The App Store Redesign

What impact might the App Store redesign have on indie game developers?

What impact might the App Store redesign have on indie game developers?

It’s still kind of amazing to remember that at the Apple WWDC in 2007, when the iPhone was first announced by Steve Jobs to an astonished and deliriously excited audience, the App Store was not even a feature of the iPhone.  Jobs correctly anticipated that developers would want to create new apps for this amazing new device with its revolutionary OS, but this is what he said at the time:

The full Safari engine is inside of iPhone. And so, you can write amazing Web 2.0 and Ajax apps that look exactly and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone. And these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services. They can make a call, they can send an email, they can look up a location on Google Maps.

And guess what? There’s no SDK that you need! You’ve got everything you need if you know how to write apps using the most modern web standards to write amazing apps for the iPhone today. So developers, we think we’ve got a very sweet story for you. You can begin building your iPhone apps today.

This wasn’t an oversight on Jobs’s or Apple’s part.  It was a deliberate decision.  Jobs believed that managing 3rd party app submissions while ensuring the integrity of the iPhone OS platform would be too huge and complex a job for Apple successfully to manage.  As we know now, that was a colossal misjudgment.  To his credit, Jobs realized this quite quickly, so that by October of 2007 - about 4 months after the announcement above - Jobs announced the first app developer SDK and when iPhone OS 2.0 was released on July 11, 2008, the App Store was made available to the public for the first time.

So for the first year of the iPhone’s life, the App Store literally didn’t exist. Since then, though, it’s been doing pretty well: $70bn paid out to app developers since it launched (at a current run rate of more than $20bn per year) and year on year download numbers have increased by 70%.  New features have been incrementally added to the App Store since it was launched: in-app purchases for free to play apps were introduced in 2009, setting Supercell, King and others on their way to massive profitability.  More recently, the App Store finally emulated a feature long available on Google Play, allowing developers to respond to user reviews. But in large part, in terms of look and feel and functionality, the App Store isn’t that much different now from 2008 (although there are certainly a few more apps now).

That is all set to change. At this week’s WorldWide Developers Conference in San Jose, CA, Apple announced that a radical redesign of the App Store is headed our way when iOS 11 launches later in the year.  We won’t rehash all the changes that were announced; there are plenty of places on the web where you can find that info.  

That said, we do want to highlight a couple of key changes and how we think that will affect game developers in particular.

THE POSITIVE  

Games now have their own tab in the App Store. For the purposes of Apple’s definitions, games are no longer apps per se, but a category separate and alone.  That will likely make games easier to find, and game rankings easier to access.  It does mean that games will no longer be included in the overall app rankings, but on balance, treating them as unique should be positive.

In-game purchases will now be available directly from the App Store, as well as from within the games themselves, of course.  Any new opportunities to sell IAPs has to be a good thing, although time will tell how useful a sales channel this really becomes.

THE MAYBE-NOT-SO-POSITIVE

The homepage will be radically different, and will likely put a lot more focus on a specific game or app that the Apple editors have chosen to highlight.   If you can get your game or app in front of the App Store editors, that endorsement and publicity could be extremely powerful, with a beautifully laid out page and some gorgeous graphics and videos.  There will be social media links from the editors’ pages so users can quickly spread the word, thus potentially magnifying the halo effect of being so featured by them.

On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that the number of apps or games that are likely to benefit from this attention is likely to diminish.   The App Store will be shining an ever more brilliant spotlight on the lucky few, but it will be a laser-focused beam.  Games that might have found themselves featured in the past (albeit not right at the top of the week’s pile) are likely to find it harder to benefit than before.  

And that, of course, is where specialized game publishers like Thumbspire can help.  We make no guarantees, but there is no doubt that we can leverage the relationships we have with the App Store editors to vastly improve the odds of getting them to pay attention to your game - something that will be more necessary than ever once iOS 11 and the new App Store design is released in the Fall!