Featured In The App Store For The First Time
Following the move out of my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, I began exploring the world of iMessage apps as the feature launched in September 2016 with the release of iOS 10. With the help of a few shitty YouTube tutorials and half-assed StackOverflow responses, I threw together Popper — Tap On, a simple just-learning-the-ropes iMessage game.
Realizing that Popper wasn’t going to be an overnight success, nor a success of any kind, I searched for my next project, as we freelancing wandering brain people tend to do. Upon the suggestion of a friend, I began experimenting with my first game with real intentions to publish: Mini Golf for iMessage. So I set off, overjoyed to have a new project underway (that feeling subsides quickly as the code starts to tangle), first, determined to develop graphics that I could be proud of (I’m no graphic designer). After a cluster of ideas separated into one, what I now realize to be shitty looking, well defined theme, I began to punch out the courses using PaintCode. Being that I know nothing about graphic design, PaintCode — my right hand man — was the obvious way to go. The clean feeling of grid snapping, clean looking shapes, easy-to-use beziers, and all the goodies that come with the package, was enough to have me blind to what I was going to do to make this come together in code.
Long story short, after a night or two of redoing my designs with different workflows, I was able to export the courses, both visuals & svg formatted blueprints, import them into Xcode, and have a decent looking mini golf game running inside iOS Messages.
As you probably know, along with testing your app comes the intense criticism of an annoyed user: yourself. Being a developer, you tend to spend more time in your app than a doctor would say is healthy, picking apart every bug, every glitch, every flaw in your design. This heckling of my own subpar graphics eventually led to the abandoning of the project. As with most projects of a developer’s career, it was laid to rest in its place deep within the pile structure, to never be seen again.
I tend to bounce around a lot, project to project, idea to idea, in an attempt to find what really ignites my passion to build something worthwhile. So in the lull between my following of the US Presidential election campaign season, and the swearing in of the new President, I drifted around some more, in search of that one idea. It wasn’t until mid-December 2016, following my move to a new home, that I got an email: YouTube — New Comment. I had received a comment on an old livestream of mine, one I had recorded during the development of Popper, my first iMessage game. A user by the name of Explicitus had seen my work and was interesting in teaming up to take on a new project. Being that this is what I’ve always wanted, a partner in a software project, we connected up and began talking about each others’ backgrounds.
He turned out to be a graphic designer, interesting in building apps, but without the current knowledge on how to do so. I told him that was funny, because I have been learning to make apps for the past 6–7 years, but felt that what really held me back was my lack of graphic design experience. Without much hesitation he threw out an idea that he had for a game: mini golf for iMessage. In disbelief, I told him that just a few months back, I had been working on just that project, code still in tact, just needed better graphics. It was almost comical that in his attempt to learn how to make iMessage games, he had landed on an old forgotten production of mine, and thought to make an attempt to make contact.
Almost immediately we set off on our task to throw our two versions of mini golf for iMessage into one master production. With determination, we set forth with our respective tasks, him taking on the graphic design, and myself locking into the code. Although I had longed for a partner to take on a project with, I didn’t realize the challenges that would come with it. Everything: communication, schedules, conflicting ideas, and differing end goals stood in the way of finishing the project. Throughout the second half of December and most of January, we maintained that we were committed not only to the game itself, but to each other and that we deeply wanted to see this project come to life. This opportunity not only stood to become make us money, become a resume item, or make us popular amongst the app community, but it also validated our vision. Neither of us had completed a professional grade product like this before, but if we could do it, being almost strangers, we both would come out knowing that we had what it took to do what we wanted in our careers from here forward.
Following a month and a half of development, we settled on the name Mr. Putt, an artifact of the conversations we would have via FaceTime while working. When it came time, we crossed the Ts and dotted the Is, packaged her up and sent the archive off to Apple, only semi-certain that we hadn’t screwed something up. A short 2 days later, we got the green light: Ready for Sale. I think I speak for every developer when I say this, but there’s that adrenaline rush that hits you when your 1.0 drops on the App Store. All that work you’ve put in will now (hopefully) be realized. A few seconds after that surge hits you, you have a mild panic attack as you download the newly released app and launch to give it a go. Sure, you tested it for days to make sure all would go well come this day, but you weren’t ever entirely certain that you checked everything, the eagerness got to you and you just said ‘fuck it’.
In the days following the launch we hit up everybody we knew. Text messages, emails, tweets & Facebook posts; everything we knew to do to get the word out, we were doing. It wasn’t until retweets and Snapchat stories replicating my posts started popping up that I got super excited that this could be my biggest app yet. Texts and tweets started to roll in, all kinds of friends and family wanting to play me in mini golf! It wasn’t until the 18 game came in that I had to tell people to play amongst themselves for a bit (people often forget the developer has tested their creation ad nauseam already).
We had been watching our game bounce around the 140–150 range of Top Free iMessage games, unbelievable by us at the time. As you do very frequently around launch, I was checking our analytics like crazy every day. Delayed by a few hours, our analytics platform (Firebase by Google) was dampening the level of excitement we were feeling knowing that all of our friends and family were loving the game. Later during that day, I logged in to see how we were doing, and noticed that our daily user count had increased by a factor of 10. We were seeing ridiculous (for us) numbers in Firebase on how many holes of mini golf had been played during the after noon, and without ever feeling the excitement, I was nauseous. I’ve seen this happen before, I make a mistake in an app, and I get inaccurate results being reported.
I once thought I had tons of users immediately following the launch of another app, come to find out I didnt separate my testers and the Appple app review guys from my actual user base stats.
Without knowing where this could have been coming from, I held off on letting my partner know for a bit. As I searched and searched for an answer, I began to realize…daily user counts aren’t reported by any code that I wrote, that is coming from Google’s framework! I wasn’t entirely confident, but I really didn’t think that Google would have such an incredible defect in their newest service. Once I worked up the confidence in my own conclusions, I told my designer about the numbers I was seeing: he couldn’t believe it. “Are you fucking serious”? I explained to him the emotional struggle I had just been through, but I reassured him that I couldn’t have had an effect on the user reporting, it wasn’t in my hands to be able to do so.
Then I saw it: Mr. Putt was featured by Apple! Right at the top of the iMessage App Store, Mr. Putt sat next to several others labeled “iMessage Apps and Games We ❤️”. I hadn’t ever been featured by Apple before. I didn’t even know what to say, how did this even happen? “Duuuuude, we got featured. We’re under ‘iMessage Apps and Games We ❤️.’” Neither of us knew what to do. I had worked and worked and never had a product realized to this extent, I never saw it coming. And my partner had never made an app before, he definitely didn’t see this to be a possibility. It was the craziest feeling I’ve experienced in my so-far short career.
Long story short, this was my first real ‘I can do this’ moment. Being that I was able to lead this project from a development standpoint, with a person I am still yet to have met in the real world, and him having no app development experience, sparked a huge realization in me: I wasn’t any different than those guys I see out there doing it. It is so easy for us to see other people succeeding at whatever it is they do, and just sit back wish we had what it took to be right up there with them. It’s a dangerous mindset to be in, especially in a world where time passes so quickly. It takes a memory like Mr. Putt to remind me that there is no difference between myself and the guys who made Snapchat, or the founders of Facebook or Twitter, they just ran with their abilities and made something happen for themselves. One day soon, we too shall see our desires fulfilled, be it that we not let the fog of everybody else’s trophies render us clueless in where to place the next brick.