Category Archives: Giveway Games

Posts regarding my apps on their progress.

Honest Development

Through my years of development I have always strived to be an honest developer. I want my users to have a good experience. I want to build fun, new, exciting, polished apps. And I want to play by the rules…

But not everybody plays by the rules.

Animal Game

When I released Spot Animals a few months back I was very disappointed that I could not even find my app in the store by name.  Or by any other combination of search terms, no matter how much I scrolled down.  Trust me, after lots of development, nothing is worse.  Here’s me searching for it by name.

Originally called ‘Hidden Objects Animals’

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While searching for my app I came across a variety of other apps that were high in the ranks, but seemingly poorly built. I was on a quest to figure out why.  Admittedly, many of the apps were generally high quality, and had a lot of downloads to help them keep their high ranking.  After searching for a while I came across this app:

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Now, I’m not going say whether this app deserves its ranking or not, I didn’t download or play it. But as I was scouring their reviews I found a really disconcerting trend.  Let’s see how fast you can see the trend…

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I think I can sum up all the above with “Cute cute cute cute cute”. I found page after page of ratings that had exactly the same rating… some number of Cute’s and a high 4 or 5-star rating.

Now it is possible that there are simply a ton of people that just find this app unbearably cute.  But more than likely these were purchased reviews.  Almost none of the reviewers have thumbnails, and they all look awfully similar.  The chances of this being the case sounds particularly low to me.  This really got me wondering… How many apps simply cheat their way to the top?

Email

I’m not certain how many apps do this, but I assume it must be a lot. Since my apps are on the store I am required to provide a public facing email that users can contact me at. Sadly, about half of emails I get are advertisements. And of those there are two main categories. The first are advertising networks:  Our ads will make you way more money! But a close second is: We’ll get you more ratings/downloads.  Here is an example of one such email:

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Now, I’m not sure how well Google is able to crack down on this, but it actually sounds like an incredible difficult thing to do.  It is a short step from encouraging 100 of your friends to download your app, to paying a 100 of your friends to download and rate it 5-stars.  How does Google distinguish the difference between the two without seeing the money transfer?  I’m not really sure they can.

So if I’m receiving this many requests there must merit behind it.  Which makes me believe the number of apps using this method of deception isn’t small.

Temptation

So is it tempting to use this with my apps?  Of course!  There’s always that desire boost ones downloads and ratings, who wouldn’t want that?  And there’s always the question of: “If I get the ball rolling, how big could it become?”.

But I got into app development because it is fun.  And I refuse to let the illusion of grandeur dissuade me from doing what I love, and doing it in a way is honest and true to my values.  And of course the fear of getting my apps kicked off the store is always there too.

Anyway, I’m curious if anyone else has seen this kind of trend elsewhere, and what other developers feel about it.  Is there anything honest apps can do to combat it?

Note: Since it has been months since I originally released “Spot!”.  I wondered how it fares now.  The good news is, it is showing up just fine in the rankings, and interestingly enough the other app isn’t in that list anymore.  Who knows the magic behind the store ranking, but one thing is for sure, just because you have a certain rank (or don’t) doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay there.

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Battling the Media Framework

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Earlier this year I gave a presentation titled Battling the Media Framework.  I’ve had a lot of bitter-sweet experience dealing with Android’s media framework.  I’ve had experience with camera & OpenGL via Goofy Glass, mic & audio with my voice changers, and a healthy amount of video at both Sorenson Communications and currently with HireVue.

The short and skinny of it is: “These API’s on Android are super hard”.  My goal with each of those apps has been to support as many devices as possible with the best experience possible.  With over 7000 devices, it hasn’t always been easy.

For some practical tips on how to deal with the shortcomings of those API’s feel free to check out my slides here.

Android TV Presentation

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I recently gave a presentation regarding Android TV for the Google Developers Group in Utah.  All in all I am very impressed with Android TV.  Google has learned a lot of lessons as they’ve attempted this with Google TV, Nexus Q, and the Chromecast.  This iteration finally gets the experience right.

I also was impressed how easy it was to port existing code to Android TV.  I attempted to port HireVue Pro, and it turned out gorgeous and simple to use.  I really hope these TV’s garner the attention of developers, because it really could finally change the outdated TV experience.

Here’s to hoping.

The entire presentation (minus one video which wouldn’t upload) can be found here.

