Thursday, November 7, 2013

Android indie developer interview: Marcio Andrey Oliveira

It must be the longest interview I've done so far. Marcio reveals a lot of details concerning his struggles to make money on Android apps as well as Flash games. He also gives precise figures concerning his income and expenditures. He doesn't code only by himself, but outsources some of the work to other programmers and designers. I'm sure you'll find his story interesting and educating.

Bartek: Tell us something about yourself. Who are you? Where do you live? What do you do in life?

Marcio: I'm Brazilian living in Sao Paulo with my wife and I have no kids. I'm 42 years old and I'm an Electronics Engineer. I started programming in 1991 in C and assembly (both for Z80 and x86). My day job has nothing to do with games. It's mainly C/C++ and Java server side programming.

Bartek: When did your Android adventure start and how? Why did you decide to do it?

Marcio: My daily job involves server side programming but my enterprise has some mobile clients too (at first they were J2ME, BlackBerry and BREW). Then they asked for an Android version. It was my first contact with Android. I liked it a lot and as I wanted to learn how to develop games I thought it could be a good idea to develop a game for Android.

Bartek: How did you learn how to create apps? What resources were you using (websites, books, etc.)?

Marcio: I mix books and website tutorials in order to learn. I use books because they have a lot of information in one place and tutorials because I can pick specific topics and see how to deal with them. I don't like classes by the way. I think they're a waste of time.

Bartek: Could you list some books/sites that you used?

Marcio: I used books such as: Android NDK Beginner's Guide, Professional Android Sensor Programming and Learning Android Game Programming. As to sites:
The last three are the ones I use the most.

Bartek: What libraries/frameworks do you use? Why did you choose them?

Marcio: I did some research and I found some libraries. To pick one is the hardest part in the beginning because I didn't know which one best fitted my needs. In the end I picked AndEngine. I chose it because it had a great support. It's almost impossible to ask something in its forums and not to get an answer. It's a must for me.

Bartek: Are you happy with your choice now? Would you have chosen something else with your current knowledge?

Marcio: When I started I was just focusing on Android and I was 100% satisfied with AndEngine. Some time later I changed my mind and then this framework didn't filled my needs anymore. But if I were to stick just with Android I'd be using it for sure.

Bartek: What did you switch to? Why wasn't it enough any more?

Marcio: I'd never made a game before and when I finished my first two games and my first app I didn't get many downloads and they didn't bring me any money. I didn't expect to be rich but I realized that ads in apps required a lot of downloads to make me some money. My two games and my first app got around 90,000 downloads and I earned around $75. I thought about it and I saw the problem:

  1. users have to discover your app
  2. users have to download your app
  3. they must have network connection enabled
  4. then the need to click the ads

It's not that easy. Many run the apps with network turned off and others just skip ads. I like to play flash games and I thought: "Hey! Why stick with Android? In Flash market I can make more money." Why?Because users just have to find your site and click the ads. They already have network enabled and the ones that use AdBlock I can just redirect them to another place. And then I started out as portal owner but I wanted to keep doing my games. This made me look for another tool. I found OpenFL (formerly Haxe NME). It allowed me to target Android and Flash. Then I switched to that framework. But not everything is flowers: in Flash games market competition is much bigger than in Google Play. The revenue paid by ads is much smaller and there are many cheaters (guys that hack your games, replace the ads and links inside the game and redistribute it).

Bartek: Where do you take app/game ideas from? How do you know if they have a chance to be successful?

Marcio: To say the truth, I decided to start with simple games to learn so I picked an easy and somewhat odd game as my first game. I'm still learning a lot of things so I can make only simple games, but I'd like to make games like the ones from Atari. Many games in Android market are games based on ancient games like the ones from Atari, Odyssey and SNES. I'm realist. As my games are simple I don't expect they will be a huge success. It's something that will (hopefully) happen in future when I'll have acquired required skills for a real game developer. But you really can't be sure about the success of a game. I have a game called Beautiful Mermaid DressUp that is boring as hell (from a boy's point of view) that has 80,000 downloads (including other app markets, of course). Other games I like have almost no downloads.

Bartek: So why a mermaid and not something more Atari-like? How did you find out that something like this can work?

Marcio: For two reasons:
  • Atari games require more knowledge than I have,
  • because I needed traffic for my arcade site and there is a good demand for dress up games.

Bartek: Do Flash games work better for you than Android ones?

Marcio: Much better. All my Flash games have almost 2,000,000 game plays. My Android games are far away from this number. The drawback as I told you is that ads on Flash pay much less than on Android.

