My Android App Creation Strategy

This past month wrote an Android game for my 3-year old son. Soon after, I decided to see if I could make a few bucks.  My expectations were small, thinking if I made even $0.50 per day that would be a cool $15/month of passive income in my pocket.  If that happened, the I could write just 1 new app per week, which would result in $750/month after a year.  I would have been very happy with that.

Well, I’m happy to report that this experiment has been a big success, and relative to my expectations it’s been a phenomenal success. After just 20 days, I’m averaging $15/day and possibly rising.  I say “possibly” because there is not enough historical data to support an accurate trend, and the standard deviation in daily earnings is too high to be conclusive.

So far I’ve made $332(*) dollars since published my first app on 9/5.  That averages out to over $15/day (30x my expectations).  Since I’ve invested about 14 hours of work, that is $23/hour even if the profits turned off tomorrow (they won’t).  For the most part, profits have not begun to sag and in fact today they’ve shown a huge rise.  I’m not declaring victory yet, but you can imagine I have reason to be excited.  $15/day equals 15% of my required income to live in retirement.

*[Update: A few hours after publishing, I had a huge rush in profit, resulting in a 3-week total of $365 and $42 today alone.  I’m still trying to understand the driving forces.]

But this post was not meant to be a post about my profits (that was just a lure), instead I want to discuss my strategy for Android app development.

The Cliff’s Notes Version

  1. Learn basic java (it’s not as hard as you think)
  2. Create a very simple game targeted for 3-6 year olds – game should have a theme
  3. Publish a free game with adds
  4. Watch profits come rolling in (or not, in some cases)
  5. Rinse and repeat turnkey style

Extended Version

Learn basic Java

In my case, I had no java experience but I did do some C++ programming in college.  That was 11 years ago now, which means my basic understanding of software structures are somewhat foggy and my recollection of syntax was pretty much gone.  On the other hand, I can still read sample code and understand it pretty well – making my ramp pretty fast.  I suspect many of you are in my position, but if you are completely new – don’t fret.  You’re probably only 30-40 hours of research and practice away from me.

I spent about 3 hours reading a basic book on java programming that I downloaded on my Kindle.  It was too simple for me, so I stopped.  I suspect it is just right for someone with no programming experience, so I’d recommend it to them.  The one thing I really liked is that it walked you through the stucture of a java program and all the files in a compiled project.  This pays dividends later on when debugging errors, although not necessary on very simple apps.

Download and install all programming software (it’s free)

There are a few free programs you’ll need in order to write the java code and simulate it.  There is great documentation on this process here.  I suggest you take your time and do each step carefully.  If you follow the instructions, you’ll be writing your first simple program in under 2 hours at no cost.  If you skim it, you’ll probably screw it up and end up spending 3+ hours trying to backtrack before you finally give up and start from scratch.

When you’re done installing, make sure you write a “Hello, World” application.  This should only take about 5 minutes if you follow the tutorial. When it compiles and you run it on the simulator and see it work, it’s very rewarding.  It means you’re on your way.

This would be a good time to point out that you don’t need to own an Android device to do any of this.  I own one, but I don’t use it to test my applications.  I use the built-in emulator that you’ll install if when following the direction I linked to up above.

Sign up for Admob

I’m recommending you sign up for Admob before you begin your first real program.  Why? Because it will remind you that you’re experimenting with a new source of passive income.  You might have put in many hours by now, and this can get tiring with no immediate reward.  But trust me, you are almost there.

Create a simple children’s game with a theme

My strategy is to have a few specific features to the game.

