By Tim Kridel
FourBros Studio created a buzz back in April when it blogged about its success with Windows Phone 7. Part of what made the post so interesting was the amount of metrics -- such as ad impressions and revenue -- that FourBros provided to illustrate their accomplishment. I recently spoke with Nathan Furtwangler, FourBros Studio member and developer, about what other developers can learn from their team and how their strategies might be applied to Windows Phone 8.
You’ve described Windows Phone as “a rapidly growing market where indie developers can be successful.” What is it that you like about WP7? And do you see those attributes continuing with WP8? Nathan Furtwangler: Part of the value we saw with targeting Windows Phone early on was that it was an open frontier where small indie developers could get noticed. From a technical standpoint, WP7 has been great in that it has a very consistent set of hardware capabilities (chassis spec) with uniform screen resolutions and sensors. In addition to the hardware, the software platform (Silverlight and XNA) was something we at FourBros were very familiar with from our past experiences with Microsoft platforms (Windows and Xbox360 Indie Games). We were able to get our pre-existing game engine up and running in a matter of a weekend. Some of those benefits will carry forward to WP8, but we do expect a larger variety of hardware and screen sizes that will eat away at some of the uniformity we’ve benefited from. However, the close relation to Windows 8 will help us expand our games to that platform and we expect to be developing Windows 8 and WP8 games simultaneously using mostly shared code.
A lot of developers and pundits are skeptical about Windows Phone’s ability to compete with Android and iOS. What are they overlooking or underestimating?
Microsoft has had and will continue to have an uphill battle with market share against iOS and Android. I think a big game changer is going to be Windows 8 and its relationship with Windows Phone. Also, with the recent announcements regarding Windows Phone 8, it is clear that Microsoft is committed to moving the platform forward in a big way.
What are the advantages and disadvantages to developing for an OS with a small market share?
From a developer perspective, market share is certainly important, but for a small indie studio, it is much less important initially. If you need millions of users to have a viable, profitable business, then iOS and Android are certainly going to be your first targets right now. But if you're a hobbyist or small studio looking to get into the industry, then targeting a smaller platform (in terms of market share) can actually help you stand out as a gem more easily.
It’s important to get something out there, get feedback and start iterating. For that, choosing a platform you are most comfortable with (in terms of technology like Silverlight and XNA, for example) can be a great bootstrap and makes Windows Phone a natural choice. Further, once you’ve established yourself on the platform with the early adopters, you can rise with the tide as the platform’s market share grows.
Ultimately, it is best to be available everywhere on all platforms. But realistically, a small indie developer is going to pick one to start with and probably shouldn’t expect millions of users, regardless of the platform’s market share.
How much of your strategies are OS-independent versus enabled by WP7? Are there any aspects of your WP success that can be applied to other operating systems?
Our main success strategy has been to create a system of games that can be updated endlessly with new cross-game features or new games. We’ve updated Taptitude nearly every week for the last year and seen our user base and revenue grow steadily.
Our revenue comes from advertisements, and our games are designed to maximize user engagement and keep them coming back. So this seems like a strategy that will work on all of the “app store” platforms, assuming frequent updates are supported.
The biggest things we get from WP7 as a unique platform right now are the uniformity of hardware (making weekly updates much easier) and the strong development tools (C#, XNA, Visual Studio).
What advice do you have for developers considering WP7, WP8 or both?
Probably the biggest piece of advice we have is you should start small, iterate on your idea with updates and listen to user feedback, then grow into a more and more successful app or game. We see a lot of small developers with big visions trying to take on the whole problem at once (and usually not shipping anything). In our experience, it has been much more successful to leverage the marketplace distribution and updating mechanism to iteratively improve a core idea.
Tim Kridel has been covering all things tech and telecom since 1998 for a variety of publications and analyst firms. Based in Columbia, Mo., he still enjoys the childhood hobby that led to a career writing about technology: ham radio. He is a frequent contributor to Digital Innovation Gazette.