A Unite ’09 panel focused on how to make money on the iPhone had one clear piece of advice: establish a relationship with Apple, and then embrace their feedback.
"Releasing any game onto the App Store at the moment is like a crap shoot," said Matt Mechtley, one of the developers of popular game Touch KO. "But there are certain things you can do to weigh the odds in your favour, and having Apple aware of your game is one of those things."
In fact, the general consensus from the panel was that without Featured status, it’s nearly impossible to have a runaway hit. Getting an inside contact at the Cupertino giant isn’t easy, though, and this is where getting a publisher can help.
"While you might not need a publisher to fund your iPhone game, this is one of the things that they can bring to the table in the iPhone space," Mechtley continued.
"Our publisher Chillingo, for example, regularly shows its upcoming stuff to Apple and gets feedback from it, so they know about the game before it’s even submitted for approval."
But if you don’t want to go through a publisher, it’s not impossible to have direct contact with the firm yourself, countered Riptide Games’ Brian Robbins. "I don’t think you have to go through a publisher to get inside Apple. Go to WWDC, go to local iPhone Tech Talks that Apple holds, and make contacts there."
The key, said Robbins, was to listen to the feedback that Apple gives – because it appears far more likely that they’ll feature your game if you do so.
"If Apple gives you advice, whatever it is, just do it. You want to make them your friends. For example, when we showed our contact our Vans advergame, iPhone OS 3.0 had just come out but there were very few games that included the new features. They suggested we implement some, so I spent the weekend adding iPod music support to it. Once we submitted it got approved in about two days and we were featured for a long time, because we were one of the few apps that Apple could show off as being ‘3.0’."
Mechtley went as far as to say that developers should "see Apple as their key customer, rather than the actual player, if money is what you’re after" – which received agreement from the whole panel.