Sometimes, a client will come to Rocksauce Studios with a great app idea that’s just too big to work. Everyone tends to let their imagination run away with them a bit. When you have an idea, it’s very easy to let that idea grow. When that idea simply lives in your head without any real world constraints, budget or time frame attached to it, it’s easy to let it spiral out of control.
While plenty of people come to us with the seed of an idea that we help cultivate and transform, others come to us with a fully formed idea. For those who come to us with a seed, we can put up some gates and carefully guide them to success. As for the second group…well, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said: “That feature is cool, but it’s not the best idea for right now.” When it comes to apps, simpler is always better. At least at the start.
One of the best weapons I have is pointing out real world examples. Angry Birds is something we always come back to. The very first edition of Angry Birds was about 15 levels with only a few birds and only a handful of structures. It was a very simple and straightforward concept. If Angry Birds had tried to come out first in its current state (A dozen birds! Hundreds of levels!), it would have been overwhelming to new users. It would have been too much. There would be a risk of people looking at it and deciding that they’re unwilling to commit to such a huge experience. But since that first version was so simple and elegant, it managed to capture the imagination of the audience. The users demanded more. By only sticking their toe out, Rovio made a much bigger splash than they would’ve if they’d decided to go all-in from the beginning.
This goes beyond games. One of our key design principles for apps is “do one thing and do it well.”
The way users interact with apps is very different than how they interact with other software. In the past, software was an investment. You’d spend time seeking it out and it would cost a lot of money and you’d spend a lot of time installing it. Since you were going through this process, you were more inclined to dig in and explore every feature. If it wasn’t packed to the brim with features, you’d feel like you didn’t get your money’s worth! But the paradigm has completely shifted with apps. Now, users flip through the app store seeking instant gratification. They want something that they can play with for five minutes, figure out how to use, get satisfaction and move on. An app needs to provide that instant experience.
Some apps are designed to tackle specific problems or niches, so they have a little more leeway as their audience will spend a little more time with them. However, the majority of apps really have to go fishing for users. Some people tend to think “Oh, if we cram in everything, we’ll appeal to a much wider audience!” but that’s a fallacy. It just makes it harder for your audience to understand what you’re offering them. If you clutter it up with features, every individual element might be good, but you lose the simple core idea. The more features you have, the harder it is to distill it into something useful!
However, people are excited by their ideas and it’s often my job to help them rein in their imagination (at least for the first version of the app) Our clients always want to believe that their ideas are excellent and I always sympathize: I always think my ideas are excellent! But I can’t indulge in all of my ideas and Rocksauce Studios, in good conscience, can’t let our clients indulge in all of theirs. The worst case scenario is us building a large, ungainly app that will never find an audience.
An app is always evolving. Isolate your app to one great idea and put it out there. Make sure people like it. Then start with the updates. All of your great ideas will fit in the app, but add them one at a time. Reward your users with a deeper experience and let your feedback shape your vision into something truly special.