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Flappy Bird: A Slap in the Face for Developers

The App Store is full of applications painstakingly designed by developers just hoping to make enough money to recoup the time they put into the app and maybe make enough on top of that to help them pay the bills. Some even more talented developers make apps full time and failure isn't an option for them, they have to produce or they have no income. Enter Dong Nguyen. Dong has several apps near the top of the "free apps" charts in the App Store with and one of those apps is the breakout hit Flappy Bird. The sudden rise to the top of the App Store charts for Flappy Bird coupled with several of his other apps also doing extremely well got many news sources to start speculating about how Dong Nguyen pulled this off. Did he game the system somehow? Maybe his app was just at the right place at the right time. Either way, Dong Nguyen started getting a lot of media attention, both good and bad. He also started making a lot of money off of the ad revenues from Flappy Bird, and when I say a lot I mean somewhere in the area of $50,000 a day.

This past weekend Dong Nguyen was at wits end. I would be too, an app at the top of the App Store charts and a bank account quickly filling up. So Dong decided to call it quits and yank Flappy Bird from the App Store. Forbes had an exclusive interview with Dong Nguyen where Dong was quoted as saying "But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It’s gone forever.” Dong made good on his promise and pulled Flappy Bird from the App Store on Sunday.

Why do I consider this a "slap to the face" for developers? Because I know there are developers out there busting their $%& to produce the highest quality application they are capable of developing both because they absolutely love what they do and they choose to devote their career to their passion. When somebody like Dong Nguyen comes along and achieves the kind of success other developers can only dream of and then quits it hurts. It's like watching the girl of your dreams, someone you have been pining over for a long time, get swept off her feet and married just to have her new husband cheat on her. It's like the dog that chases the mail truck. If the dog ever actually caught the mail truck the dog would have no clue what to do with the mail truck. Except in this case there are developers that WOULD know what to do, or they would hire someone that did if they were pulling in $50,000 a day.

Once a week I write a short post called the Vincent Award on this blog that highlights someone who "didn't hold anything back" and because of that was able to achieve something extraordinary. Sometimes even when someone pulls out all the stops they still fail and that's ok. Where it's not ok, in my book, is when someone achieves something that thousands of other people are trying to achieve themselves and then turns their back on that success. It truly is a slap in the face to everyone else that pours all they have into that same goal and WOULDN'T just throw it away if they actually achieved their goal. Do you think it would go over well if an athlete at the Olympics won a gold medal in their event and then right in the middle of the awards ceremony stands up and quits the sport forever because they just weren't interested anymore. What kind of message would that send to the athletes that person just beat? The people that have been dreaming of winning gold and sacrificing their time since childhood chasing the Olympic dream. It's disrespectful.

In the case of Dong Nguyen it seems like he didn't really know what his goal was when he released Flappy Bird on the App Store that had advertisements built into the app purely for the purpose of turning a profit. Did Mr. Nguyen not know that the devices he developed Flappy Bird to run on are inherently addictive? If Mr. Nguyen has such a problem with the addictive nature of things he picked the wrong type of application to develop. Has Mr. Nguyen ever been to a video game arcade? The whole video game industry is designed to pull you in so you want to play more and more (or back in the day insert just one more quarter into the slot).

Do I think Dong Nguyen did something shady to earn the top spots in the "Free Apps" section of the App Store? I don't know and honesty it doesn't matter. I'll take that back, it does matter from the perspective that if he did do something outside of the App Store rules then he essentially stole from other developers competing for App Store profits. But from the perspective of this blog post the way Dong Nguyen got to where he ended up doesn't change things. He reached a spot some many other people would love to be in and then swiftly threw it away.

I honestly hope that everything Dong Nguyen said is true and that he really did pull Flappy Bird because he wasn't comfortable with the addictive nature of the game and how it was manifesting itself on people playing the game. It takes a lot of guts to throw that kind of money away on principle alone. Just try to be a little more respectful of others in the developer community that are prepared for the kind of success that Dong Nguyen was able to achieve.

