With Feeling

August 21, 2009

Dapple — don’t do it

Filed under: iPhone apps — Tags: , , , , , — mechaferret @ 4:46 pm

Recently, I was browsing my feedly as usual a few weeks ago, and read this post by Jeff Atwood, about the wonders of the iPhone App Store. Since I’m not uninterested in developing iPhone apps¹, I read it with extra attention, and of course had to check out the cautionary links: one analyzing the price pressures caused by the App Store as a destructive race to the bottom, and the one right upfront in the comments about an iPhone app that isn’t making money, a game called Dapple.

The Dapple article proved quite fascinating, albeit depressing. Here was someone who had spent six months developing a novel game, and had gotten excellent reviews on popular sites, yet had only managed to sell a few hundred copies, at $1.99 each. He spent a good deal of time trying to analyze the problems and describing his next moves, both in that post and in a previous post Despite much thoughtful analysis and strategizing, it wasn’t clear what would actually work to make Dapple become a breakout app.

There was one obvious thing I could do, of course: buy the app.

Dapple

Dapple

I’m not a compulsive consumer of mobile phone games, although I have put in some time with Brickbreaker back when I had a Blackberry and Minesweeper on my iPhone, but it did look like the sort of game I would like: simple, low-dexterity, pattern-matching, with the additional twist of color mixing. The first time I played, it seemed very pretty but a little unpredictable: sometimes one click would remove four paint blotches, and sometimes it would clear half the screen. I put it away to check out more later.

One of my favorite places to play mobile phone games is in bed before I go to sleep, so I tried it out again a few nights later. One round, then another… I woke up at 5AM. My phone was lying next to me in bed instead of on the table where it is supposed to be. I had been so unwilling to stop playing that I had actually fallen asleep with my iPhone in hand.

It only got worse from there. I was meeting a friend around 8PM, stopped at home to pick up a few things, and decided to play “just one game”. Several games and fifty minutes later, I finally dragged myself away. I started seeing images of the colored paint dapples whenever I closed my eyes. Then I started seeing them when my eyes were open on any patterned surface: walls, floors, pieces of paper. Dapple had taken over my brain.

While I’ve gotten better at my Dapple playing lately (I don’t feel the need to play all the time, and I haven’t been late to any more events), I still often feel the ineluctable pull to just play a few games. So, my advice to the author of Dapple: don’t worry — given that you’ve written one of those games that’s more addictive than heroin, you will find your audience eventually.

And to those of you considering buying the game — unless you’re the sort of person who enjoys compulsive game playing — just don’t do it.

¹ Two questions about the iPhone SDK:

  1. Why, why, why does it only allow one app to execute at a time? As a long-time multithreaded, multiprocess developer, it’s an intolerable restriction. Even my old Blackberry let multiple apps run until I got around to killing them. And the push notification doesn’t do you any good if you just want to run in the background, because it requires active user confirmation to launch your app.
  2. Why does the SDK strip all EXIF information from files providing by UIImagePickerController? What’s the point of letting the user select a photo they took on the iPhone, which is nicely geotagged, if your app can’t get the geotag information? Why do you have to use the filesystem to get the full EXIF data?

It’s almost as if the iPhone is specifically designed to thwart any third-party use of its best features. Gee, that doesn’t sound like Apple at all….

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