a hard time spending the rest of my Google Play balance (boosted by a couple of KitKat code wins).

    The rest of the apps are either shite, duplicates of something else, totally pointless (Bane voice changer, I'm looking at you) or have the annoying in-app purchase thing that other posters have added their ire to already.

    I just don't think the vast majority of mobile apps have got anything new to say. And +1 on the app permissions too, some of them are frankly ridiculous.

  16. Christian Berger

    Multimedia CD-ROMs

    Remember when that was the latest craze? Everybody churned out those Multimedia CD-ROMs. You could pay a lot of money for Microsoft Encarta which was even worse than Wikipedia. Or you could buy lots of semi-cheap "software collections" where you got a bunch of really crappy shareware applications. Or you could buy CDs where someone stored his holiday snaps and PovRay attempts as GIF and JPEG into a CD-ROM.

    Of course all of that died with the Internet. It doesn't make much sense to have a disk based encyclopaedia when you can just access an online one which can be constantly updated... and even downloaded.

    And obviously the App-Market has additional problems. For example security is a largely unaddressed problem. You cannot deny rights to an app and feed it fake data. (or at least not automatically) You can not review the source code or install patches independently. If you install an app, you can kiss the security of your whole system good bye.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The google play store has a terrible search process. It doesn't seem like a Google search product. Out of hundreds of thousands of apps I have to pick through them **one at a time** to find out permissions and even the prices. Its very un-googly. The app store's poor search capability is probably the reason why people aren't trying out more apps. I need to be able to exclude apps with certain features, and I'd have expected Google of all companies to have a decent search capability. Its like the world has gone back to the pre-google search age.

  18. ecofeco Silver badge

    Despite the numbers...

    ...the gold rush was over years ago for the small time app developer.

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