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To be, or not to be… Universal

When Apple first announced the iPad, including information on its App Store and Universal Apps, we began asking ourselves should we go “Universal”, or release two separate builds? This is a question that every iOS developer is faced with, and there are those on both sides of the fence, each with their own reasons. It also depends on the nature of the App itself. In the end, we decided to release two separate Apps: “Osmos for iPad” followed by “Osmos”, an iPhone only app. Some of our players have asked “Why?”

Strangely enough, the number one reason was download size. The maximum application size that can be downloaded over 3G is 20MB, otherwise it must be downloaded over wi-fi, so we wanted to make sure our builds were under 20MB. But the bottleneck for Osmos (and many apps) is image assets; we deliver high-res images on the iPad, and lower-res images on the iPhone, and there simply isn’t enough room for both sets. We didn’t want to skimp on iPad resolution, nor did we want to slow things down on older iPhones (loading time in particular). Hence the split.

At this point the savvy reader may say “wait! Osmos supports the iPhone’s Retina Display, which is almost the same resolution as the iPad. What’s up with that?” Well, it’s true, the iPhone build does ship both sets of images, but only part of the higher-res set, as there isn’t enough room for all of it. We cut the high-res textures that rarely appear very large on screen (roughly a third of them); and while this gives fine results on the iPhone, we didn’t want to make this compromise on the iPad, as pixel-density and screen-size are not the same thing.

Our second reason is the App Store market. Hemisphere Games is not a huge studio with the power to define platforms and markets — we do our best to develop great games, and go with the flow on the distribution side of things. Developers releasing a Universal App are faced with a difficult balance between the two stores: iPhone App prices are generally way lower than on the iPad. Take Angry Birds, the pinnacle of success in iOS games: $4.99 on the iPad, 99 cents on the iPhone. There are many examples of this. Pricing a solid game at $4.99, while reasonable on many platforms, is suicide on the iPhone; while pricing a game at 99 cents on the iPad would seriously cut into a developer’s revenue (and further deflate the iPad market). Some games have taken a middle ground, like Canabalt and Solipskier, with Universal Apps at $2.99. But given the download size issue – along with the strong trend on the App Store – we felt it made more sense for us to ship two Apps.

All that said, we feel Osmos is very fairly priced on iOS. We seriously considered pricing the iPad version at $9.99, similar to the PC version (there are many developers that have done this), but we decided to err on the low side, especially given the Universal issue. In the end both versions together are still cheaper than on PC. Yes, the iPhone is a “unique” market, and many feel they have to price at 99 cents or perish. We felt it was important to resist this however. And to quote Adam Saltsman in his Gamasutra article on The 0.99 Problem

We feel that the game is worth $2.99, and our intuition was solid there. Nearly every review (and there have been a lot) has glossed over or outright praised our pricing decision.

Ah, the psychology of the App Store. I’m not even sure if The Oatmeal is being ironic in their recent comic on the subject.

The Oatmeal

frame 2 of 5 from The Oatmeal comic (click for more)

In any case, while it’s tempting to lament the iPhone market along with our fellow independent developers, we buy and play games too, and know what it’s like to be a customer. One of our principles as a developer is to do our best to make sure our players are happy with their purchase, both in terms of game quality as well as price. I feel we’re doing that.

7 Comments on “To be, or not to be… Universal”

  1. #1 Michael
    on Sep 25th, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    I completely agree, Osmos is a steal on both the iPhone and iPad. It is unfortunate that the game has to be purchased twice for customers with both an iPhone and iPad, but it is understandable given the dynamic of the app store.

    I did have one thought on the issue, however. Is it possible to release a “special edition” version that is a universal app? I don’t know what Apple’s stance is on this, but maybe it could work if you added additional content like publishers do for retail special editions. If fans will spend $10 extra for a prettier box and an art book, maybe a similar strategy will work on the app store if the price increase is conservative. The special edition wouldn’t fit under the 20mb limit, but this wouldn’t matter as much for a premium edition that catered purely to fans. Although the premium edition wouldn’t see the same sales numbers as the regular editions, it could add a nice bonus revenue stream.

    Thank you for making such an amazing game and congrats on being the #1 iPhone game on IGN! I can’t wait to see what you guys come out with next.

  2. #2 David
    on Sep 26th, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Yeah, but when’s it coming out on android?

  3. #3 eddybox
    on Sep 27th, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    @Michael: thanks for the feedback! The “special edition” is an interesting idea… something like $5.99 for a Universal?

    As for Android, we’re thinking about it. One hurdle is OpenAL support, which seems to be lacking. (We use a few of its features, including pitch shifting.) Have any devs out there got this working?

  4. #4 Michael
    on Sep 29th, 2010 at 3:00 am

    @eddybox: Yeah, that is basically what I was thinking, although I can see Apple being picky about developers choosing either the Universal route or the separate app route. So in order to avoid the confusion of having both, I was thinking that the Universal version could be a “special edition” similar to what they do for retail Xbox or Playstation games. It could include things like bonus art or a code to download the soundtrack, and that way the fact that the app was Universal would just be an extra “feature” of the special edition.

    Furthermore, you wouldn’t have to worry about file size as much for the special edition, because it would be a lower volume, higher priced, premium sku, so the types of customers that were purchasing it would probably be the more “hardcore” gamers that already purchase large apps through iTunes or over wifi. And I think that these types of gamers would also be more willing to pay $5.99+ for such a high quality, polished app like Osmos — especially if it came with some sort of bonus content.

  5. #5 Jay
    on Jan 17th, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    If I buy the app bundle for my computer from you (mac pro), can I also put it on my ipad or is it also two separate purchases.

  6. #6 Martin
    on Mar 25th, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    If I had known I could not use this app on all my devices I would not have purchased. I know it’s only 5 bucks but I still feel like I’ve been screwed!

  7. #7 Tavares
    on Oct 13th, 2011 at 6:31 am

    I agree with Martin. That’s why not many have purchased it like the iPhone version. Just like Netflex you all have lost customer support. Sorry but I do not have money to burn like that even with that long explanation. Because just like you I want to save when ever possible.

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