This is a guest post by Justin Malik.
Developers that sell source codes successfully are great marketers and salespeople. That’s just how it works. And with any great salespeople, you need to step carefully.
• Is what they’re saying true?
• And just as important, even if it is true, will you get the same results they did?
It’s really easy to be suckered into a bad deal and buy a terrible code; my partner and I know from experience. We’ve bought some source codes that have made less than $50 over their lifetimes. It’s critical that you do your homework. I’m going to go over what you should research, question, and watch out for when buying a source code, as well as a real-life example illustrating how it’s not just about the code, but also what you do with it.
Buying a Source Code
I remember our first source code purchases. They were a bit rushed, to say the least. Every source code that was released looked like a winner and made sense, at least that’s what it seemed like. The developers were great at pitching their products. But what makes for a good source code? Here are some questions you should ask yourself.
What’s the Competition Like?
So you found a slot machine source code that boasts $1000 per month in ad revenue? Nice find! Or is it?
The first thing to ask is: how long ago was this? In this example, the app developer made $1000 in a month off of the first version ever, which might’ve been released a year ago, so it’s not very likely that your reskin will beat his revenue. It’s actually very unlikely that you’ll make a lot of money if this code was released months ago and there are already hundreds of reskins of this code out there already. Now, this isn’t black and white; you can still get a source code late and make money with it, but it’s definitely something to consider. I’ll discuss this a little more when you see my real life example. But in general, the earlier you get your hands on a source code, the less competition, and the better your chances of success.
Sticking with the slot machine example, do a quick search in the App Store for slot machines in various ways, like, “Halloween slot machine,” “mult-line slot machine,” and anything along those lines. Search for reskin ideas that you have and are excited about. How many results are there? Does this specific source code come up a lot in the results? If so, you may be in for a rude awakening.
Is it Easy to Reskin? How Much Will it Cost to Reskin (Time and Money)?
Who developed this app? Is it someone that knows how to reskin themselves, and do they say that it’s easy to reskin? Those are the apps you want to look for because you can reduce your costs (both time and money) by purchasing a code that has really been optimized for reskinning. When everything you need to change about the app is in one file, you can crank out reskins in under a few hours! What you don’t want is a code that the developer worked for months on… and then realized it didn’t make a lot of money, so he’s trying to make it back by selling the source to you.
Does the source code also come with great documentation (instructions)? My favorite form of documentation is a relatively new idea — video walkthroughs. These take reskinning to a new level because you can see exactly what you need to do step-by-step to reskin an app.
The developer should also be able to tell you how much a reskin would cost, in general. Get a feel for this before buying a code. The last thing you want is a source code that costs thousands of dollars to reskin. The more graphics there are to replace in the code, the more money it’ll cost you.
I’m also not a fan of added features that aren’t necessary. It might sound awesome because it’s flashier, but is that connection to Facebook or Twitter really going to take this app to the next level? If you’re in the reskinning business, it’s probably not going to help you. Why not? Reskinning is about volume, not about making a viral app. If you’re reskinning, the original wasn’t viral, so yours won’t be either in 999 out of 1,000 cases. I wouldn’t consider it a bonus if the developer added a bunch of features that are supposed to help your app go viral, including social sharing. That’s just more work during the reskinning process that will slow you down or cost you more. My opinion here is a bit controversial, but this is what I’ve noticed after reskinning over 50 apps—social sharing with cheaper and lower quality apps just isn’t worth the time.
And last, along those lines, I’d rather not have multiplayer functionality and other outside services that might cost money. This depends on the game, of course, but the goal is to reduce time and costs, and adding in services that might charge monthly is going to hurt your net income. If the app can fake it—look like it’s multiplayer, but not be—that will save you a lot of time and money. You definitely don’t want to buy a source code that requires a server. Not only would that be a monthly expense, but developers can charge a lot for setting up servers.
How Many Reskins Will It Support?
If the source code passes the tests above and still looks good, it’s time to think long-term. How many reskins can you make? Let’s take the example of a calculator app. It’s a really cool calculator after all! But how do you reskin it? Besides changing the color of the calculator, what more can you really do? If you release two different colored calculators, where else can you go with that? Not only will this prove to be difficult with titles, keywords, and downloads, but Apple will see what you’re doing and probably start rejecting your app reskins because they’re too similar. It happens all the time.
