Appszoom for Developers

Why Is Independent App Development So Hard?

Posted by on 02/09/2016


The idea of being your own boss and publisher can sound appealing to any app developer who’s toiled too long under someone else’s thumb. And thanks to the advent of technology in the past years, everyone can have their shot at it: You build your very own app, publish it in your favorite app store (probably Google Play or Apple’s App Store, or both, if you’re a hybrid or bi-native developer), and then the cash starts flowing, right?

Wrong. Pinch yourself, you’re dreaming. On the ground, it’s a different story altogether. As an app developer, you have to overcome many challenges to live off your skills independently, some of which you’ll find in this post.

High Overhead Costs

First of all, consider that as your own manager and CEO, you’ll have to pay for additional costs that app development will incur. That means that if you manage to make $100,000 (the average salary for iOS developers), you’ll be left with something around $85,000. In order to stay on track, you have to make an average of $273 a day.

You also have to make sure your app keeps generating revenue. Most apps start off with a positive spike in sales, followed by a gradual decline. In order to keep your app ahead of the competition, you’ll have to learn and master other skills on your own, including app marketing.

Keeping Marketing On Track

With literally millions of apps to choose from, how do people find out about your app and download it after you’ve launched it in app stores? As an independent app developer, you’re on your own to make sure your app has the necessary visibility to reach the right audience.

You’ll need to master quite a few skills, including app marketing and app store optimization (ASO). In addition, you’ll have to learn to create promo videos for your apps, run organic and paid acquisition campaigns such as CPI (Click Per Install), and a whole bunch of other techniques that you can be sure your corporate competitors will also be doing.

Also, you’ll have to earn some social reputation and experience by publicizing your app in social media, reaching out to bloggers, posting in forums, learning cross-promotion techniques, and handling user reviews among others.

You’ll have to do all of this by yourself (a daunting task), or split the app’s dividends with others by outsourcing the tasks (more overhead costs), which means you’ll have to allocate time and money to find and hire the right freelancer for each task.

 What’s the deal with ASO, maaaan? How To Amplify Your Store Presence And Get More App Installs

Navigating Monetization

If you want to make money off your app, you’ll have to learn the tricks and twists of app monetization. For instance, if you’re running a paid app, you have to consider that users will not appreciate in-app purchases for every single feature they’ll want to use: they’ll expect the entrance fee to give them unlimited access to everything. On the other hand, if you’re relying on in-app purchases, you’ll have to have a roadmap and plan to obtain customer trust to convince your users to spend money after they download your app.

Even if it’s a free app supported by ads, you’ll still have to know how to consider and respect your users’ sensitivities. Most users hate the intrusive nature of ads that pop-up within apps (or, worse, appear as push notifications after the app is installed), especially when they have nothing to do with the context of the app or the user’s preferences and tastes in general.

And let’s not forget that Google Play and App Store take their $0.30 cut out of every dollar you make. That means you’ll have to make a whopping $390 per day to actually achieve the $273 benchmark.

Maintaining Constant Customer Service

There are many facets to user retention, which is one of the main keys to an app’s success. The nature of mobile devices (carry and use them anytime, anywhere), make  themobile app experience more personal to users, which effectively means they will have a lot more expectations from you as the developer.

First of all, you’ll have to offer all proper channels for users to reach out to you (email, phone, social media accounts, forums…), and then you’ll have to actually be there to respond to their needs. Ensure the next version of your app addresses the grievances that your users express. Doing so will increase retention and loyalty among your users, as they’ll respect you for caring and responding to their needs. Not doing so will result in drop-offs, users that abandon your app, or worse, users that’ll start spreading bad reviews about your app, a situation that will again demand more of your time and energy to fix.

The Exception: The “Effortless” Best-Case Scenario

There’s only one scenario where you won’t be needing to address any of the above-mentioned issues: You create a mega-innovative idea (like Uber) or create a hyper-fun game (like Angry Birds or Candy Crush) that no one has ever thought of before, and you’re lucky enough to create some organic hype and draw media attention, which will drive installs, generate purchases, and make you super-famous, giving you a huge boost for your next development projects.

That does happen every once in a while, but in 99.9% of cases, you’ll have to tackle all of the facets of developing, publishing, marketing, monetizing and maintaining an app. So don’t count on it.

Are You Still Up For The Challenge?

If you’re still thinking that you’re up to the task, I like your style. I’ve met and worked with many developers in my life, and I’ve come to respect those who do not shy away when faced with the realities and challenges that lie ahead of them. You’re probably one of those.

So for you developers who have nerves of steel and the willpower required to tread the rocky and tortuous road of independent development, I suggest you take a look at my posts on app marketing and increasing app installs. They should get you started on the right track and help you chip away at the difficulties one step at a time.