Bartek: Where do you publish your flash games? How do you get the audience?

Marcio: There are two ways to get audience: organic and bought. Organic traffic comes from search engines. It requires a lot of time and effort to get organic traffic because the competition is very strong. Bought traffic can be achieved by:
  • ads in Google and other networks,
  • traffic exchange with other arcade sites,
  • traffic that comes from the "more games" link in your games.
I submit my games to more than 400 arcade sites and I make many deals with some of them (game exchange - I publish their games and they publish my games). All methods have their positive and negative points.

Bartek: Where do you get resources from (graphics, sounds, music)?

Marcio: I bought graphics from oDesk. There are many sites that offer free music/sounds on the net. Just to be clear, not all games were made by me (I sponsored some) and in this case graphics, sounds, music are all included.

Bartek: Can you give examples of the sites that you used?

Marcio: Soundsnap, Openclipart. A good place to buy stuff is Flickr. These I use the most. In my opinion it is better to hire an artist to do all the graphics, so the game has a more uniform style. When you get free resources it's hard to find everything in the same style.

Bartek: How much do you pay for it?

Marcio: Between $150 and $500.

Bartek: For the whole set?

Marcio: For all graphics needed for a game. On my first game I spent about $155.

Bartek: How much for a full game? Do you find people who make them for you on oDesk as well?

Marcio: There are many developers there but I prefer to work with the ones from FGL. Games range from $200 to $500. Flash games have a totally different price range. I decided to sponsor some games mainly because I need to bring traffic to my arcade and as I'm not such an experienced developer. If I only made games by myself, it would take much more time. I'm in red at the moment.

Bartek: What are the differences between Android and Flash prices?

Marcio: Flash games can cost you up to $20,000. As to Android games, on the other hand, I never saw anyone paying more than $1,000. My idea is to start making games to sell. But it will be done only when I have acquired enough skills to make decent games. No way am I planning to abandon Android. Much on the contrary. All my games have links to their Android version. I believe that in the near future (say 5 years) Flash market will have a significant drop while Android will dominate the market, so it wouldn't be smart to move away.

Bartek: How long does is take you to make a single app (or have it done)?

Marcio: Apps (not games) are simpler to make. I usually take between 3 days and 7 days. Games take longer - around 2 to 3 months. The reasons are:
  1. the lack of knowledge (I need to learn a lot during the development process),
  2. the lack of time (I have a full time job),
  3. the lack of health (I have a severe tendinitis) it limits how much I can work per day.

Bartek: How do you monetize your apps? What ad networks do you use if any? Do you have any advice on it for others?

Marcio: At first I used Inneractive, but I switched to AdMob because it has a lower payout. For some games (that I didn't publish on Google Play) I use RevMob.

Bartek: Do you just show banners or do you use other ad formats?

Marcio: I used only banners but now I started to use interstitials to see what happens. I particularly dislike interstitial ads.

Bartek: Why?

Marcio: I think they are more annoying than banners. Banners can be easily ignored but interstitials require user to interact with them. And (in my opinion) interstitial ads only perform better because many users don't know how to skip them without clicking in the ad. I would never pay for interstitial ads if I were advertising.

Bartek: They often pay for installs of apps advertised this way and not just for clicks.

Marcio: I know. But as a user, I get very upset when I come across an interstitial ad and I refuse to install/buy anything advertised this way. So, if I were an advertiser, I woudln't use this kind of ads.

Bartek: How does your balance look like? Are you managing to make some money out of your apps right now? If not, how and when do you expect to reach a profitable level?

Marcio: Up to now I've spent $12,000 (since 2010) and I've earned $1,000 so I'm in the red. In the near future I don't see any change in this but I won't give up.

Bartek: Is this only Android or Flash as well?

Marcio: Both. I've spent around $1,000 for Android and the remaining for Flash. From my earnings, $200 came from Android and the remaining from Flash. Pretty bad...

Bartek: Is the revenue going up or down?

Marcio: It's slowly going up. But I think that I need to develop an application that requires users to be online in order to use it, so it will increase the chances for earning from ads. I'm thinking about something like this while I'm developing my current application.

Bartek: You know - when I was living in Poland not too many people had the Internet in their phones, but here in Italy it's practically everyone - I pay 8 euro a month and I have unlimited Internet transfer. I think it's going to change in the near future. Everyone will have the Internet in their phone/tablet.

Marcio: I hope so. But some applications don't require users to stay connected (for instance, games) so it diminishes the opportunities to show ads. An application like a Twitter client, on the other hand, has a huge potential.

