"Quality is Largely Irrelevant For iPhone Games"

Three seasoned iPhone developers shared the secrets of their success with other would-be indie developers eying the iPhone as an indie platform. The catch? There are no secrets.

Adam Saltsman, co-creator of Wurdle, and the duo behind Fieldrunners — Sergei Gourski and Jamie Goch — each took a little time to share how their respective games were born, grew up and conquered the iPhone App Store. Then they took a stab at explaining just how it happened.

To hear them tell it, it's like an accident. Saltsman said his friend was screwing around over some weekends and convinced him to slap a layer of bright, colorful art on it inspired by a board game his parents wouldn't buy for him; Gourski and Goch just happened to like tower defense games and thought to make one that they liked.

But from their experiences, these guys have gained a key insight: "I think quality is largely irrelevant," said Saltsman, whose newest iPhone game is about popping zits. "I think the defining thing is how quickly you can describe your product to someone else."

The example they used was Galcon versus Mood Touch. Mood Touch is "a crappy mood ring for your iPhone. There, I'm done, that's it," said Saltsman. Galcon, on the other hand, took him 15 seconds to describe as essentially an in-depth, one-on-one real time strategy game. It's obvious which one had the better quality — but Mood Touch made the top 10 in the App Store while Galcon didn't even break into the top 100 (that Saltsman knew of).

This is the "five second rule" that's common in any creative industry: if you can't explain the idea in five seconds, you can't sell it — especially when there are like 6,000 other games that a user could buy that they can understand from the description.

Sounds like common sense, but I think what would-be indie developers on the iPhone lack is the common sense born of a perspective from within the industry. Tons of people in the audience had never developed a game before, but nearly everyone held up a hand when asked if they had one in development.

For this audience, Saltsman, Gourski and Goch are more than just pioneers — they're teachers, sent to teach what sounds like stuff you should already know (always do your paperwork, get an accountant to file the taxes properly, get used to Apple being totally hands-off, promote your game, actually finish your game before promoting it, etc.), but maybe you were too caught up in the frenzy of the iPhone to really think about.

"You don't realize how hard and complicated the entire process becomes," Gourski said, "until after you've released it. Be prepared."