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9 games make at least $20 million on the Appstore in 2011

By on December 20, 2011
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How much money can you make on iOS? That’s a pretty key question if you are trying to work out if it is worth your effort to develop for the platform.

Owen Goss of Streaming Color compiled a fascinating survey of iOS developers, which said that 4% of iOS developers were making revenue of $1 – $10 million.

But looking at the top-grossing charts on the Appstore (top grossing iOS UK, top grossing iOS US), we can start getting a view of many games are making serious money.

Did we make more than Infinity Blade?

In June 2011, Epic confirmed that Infinity Blade has made $10 million in net revenue on iOS. In October 2011, developer Chair Entertainment, the subsidiary of Epic that developed Infinity Blade confirmed that the game had had 5 million downloads and generated $20 million in net revenue.

Infinity Blade is ranked #9 on the US top grossing list for the whole of 2011 (#14 in the UK).Making the heroic assumption that performance in the US is the key to revenues, I therefore estimate that at least 9 games made more than $20 million in net revenue in 2011.






Tap Zoo




Angry Birds

$ 0.99



Zombie Farm




Tap Pet Hotel




Poker by Zynga




Smurfs Village




Texas Poker




Haypi Kingdom




Infinity Blade

$ 5.99



MotionX GPS Drive

$ 0.99



Did we make more than Tiny Tower?

Tiny Tower is ranked #49 in the US top-grossing charts. Back in July, I estimated that the company is on track to make over $3 million in revenue from Tiny Tower alone. (Given that Tiny Tower developer Nimblebits also developed Pocket Frogs – ranked #44 – they’re doing rather well this year).

I believe that this estimate is very much on the low side, and that Tiny Tower is tracking significantly ahead of my original estimate. Even so, that means that 48 games on the AppStore made more than $3 million in 2011, and potentially much more.

Is iOS a viable platform for games?

Er, YES.

We’ve got 80 of the top-grossing apps in the US in 2011 being games. We’ve got at least 9 games making $20 million. We’ve got nearly 50 games making, conservatively, $3 million, and probably much more.

That looks like a viable platform to me.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
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  • JS

    Fair enough!

  • I think that depends. I don’t think a “99 cent and hope for the best” strategy is viable. Many of those 450,000 are “no-hopers” from a business perspective, who have no commercial skills (and often no desire to get them), but can release anyway.

    Others are unlucky. Others don’t have the time and resources to devote to building tribes and building successful marketing strategies.

    So I accept it is very, very hard. I accept that Apple has not made it easy (opaque “featured” criteria, cracking down on pay-per-install services, etc)
    But I still think it is viable.

  • JS

    But suppose it is as extreme as 50 people make lots of money and 450,000 don’t break even (I’m sure it isn’t quite as bad). You wouldn’t say it’s viable, surely?

  • My point is that when comparing developing for console or iOS, most people on console make money. But many people can’t begin to compete: not enough capital, not allowed to develop by the gatekeepers Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

    On iOS, anyone can compete. Many fail, but I prefer the open market where anyone can try than a closed system where you need massive capital and personal relationships with one of three platforms to even try.

    So yes, I think the fact that a lot of people fail to make money does not detract from iOS being a viable platform.

  • JS

    What you are claiming is that 50 out of over 500,000 apps are making serious money and therefore it is a “viable platform”.  With respect, I think you have insufficiently supported your claim to say the least – unless we’re using different definitions of “viable”.  If 450,000 apps are break-even or barely break-even, is it “viable”?

    (BTW, I don’t know why we should include people who aren’t allowed to make apps.)I know a few people in the business of making and selling games and apps on Appstore (admittedly not everyone in every business, of course).  They say it’s a very tough business, you have to ‘churn out’ product after product and hope you hit the sweet spot with at least one of them.  One acquaintance did very well indeed out of his first game – subsequent products are game even at best. Another business loses money with Appstore apps but they don’t solely make apps for Appstore and that’s how they stay in business.

  • Dave Noble37

    Nice article, cheers Nicholas

  • Mathiassoeholm

    Look at alle the freemium titles.. It’s the way to go

  • Ryanding

    Thanks for sharing. I don’t know the rewind feature. These data are very interesting.

  • I believe that the Rewind list (linked to in the article) covers the whole year. Do you know different?

  • Ryanding

    How did you get the top grossing list for 2011? I don’t think the list on app store is for the whole year. Grand Theft Auto was just released and it is ranked #1.

  • William Volk

    The power-curve exists for all media: books, movies and music.  Apps are no different.

    Better question: What do top Android apps earn?  I’m guessing, no where near these numbers.

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  • Yes it is. On a closed platform like a console only a few publishers make money, and the rest aren’t even allowed to try.
    So you have to consider all the people who aren’t even allowed to make games on console alongside the many barely-breakeven apps in the appstore.

  • Harald

    But if only a few devs make boat loads of money while all the rest struggles to break even, is it really a viable platform?