If you don't know what to do if you were to catch a shark don't go deep sea fishing.

Changing the App Store Game

After reading a piece earlier today by appadvice it finally dawned on me that there is a very clear and simple solution to the current App Store problem. The App Store has long been ensnared by an all out sprint (a one-way swim if you will) to the bottom. It was this quote in the appadvice article, a statement made by the Office of Fair Trade (OFT) in the U.K., that frankly disgusted me:

”We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial costs...”

It’s the “subject to unfair pressure to purchase” that really got me angry. The app pricing race the bottom has finally succeeded in turning the planet into a place where we see those nice young men in their clean white coats...crazy town. We now live in a world with a substantial number of people that have been taught that it is ok the expect things to be free, and oh how they have learned that lesson. Here is a wake-up call for those people out there, talented people don’t work without a reason to drive them to continue striving for excellence (i.e. they don’t work for free). That doesn’t mean the best of the best demand only the highest monetary compensation, but it means there has to be a reason for them to want to continue doing what it is they do. That reason can be many things, but there is one thing that won’t keep the most talented programmers on the planet coming back for more and that is an ever increasing number of customers demanding more and more at zero cost to them. When consumer protection organizations like the one quoted above paint developers like “snake oil salesmen” it is time for a change. I’m not trying to defend all the developers out there because we all know there are plenty that truly are peddling snake oil. But the pricing war has forced the developer community to think outside the box for ways to earn enough profit to survive doing what they love to do...develop apps. Unfortunately this means having things like in-app purchasing coupled with the above mention so-called promise of a “free” game.

Well, I have a solution...

I think it’s time for Apple to make a game changing move and pull the rug out from under the developers that are truly preying on the millions of App Store customers looking for a bargain. Here is how it can be done:

  1. Raise the minimum price tier in the App store up from free to the next lowest level (in the U.S. it is $0.99)
  2. Raise the Developer Program yearly subscription from $99 to $999
  3. Slowly raise the minimum price tier, gradually eliminating the lowest pricing tier until apps at least cost more than a cup of joe (and I’m talking about a really good cup of coffee here)

A move by Apple like this would reverse the degradation of the App Store integrity and level the playing field for super-star independent developers out there that want to get into app development and aim for the fences but aren’t willing to play the current “game.” Apple isn’t in this game to make money off of the App Store (at least not as their primary means), they make their money by selling hardware. But there is a big problem looming on the glistening retina display projected horizon, if the App Store continues to be devalued then one the biggest selling points of iOS devices goes away and with it Apple’s profits. The App Store has the critical mass to survive a bold move like this one. Yes, the number of apps sold, no, downloaded would most certainly decrease but when developers that are out there just trying to make a fast buck all the sudden have to fork over $999 a year AND convince potnetial customers to pay (gasp) a whole $0.99 for their ill-concieved rushed to App Store app those developers will quickly find the nearest exit. This will also result in changes on the consumer side as well. Apple has always been good at raising the bar and Apple could use this as a way to show iOS customers that iOS app are worth something. It’s time to teach consumers that value is worth paying for and I don’t think any of Apple’s competitors can bring the kind of value that the iOS developer community brings to the table. With as bad as the pricing has been reduced in the Apple App Store, the situation is even worse on the Android side. Android has been reported to have a 60% piracy rate, which is mind-blowing. Android can’t even convince it’s customer base to download free (or nearly free) apps, a significant number of Android users just simply steal them outright. Right after I read the appadvice article (I kid you not) I saw a someone dancing on a street corner (much like this person) dressed up in a plush green Android costume desperately trying to lure in customers. The day Apple allows anyone to advertise for an iPhone like this on a street corner is the day...well let’s just hope that day never comes.

Right now T-Mobile is attempting to change the value game on the hardware side by eliminating carrier subsidies on iPhones. If T-Mobile can convince potential customers to pay full price for an iPhone there is no reason Apple can’t convince customers they already have to pay at least $0.99 for a high quality app. The time is now for Apple to take back control of the App Store, let’s just hope they do it before it’t late.

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