Bartek: I get your point.

Marcio: When I was learning to use the GPS API I made an app named TwitMyPlace. It just posted to your location to Twitter. The CTR was very high compared to my games. The drawback is that it was a test app and the download number was low. But still I think that connected apps are the best ones to develop.

Bartek: My best earning app (Toilet Sounds) does not use the Internet... Others with the highest CPM (Toothbrush and Milan Subway Map) don't require it as well. The CPM of a simple banner in Toothbrush is $2.33 now. To be honest, I'm surprised myself. On the other hand, my comic readers that require Internet connection have the CPM of $0.08. It's partially my fault though, because I use animated banners that get hidden after a couple of seconds.

Marcio: Maybe an update would help you.

Bartek: You're probably right, but they make me about $0.05/month, so I usually find some more pressing issues :)

Marcio: I see.

Bartek: Let's come back to some more serious stuff for a while longer. Which ones of your apps were the biggest success and which ones were below expectations?

Marcio: The best one is Beautiful Mermaid Dressup. It was a surprise because I personally find this kind of games boring as hell. The worst performing one is ClickToFly. I thought people would like it, but it has almost no downloads.

Bartek: What do you think are the reasons for this (the success and the failure)?

Marcio: I wish I knew. I don't have any clue about that. Some friends of mine spent more than $3,000 on a game (in Flash) and it made nothing in return while others invested around $250 and earned a lot. It's hard to understand the users' taste.

Bartek: Perhaps it's random and it's better to produce a series of small, cheap apps and hope that one of them will be successful?

Marcio: There are 2 approaches: you can invest a lot of time and money producing a game/app or you develop a low budget one. I prefer not to spend too much money on them. If it fails, I move on. Also because I don't like doing the same thing for a lot of time. I get bored.

Bartek: Do you use any marketing techniques or ASO to promote your apps?

Marcio: I have some friends that are developers too and we promote each other's applications on social networks, with friends... Investing in marketing is hard when you have a low budget.

Bartek: What are your favourite Android games/apps?

Marcio: Apart from my apps? I like a lot the following: Opera Mini, 920 Text Editor, Adobe Reader and the poker game from Poker Stars.

Bartek: What Android devices do you own?

Marcio: Sony Experia E15a (2.1-update1) and Motorola Razor i XT890 (Android 4.1.2). I'm planning to buy a Samsung Galaxy S3.

Bartek: Why do you need another one?

Marcio: I had some complaints from users saying some games were not running smoothly on their devices. I usually try to solve all issues as soon as possible and this device is the one that is giving me the most trouble.

Bartek: That explains much. What Android blogs/sites do you read regularly?

Bartek: What are your plans for the future? What do you want to create/achieve?

Marcio: Right now I'm writing an application that will help stock market newbies by calculating emoluments, taxes and fees and by saying how much money one gained or lost by buying/selling stocks on the Brazilian stock exchange market (Bovespa). In case of a good number of users I'll port it to other platforms.I'm also thinking about apps that will require users to be online to use them. My experience with this kind of apps was good and I think they deserve more attention. I'm considering turning the stock app in just an interface to access my webservices so users would need to be online to use it. The advantages are great: any device will be able to run it because all calculations will be done on the server.

Bartek: Are you working on it alone or are you outsourcing it?

Marcio: I'm working alone. Up to now I've made 45% of the application. My tendinites is what holds my progress. In the past I released a spreadsheet that made these calculus for 2 brokerage companies and it had a lot of downloads, so I'm hoping it will be a success, but who knows?

Bartek: What advice would you give to other developers (something that you wish you had known before yourself)?

Marcio: Good question. I wish I had a good marketing strategy. To develop an app is an achievement, but it means nothing if people don't know about your app. And it's getting harder and harder to get discovered on Google Play. My advice: try to create a virtuous circle, in other words get in contact with other developers that are interested im making a group to spread to the world about apps and that are willing to help you by testing your apps on their devices. The more developers participating the better.

Bartek: How do you find such a group?

Marcio: I find them on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and on forums. I contact them privately and I make an offer: we review, tweet, blog, write facebook posts and so on about each other applications. Some don't want to participate, some just want you to help them but they refuse to help you. That's part of life, but the ones that are really engaged in the idea are the ones that you establish a long term relationship with.

Bartek: That's a great tip - thanks. Where can people find you on the Internet?

Marcio: My blog:
Twitter: @plicatibu
my site:

Bartek: Thank you for the interview and good luck with your ideas.

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