Sunday, October 25, 2009

Carnival of Souls 2009 teaser

Here's a teaser photo for Carnival of Souls 2009. These are some pirate ship cannonades my brother built for the main walkthrough haunted house attraction. They look awesome, don't they?

And oh, what's that little black cable sticking out from under the cannonades? Is that a USB cable...?

I'm looking forward to seeing all our friends on Halloween next weekend. See you then!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Big Hearts in Big Country" up for People's Choice

Big Hearts in Big Country version 2
As you may know, my 1KM1KT 24-hour RPG competition entry was a wild west themed RPG with saloon-inspired trappings called Big Hearts in Big Country. It's got a fun, cinematic combat system, a character-driven storytelling system, and a heavily fleshed-out setting, all in one free package.

Well, if you like it, then you should head on over and vote for it, because it is nominated for a people's choice award in the "Honey, Where's My Dice Bag?" category.

And as always, play reports are welcome!

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Versions of Digital Puppets Up!

We've been busy at ImaginEERIEing with our home haunt, but that doesn't stop us from trying to help you make your Halloween better.

We just released two new versions of two of our signature digital puppets:

Mirror Mirror
Mirror Mirror has been updated with a new feature that allows the Mirror face to fade away when it is set to "asleep" mode. This allows your Mirror face to magically appear somewhere your visitors may not expect it.

Gordo has been updated with a new feature that allows Gordo's exterior to be rendered completely black. This allows you to project Gordo onto a real pumpkin, and have it appear that it is magically animated. The effect is truly fantastic - I'll try to get some video of this up in the coming days.

(Since both of these improvements haven't been tested extensively yet, the downloads are only available on the main site. The download link you receive when you buy will still be the older, known stable version. If you don't need the above features, we recommend you stick with the stable versions, since these are not maintenance releases.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Keywords in the Apple App Store

In the last several months, my wife and I dove into iPhone development. Frustrated with the quality of apps for kids, we decided to take matters into our own hands and create the sort of app we wished was generally available. My wife has a PhD in educational technology, and I'm a multimedia developer, so we've been creating educational multimedia for almost a decade.

We worked long and hard on LetterWriter Oceans, a game to teach letter writing to kids. When we started development on it, there wasn't quite the glut of cheap letter-writing apps that there is now on the app store, but the steady rise of cheap apps in our target space didn't really bother us, because we were confident that we could grab a good niche because we were shooting for higher quality, better interaction, and a different tone - less "Saturday morning cartoon" and more "trip to the aquarium".

Unfortunately, the sales numbers have been only slightly better than abysmal, with only a few sales per day. We're aware that the days of the iPhone App gold rush are over, but this was even worse than we expected.

And here's the main reason: people just aren't finding our app.

I'm convinced that if our app was listed alongside the other apps of its ilk, we'd fare much better than we are, but we're struggling to get in even the first page on any search of the app store other than an explicit search for the name of our app.

The reason appears to be due to a new policy for App Store applications: keywords.

Recently, the App Store has started asking for keywords. Near as I can tell, new applications are required to add keywords, and only these keywords are used in searches. But legacy applications, added before the keyword mandate, are searched for based on the full text of their application description.

Thus, if you search the App Store for "letters", something that a letter writing application should come up very high on, you'll see things like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books before you see our app. Why? Because they list the person who drew the letters for the comic in the application description.

Worse, you won't even find our app in the search results. We used the word "letter" as a keyword for our app, but we didn't use "letters". I had assumed that Apple's search engine would match simple plurals for nouns, but I was wrong. If you search for "letter" in the App Store, you will see our app in the first page. If you search for "letters", we don't exist.

Furthermore, Apple's search engine doesn't filter out what we'd all assume are "noise" words. Our other app, Tap Treats Halloween comes up on a search of "trick treat", but not if you search for "trick or treat", because I didn't include "or" as a keyword, thinking that Apple would either filter it out as a noise word, or at least display our app if two of the three words matched. Nope.

Oh, and you only get 100 characters worth of keywords, and that includes the comma delimiters.

As far as I can tell, there are no recommendations from Apple for crafting your keywords (if you know of any, please share!), so we're left to do it by trial and error. But even that is problematic because your keywords are set in stone and unchangeable until you upload a new version of your app. You can't even change the title of your app from, say, "LetterWriter Oceans" to "Letter Writer Oceans" without submitting a new binary.

The net effect of all this is that we have been practically absent from the App Store, even with very relevant searches. And that directly affects our sales, perhaps moreso than any other factor. I really enjoy making iPhone apps, and the iPhone development environment has rejuvenated my desire to create apps like no other environment has in recent memory. But this one piece has been a real letdown. Hopefully, Apple engineers are working on ways to make the keyword searching smarter (plural-aware, noiseword-aware), and this problem will go away. But in the mean time, my competitors are snaring sales that I can't even compete for.

And what's going to happen when we have thousands of developers submitting incessant fake updates so they can tweak their keywords? I can't see any outcome other than the approval process slowing to a crawl.

Update: Our new version of LetterWriter Oceans is up on the app store, so if you try the above-mentioned keyword search for "letters", it might start showing up, since this means our new list of keywords is live.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Free RPG Blog reviews "Big Hearts in Big Country"

Big Hearts in Big Country version 2
The Free RPG Blog reviewed Big Hearts in Big Country today.

By any account, it's a glowing review, which is gratifying. The real measure is whether players enjoy the game, though. If you play Big Hearts in Big Country, please drop me a line and tell me how it went for you. I'd love to hear how it works in practice for people who didn't write the rules (heh).

Friday, October 02, 2009

LetterWriter Oceans featured at Playgrounder

LetterWriter Oceans was featured today at

Playgrounder is the brainchild of Dan Benjamin, usability and lifestyle blogger of HiveLogic which features quality children's products. Unlike some sites, Playgrounder is not a "pay for play" site - they feature products based directly on quality of product, rather than kickbacks from promoters, so we're very happy to be featured there.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Problems with our Hosting

Our long, reliable host, which we've been hosting with since the 90's, was bought by another company called "agavue" recently, and already the service is careening downhill. We sell digital puppets for Halloween, and on October first, of all dates, all the files we had hosted on their servers vanished. The entire directory is just gone, so it's not even something that could have been user error on our part. And our original host's late-hours technical support has been replaced with a nine-to-five tech support, so I can't even talk to them about it until tomorrow. Super.

If you were trying to download one of the demo versions of our digital puppets in the last few days, and were told that the file no longer exists, well, this is why. I've updated the demo download links to grab them from a different server.

Sorry for any inconvenience.