  1. It should be targeted for ages 3-6.  3 year olds are surprisingly capable of playing with a smart phone.  I actually got into writing an app because I was tired of my 3 year old son playing games on my phone and getting frustrated when it was too hard (probably aimed for 10+).  I figured I could write a game that he enjoyed, could do on his own, and was at least marginally educational.  The reason to target ages 3-6 is because impressing an older crowd is more difficult and will take significantly more skill (and time)
  2. The game should have a theme. To accomplish this, make sure to have a lot of custom pictures and sound effects.  The theme is critical.  For my apps, I’ve only written one piece of code – which took about 8 hours.  Since then I’ve published a number of variations with different themes (about 45 minutes each).  Some make $8/day while others make $0.10/day.
  3. Structure the code to be very generic in how it calls the pictures and sound effects. For instance, I have 10 pictures in my app, and they are called “one.png”, “two.png”, etc.  This is so I can just copy/paste the code into a new project, overwrite the old images with new ones, and I’m almost ready to compile.  Creating a new theme takes me 45 minutes.
  4. Game should be free, and rely on ads for income.  As an experiment, I made a nicer paid version of my best-performing theme and published it for 99 cents.  After 2 weeks I have 2 downloads.  Compare that to the lesser version of the game which is free and making $8/day with over 6000 active downloads to date.  I suspect paid apps are good if they are of very high complexity, but my apps are very simple.

If all this sounds overwhelming, let me point you to Stack Overflow.  It’s a great forum for asking questions about java and Android apps. Every question I had was either already answered, or was answered within hours by an expert.  Usually with source code that I could literally copy/paste.

Publish with ads

Once you’ve written the code, compiled it, and simulated it – you’re ready to publish the app.  One thing that shocked me was how easy this was.  I published it in minutes, and was able to download it to my phone immediately.  Within 30 minutes I was seeing downloads from other people, and within an hour I had made my first 3 cents.  That may not sound like much to you, but it was to me.


I intend to make 50 versions of my app.  Originally, I had planned to do 100% of the work myself – after all, this was meant to be a fun experiment first, and an efficient money making scheme second.  After my 5th app, I realized that searching for images online and editing them to fit my app was taking about 45 minutes each and very boring.  So I went to and hired someone to do it for me, at $3/theme.  I gave him $30 for 10 themes, and he did great work. When I published those 10 themes, they made their money back in 4 days.

Making your app turnkey is critical, because it allows you to diversify your income.  First, you’ll find that some themes will be a bust while others are huge.  I did a theme based on one pop artist that makes $1.50/day, while a more popular artist is only making about $0.15/day.  But overall, I’m averaging over $1.00/theme, so I don’t worry about the busts because I know I’ll have another hit soon enough.


I’m not an expert in java or mobile app development, and I have no intention of becoming one.  But if you have any questions (or comments) about my strategy, I’ll be happy to field them in the comments.  I’m also curious if any of my readers have explored this territory yet, and how it worked for you.






17 Responses to My Android App Creation Strategy

  1. stephane says:

    nice j
    ob on the apps and great post !
    selling ads to 3 years old is genuis, I am willing to bet that most of the clicks are by accident :)

    why dont you put a link to your games? I will do a few clicks

  2. I’ve wondered about that too. One thing I’ve noticed is that the click-through rate varies significantly by app, and I would like to know whether it’s due to better placed ads, or whether it’s a slightly different age group that is more/less likely to accidentally click.

    I thought about linking to my apps, but then decided against it. Partially because I want people to explore their own creativity/interest, and partially because I don’t want any direct competition. 😉

  3. What a great strategy! This looks like a great way to make some passive income. I’m looking forward to hearing more. Let’s say I was able to skip step one and have someone program my idea, what do you think the risk is that they will steal the concept Zuckerberg style?

  4. Squirrelers says:

    Very interesting. Is that time you invested fixed, or will there be additional time that you’ll have to be spend on this. If not much additional time, this is truly a nice little passive income stream.

    • Tothe est of my knowledge, it’s fixed. For example, I wrote no apps the past two days but saw my sales increase by almost 50%.

      With that said, there is still i am learning – which is why I’m holding back on a ton of detail.

  5. JasonR says:

    Thanks for writing this up. I’m also interested to see this app (and it’s N themes). What’s the core game mechanic?

    My limited understanding of the Android market (coming from a flash background) is that it’s fractured both technically and with distribution. Where did you put this game for download? What screen resolutions did you build for?

    What’s the next app?

    • The core game structure is a memory match game. You know, the old game you played as a kid with physical cards where the goal of the game is to flip over two cards at a time looking for a pair.

      The Android market is fractured compared to the iPhone market, that’s for sure. At the same time, I think the significance of this is exaggerated. As a beginner, I wrote an app that is graphically dependent on understanding the screen size and resolution-and with just a little research on I was able to figure it out. Android (and Eclipse) allow for a lot of flexibility and adapt well to different resolutions. It takes a little work in having different resolutions of the same images, but if you do that then the Android OS manages the rest very well.

