How to make $800K on the app store from six weeks work: the iShoot story

Naughty Bits developer Ethan Nicholas explains where it all went right...

How to make $800K on the app store from six weeks work: the iShoot story
| iShoot

We had the pleasure of catching up with iShoot creator Ethan Nicholas during Game Developers Conference, and you can read his thoughts on everything from App Store pricing to his grand publishing plan and - yes - even a brief clue as to his next game.

But we couldn't let him go without getting the full story of his remarkable raise to fame and fortune with iShoot.

Pocket Gamer: So Ethan, how did it all start?

Ethan Nicholas: I started work on the title in August 2008 and managed to finish the version within six weeks. After submitting it the game went live pretty quickly on October 19th.

I was doing this because I wanted extra cash, so I wasn't interested in setting an especially low price or a free version for advertising. I just tossed it up to see how it would do and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that in the first couple of days it had already made a few thousand dollars in sales.

So at this point you thought you had it made?

I wouldn't say that exactly, but I was certainly very happy with how it started. However, after the first few days, presumably when it came off the new list, it slipped down really fast to just $60-70 a day and within a week it was even lower. It certainly wasn't generating enough that I could consider promoting it.

At this point I thought 'that's it then, I'll have a break and then maybe see if I could try another game.' The money was still dribbling in and I thought if I could have three or four of these it might provide a little extra income.

To be honest, I was also pretty burned out by the big push to get it out in the first place on top of my regular job. I'd been working 18 hour days.

So then you had a complete break?

Yeah, for a couple of months I left it alone and it was only during the Xmas break that I finally found time to have another look at it. I thought to myself that maybe a Lite version might help pep things up. Thankfully I wasn't aware that this was considered to be a pretty bad idea at the time, so I went ahead and did it anyway.

And how did that help?

Almost immediately, sales of the full price game doubled. And then doubled again. I guess word of mouth spread pretty quickly because within literally a week I was number one and by January, I was making 30,000 dollars a day!

Well, it didn't take me too long to figure I was onto something here, so I resigned from my job pretty soon after that.

So was it just the Lite version that tipped the balance, or did you also get promotion from Apple?

Nope, I have had no contact from Apple at all during all of this, I can barely get them to answer the phone when I call. The game was added to What's Hot list at some point, but it had been number one for about three weeks by then.

And how long were you number one?

Obviously I can't talk for all territories, but in the US store, I was number one for 26 days.

What about iShoot 2?

Well, we've just released iShoot 2.0 upgrade.

What are the key changes in that?

Online multiplayer is an obvious thing, wanted to do it myself had a dozen or so emails ago asking me to do it. I largely did it to stop people mailing me and asking for it. I also found the process of creating weapons such fun in itself that I thought allowing users to do it would be neat.

[Read more on iShoot 2.0 here] Will there be further updates?

Yes, I think so, although I'm not sure when. Let's see what happens with 2.0 first!

What about a sequel to iShoot?

I'm not putting iShoot completely to bed. At some point I need to consider how my time is invested and whether upgrades would be more suited to a sequel.

Going back to the emails point. What sort of communication did you get from customers?

Well it's only about ten emails a day now, but it was up in the hundreds when iShoot was number one.

What advice would you offer to new iPhone game developers? What would you do/wouldn't you do?

Well, there's a number of technical things that wouldn't be appropriate for your site. Really what I'd have done differently is that I wouldn't have been in as much of a hurry to get it out.

I thought I really had to get it our fast, strike while the iron was hot. I would have spent another month or two of polishing if I thought it could do well. Six weeks is brutally short time to build a game.