Interview with White Lines developer Kyle Webster
If you’re an aspiring iPhone app developer then one of the biggest questions you’ve been asking yourself is likely how to get the word out about your new app or better yet, how do you get Apple to take notice in it and feature it. Well Kyle Webster, the brains behind the game White Lines (Top 40 in iTunes App Store), may not have all the answers but he has achieved one critical success criteria in the App Store – his app has been featured by Apple in the New and Noteworthy section for the past week or so.
Kyle Webster isn’t a developer, he’s an illustrator who had an idea for a simple game and dreams of success on the App Store. The game, White Lines, is similar to Simon in that the app will display a series of lines on the screen. You must mimic the lines in their same direction and order in order to proceed to the next level. It’s a simple game actually, but it appears to be catching on and it gets great reviews in the App Store. However, much of Kyle’s success would not have been possible if it wasn’t for his determination to get the app noticed (heck, he purchased two advertising spots on AC!). In one of his emails he claimed to be spending all of his savings on achieving his App Store dream.
Before White Lines was featured by Apple we took notice in Kyle and his determination, and also in his app, and solicited an interview from him. It’s been a couple of weeks of back and forth but we have the text of the interview below. If you’re an aspiring developer or just love the App Store then you’ll find this interesting:
Q. Have you always been an “Apple guy”? or is the iPhone your first Apple product?
We had an Apple II e when I was a kid and it was nothing but Apple from then on – Mac Classic, Power Mac, first gen iMac, second gen iMac, G5, and now a MacBook Pro. I’m an illustrator 99% of the time, and I have always felt that the stability of the Mac environment and the ease of the OS are perfect for creative people and creative apps.
Q. What other Apple products do you have?
We have another three-year old Macbook for my wife, as well as three iPods: a second gen., a Mini, and a Touch, which I bought to complete testing on my game, ‘White Lines.’
Q. Where did the idea of white lines come from?
The idea for White Lines hit me about a year ago in a sudden flash of inspiration while I was brushing my teeth. As I was brushing, the sound made me think of white brush strokes (brushes loaded with toothpaste, maybe?), and the rhythm of the whole activity helped to form the image in my head of lines criss-crossing in space to some down-tempo beats. I immediately put the pieces together and that was it. The idea and the visuals were all fully formed within a matter of seconds. I have since tried to recreate this kind of inspirational epiphany, but the only thing that happens now when I brush my teeth is that I avoid cavities and bad breath.
Q. Being an independent developer, I’m sure time is short. How long did White Lines take you to develop? (estimated hours and timeline)
Because of my editorial and book illustration career, White Lines took about 10 months to complete. I had to work on it in between lots of other projects and I also had to find the right partner to finish it and make it perfect.
Q. What assistance did you get in developing white lines? if any. (people? training? etc)
The fantastic team at Peer Assembly finished the game for me and really got it playing the way I had originally envisioned it. They are an excellent group of guys who iterate and iterate until everything is just right.
Q. Many people that develop for iPhone are new to Objective-C (Apples programming language). Did you know Objective-C prior to writing the app? or did you learn it as you went? What other programming languages (if any) did you know prior to Obj-C?
Since I’m an illustrator and not a code person, I could only get as far as creating an animation of how I wanted the game to appear (I know Flash and some HTML). After an exhaustive search for a great developing partner, I found Peer Assembly and sent them all of my graphics, etc. and we finished the game by communicating over Skype, mostly.
Q. What were some of the other barriers (besides time) that you had to overcome in getting White Lines completed and “out there”?
The biggest hurdle was tweaking all of the variables to make the game challenging but not unforgiving. We didn’t want people to have to draw the lines too precisely to advance in the game, but we also couldn’t make the constraints too loose or the gestures would be lost. This process added months to the overall development time and I did not anticipate that.
Also, besides the website for the game, it took me a while to produce some extra marketing materials. For instance, I took a video camera around town and recorded people playing the game for the first time. I compiled this into a ’street’ cut to promote the game on YouTube. The video can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpXuHcX50lg
Q. What advice can you offer to other indie developers that are looking to enter the gold rush on the app store?
Get all of your marketing materials and your marketing plan in place before you launch. I have been in a mad and crazy rush to promote the game since it launched on Feb. 24 and I did not know that developers had the option of releasing press releases and other promotional news (as well as versions of the game) prior to the actual release date. Some build-up of hype and expectation is a good thing and it can make a big difference!
Q. Do you feel your time was well spent in developing the game?
Absolutely. In fact, I have ideas for three more games at the moment and I am excited to get going on them. I love being an illustrator, but I want to tap into other markets and try new things.
Q. Has your return been what you expected?
Things were moving along as I expected in the first week and a half, but the feature on the App Store homepage made me re-think what was possible if the right combination of a good product, focused advertising and promotion, and luck are all mixed together! Now, the challenge is to keep players interested and keep getting the word out. Hopefully, satisfied buyers will do some of that for me, as well.
What are you doing to get your app noticed? to get people interested or to buy it?
I’m trying to do everything at once. This is the same strategy I use with my illustration work and it has been effective. I am using Twitter (twitter.com/whitelinesgame), Facebook, YouTube, the game site (http://whitelinesgame.com), blogs, forums, paid advertising and lots of word of mouth and emails!
Q. Having been recently featured by Apple on their “New and Noteworthy” section must be very rewarding, what do you think lead them to feature White Lines?
I hope that the number one reason for it getting noticed was the positive comments left by players who bought the game. I am sure my marketing efforts helped out (ads, press releases, and social media), though since I am a first-timer with apps, my budget was next to nothing. I did my best to get the word out about the game!
Q. What are you’re biggest hurdles now that you are making app sales? Are there any new gotchas that you were not expecting that others should be aware of?
Yes! Once the game picked up some steam, I felt enormous pressure to keep the momentum going. It has actually been very stressful following the charts and trying to think of ways to get the game noticed so that it can maintain a position in the top 30 or so games.
Another problem (though certainly not a new one!) is the addition of trolls in the comments section. Before Apple featured the game, all of the reviews were 4 and 5 stars and players were happy. Once the game got some notice, a flurry of weird 1 star ratings showed up with grammatically non-sensical comments and insults! I feel helpless to battle the onslaught, and it is discouraging to see that it can affect sales so dramatically whenever the game’s average rating drops below 4 stars (happened twice yesterday and the sales dip was noticeable). Fortunately, the 5 star ratings keep coming in, as well, but it is definitely stressful.
Finally, there is the issue of updates – people want more features, but when do you bundle them and make an update? It’s hard to decide how often to put out a new version of the game, and I always wanted to keep it really, really simple, so it’s a balancing act. But, adding OpenFeint was the best thing we could have done. People love that.
Do you feel your time was well spent in developing the game?
Absolutely. In fact, I have ideas for three more games at the moment and I am excited to get going on them. I love being an illustrator, but I want to tap into other markets and try new things. I have an iPad idea or two, as well.