Bad News for Indie Game Developers: iTunes 9 and the new App Store [Updated]

Categories: iPhone Objective-C

UPDATE: Games subcategories are now back, after a few day hiatus. (Thanks Apple!) The following post is kept for posterity.

So Apple announced some new iPods and a new version of iTunes (iTunes 9) yesterday at their annual September music event, and heralded the iPod nano video camera, the larger capacity iPod touch, and the iTunes LP and Home Sharing functionality of iTunes 9. The iTunes Store got a redesign, and in some ways is a major improvement over the last version. The addition of the Top Grossing apps category should provide much needed exposure to the more “expensive” games and apps that were previously buried below a swath of inexpensively produced titles. This change might even make a difference in combating the “race to the bottom” price wars.

But I think something is being lost in the changes to the App Store in particular, and I believe it’s vital for independent developers to consider this change. The desktop version of the iTunes Store no longer (as of this writing) breaks down the Games category into sub-categories (like Action, Arcade, Kids, Word, etc.), meaning that even top ranking titles in those sub-categories are being relegated to less prominent corners of the store.

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Before: Games category in the iTunes 8 App Store featured New and Noteworthy, What’s Hot, What We’re Playing, and sub-categories. Hey, what’s that? Oh, it’s Liberty Boom!

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After: Games category in the iTunes 9 App Store only features the Top Paid and Top Free apps, along with the rapidly growing list of recent releases

I’m writing about this because I believe it could affect indie game developers (myself among them). My first iPhone title, MASH (iTunes link), fluctuates between the top 20 and top 10 Kids and Word games, in both paid and free categories, and I believe this is partly due to the continuing visibility it has in the App Store’s Kids and Word Games sections. Likewise, our most recent title, Liberty Boom (iTunes link), could be found in the top 75 Family Games. Liberty Boom was also recently featured in the New and Noteworthy Games category. (New and Noteworthy is now applied to the whole of the App Store.)

Currently users of the device version of the App Store are able to browse by sub-categories in Games, and I’m hopeful that the removal of this functionality from the desktop version (where filtering and refinements make significant sense) is merely an oversight of the iTunes Store redesign and/or a planned update. There’s also an outside chance that it will actually in some way help titles that are primarily marketed apart from the App Store or spread by word of mouth to stay ahead of the throng of (in my opinion) lower quality “me too” apps. But the simple fact is that the majority of people still use iTunes to find new titles to download and purchase.

I believe it’s necessary to provide a means for larger budget titles to stand out (e.g. the Top Grossing category), but burying independent developers, the people who really made the App Store what it is today, shouldn’t be the flip-side of the solution.

I’d love to hear what you think about the changes. Please let me, other developers, and Apple know in the comments.