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