Making $30,000 a month on Windows 8 apps

When I started this project, I never thought about making any money at all: this is my hobby, what I like doing on the weekends and nights, when I’m away from my everyday business. Someone likes ping-pong or dancing, I like building apps and skiing.

I built several apps close to launch of Windows 8, including Card Games Chest , and is the first six months since Windows 8 launch apps my apps generated around $100,000 in ad revenue and sales (in-app purchase and ads, apps are free).

This post is NOT about how to get rich fast: I spent many nights and weekends, polishing the code, staying up late at night until 2AM coding. This is not easy: to build apps that can be used by half a million people from many different countries. I read all reviews, thousands of them, answered thousands of questions, made hundreds of improvements suggested by users to achieve this result. The truth is: any app reaching this stage is a work of art, it requires a lot of work, patience, time and dedication.

This is simply my account of what an individual developer can achieve in Windows ecosystem in just about 6 months.  I build everything: code, graphics, artwork, database, Azure backend. Everything.

If you are looking for code samples, this post is mostly about a story, but I posted quite a bit of code samples in this book, and my blog, and actually Microsoft documentation is very good, so if you are interested in the code please go there and you’ll find it.

D-Day, October 26th

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The days following October 26th (the release date of Windows 8) were a little bit of a shock to me (in a good, positive sense). What happened after October 26th is best illustrated on this hockey-stick chart, since then the total number of downloads rapidly reached half a million and keeps growing.

My regular job keeps me pretty busy, and oftentimes I didn’t have enough time to check the revenue, but in a couple of months following October 26th,  the numbers really started to grow, and finally reached the point when I decided to share the story, because I think that this is the “magic” moment for all Windows developers. Right now it is, and I hope that if you read this post, it’ll keep you motivated and you’ll know that this can happen, can happen to the app that you can build, providing it’s a good high quality product.

So, October 26th was the D-Day for all developers who believed in Windows ecosystem. If you want to time the market, the time-count started on October 26th, 2012. The 1+ billion strong ecosystem of Windows users opened doors for apps, and opened it quite literally by opening stores on millions of devices. And it worked!

Windows Store: Developer Prospective

What to expect from the Windows Store? The Windows Store helps you build, deploy, distribute, and sell your Windows 8 apps and in-app products. As a developer, you also have the option to monetize your app through ad revenue using the Microsoft Advertising SDK for Windows 8 (as I have in my apps!). Integrating the SDK into your app is quick and easy to do – with a few lines of code, you can quickly get ads being served in your app in a non-intrusive manner.

On the paid apps and in-app purchases side, one significant advantage of the Windows Store, compared to the Apple or Google stores, is that your revenue share actually increases, as you make more sales. You take home 70%, and Microsoft commission is 30%, same as Apple or Google, but once your app starts making $25,000 in revenue, you take home 80%. As your app scales, you can expect to take home more, for example on a $1 million revenue, you’ll be taking home $97K more in revenue than your Apple or Google competitors. As a developer I like that.

The Windows Store API is very well documented and allows you to implement any type of business model: free, to pay-per-download, trial, in-app purchases and even subscriptions (by using ExpirationDate for example. In addition, you can use Microsoft Advertising SDK to monetize ads.

Revenue Split: Ads vs In-App Purchase

I’m often asked the question: what percentage of revenue is made from ads vs. in-app purchases. The answer is: that number changes greatly with the number of downloads, you may need to adjust your pricing model several times as your app begins to grow, so be prepared to update your app. Any answer I give you is meaningless, because it depends at least: a) on how good is your app b) how many downloads you have c) how long users stay in your app. I’m sure there’s half a dozen other variable to that equation.  When I passed half a million downloads, the ad revenue increased, but that depends on the nature of the app and volume. The ultimate formula is a black box for developers, and it better stays this way.

I don’t encourage you to start searching for Philosopher’s stone to start making gold from nothing, and instead focus on the content and quality of your apps. No magic in the world will help you if consumers don’t like your app.

Pricing your app

Windows Store allows you to price the apps between $1.49 and $999.99. Finding a sweet-spot for your app is an art rather than science, it greatly depends on the type of the app you make. You can do a little price-sensitivity analysis as I illustrated in my book (Ch. 11) to find a sweet spot. This blog post doesn’t intend to go deep into pricing models, but just give you an idea of what kind of revenues are possible in Windows today.

Would anyone buy your app for $999.99? Maybe there’re a few apps that fit that business model, but generally the number of downloads would be fairly small, if any. So, finding a sweet sport for your apps is something you need to think about.

Selling your apps and products

So, for example you have a game. Games are typically trial enabled, and may have in-app purchases in them. What it means is, you can let your customer download the game for a limited period of time, and then ask them to pay. You can also include paid levels or products into your games, or consumable products spent while playing the game, for example magic items, credits or gold.

Certifying and Publishing your app

Before you publish your app, run it through the app certification kit. I have a monthly Webcast at Microsoft, that provides tips on app publishing and certification. I hope if you look though our events schedule, you can find it and listen to it. There’s a lot of useful information there if you want to submit your app and are curious about how to make this process nice and smooth. Overall, Windows Store is very good at detecting early problems and at the end you benefit as a developer: Microsoft helps you make your apps better.

Magic moment in Windows Store

When I presented to the largest iOS meetup in Silicon Valley, I asked the audience of 200 pro-iOS developers a simple question: do you believe as a new developer I can enter Apple Store market today with a bunch of Solitaire games and make this kind of money? Their response was: you’ll waste your time, the Apple Store market is too saturated! I think every market has its magic moment, and this time existed in Apple store a few years ago, maybe even Android store had it (maybe), but I think that this time is in Windows Store today, and I don’t need any further proof than my banking account to tell me where the wind is blowing.

Build for Windows? Build for Windows Phone

Windows Phone is a great companion device for your Windows 8 apps. I recently built a top app for Windows Phone as well, and I think every developer should consider both Windows 8 and Windows Phone, because they are also part of the ecosystem and augment each other. The apps are very easy to port from one system to another. While the namespaces are different, the code is mostly portable, first by using PCLs (Portable Code Libraries) and re-using most of the logic.

Where to start

Windows 8 is a fantastic operating system, fast, fluid, with beautiful modern design targeting both tablet and desktop, sensors, NFC support, amazing new concepts built into user interface both touch and desktop, and did I mention: it’s fast! I can also re-use most of my code for Windows Phone. The beauty of Windows is that it spans across all kinds of devices: from phones to tablets, to desktops, to servers and gaming consoles, such as XBOX.

Windows is very developer friendly. You have plenty of languages and modern technologies to choose from, and the development tools, Visual Studio and Blend are stunningly good! You can use JavaScript and HTML5, C#, XAML and .NET, or C++. You can also use many of the frameworks to build your apps, most of them support Windows.

Some developers ask me about the best PCs to choose: visit a Microsoft Store, check out some new models available there. I personally like convertibles, and the touch screen is highly recommended. There’re so many vendors, that it really becomes the choice of your lifestyle.

5 Windows Phone games great for holiday travel

In my previous post we discussed using Expression Blend to create a flipping card animation. Since the Holiday season just started, I’d like to share these games I built, that use this technique. Happy Holidays, have a great holiday season, and for those skiers: Let It Snow!

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