This was my first app to get significant rankings and my first to turn a profit. More important than the promotion is that Foam Roller Techniques is the best app for what it does and the users love it.

Jade Ohlhauser is a part-time app developer located in Calgary. Over the past year and a half, Jade’s Solid Jade Inc., has released some very interesting work. He caught our eye with his first apps Nukes, Arena Pinball and his recent release The Foam Roller Technique. Jade was kind enough to provide some insight into his experiences within the app world and gave a frank and honest take on some of the challengers facing our community at the moment. We hope you enjoy Jade’s take and you can follow him on twitter (@jadeonly) for his latest work.

With a successful full-time career within the technology industry, what got you started developing for iOS?

I wanted to grow my personal expertise in this important technology area, but I could only spare a few hours a week on it. It was important to me that there would be no clients demanding attention and no systems requiring care. I have to be able to ignore this hobby for a week and not have everything fall apart.

For me the only way to really learn about app develop was to ship an app. After doing some freelance design consulting for two apps I joined the iOS developer program last year.

Right now you have four apps in the iTunes marketplace, can you briefly describe the four projects and why you decided to turn them in to iOS apps?

Nukes is a simple arcade game. As my first app my goal was to complete an app on my own that I felt was good enough to charge money for. What does it take to go from zero to having Apple deposit money into your bank account?

Arena Pinball is a better game and came from a strange board game a friend had made. From a learning perspective I wanted to implement in-app payments and physics. I also saw a chance to make a unique product.

The Price of Oil
. This was just a quick experiment after I was out for lunch and looking up the current crude price was harder than I thought it should be. Unlike prices like stocks, oil and gas aren’t available from any of the big API providers like Google and Yahoo. That presented a fun challenge. I spent only an afternoon on it.

Foam Roller Techniques came about because I’m friends with Dr Emmons and we just started talking about making a video app version of his book.

What have you learned from the experience of developing Nukes & Arena Pinball?

It’s extremely unlikely I could ever make meaningful money building game apps as a hobby or even just cover my costs. I don’t think trying it full time would improve my odds much. For some reason I had the idea that an app that wasn’t crap would make at least a few thousand dollars and just by publishing it on the store it will be talked about and linked to. The reality is the minimum is about $0 and no one will share your app unless you really do something special or you pay them.

Finding success as a full time indie game developer is hard enough. Trying to find success as a hobby game developer is probably impossible, at least for me. That’s the most important thing I learned.

You’re newest app The Foam Roller technique is a bit of a departure from your first apps, how has the reception been for this app? In addition, what have you learned from this experience that you apply to future apps?

With Foam Roller Techniques I was more coordinated in my launch promotion to time the marketing with the listing on Apple’s what’s new. I focused the paid promotion on influential people in the industry and social media. This was my first app to get significant rankings and my first to turn a profit. More important than the promotion is that Foam Roller Techniques is the best app for what it does and the users love it. My two games could at best be generously described as not bad and
in the app store that’s not good enough.

Currently I don’t have plans for any future apps. When I started I approached Nukes from the perspective of “I want to make an app, now what kind of app should I make?” That is completely backwards. Instead I want to have the skills ready in case another opportunity like Foam Roller comes along. Until then the little time I have for this hobby will be easily used up improving and promoting Foam Roller.

The professional development has been very valuable. At my day job we’re probably going to get at least one mobile app built in 2013. It will be completely different managing a project like that now that I have the experience of taking my own apps from concept to the store.

As someone who is doing this as a hobby and has a uniquely different perspective, where do you see the App Development industry moving? What challenges do you think are coming up in the future for the industry?

I was surprised at just how steep the success curve is in the app store. There are a small number of apps that make a lot of money, but most make very little. To survive as an app publisher that means you require blockbuster hits or supplemental contract work. There could be a ‘middle class’ out there doing just fine on only average app successes, but if so I bet it’s shrinking.

Since this is just a hobby I can afford to fail. Maybe that impairs my ability to be successful, but I’m not willing to find out. I work with a rock star development team at RPM and even after 12 years I’m still in love with the product.

What advice would you give to someone that wants to work on their own app?

If you are hiring artists, complete the app first using placeholder art. That helps prevent two costly problems. First is paying for artwork you think you need but end up not using. The second is having to keep going back to get more artwork done beyond what you thought you needed. This was one reason I spent half as much on artwork for Arena Pinball as I did for Nukes, even though the former has more graphics.

So far I have not found any paid promotion of game apps that has resulted in a return on investment. In particular, one thing I wish someone had told me was don’t pay those review sites to review your apps. For Foam Roller I found success targeting the health and fitness community and professionals. Whatever your app is I recommend doing the same. The problem is for games I’m not sure what the equivalent is. Whatever you find, expect it to be really crowded and hard to be heard. Keep in mind my experience is limited to two games that I gave less than part time attention, so I’m far from an expert.

If you just want to have fun and experiment then keep your costs down. In addition to wanting to learn first hand about app development, I’ll admit to some gold rush fever. I thought my experiment would not only pay for itself, but bring in some bonus cash. Not only were my games failures in that regard, but I spent too much, or at least on the wrong things. For example, it was so easy to justify hardware and software purchases. The first reality check hit me when my games didn’t sell. The second reality check came when I added up my expenses after that first year.

When I started this whole thing I was looking at a new car, but Dragon’s Den inspired me to try and be more productive with that money. Turns out in year one the car would have been cheaper. Check back with me after year two and maybe Foam Roller will have changed this cautionary tale into an inspiring one.