We’re long past the point when apps bedazzled us with their convenience over punching in URLs and visiting websites on our phones. In fact, they’re so commonplace today as to feel a little boring. There are currently 1.85 million different apps on the Apple App Store and 2.56 million on Google’s counterpart, the Play Store. Considering that most people use fewer than 18 apps regularly, the selection available seems more than a little redundant.
It’s easy to see why developers might shy away from making an app. Crowded marketplaces have a tendency to shove out newcomers. More often than not, this is in spite of how useful or unique a piece of software is. Apps that generate easy success tend to have an existing audience – just look at Pokémon Go or Pikmin Bloom, two augmented reality apps that piggybacked on the prior success of two Nintendo franchises.
Games, it’s fair to say, have an uphill battle on the various app stores. There are 477,877 games on the Play Store, for instance, with a large number of them standing as low-effort shovelware, a term that describes amateur efforts made with little in the way of time, money, or love. Due to the absence of those concepts, shovelware titles tend to be numerous. The Wii’s back catalog serves as a good example of this phenomenon.
The development of HTML5 has also made browser play much agreeable. Sites like Kongregate and itch.io have used HTML5 and previous technology Flash for quite some time now, while casino and bingo sites sometimes skirt app development in favor of a responsive website. Buzz Bingo’s Rainbow Riches slots game is a featureful title with three bonus rounds that runs in Chrome and other browsers, improving gameplay but also accessibility.
Despite all the above, research, both of the scientific and anecdotal types, seems to suggest that apps do continue to make money. There’s a caveat, though – some apps make money. The reality is that, without a marketing department, an existing product, or something truly world-breaking to offer, most apps will make a few cents from Google and Apple’s built-in advertising modules, rather than the billions of Pokémon.
The problem with apps is the same one that makes game development so difficult to break into, namely, everybody can do it. While this is a good thing for players and creative types with no budget, it nevertheless means that software faces enormous competition for users’ collective attention. Let’s not forget that many app genres are now almost untouchable, such as social media, email, music, TV streaming, and dating.
For those developers determined to forge ahead with app development, there are plenty of different ways to monetize content, from subscriptions (e.g. Spotify, Netflix), microtransactions (most games), cryptocurrency and similar tokens, content locks, NFTs, up-front pricing, and, as mentioned, bog-standard advertising. If you can find the audience, apps will pay for themselves many times over.
Can apps still make money? Yes and no. It’s all a question of how much a developer is prepared to invest and where their product offering currently stands in its lifetime.