 

Camera Design Decisions

A couple years ago I released one of my favorite apps, Goofy Glass.  Since that initial release I have pushed out many updates.  Along the way I have come across a variety of difficult design decisions.  This latest release has been especially difficult, and so I’ve decided to recap the tradeoffs I made.

Initial Design

Two years ago the initial design of Goofy Glass was based on Android’s open source camera.  They locked the phone into a single orientation, and then handle “orientation changes” by monitoring the sensor and simply rotating all the elements on the screen manually.

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While this isn’t a very common design, it is actually a really smooth experience for a camera.  There are three things that makes this nice:

  1. It is fast.  Since the layout doesn’t change none of the surfaces or the camera have to be reinitialized.
  2. It makes taking pictures easy.  It allows you to take photos with your left or right hand, from the top or bottom.
  3. It makes things simple.  With only one orientation to worry about, there is a lot less design to worry about.

The Challenges

This was great, and I loved having in my app.  But over the last couple of years I’ve noticed some really big drawbacks to using this method.

device-2014-11-03-213857Rotating buttons
In order for this method to work everything has to be rotated manually.  Initially this was simply buttons, so with a little code abstraction that was easy.  But in order for this to work everything I ended up needing to rotate fragments, dialogs, action bar and event toast messages.  And rotating some of these items required creativity and sometimes a worse layout.  For instance, fragments all had to be perfectly square so they could rotate correctly.

Problems with ads
One of the biggest problems has been with ads.  For some reason still unknown to me, rotating ads causes all sorts of problems.  On some devices they don’t show, on others they only show only if you add background to them.  They get copped funky if you’re not careful, and the full page ads always show up toward the forced orientation.  Goofy Glass actually has my lowest performing ads of all my apps, and this is one of the big reasons why.

device-2014-11-03-213305Confusion w/ Software Buttons
On a phone with hardware buttons it is easy to miss this.  Even on a phone with software buttons you probably won’t notice, since phones tend to lock the software buttons toward the ‘bottom’ of the screen.  But on a 7″ tablet it is glaringly obvious.  Most people use the 7 in portrait by default.  When the app is locked in landscape, and the user is in portrait, the home button is on the left side of the screen, which is ugly and hard to find.

Face detection woes (other filters)
And last, but not least, it was really cramping my style.  Every filter I built I had to worry about rotations, and the impact it would have.  For most filters, this isn’t too terrible.  But I’ve had plans to add face tracking to the app for a while, and it was getting complicated fast.  Most of the programming for it is done, but finding a rotated face and rotating the effect to match the face was proving to be quite painful.

The Solution

device-2014-11-03-215315I finally decided the cost of this design was too high.  So in this latest update I decided to finally break it apart.  And wow, did it turn out to be a lot of work, much of the work was simply a process of undoing what was already in.  The interesting thing is apparently the Google team had the same problems, because their latest updates don’t lock the orientation anymore either.

I will admit I’m going to miss those smooth animations.  Design is almost never straightforward.  And contrary to popular belief no single design will win, there will always be tradeoffs in the decisions we make.

Spot! Animals Released

I just recently launched the perfect game for kids and toddlers.  It is a hidden objects game like Where’s Waldo or Eye Spy.  It is a 100% free for a limited time.  Below are more details about the game.  Check it out, and let me know what you think.

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hidden-objects-spot!-animals/id859258283?ls=1&mt=8
Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.givewaygames.spot

Screenshot 2014.04.09 09.21.18Search for animals and hidden objects and this perfect game for kids and toddlers.  Match the cards along the bottom with the animals in the scene as you explore these beautiful landscapes with hidden animals.  Search in the zoo, prairie, ocean, and more to earn stickers.  With over 400 animals and items  to find in 10 beautiful levels your kids will enjoy playing Spot! Animals over and over again.

Even toddlers can play with a mode that doesn’t require any matching at all.  Tap any of the animals and be rewarded with a splash of color and sound.  My son loved it, and was the perfect little beta tester to make sure they game is perfect for toddlers, I’m sure your kids will love it too.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7vI-tA0Py0

1 Million Goofy Downloads

1m_DownloadsGoofyBooth passed 1 Million downloads today!  It is one of the apps I am most proud of, and super excited that it passed 1 Million in under a year and a half.

Below are some interesting notes about Goofy Glass:

– Rating = 4.18.  My highest free app.
– Biggest Country = Russia, 70% of my users are Russian.
– Total Version Updates = 14.  Bug fixes, new features, and more support.  With more in the pipe.
– Original release date: Sept 8th, 2012.

