Chopper 2 for iPhone Postmortem

David FramptonAug 19, 2010

Introduction

In the past few months, I often stopped coding to imagine this very moment. When times got tough and the end looked to be getting further away, I imagined sitting on a deck chair by a pool in the sun, Chopper 2 sitting in the App Store top 100, beer at my side, and a MacBook on my lap, tapping out the Chopper 2 postmortem.

And here I am! Through a lot of hard work, a tremendous amount of support, some careful planning, a bunch of tough decisions and a hell of a lot of luck, Chopper 2 is complete, and as I write this has spent over two weeks in the US top 100. Before it had even had its first sale I felt like all the effort had been worthwhile, but even better, it looks set to beat the success of the first version of Chopper for iPhone.

Chopper 2 reaches the top grossing iPhone game in New Zealand

Chopper history

One of the very first builds of Chopper for the Mac. Gotta love that aqua brushed metal.

Many who read this may not be familiar with the history of Chopper so I’ll start at the beginning.

The birth of Chopper was on the Mac back in 2003. It was one of my first attempts at creating a game, and was a 3 month project. Chopper was entered into the uDevGames contest, where it received a number of awards. It was then left available to the public as freeware.

Following that release I switched focus to a series of day jobs doing mostly graphics/real time programming. During this roughly 5 year period I experimented a bit with shareware apps, including making the original version of Chopper for Mac OS X shareware.

Another early Chopper for Mac build

The shareware version of Chopper for Mac sold a few thousand copies over the next year or so – definitely not enough to make a living. But it was enough to make me think that working full-time on games could be possible.

So during my last year of full-time work I was saving most of my income, and looking for any opportunities to go out on my own.

As it turned out, the iPhone SDK and the App Store showed up with absolutely perfect timing. I knew the platform would be huge (though was surprised by just how huge!) and I already had a moderately successful Mac game ripe for the port. I also had experience with touch screens, accelerometers, UI design and a bunch of other useful skills due to my day jobs. So during my last few months of full-time work I was also spending the evenings and weekends re-writing Chopper for the iPhone.

The shareware version of Chopper for Mac

Chopper on the iPhone

When the App Store went live in July 2008, Chopper was there. It initially got to #13 in the US at $7.99, had a few more surges at $4.99 and $2.99, and then hit the #1 game at 99c over the holiday season ‘08/’09.

It would go on to sell more than 350,000 copies in the first couple of years, and even now is selling a few hundred copies a day.

Chopper was far more successful than I had imagined possible, and had set me up nicely for a long indie game development career.

Such a thing as too much success?

DuckDuckDuck - A fun, but not particularly successful diversion

During that initial period of success, I did exactly what I’m doing now: I took some time out to reflect on how things went, what the the future might hold, and on life in general. I’d never had a lot of money, and in fact had been a struggling artist on the unemployment benefit when I wrote the original Mac version. So it required quite a mind shift, and I actually had some pretty low moments when I considered that I may never be able to come close to that success again. I had structured a lot of my goals in life around becoming financially independent and creating a successful business. So when I actually got there, I no longer had any goals. And as it turns out, having no goals makes me miserable.

But of course I got past that. I played around with a few new ideas for apps and games, most of which haven’t yet seen the light of day. I released some updates to Chopper, and had some fun making DuckDuckDuck. After some point I also started constantly thinking about Chopper 2. I’m not sure it was always definitely going to happen, and I even dreaded the idea for a while (in much the same way that the idea of Chopper 3 currently flicks the off switch in my brain). But eventually, in March 2009, I started work on Chopper 2.


 

uDevGames 2011

Convergence — Best Gameplay
Kung Fu Killforce — Best Overall Game, Best Audio, Best Presentation
Flying Sweeden — Best Graphics, Most Original
Time Goat — Best Story