This post could be subtitled “No good deed goes unpunished.” This is a story about how updating existing products can be a painful and frustrating process. Over the last 4 weeks I’ve updated 4 different apps and can share the common pitfalls encountered in the process. It turns out that some users can never be pleased, though the silent majority are just fine with incremental improvements.


Background

The motivation behind most updates is to add features or otherwise enhance an app in order to attract new users or retain existing ones. If you’re using 3rd-party software such as OpenFeint, ad networks, or game frameworks, you need to frequently update for those as well. Compatibility with the latest iOS version or iDevice du jour is pretty important, too. Here at Mundue HQ we’ve got a big pile of devices and a testing matrix that would make your eyes glaze over. Deciding whether or not to support older devices is a tough choice all developers must make, and having analytics in your code can help.

Earlier this summer we added rudimentary support for iOS 4.0 to some of our apps. This was not strictly required, but I think the fast app switching is a big win for the user (improves perceived responsiveness of the device) and the more core Apple functionality you can support, well, the better off you’ll be. The one thing that was still missing from our reMovem games was the “hi res” graphics designed for the Retina Display devices. Initially just the iPhone 4, this now includes the new iPod touch 4th gen., which will be very popular come Christmas, I’m sure.

On September 2 we finally found out that Game Center would be available with the (then) upcoming iOS 4.1 release. This presented a compelling reason to add it to the updates we were already working on. Until then, Game Center was just promised for “later this year.” So we worked out a plan to modify some apps to include Game Center and all of them to include “hi res” graphics. We had already been working with the artist to update graphics, so the timing couldn’t be better.

Feedback

Fast-forward 4 weeks and approximately 1,275,000 downloaded updates later, and there are two main areas users complained about. Yes, the “hi res” graphics and the Game Center support. For games like ours which are neither serialized nor completion-based, replayability is crucial. It’s easy to see how users are trained to expect ( demand, even ) regular updates for some games, but to be honest we don’t get too many requests for specific features. So how could things go so badly, or did they? That’s why it’s so important to keep things in perspective.

Reviews are a good measure of satisfaction, and by adding a time-delayed prompt to rate the app you can ensure decent reviews from happy customers. This is easily accomplished by prompting people who have shown they appreciate the game, preferably when they are in a good mood, like after reaching a level or making a high score. If you look at the ratings alone, then we should be happy with reMovem’s 4.5 stars and reMovem free’s 4.2 stars (as of 9/28/2010).  But let’s look at each of the problem areas in a little more detail.

Colors

You would not believe the number of people complaining about a slight change of colors! “Hurts my eyes,” “Ugly Update!,” “Can’t play any more” are just a few of the comments received. Granted my vision is not that great. But I’m not colorblind, just very nearsighted. Still, the colors look good, especially when seen on the Retina Display. The original purple color was too blue, so we modified it to be actual purple, but most assumed it was blue. Aside from that we replaced a rarely-used fifth color (pink) with blue, to better match the existing icons.

RetinaDisplay-vs-old.pngAt first it was only complaints about the colors. Not a single mention of the improved “hi res” display. I forgot to mention that with iOS 4.1 Apple fixed the issue with named image resources, so that the @2x images are properly used. You can clearly see the difference in these actual-size screen grabs.

In any case we began to worry that there was actually something wrong with the images. It’s so easy to overreact to early feedback. I knew it would take a couple of days for the delayed review prompts to kick in. Fortunately that happened, and after an initial wave of complaints about the colors, the true fans started writing good reviews and leaving mostly 4 and 5 start ratings.

Game Center

Game Center is interesting, because the ones that complain are so adamant about it. The best is “Game Centre integration has spoilt this app.” Come on, really? The Game Center integration is optional with a big giant “Use Game Center” switch on the settings page. I know that Game Center is flakey in its initial release, and Apple could’ve made the sign-in screen less generic, but it’s not really that bad. Other classic complaints are “I don’t want to keep track of scores,” and “How do I shut off the login junk?”

I think the Game Center fuss will die down when players realize that more of their games support it. I reply with a gentle reminder to that effect, and point them to the Apple page which describes its benefits. So far nearly 6,000 players have entered high scores. That’s only a 3% adoption rate, but we haven’t tried to compute how many players there are on capable devices.

Conclusion?

Is it time to panic? No. When you upgrade any app you will most definitely catch some flak from a vocal minority who dislike any changes. In time the majority of users will rally with good reviews and ratings. As my friend Markus said, “that problem will solve itself by pure mass distribution.” I couldn’t agree more. Be patient, wear a thick skin, and remember to prompt the happy users to rate your apps.

This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iOS development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web siteRSS feed, or Twitter.