Check it out on the play store:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.givewaygames.goofyglass

Running RPG

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Drewski Mac via photopin cc

I wanted to share another active project of mine that I’ve given the nickname ‘Rev’.  The idea is to merge the world of running with the world of video games.  You see, for me video games were always super compelling.  In games you get to assume the role of an interesting character, there are challenges, quick growth, and many mechanics that motivated you do to do better.  On the other hand while I love running it is hard to get out the door, hard to keep pushing myself while I’m out there, and the results are slow at best.  So I wondered if a game could be built that would be so interesting that I just couldn’t keep myself from running.  That is project Rev.

From the onset, I’ve always believed that Rev needed to be treated differently than any other project I’ve worked on.

1. Users cannot use traditional inputs (while running).  

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Alfred Hermida via photopin cc

Normally users interact through touch.  It is a natural simple way of interacting with an app.  But this completely breaks down while running.  The moment you make them touch their phone on a run, you’ve lost the magic.  It takes away from their run, and can be dangerous.

This essentially leaves audio as the only feedback.  We did think of using Google Glass as well as smart watches and other wearable tech.  But it is more of an extra, or a fun feature, the major feedback has to be through audio.

So we tested this, and we found that not only is audio important but it is critical.  There is a fine line between too much audio blaring in your ear and too little audio driving you further.  We found that a robotic voice is slightly frustrating, but since there are lots of numbers being thrown around the robotic voice is important.  We’ve approached this problem by recording as much as we can, but leaving a robotic personal assistant voice that gives stats and other useful information as you run.

2) The game needs to push you, but it should never encourage you to stop running.  

In a traditional game you give a player a challenge, and if they fail they lose a life and start over.  If we followed this traditional pattern then in the middle of a run we’d send a user home!  This is definitely not allowed.  Yet, on the other side of things we need to challenge them.

We approach this problem by removing the concept of life completely, and put the focus 100% on the enemy.  By running faster, you do more damage, and slower you do less damage, but you always do *some* damage.  This allows us to focus completely on time.  It may take you much much longer to finish a level, but you should be able to finish any level no matter how fast you run.

This also makes it easy to provide rewards such as stars for breaking certain times.  Best of all we will always encourage you to run, and even if you aren’t fast you can pass every single level without a problem.

3) The game needs to learn from your running habits.

The last challenge we’ve faced is making sure that anybody can play the game.  In a traditional game you play a character, which means as long as the character is powerful you are powerful too.  This doesn’t work with running, if you run a 15 minute mile, chances are you won’t ever get to the speed of a 6 minute mile runner.  But we want to encourage both to run.  So we have to learn from each user!

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woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

One of the ways we do this is by making all attacks relative to a users average speed.  We keep track of their average, max, and min speeds with a weighted average over time.  This gives us the freedom to create levels where we can encourage them to run faster than they normally.  We can also encourage running fast in intervals which leads us to a nice interval training style of run.

Anyway, Rev is still a long way away from seeing the light of day.  But listen back soon, we plan on sponsoring runs and we will need lots of alpha and beta testers to help us out in the end.

Spot! Animals

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As a kid I loved Where’s Waldo.  It was the perfect game that never got old.  Each page was jam packed with tons of items, and it took hours to find all of them.  Where’s Waldo and I Spy were the inspiration for my latest app.  Today I announce another project I’ve been working on called Spot! Animals.

It is a seek & find app for young kids where they search for animals at the zoo, ocean, safari and more.  It is simplified slightly to make it easier for young kids, but there is still many things to find and plenty of replay value.  I’ve already had Logan come up and tell me over and over ‘animals, animals’.  It is always good to have happy customers before it has even launched.

This will be the second app that I’ve contracted nearly all of the work from scratch.  That includes paying for all the development, art, and music.  This is fun for a couple of reasons.  First  of all it is a fun and new experience to take a step back as a developer and jump into the manager roll.  And second because it is fun to have grown my business to a point where I am able to do that.

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On the other hand it is hard at times to let other developers design and write the code.  I know it is important let go, but it is hard when I know I’ll probably end up putting time into bug fixes and polishing the app after all is said and done.  I’ve also grown a respect for management in general.  I’m surprised how much time it take

s to find good talent, give a complete vision, and follow up to make sure everything gets complete.

Anyway, the game will probably be released in February 2014, so wish me luck as I wrap things up.