Most my friends and family think I’m fun, caring, and smart, but all of them know I am cheap. While I have been getting better about this when it counts, it is actually a great asset to have most of the time. Many people spend money on things unnecessarily when they could have gotten something for free or cheap or for a little extra effort. I spent my college years buying old Nintendo games in bulk and selling them back individually for profit while building a collection of over 400 different games. While it was fun using Mario/Duck Hunt games as coasters, I finally realized that 380 of those games wear really unplayable (Trolls on Treasure Island – found it at a Goodwill, A- rarity for a reason) and the other 20 were going to the virtual console on the Wii. I gave up the collection and used the money for better things.
Along with being frugal, I’m not a real risk taker. I basically have a pool of money that is set aside for gaming or other interests. I buy and sell things on ebay to keep that flow of money ever going. I add to that flow of money occasionally when given gift cards, signing up for credit cards to get the sign on bonuses (got $500 recently just for signing up. This would pay for the majority of your initial needs to publish an app), or when I find incredible deals that I know I can make a profit on. The reason I am saying this is that I used these funds for the costs that came along with this.
Please note as well that I use a PC and only use the Mac for building for iOS. So a lot of my tips are for free programs on the PC.
Alright, now to the good stuff. The apps I have created so far have been in Corona (http://www.anscamobile.com/corona/) I HIGHLY recommend this developer kit to anyone considering making mobile apps. Here are some reasons why:
1) You can use it for free to see if this is even something you are really interested in doing. You are able to test the app you’re creating in the console and even test it on your device without having to pay a dime to Corona.
2) The coding is very easy and there is a lot of documentation (well it could be organized a little bit better, but the community forums more then make up for it. If you have a question, someone else has probably already answered it and, if not, someone will likely within 24 hrs.) There are also great forums and sites with tutorials (like Peach Pellen’s http://techority.com/).
3) Multi Platform – With a Pro Membership, you can easily build for iPad, iPhone, Android, Kindle, and Nook with very little code changing what so ever (just changing links to reviews and such).
There are also other developer kits out there that are even free, but they do require more programming knowledge then I had and do not build for multi-platform.
4) You can write the code in Windows or Mac and it doesn’t mater which you simulate on. My code is done 95% in Windows and I only use the Mac for building and making adjustments once I see it on the phone.
Total cost so far: $0
PC – Now on to your second most important part of making an app – making your art and interface images. For this I have used Paint.NET (Note that this is only for PC) The program is simple and easy to use, but still complex enough to produce nice images with a little practice (gaussian blur is my best friend in this program). There are tons of user plugins and tutorials for Paint.NET. The best thing about Paint.NET is that it is FREE. I may consider eventually paying for Adobe Illustrator, but I won’t until I feel it would be worth it.
Mac – I do not do my art on a Mac. Although there are free programs on it as well. Check out GIMP if you are a Mac user
Total cost so far: $0
Sound is the third item I focused on with my apps and was the area I was initially least comfortable with. Luckily early on I found out about a site called http://www.freesound.org. The majority of the sounds and music on the site are free to use, even in commercial projects, so long as you give credit to the creator some where (see my attribution list here). A lot of the sounds you are also able to edit and change in any way. Just be sure to check the license on each individual sound you decide to use.
For editing sounds I used Audacity. You may need to find another free program to change some of the sounds you download from FreeSound to a format that can be read by Audacity. Audacity is free and it gets the job done.
For sounds that that you can’t find or need to create yourself, go in a quite room with little echo and just use the voice recorder on your phone. You can then edit it with Audacity.
Total cost so far: $0
Now comes the tricky and potentially the highest cost you could have in this process. You have to have a Mac or be running a Mac OS in order to build your app for the iPhone/iPad. Either way the Mac needs to be running at least Snow Leopard as well (I initially looked into finding the cheapest Mac off of Craiglist, but you need to know what the version of the operating system it is running or has the potential to run. You can find that info on the wiki pages for the Mac you are looking at) If you just want to build for Android, you can stick with just a PC and Windows. This leaves a few options that I see if you do not have a Mac: get a Mac Mini (this could set you back about $600) or turn your PC into a Hackintosh (I will not go into detail, just search for it).
You could also potentially do all your coding on a PC with Corona and then just build it on your friends Mac. This would actually work out fine if your game does not use a lot of features that can’t be tested without the device (accelerator, camera, etc). If you do go this route, be sure to build it at least once a week so you can find any problems that may occur on the device and not on the simulator.
Total cost so far: Have a Mac $0, Make a Hackintosh $30 (cost of Mac OS), get a Mac Mini (about $600, or find used) $600
Now here come the costs you must endure. If you go with Corona, they charge $199 a year for an indie license (iOS or Android) or $349 a year for a Pro license (iOS, Android, Kindle, and Nook). There is huge savings potential here as well if you are student or educator (follow this link). There is a $100 discount for the pro license. I recommend going directly for the Pro liscense, but be sure to WAIT until you have your first app ready to roll out. Maximize your year subscription by doing this.
Next comes the market fees. Apple charges $99 a year in order to publish to iTunes. The Android Market also has a one time $25 fee. Both Amazon (for one year and potentially longer) and Nook are free to publish on. Each takes 30% of your total sales as well.
Total cost so far: For Pro (non-student/educator) add $475. For a Pro Educator add $375
So if you have a Mac (or have access to one) and PC and are an educator/student that wants to build in all platforms, you can start publishing apps for as little as $375. Make a hackintosh out of your PC – $405. Get yourself a Mac Mini $975. Not a student – highest cost – $1075.
Lastly, lets talk about what it would take to break even at the highest cost. To break even over a year you are going to need to sell 1536 units at $.99. That comes down to 4.2 apps a day. I almost guarantee you would be able to do this with one app that has minimal exposure on all 4 platforms. You also would get a Mac Mini out of it and can write off all your expenses on your taxes (bonus!). Your second year would only be $450 in total once that computer is paid off.
So if money is what’s holding you back, don’t let it. As you start to make some income from your apps, you can get better quality gear and programs, but until then you can know that your not likely to lose money if you are cheap like me.