App Store millionaires share their secrets

How three successful iPhone app developers made it big

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In the early days of PCs, anybody with a computer and a good idea could make stacks of money from writing software.

Those days are long gone - unless, that is, you're writing iPhone apps.

There's gold in them there iPhones, it seems. So how do you get it?

We asked three successful developers to spill the beans.

Steve Demeter, Trism

In September, Wired suggested that Steve Demeter's puzzle game Trism would turn over $2 million by the summer. It's a story Demeter has come to regret. "Releasing sales figures was a bit of a novice business move on my part," he says. "I've been swamped with people asking for loans and donations!"

After just two months of Trism sales, Demeter was able to leave his day job writing software for a large bank. "It's been surreal more than anything else," he says. "I had put myself under such pressure to polish and release the game on time, I had burnt myself out two or three times by the time I finished coding. I was running on fumes, exhausted, and numb."

Demeter is quick to agree that part of Trism's success was being in the right place at the right time, although it wasn't all luck - "It's not like my cat walked over the keyboard and out popped a game," he says.

That said, "Trism was the combination of one, getting everything done before launch; two, having a good amount of buzz from people who enjoyed the jailbroken version... and three, Apple getting behind it and helping market it as an iPhone exclusive. Once you have Apple behind you saying 'here, apps like this are why you should buy an iPhone', it's money in the bank."

So has the environment changed? "The market is definitely a lot tougher than it was then," Demeter says. His advice? "Make sure you're asking yourself, 'does my app convey something unique and interesting in ten to fifteen seconds?

"Look at it this way: most people show up to work, or school, or whatever, and they are eager to show their friends what cool new things they've got on their iPhone. Of the 50 apps they may have on their iPhone, they may only get a chance to show five of them to their friends. If your app is one of those five, and it can prove its worth in ten to fifteen seconds, then you've got yourself a successful app."

Marketing matters, too, as Demeter explains. "Start courting an audience before you release," he suggests. "Build relationships with the gaming public and fellow developers. Make sure you can get at least 20 people to buy your game and give you good reviews of your app in the App Store on the very first day it's out. Once that happens, take your app around to review sites. Be polite, even if you get a bad review. And remember to put some of your profit back into advertising - on the web and in-game."

The success of Trism has enabled Demeter to set up development firm Demiforce, which is preparing to launch Onyx, an Xbox Live-style gaming service for the iPhone. "We'll be making an announcement about Onyx soon," he says. "Other than that, I'm just trying to get my life back."

"The one think I really liked about doing Trism was that on top of being a game, it was an opportunity. It was a chance to pull myself out of a day job I didn't like, innovate a game genre and trailblaze an emerging platform, all with limited amounts of time, resources and money.

"Opportunities like this are really interesting - seeing how far I can go with what I have, and showing the world that the determination of an indvidual can make a difference. These opportunities may be on the App Store, they may not be - but you will see me seeking them out for some time to come."