Update: August 5, 2015 – To learn about all of the app building lessons that we have learned since this post was first published, read this post. You can also hit me up inside Bluecloud Select to get more details.
It's been a busy few weeks at Bluecloud – thanks to everyone who keeps reaching out via my blog posts. Glad to be able to help by pointing people in the right direction.
I've also made some great connections in the past few weeks with some development firms, so please let me know if you would like an introduction.
So – back to the task at hand. Last time I left I had completed research into the world of gaming psychology, trying my best to create a foundation that would lead to successful app development regardless of genre. My conclusions were as follows:
- Design matters. Investing in design is easily the #1 way to get your conversion rate and revenue numbers up (as measured by views of the app page/downloads).
- Make the game flexible enough to be integrated into a brand. This is a 2 year business model and the only way to make a powerful ROI is to piggy back some major horsepower.
- Create an experience that keeps the user hungry for more. Speed, logic, and psychology all play a role in this – make it fun!
This encompasses enough of what I wanted to accomplish that I felt prepared to dive in. I sat down with my team and started hashing out ideas.
All the signals pointed to our developing a game that directly integrated the liquor industry in some capacity. A cocktail app?
A quiz about liquor?
How about a “Where's the party at?” app?
It's easy to drink a few beers and talk about great iPhone app ideas, but let's get real….I'm here to make money. Using the above bullets as a focus, we decided that our best move would revolve around the social side of drinking – going to the bar. Being able to re-create this experience with a game was pretty easy to lay the groundwork for.
Bartender Gaming Logic
So you walk into a bar, slap your hand on the bar, and say “I need a Manhattan.” Party time. Between that moment of deciding what you want to drink and actually ordering it, your brain is going through thousands of permutations and combinations to match your emotional state with all the drink choices you have.
Into that decision goes an assumption of drink recipes and flavors. Boom – there's the gaming hook I talked about my previous article. By using the quiz psychology in conjunction with one of the most exciting parts of the liquor experience, you get an attractive action that users are willing to do more than once.
Remember – I don't need people playing this game for hours on end – I need them to play it a few times and have a good experience, leave a good review, and possibly buy a few new levels.
This is it.
Bartender App Game Research
I can almost guarantee you that unless your idea is completely unique or wildly complicated, someone's done it already. The good news is that 4 out of 5 times the people who do something first do a crappy job at it and get slammed by the review networks.
That's good news for our team. I combed through dozens of cocktail and bartending apps and found a few that integrated some of the functionality I wanted.
We sat with the five apps we liked the most and took notes on what we liked and what didn't.
Incredible iPhone App Development Tip
I spent a majority of my time looking at and analyzing the reviews of these apps. The gaming logic is pretty simple to me and the flow process would come easily – finding out what people were looking for was the most important thing.
So I read 1,500 reviews of different apps and started noticing some patterns:
- The game flow was too fast on some of the top bartending apps. The clock needs to be slowed down. Period.
- The graphics sucked. The liquor industry is built on vanity and glamor – why anyone thought that you could piecemeal a bunch of ugly images and ride that same wave is beyond me.
- The “so what” factor was high. A lot of people who submitted the 2 to 3 star ratings talked about how the game had no room for improvement and nothing happened, it was just more of the same.
Bottom line – the reviews saved us from finding out what works and what doesn't before we even dove into the project. Similarly, based on RFM modeling data (and general marketing knowledge), the people who own other bartending apps are probably going to be our best potential customers.
By catering to what they are looking for we'll be a step ahead of the game already.
Presenting the App Idea to a Developer
OK so now I had about 15 pages of notes, research, and epic doodles about bartender games. The entire thing was in my head, architected so perfectly that I felt I had already sold 3,000 copies of this app and was drinking mai tai's in Tahiti.
Unfortunately, none of this was true and is also the most awful way to walk into a developer meeting. If you can't write down exactly what you want, you're not ready to talk to a developer.
Everything needs to be VERY clearly defined and you better be able to answer every question they will ask you.
…and trust me, they're going to ask you lots of questions.
Personal note: if a developer isn't asking you a lot of questions before they give you a price, you're going to pay a lot more than you were originally scoped. Developers should be pummeling you with questions about how the game works unless they have built one just like it or you have already explained everything to them in a 30 page document.
Sometimes the questions that you think are “no big deal” are a huge deal.
Hiring a Developer
I am very fortunate to have a local friend and developer in town who does iPhone App Development and I've worked with him on lots of projects ranging from basic, ridiculous apps that we developed while sitting on the beach at Portland Headlight in Maine, to million dollar financial forecasting tools built in SQL.