On the other hand, let’s think about a Flappy Bird source code. In this case, we have more options—we can do seasonal themes (Flappy Pumpkin, etc.), to trendy (Flappy Miley Cyrus), to random (Flappy Fish, etc.). You have more options here; there are infinite possibilities of reskins, and each is pretty different than the original in terms of keywords and titles. That equates to more downloads for you.
The Best Ones Will Gloat
One thing I really look for is proven results. If an app did well, the developer will say so—she’ll brag about how much money it made. Yes, they can lie about it, but if it’s a developer you trust, chances are she’s telling the truth and will likely have screen shots of revenue to go along with it. Developers that don’t give details about how much money the app made are doing so on purpose; most likely, it didn’t make much.
You’ll also find source codes that don’t make a ton of money, and the developer will tell you that flat out. But this could be a gem because there might not be a lot of competition and it’s ridiculously easy to reskin. You might be able to crank out 3 a day, and if each one tends to average only a couple hundred dollars over its lifetime, you’ll have a solid portfolio if you make 100 reskins of them.
Be Wary of Subscription Source Codes
I don’t believe in this model. It’s great for the developer and bad for you. A subscription model will say something like, “You get a free source code every month for a year and all you have to do is subscribe for $X a month or $Y per year!”
Just don’t. Why? First, you don’t know what you’re getting. Everything I mentioned above goes out the window. All the research is gone. That’s like buying a house without ever looking at it… that’s not a very good investment, right? Source codes given out this way are almost always terrible, having bad documentation, bad programming, bad gameplay, and/or bad features.
Save that money and invest it in source codes that you believe in and ones that meet the criteria talked about here.
Can you easily reach the developer to ask questions? Do they answer quickly? Is there a big open forum where everyone asks questions and you can read along? If the answer is yes to those questions, that’s a great sign. That’s one thing I love about Chocolate Lab Apps. Elaine will answer questions about codes. On the other hand, if you see a lot of questions with no answers, or the source code is closed off to questions and feedback, proceed with caution. In that case, if you run into issues, you probably won’t get it solved without hiring someone, or people are complaining and the developer doesn’t want you to know about it.
But That’s Not All…
This last part is very important and comes back to my statement about getting a source code when it’s new and when there isn’t a lot of competition. While it’s great if you can jump on something early, it’s not over if you don’t. If you’re a little slow out of the gate, you can still make money, but you just need to be a little more creative. Here’s a real-world example.
When Elaine released her Flappy Bird clone source code back in the day, we jumped on it and quickly made one or two. At the time, we were very busy with other projects, so we didn’t put a lot of thought into it and just went with some random themes. One of the first releases we did was an app called “Don’t Crash the Plane.” Here’s how it did…
This launched in mid-February, when the Flappy Bird trend was still going strong. At the time of writing, it still is, but it was even stronger back then. However, you can see we didn’t make much here, so we put the project on the backburner (note that these numbers don’t include revenue from the Pro version of the app). We got distracted by our other projects until a month and a half later when I revisited my notes and decided to publish another reskin of this code. This time, we went edgier with an app called “Crappy Turd,” a play-on of the words “Flappy Bird,” and essentially making fun of the trend. A little sidenote: I grabbed this name pretty early, but sat on it for months. Turns out someone later grabbed “Crappy The Turd,” which blew up like crazy and must’ve made the developer tens of thousands of dollars. Lesson learned: don’t sit on ideas, especially if you can get it done quickly.
Anyway, way late to the party, we released “Crappy Turd” and “Crappy Turd Pro.” Take a look at the results of this reskin.
After less than 3 weeks, it had already returned over $1,000. It’s pretty ridiculous. This example just proves that you can be late to buying a source code and still make good money; however, you really need to think a little more out of the box. Today, the app is still averaging over 200 downloads/day with no paid marketing whatsoever.
If You’re Still Not Sure If You Should Buy a Code…
That’s ok, and it’s better to be in that position than gung-ho. Always be cautious and realistic. But if you’re really stuck and just don’t know, talk to us. Ask the experts. Elaine is very friendly and might be able to help you out by giving you her opinion. I’ll do the same whenever I can.
Good luck with your purchases!
Justin Malik, MBA, left his full-time job to pursue app development in April 2013 and has since launched over 50 apps in the App Store and acquired over a quarter million downloads. When not developing apps, he is blogging about the process and results on MoneyFromApps.com, creating tutorials & courses about app development, and binge-watching Netflix.
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