I’d also like to hear from you. Drop a note below if you have anything to add, need some guidance, or simply need to sympathize (and/or whine) about the challenges of indie deving. 

Topics: Uncategorized

7 responses to “Why Is Independent App Development So Hard?”

  1. Matias Vazquez says:

    Indeed, it’s a difficult road, but it’s so much fun to turn an idea into a game that I can’t imagine doing anything else. If it fails to be a success economically, it is still a success in terms of the experience and skills that it helped you acquire. I do everything myself and take it slow. The only thing I lose is time, but I’m not losing it if I’m having fun, no? I’m making my second game now. As I was making my first one, which was actually my way to learn to program, it was difficult to keep from developing expectations. Then came reality, and all of the above mentioned in the article. Now that the bubble is burst, I’m actually glad it is. Basically, because that means that you can’t just make a crappy game and hit the jackpot. Or make a ton of crappy games and make a living off it (well, you probably could, but you’ll be always in a hurry, stressed and unfulfilled). It’s what motivated me to take the plunge into a more complex game, which will be way more difficult to make and take WAY longer, but, in the end, it’ll actually be a great game and I can’t wait to play it myself. I don’t count on success, I dropped all expectations, and that’s what lets me enjoy what I do. On the side I freelance making 3d art/animation and all that, for people in a hurry to make their crappy game. Me, I’m gonna take it easy and make a good one for a change, and enjoy doing it every step of the way. Make games I’m actually proud to share with people. Cheers!

  2. Andrii Arendariuk says:

    I totally agree with Grigoriy Maksimovskih. To make money – you need to have money. If not – it will be really hard to get attention to your app. And yes, you should learn all about advertising, tell everyone you met about your game/app and hope they like it and tell others. What for development – it hard, but not so bad. At least you know what to do, you know how to do it and noone know your game/app better, then you. Also – good to have such friends like designers, modelers, musicians 🙂 My game is here, by the way:

  3. Joseph says:

    I don’t feel as though it’s a very hard thing; to me, it’s just another facet of the job. These are all things which come with the title “independent”, and without them I (we) wouldn’t have the independency to make the things we want.

  4. Night Fury says:

    Indie game dev really hard, When I just were started,everything were black box for me, I didnt from where to start, Hard work, information, monitavition, hard work againe, step by step, chalenging fears. You will ask, what fears ? To succesfully manage project, I found local game dev studio, Went to CEO of this studio, and made him my friend, to find out, from what he started, how he managing projects, how they working, Then he gave me contact to expirienced Game Designer, pritty hot girl ^^ I met with her, to find out what game design is, and what she think about my idea. SHE SAID that IDEA suck! She tell me that even one of the most suckable idea, can transform in awsome game, in right hands. When I find out, what is game development, this scary black box, not so scary at all, But still veeery hard. My Advice: Dont scare to team up with others.

  5. Grigoriy Maksimovskih says:

    Yes indie development is not easy. However, with persistence and perseverance – no unsolvable problems in creating applications. Much worse is the case with his progress. All these reviews advertising posts – will require money. And if there is no money – you have to very hard. You literally – have to talk about your game to everyone you meet. By the way here is my new indie puzzle

  6. Alex says:

    Is the App Store Full? When I released an app in the past it got noticed by itself in the app store and downloads went above 1000 per day for free apps. Nowadays if I release an app it does not get noticed at all. Marketing techniques to get installs start at $1 per install, this would mean 1000 $ for a day! Is the App Store full? Is there any chance left for Indie Developers? I am in this business now for over 5 years and I have quiet some experience on what is a good app and how to market it. If you read a 20 tips for successful app marketing I could mark almost every point on it, like good icon, good title, unique idea, sumission to review sites, press releases, etc. I just spend $400 for marketing and got almost no result. My feeling is that unless you already have many app customers there is no way to get into the charts any more. And even worse, not even getting noticed by keywords, because all of them are already occupied. My website:

  7. Andrey Budilov says:

    Answering the question “Why is it so hard?” things worth mentioning: 1. You should always remember: “Every planned task takes DOUBLE time it was planned to take”. 2. Point 1 works even if you have already taken this rule into consideration making a schedule:) 3. Being a one man shop means you have to be a self-manager also. Making all the stuff described in the article can prevent you from WRITING plans and schedules in advance, checking them and analyzing results. But you should. It helps you learn your mistakes and move to the better future (fixed in you Plan). 4. It is a good thing to remember: make a sort of marketing research (overview at least) BEFORE development process starts. Just keep going forward. Create ideas, analyze, develop, refactor, talk to your colleagues and users, improve. Yes, one more thing… Enjoy the process!