Regardless of my history with Malcolm, this is business and I approached it as such. Here is exactly what I did from the initial idea to kick off.
Don't Waste Their Time
Developers are extremely busy and have all dealt with sales guys who are looking for 20 minutes and some “sweat equity” to built the next big thing. 99% of those deals go south and any seasoned programmer/programming team will have their radar on from the start.
Be up front with them by telling them you are serious and prove it by getting to the point and having something they can take away from the meeting to think about. I sat down with Malcolm and explained exactly what I wanted to do, apps that worked the same way I wanted mine to work, and presented a series of 15-20 slides that showed different screens for the game and painted a picture of the game flow.
It wasn't perfect, but at least he knew what I was talking about.
This took about 30-45 minutes.
Be Available and Keep Communication Open
Developers are some of the fastest thinking people out there and want things done that keeps that speed going. Begin the process by responding to emails and phone calls as quickly as you can – it will set the tone for your entire relationship.
If you start slacking, so will they. I made sure to answer any and all questions as fast as I could to keep the momentum going. This process allowed Malcolm to begin creating a timeline and development proposal that he could come back with.
Stop Selling and Start Asking
Remember that you're not selling the developer on how sweet your idea is, you're hiring them to make your idea a reality. Keep the emotion out of it and know what you want.
This plays off of the first part of hiring a developer and keeps the process moving. I made sure that during the initial phases of this scope/discovery I wasn't trying to convince him how awesome this was going to be and start dreaming up additional functionality.
I told him what I wanted and to figure out if it was possible, what the budget would have to be, and how I can help.
They Know More Than You Do
Believe it or not, your developer probably knows more about your own idea than you do and has seen 50 just like it. Whether it be through the functionality or logic, a developer is not only the guy who can make this all happen, they're an incredible resource.
Right from the start, make it clear that you want their input and to tell you if you are being an idiot. This proved invaluable. Here are some of the questions I asked that saved me thousands of dollars and weeks of time:
- “This is my best case scenario. This is my budget. Is this possible?”
- “If not, what are the top 3 things I can exclude to make this project happen?”
- “If you could change or add one thing to this app, what would it be?”
- “Do you know any other apps that I should be looking at?”
- “What is your preferred method of communication?”
- “Do you think this is a good idea? If not, how could I make it better?”
My final piece of advice would echo #1 – remember that time is precious and you're not hiring a friend, you're hiring a skilled labor set that can do something you can't do.
Be very respectful of the sheer mental firepower required to complete this task and your experience will be 100% better.
Don't waste anyone's time and get it done.
For more tips, read through How To Hire A Developer in our App Template Bundle.
iPhone Application Development Costs
Well the party was great when I was researching all these fun apps and scoping out the project. Then comes the proposal. It was all spot on with what I expected it to be. Here's how it shook out:
- 4-8 week timeline depending on feedback loops. Totally reasonable since there is nothing he can do if my team isn't giving him what he needs.
- 3 phase payment plan based on deliverables. Again, best practice for any development project.
- Deposit – $3,500. Official overview, finalization of game flow, wireframes laid out, graphics modeled and delivered as placeholder.
- Phase 2 – $3,000 – Status update, production graphics delivered, first beta version on sandbox iPhone SDK (local iPhone use)
- Phase 3 – $3,000 – Final review and iterations, final feedback, app sent around for sign off, loaded into store.
- Additional Cost – $1,500 – This was a quasi-software additional cost for a database to manage all the data in the app which will translate into some other projects I'm working on. Integrating web services like this is going to pay off big time in the long run, as it gives me and my team full access to updating the content in the app without having to release an update.
Total – $11,000
A few notes on these costs:
- Graphics are not baked into this cost. Saves on design time and also the amount of feedback needed (i.e. hours)
- We pared down dozens of functions to make this game simple and easy. Original price would have been upwards of $25,000.
- No BS. Based on my relationship with the developer and the way the entire project was approached, it was clear that this wasn't going to be a “hey, can you add this?” type deal.
The next phase of the costs is going to come down to any sort of updates we want to do that require development work and/or integration. A majority of what we want to update should be fine within the database side of things, but you never know.
It is important to ask the developer or development team what your options are once the app is in the store.
When it comes to apps, if you treat them as the investments they are, you’ll quickly see that diversification, along with lowering costs and improving revenues, is the path to success.
The quickest route to failure is by investing all your money into one (risky) project. Read more about making an app efficiently in Bluecloud's Mobile App Development Guide, it's free!
Next phase should have some screen shots and thoughts on how to approach the feedback side of the project. We may start talking about the marketing side of this project as the next phase completes.