Microsoft this week began the process of paying Windows Phone 7 developers for their work. For some, this comes three months after their apps appeared on Microsoft's new mobile applications marketplace.
According to some of the top downloaded game and app developers CNET talked with, their experience developing for Microsoft has been entirely positive, short of the wait to get paid and what those amounts have been. Developers were eager to gush about Microsoft's development tools and the back-and-forth communication with the company--both before and after their apps had been launched onto the marketplace. They also said that expectations had been met in terms of early sales.
The key complaint across the board, though, continues to be size. The number of users with a Windows Phone 7 is simply not as large as it is for competing platforms, which is to be expected given that it launched just a few months ago. Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that it had sold 2 million of the devices to OEMs and carriers, meaning the actual user base that's buying and downloading marketplace apps is somewhere below that. How big a size difference that actually is is unclear given that Microsoft does not share things like activation numbers or retail sales.
But the developers we talked with said they were more than happy to stick through this early period in hopes of the platform's expansion.René Schulte, a Microsoft Silverlight developer who created Pictures Lab--a $1.99 photo editing application that was ready in time for the Windows Phone 7 launch and has since been featured by Microsoft--said that sales have been "OK," but that he couldn't make a business out of it. "I'd be happy if Microsoft sells 10 times more devices and people continue to buy my app," he said via e-mail.
Until that expansion happens though, one of the best ways to get a substantial sales boost in mobile application stores is to be featured, a practice done by all the major app store owners. Applications that are featured on Microsoft's storefront get grouped together on their own page and can stay static while the top, new, and free categories change based on user behavior.
Several of the developers we talked with had been featured by Microsoft at one point in time and said that it had given sales, or downloads of their applications a healthy boost. Jason Kiesel, founder and chief architect of CitySourced, a city works reporting service that has a free app in the Windows Phone Marketplace, said the jump in downloads after being featured was "dramatic."
"In those first two days, we basically doubled the total number of downloads of the previous month," Kiesel said in a phone interview with CNET. Because Microsoft's reporting tools lag some five to six days behind, and City Sourced was just recently featured, Kiesel noted that they did not yet know the full extent of the promotion. "I'm confident the total number of downloads will be quite substantial once the week rolls around," he said.
But Microsoft's system for featuring apps has led to frustration for some who say that the company's selection process is skewed.
Developer Farseer Games, which expanded into Windows Phone 7 development after making Silverlight games for the Web, makes a title called Krashlander. The game has proven to be quite popular on the platform, but has never been featured, due to what developer Jeff Weber said was Microsoft's penchant for promoting games that made use of Xbox Live, the online social gaming service Microsoft first rolled out with the original Xbox, and has since brought to the Windows Phone 7 platform.
"Krashlander sales have been OK relative to other non-Xbox Live games, but the way things currently work if your game is not an Xbox Live game, it does not get featured in the marketplace," Weber said. "My game has been one of the top downloaded paid (non-Xbox Live) games since launch, it is currently the 10th highest rated app/game in the marketplace overall, but it has never once been featured."
So why doesn't Weber add the functionality? The simple answer is that not every game can get it. Developers have to pitch Microsoft to be a part of the Xbox Live portfolio, then code the Live APIs into their titles if they're accepted. That extra work can then pay dividends to the developer once people who are playing that game share that information with their friends through achievements or game status that gets beamed out through the service.
Weber said this practice has led to frustration and he views it as a disincentive to produce future indie titles for the platform but that he still likes the platform itself. "I think the Windows Phone 7 has great potential both from a consumer/user standpoint and a developer standpoint," he said. "I really hope Microsoft can make some adjustments and drive the popularity of the phone to where I think it deserves."
So what comes next? There could be a boost in sales, or at least exposure, for apps and games once the first system software update hits, since it will make applications easier to find through the Marketplace search tool. Currently Microsoft's search scours applications, games and music, mashing together the results. The updated version will let users sort which of those sub-genres they're looking for.
There's also the hope of continued growth. Microsoft's expansion into CDMA handsets later this year will certainly help that cause. The key thing still seems to be getting customers to want the device more than the competition. As the company was happy to trumpet not only during its earnings call yesterday, but in a phone interview with CNET earlier this week, people who have the device, "love" it. The question that still needs answering is how to get the people who don't have one to get one. Good applications are certainly one of the strongest steps in that direction.