We recently caught up with esDot Studio’s owner Shawn Blais to learn about some of his recent projects using Flash and AIR for game and app development. Check out the Q&A below to see what Shawn is creating, monetizing and having fun doing what loves. Enjoy!
What is your name, company, title?
Shawn Blais, owner/coder/marketer of esDot Studio, Inc. esDot is a company I started for the sole purpose of developing cool, polished AIR apps to mobile platforms. I started serious mobile development in late 2010, since then I’ve created 5 apps and am hard at work on the 6th. I code primarily on evenings and weekends, by day I’m lucky enough to work with a fantastic team at gskinner.com here in Edmonton. Without the experience and opportunities gained there I certainly would not be where I am today.
Where are you located?
Why did you use Flash/AIR to develop this app?
Two reasons really, efficiency and reach. Flash is so incredibly efficient at churning out high quality interactive apps, that you can literally code entire apps in a matter of 2 or 3 weeks, for me this is huge. I can use my skillset, and existing workflow to literally just fly through these apps.
In terms of reach, AIR allows me to take those 2 or 3 week apps, and deploy them to iOS, Android, BlackBerry PlayBook, Amazon Appstore and NOOK Color. That’s pretty crazy. And since there are two new markets opening up next year, Windows Metro and BlackBerry10, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to deliver my apps to those, too.
Diversifying my income across all these different app stores has really been a key part of my success. It’s been interesting to watch how different apps sell in different markets, SnowBomber for example took off pretty big on BlackBerry PlayBook, and Amazon Appstore, but was quiet everywhere else. TouchUp on the other hand, sells best on iOS. So it’s always different depending on the market, and it’s hard to predict, so it pays to just be in them all.
I looked hard at options like Corona, and Appcelerator, but I couldn’t get over the lack of strong typing in the languages, and the hit to my overall efficiency would have been massive. Also, the hard truth about HTML apps is that testing costs are massive, you really need to test on devices, on different versions of OS etc, and debugging is pretty hard, so it ends up being this monumental time drain. With AIR testing on a new device is usually just a couple hours, or even no time at all, and you get live debugging with breakpoints, so it’s usually pretty easy. That’s not to say there isn’t the odd issue that will drive you nuts, but it’s fairly rare!
How easy was it to deliver your app across multiple channels?
Signing up for the various portals, and passing approval is a pretty tedious process, but once you’re all setup it’s really a breeze. The fact I can build and install an iOS app, using a Windows box, is pretty awesome. Most other development paths would force me to buy a Mac to code on (I actually did end up buying a cheap mac for $500 off eBay, in order to do the final upload to iTunes).
Are you monetizing this app currently? If not, do you have plans to do so in the future?
Currently I’m monetizing ColorUp Pro, TouchUp Pro, SkyTunes, SnowBomber and RedditSolitaire across various markets. Most of my apps have free and paid versions, and TouchUp Pro and SnowBomber also have In App Purchase support on iOS, using an ANE.
Adding In App Purchase, and releasing a free version TouchUp Pro was a great experiment. It nearly doubled my sales on iOS, and I now get an even split between In App Purchase, and Paid Installs.
How many people are currently using the app?
With TouchUp Pro, there are about 12,000 daily users across all platforms. SnowBomber sees about 3000-4000 players a day, most of those on PlayBook or Kindle [is this Kindle Fire?]. Across all my apps, I see about 5,000-10,000 installs a day, with around 5% of those being paid.
What drives you to create these apps/games?
Primarily it was financial, new baby, new house, so something had to give and I saw this as the road to success. Plus, I’m just a complete gadget freak, so I was incredibly passionate about mobile devices, and bringing cool new UI’s to them.
Do you have anything else up your sleeve?
I have a new Photo Editor coming out very soon which will be stunning, it’s running at 60fps and the graphics are based on Android 4.0 UI. Then it looks like we might be teaming up with the awesome artists over at Cherry Sauce (http://cherrysauce.squarespace.com/contact/) to do some fun stuff. Stay tuned!
What do you want developers to know about creating apps with AIR/Flash?
Well, if you haven’t tried it lately, go for it. The performance is really great these days and the workflow is solid, it’s really improved a lot over the earlier AIR 2.7 SDK.
In terms of making money, from my experience the money is in productivity apps. Just make something really nice, really simple, that everyone needs, and you’ll do well. It doesn’t really matter if there’s good competitors in the space, because users love having choices. As long as that space is not completely oversaturated … the most saturated markets seem to be Games and Music, so maybe look elsewhere…
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Check out my blog for some tips and tricks on how to achieve fast rendering in AIR for mobile: http://esdot.ca/site/category/blog