Interview

App attack: Microsoft could comfortably cull 75% of the Windows Store, reckons Lightwood Games

App attack: Microsoft could comfortably cull 75% of the Windows Store, reckons Lightwood Games
According to Lightwood Games, Microsoft has set itself a target of having 100,000 apps on the newly launched Windows Store by February 2013.

To put that target in context, it wasn't until November 2009 – almost a year and a half post launch – that Apple's App Store for iPhone hit such a figure, and it took iPad 12 months to amass the same number of native releases.

The Windows Store is, of course, at the heart of everything Windows 8 is designed to do.

Microsoft has seen just how much money the App Store brings in for Apple, and with a Windows userbase likely to be far in excess of that of iOS, a dedicated and populated marketplace seems like a logical next step.

But should Microsoft be looking to populate its platform with apps at such a pace? Lightwood Games CEO Chris Newman – who has previously spoken out against Apple's App Store policies – thinks its leading to a store already packed with dross.

We caught up with Newman to find out how the developer is finding life on Windows 8, and what steps it's taking to ensure it doesn't get lost in the rush.

Pocket Gamer: What attracted you to Windows 8, and what have you launched on the platform to date?

Chris Newman: We'd had one eye on Windows 8 for a while, but didn't think we had time to get involved for the launch.

That was until we met a developer evangelist at a conference, who convinced us that there was still plenty of time to make a game that would be included in the Windows Store from day one.

Turns out he was right. But because just one game sounded too easy, we decided to try to convert three of our iOS puzzle games into Windows style apps. The last one cut things a bit fine, but we made it.
Word Search Party, Head Hunter Challenge and Daily Word Bingo were all available when Windows 8 became available to the public.

We've released two more apps since, and we are working on a new turn-based game that will launch on iOS and Windows at the same time.

How are you finding the submission process, and the Store itself? Is it easy to get discovered?

Getting certified can be frustrating, and we had a lot of teething problems with some of the finer details that nobody apart from the review team seemed to know about.

Based on experience, it's getting easier and right now the review times are much shorter too.


Daily Word Bingo

The certification process is not about validating quality apps though - it's about ticking the right boxes. That means the Windows Store is already awash with thousands of pointless or ugly apps. This makes visibility very difficult.

Microsoft's goal is to have 100,000 apps by February, and with such lofty targets it's going to need to get volume fast. We've seen that in some parts of the world, there's an incentive to bloat the store with quantity, rather than focus on building quality apps.

For example, in Australia right now there's a contest where the first 40 developers to have three apps certified and published in the Windows Store will receive a free Windows RT tablet. I guess we can expect to see hundreds more apps that display a single RSS feed appearing very quickly.

There's other weirdness in the Store that we're coming to terms with too.

Like how you don't seem to get listed in New Releases until you start getting good download numbers. New Releases is meant to help people discover new apps, not mirror the "top" or "spotlight" sections.

Also, how there's no "word games" category, when there's already hundreds mixed in with "puzzle games", but there's a "racing games" category with only 12 apps.

And what can you say about downloads? One developer has recently claimed his Windows RT app is generating £52 a week. How do you feel about the performance of your apps to date?

£52 per week for an RT-only app sounds pretty good to me.

That means it will only run on a handful of Windows 8 devices, and most of the RT devices seem to be having supply problems. My Surface was delayed, and a Lenovo device on order isn't coming until January now. Have you seen any RT devices on the High Street yet?

Microsoft hasn't released any official figures so I can only go from our limited data.

So far, we've seen that about 20 percent of the Windows 8 traffic we're getting supports touch - but the number of Windows RT devices would only be a fraction of that, as the figure includes touchscreen laptops and Windows Pro tablets. Maybe only 5 to 10 percent?

This actually extrapolates to some pretty healthy revenue potential for Windows 8 games, if you can support all architectures.


Disco Pulse

Our own apps are getting consistent numbers - if not spectacular ones - and we're sticking with the strategy that worked for us on iOS - trying to build a reputation within our niche and looking forward to enjoying wider reach on all those new devices bought for Christmas.

We just released a game that's designed for Surface and other touchscreen devices - Disco Pulse.

However we have included a "mouse mode" for desktop and laptop users too. It's the first rhythm game on Windows 8, and as the "music games" section only has 14 apps right now, it's rather more discoverable than our word games.

The same developer bemoaned Microsoft for not featuring its game, claiming it has been "consigned to the garbage bin" as a result. Is it up to Microsoft to promote individual titles?

How can they promote every app that a developer thinks is worthy? There's only a handful of spotlight slots available. We'd love to get one of those.

Unfortunately the phrase "garbage bin" is pretty accurate though. If you don't make an immediate splash, your app will sink down the category listings very quickly, where it's surrounded by dozens of tic-tac-toe games and Marble Madness SDK examples.

You've launched your own discovery platform – GreatWindowsApps.com. What brought that about, and how is it performing?

It was because of the sheer amount of garbage that was being certified for the Windows Store.

Having lots of rubbish apps is bad for users as well as developers. With a poor signal-to-noise ratio, users won't find valuable apps and will quickly dismiss the store as worthless, which is bad news for everyone.

We built a system to take the contents of the Store and filter out anything that didn't meet some very simple criteria. There's a little manual moderation involved, but it's mostly automated.

The shocking result is that - with not much effort at all - we're filtering out about 75 percent of the full Store.


Great Windows Apps

Browsing through what's left means you're much less likely to be put off by seeing hundreds of terrible apps and may actually discover something new and awesome.

This project started as a web site, but last week we released an app version too (see video below). I had no idea if Microsoft would allow it, as it's a bit cheeky, but it was certified first time.

The feedback we've had is really exciting, and according to our Dashboard stats, it's now a top five "reference" app.

What advice would you give any developers looking to take to Windows 8?

It's definitely worth taking a look and there's all kinds of help available to get you started. Microsoft's UK team have been awesome and we've never been left struggling with anything.

Remember that Windows style apps are for tablets and PCs, not tablets and phones. This requires a bit of a mind-shift if you're a mobile developer, but it's worth the extra effort to do things right rather than simply porting.

The reach of Windows is truly immense, and remember it's still early days for Windows 8. In the long run, you won't find a bigger audience for your app.


Thanks to Chris for his time.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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