“Pocket God” for the iPhone: A look into an iPhone app success story

Sat, Jul 11, 2009


Venturebeat has a great and worthwhile post up detailing the 2 man team behind the hit iPhone and iPod Touch game Pocket God, where users control a bunch of islanders and can determine their fate through a series of user initiated actions.  If any Futurama fans are out there, it’s somewhat similar to the Godfella’s episode where Bender is shot up into space and a civilization is born on his body.

“When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

Anywhoo, the article delves into the background of the duo behind the hit game, veteran software developer Dave Castelnuevo and artist Allan Dye.  Together, they were able to rule the iTunes App Store charts for weeks on end, and earned a ton of money in the process.  Amazingly, the project was conceived more of as a side project than a full-time iPhone development endeavor, but certain sacrifices the pair made in the interest of time and efficiency turned out to pay dividends in the end.

Dye immediately started sketching the characters. Because they were doing something quickly, Dye made the characters really simple and cute so they would be easy to animate. The simple art style worked better, since they didn’t want to sink a lot of time into development. Dye also wanted to make them kind of iconic looking, so they would look good by themselves on a hat or T-shirt. They didn’t have high expectations that it would be a big seller. So they decided to incorporate a “sick sense of humor,” where you could throw the characters into the water and watch them drown.

The game wasn’t a hit right from the start, but through word of mouth, it quickly rose up the charts, earning the duo a nice chunk of change on a daily basis, 99 cents at a time.

A month after the release, the game took a leap on the iPhone. It hit the top 50 on the AppStore for paid apps of any kind. Then it shot up to the No. 2 rank, holding that position for two to three weeks. In the beginning of March, the game hit No. 1. Castelnuovo and Dye were ecstatic.

For the month of March, they held the No. 1 position for 26 days. The were knocked out briefly by a video app related to the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. It was a thrill when Pocket God took back the No. 1 position and continued its ride. During the ride toward the top, Apple never promoted the game on its web site, as it does with its “featured apps.” But once the game was at No. 1 for a couple of weeks, Apple started doing the promos, helping it stay at No. 1.

And in case any of you were wondering what kind of numbers a top selling iPhone game can bring in, Pocket God is pretty open about those sales figures.

At the peak, Pocket God was selling about 18,000 copies a day. At 99 cents, that meant $18,000 a day was coming in. At No. 2, the number fell to about 10,000 copies a day. At No. 5, it was 6,000 a day and so on. To this day, Castelnuovo hasn’t met anyone at Apple, which gets a 30 percent cut. He doesn’t begrudge that. After all, at the rate that Pocket God is selling, Castelnuovo is making about twice as much as he did as a consultant.

You can check out the article in its entirety over here at VentureBeat.  It’s well worth a read.


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