      As for the marketplace fracture, this can be a good thing. Publishing in multiple marketplaces brings diversification. In fact, I recently had a few apps rejected by the Android Market, but I’ve just sent them to the Amazon Market and had them published.

      • JasonR says:

        A memory game? This is getting weird, my first game is one as well. As always, impressed with your success.

        I use a different service for ad serving (mochi) who also handles distribution to other flash game portals. The beauty is that if someone steals your game and hosts it on their site you still generate revenue because the ad gets served over top from mochi’s server. (A whopping .02 – .74 cents, but hey). Does ad mob provide any metrics as to who/where the clicks are coming from and what your rate is? I ask since I read a few video game peoples’ blogs and the few who’ve made iPhone apps see 2 or 3 purchases from certain areas of the globe (China) and then 90% of their traffic from that same area with no revenue…clearly cracked games. Any protection on that front?

        Does the android market offer any sort of service similar to Flash Game License where you upload your game and sponsors bid on it for different levels of sponsorship/branding/exclusivity? I’m trying that out for game 2 right now.

        Excuse my questions, I’m curious for some details before I jump ship to java/new marketplace. Maybe another post…with screenshots?

      • Admob has some analytics, but they aren’t the best. Since it’s heavily integrated with Google, I’m hoping the analytics eventually become as feature rich as Google Analytics. I can track requests, impressions, fill rate, click-through rate, and eCPM. I can track it by app and by country, but when I view by app and country at the same time, I can only see the overall stats and not the stats over time (per day).

        Admob also integrates with a service called AdWhirl, which I’ve not yet tried. AdWhirl allows you to add several different mobile app advertising services and track each, so you can see if one has a higher eCPM. I plan on experimenting with this when I have time, and if it proves useful I’ll post about it. I have one game that gets about 20,000 impressions per day, with a low eCPM of $0.74. I have another game that only gets 1,000 impressions but has an eCPM of $3.50. Imagine if I can find a way to get the eCPM of the first up to par with the second.

        I’m not familiar with anything like Flash Game License, but as I’ve admitted before, I’m not yet an expert.

        As for cracking games, I’ve never heard that to be an issue with Android apps – at least not silly little games like the ones I’ve written.

    • Thanks for sharing that link. I used to follow SPI. I’m not sure how I found it way-back-when, but I was reading Pat’s blog back when it had just 20 or so readers. I’ve fallen out since, as his advice has become less relevant for my personal journey.

      That is an amazing success story none-the-less.

  6. John says:

    Very Interesting, I myself skimmed through a few books on the android game marketplace and have wanted to dive into the publishing side. You have inspired me to follow suit now. You have a very good approach to keep things simple and move like a Class project. I just always talk myself out of doing it. You are right, even with 3 cents as a reward, it really gives a smile to your day that you have accomplished your goal. Like lighting up an LED on your microcontroller for the first time. You might want to look into Unity3D a bit, if looking for a challenge with a physics engine for you game as well as easy artist style drop and drag game creation for mobile apps, consoles, PC executables, and a web widget for playing your games. I created a simple and fun marble shooter game that shoots black marbles into a landscape and you can run around watching physics take all of them over. It’s very entertaining and took 2 hours to make in Unity 3D. Now that Unity 3D has mobile ties, i might try the publishing aspects of it, but we will see about the liscensing agreements and all.

    • Like lighting up an LED on your microcontroller for the first time.

      Ha! As a fellow EE, I know exactly what you mean.

      Checking out Unity 3D now. I didn’t know that was out there, but it looks like it could be a lot of fun to learn. This is the type of thing I would love to tinker with after I retire in 20 months. I can’t see myself learning the tool with my limited free time right now, so I’ll probably just stick with the simple 2D kids games for now. Thanks for sharing the tool.

  7. […] Android app experiment is similar, it’s good income and I’m enjoying it, but it’s not truly passive […]

  8. Vlad says:

    Apps are what is needed to make your smartphone smart and unique.Im fond of app creating and find it really helpful to use site like Snappii where i can build apps in minutes.

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