The app success story of a 26-year-old indie app developer from Germany, Philipp Stollenmayer, who got more than 15 million app downloads on iOS and Android and generates a full-time income while still in college. Learn about his secret sauce for getting featured by Apple with a spectacular 9 Apple features till now.
Tell us about yourself and what are you working on?
My name is Philipp Stollenmayer and I am 26 years old. I am the guy behind Kamibox Studio, a German-based one-man indie developer studio. Kami is Japanese for paper, because the studio started with free papercraft models, and the first two apps were how-to apps for paper toys.
I have released 18 mobile games till now with 10 million downloads on iOS and 5 million downloads on Android. You can see all of them at kamibox.de/ios. You can also find them on app stores – iOS and Android.
Most of them are casual games, like Okay? (iOS|Android) or Pancake – the Game (iOS|Android), but also more elaborate ones like Sometimes You Die (iOS|Android). My game Okay? has more than 5 million downloads.
I am a Communication Designer and currently doing my Masters at the University of Hochschule Mannheim. I am working on my master thesis in Information Design and the topic is The Virtual Museum. That is going to keep me busy for the next few months.
How did you come up with your app idea?
I look at how people use phones and what they play and respond to that. I make games that people play mostly in the subway or at boring meetings. These one-touch games in portrait mode only require one hand and make you look like you’re working and not playing.
Pancake is an app that you open, tap, and understand, you can play it on the train, on the toilet, in commercial breaks. It has been designed for fast living humans. The game combines aspects from top-ranked high score games that I have tried to analyze for a while now.
Did you validate your idea? If yes, how?
I developed Pancake in one day and released it the next day. There was no market research or anything. I don’t refer to any statistics. I just trust the subjective evaluation that I make, and if it fails, it fails.
Earlier, I used to make sketches and mockups before writing everything in code. Then I found out that the idea doesn’t work as intended and it changed everything.
Today, I barely make drawn sketches, I just sketch with Corona directly – it is faster and I can directly change and use the results.
How did you go about developing your app? What was your Minimum Viable Product?
Usually, I don’t invest any money in my apps, only my time. When I have an app idea, I design and develop it, there is no sketching or prototyping in between. The risk of Pancake was quite reasonable compared to other apps.
In the fourth semester of my communication design studies, I tried to teach myself Objective C to make a game (What The Frog). It was just too hard for me without any coding background, and I was very happy to discover Corona SDK.
Corona SDK is so much easier and I can publish games on iOS and Android without any extra effort. I recommend it to every designer that I see in my studies (who are) making concepts for apps but fail at the realization.
I guess my code looks awfully messy to a qualified programmer, but in the end, it’s the result that counts. Almost always, I only have two Lua files, one for the game and one for the data. No scenes, no libraries.
What’s your strategy for marketing your app?
I had no strategy and no marketing. In the best case, one player likes the game enough to show it to more than one other person. When I reflect upon the games that failed, I understand why the players didn’t like them as much as my other apps, and react to that.
I also design games in a way that I hope Apple likes, and rely on their App Store feature. My apps without such feature hardly get attention.
The most important aspect of getting an Apple feature is a great design. Clean, flat iOS 8 design with a good app name and a well-thought icon and you have a good chance that Apple will recognize you.
I have had 9 Apple features till now out of the 18 apps I have released – Letter, cmplt, Verticow, Zip Zap, Okay?, Pancake, Burger, Sometimes You Die and Squaredance.
How do you make money from your app?
It’s a bit sad that paid apps don’t really work out anymore because of the oversupply and the new value propositions in the App Store. I am happy with the outcome of the pay-what-you-want concept of Okay?. It proves that the users’ moral didn’t get lost between packages of gold and ad-loaded games.
In the past, I tried to make games that have a particular kind of atmosphere, and ads would have disturbed that.
Two of my newer games, Pancake and Get Hi, have ads, because they are super casual games without any pretense of being somehow deep or atmospheric. After all, I want the player to have fun and not be scared off by interruptions after every game, so I try to implement them in a non-intrusive way.
What’s next for you?
I will be busy in my master thesis for the next few months. But there are still 2 games in the pipeline that are nearing completion and that I may release soon. One quick and casual and one core game.
What’s your advice for app disciples who are just starting out?
App developers underestimate good design. The term is much more complex than it is perceived. It doesn’t mean making your app good-looking, but good-feeling.
Every step from picking up the phone should be thorough and tested on real humans. Good design means that your game is capable of creating fun, that is often being forgotten.
The best source of inspiration and knowledge are other apps, and how people use them. You should be aware of how you use apps yourself, and try to analyze what’s good and what’s missing. Subtle things make the biggest changes, it is the developer’s task to find out what these are.
Also, many apps are too difficult. Take a look at popular apps and you will notice that the first 15 levels are no-brainers. Make them so ridiculously easy that a fish could do it and people will play a few levels for sure.
Where can we go to learn more about you?
What tools/books do you find indispensable for your app business?
My mom is indispensable (Yours will probably work too). She is not so much into mobile and gaming as I am, and when I give her the phone to test, she feels lost and tries to find out what the game wants from her, ignoring all common standards.
That makes you question these standards and find new solutions that may work better.
|Developer Name||Philipp Stollenmayer|
|App Name||Pancake (+17 other games)|
|App Description||One-button action game|
|Revenue per month||Not disclosed|
|Total Revenue||Not disclosed|
|No. of people||1|
|Reason for success||Focus on design, Simple gameplay|
Did you like the app success story above? What is the one thing that will be your take away from reading the above? Is there any other question you would like me to ask? Let me know in the comments below.