Want to turn a quick buck by making an indie game (or fart app) on the iPhone? It might be harder than you think - at least, if critically-acclaimed Dapple is anything to go by.
Dapple, developed by one-man studio Streaming Colour, at first appears to be your standard color-matching game a la Bejeweled. However, Dapple's twist on the genre - using paint to mix colors - resulted in the game being rather well-received by critics. It was simple, it was a fresh twist on an old classic, and it was cheap at only $4.99 on the iPhone App Store. Sounds like the recipe for success, right?
Not quite. In a post on his blog, Dapple creator Owen Goss discussed the raw numbers: He had developed the game on a budget of $32,000 dollars, including general business expenses, paying contractors, and also, y'know, paying himself a small salary so that he could live for the six months he was developing the game. At $5 a download - with Apple taking 30% of that - he was earning $3.50 every time someone bought the game. With exchange rates, Goss would have to sell 9,150 copies of Dapple in the U.S. before he broke even. At last count, despite favorable reviews across the board, Goss' return on investment was $535.19. Ouch.
It's no secret that indie game development is rough. For every World of Goo or Audiosurf, you have a game like Dapple that slips under the radar. Let's look at this, though - critically acclaimed or not, Dapple is at heart a match-3 game. I don't have an iPhone, but fellow Escapist staffer Jordan Deam does, and he points out that most people who buy games off the App Store probably aren't gamers, and probably don't read reviews. Gamers who do read reviews for iPhone games are much more likely to go for games slightly deeper than match-3 - if they get a match-3 game, it'll probably be something like Puzzle Quest.
It's a genre that's done to death, and even its creative little twist and generally positive reception probably didn't help Dapple stand out from the crowd. Even a genuine labor of love can sometimes be doomed from the start.