Rags to Riches, The Overnight Millionaires of the App Store

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There’s no doubt that the App Store has given many developers the opportunity to hit it big in ways we probably never imagined just three or four years ago. Developing for iOS is relatively inexpensive when compared to most other platforms, and the distribution method–like it or not–is one of the best for marketing your App.

The App Store

While it’s true that Apple has a tight grasp on which Apps are distributed, it’s also true that it’s a great place to make your work available to buyers. Apple’s huge (and growing) audience is a major part of this success. Of course there are a number of other factors that come into play, because not every App that is released on the App Store makes it to be a million seller. Word of mouth, positive reviews, lots of coverage from major media outlets, all of those help boost the popularity of App.

Rags to Riches

That said, many developers have been able to create things that become popular enough to earn them a nice space in the Top Apps. From there, they just earn themselves even more downloads thanks to being featured on the App Store’s front page. Many of these developers have gone on to form their own studios and make a business out of selling games that cost less than five bucks.

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Overnight Success

Perhaps “Overnight” isn’t the most accurate phrase, because many of these games were built over a long period of time and may have been on the market for a few months before they got noticed. However, once they took off, they quickly took the App makers from working their 9 to 5 jobs to being able to run their own companies, or simply make smaller companies into true players in the iPhone development world.


Steve Demeter was one of the first to make a living thanks to the App Store. We can’t be sure, but it’s probably safe to say he didn’t know what would come of this opportunity. He released his game early into the iPhone’s life and was one of the first to make millions by selling his game through the App Store. His initial investment is reported to have been around $5,000, and he quickly made a quarter of a million dollars profit in the two months since he released his game.


iShoot is a somewhat charming story of of a husband and wife who were down on their luck when they hit it big. Ethan and Nicole Nicholas were having trouble with mortgage payments and were struggling with medical bills after the birth of their second child. He worked for Sun Microsystems and employee bonuses were being suspended for that year. Then he remembered reading the story about Trism and the guy who made $250K creating an iPhone game. He figured that even a piece of that kind of money would help him make ends meet. He worked feverishly throughout the next six weeks, many times rocking one child to sleep while pumping out lines of code with his free hand. Eventually, he was able to sell over 2 million copies of his $2.99 game. Another success story.


Kostas Elefheriou created iSteam, and idea that struck him while in the bathroom. The App was popular enough to gain them the attention they needed to become full-time App makers and form a company called Blind Type. Eventually, Blind Type was purchased by Google. Eventually, he went on to form GreatApps LTD. and they are now living the developer life.  

The Husband and Wife Team

Harbor Master was created by a husband and wife team who formed Imangi Studios. They quit their day jobs and took advantage of the growing iPhone business. Their risk paid off, because their 99-cent App, Harbor Master, became a top download on iTunes. While they took a huge risk by leaving their regular jobs, they are another story of those who were fortunate enough to see huge success in the App Store.

Cut The Rope

Most recently titles like Cut the Rope, a simple game in which the objective is to cut a rope to feed a small monster a piece of candy, which is much trickier than it sounds,(video below) sold over 1 million copies across both the iPhone and iPad in 10 days. Reasonably priced at 99 cents for the iPhone and $1.99 for the iPad, the game is claiming a top spot on Apple’s charts. It’s hard to to say how much the game may have made at this point, but it’s definitely the kind of success that can give the seller the opportunity for a career change.



The Story of Two Brothers

Doodle Jump is another game that has managed to make millions for the developer. Two brothers who wanted to create a successful iPhone game came up with the idea for Doodle Jump. It was released in December of 2009, and by early March, the two brothers had made around $1 million each off of sales of their simple little 99-cent game, and that was after Apple’s 30 percent was taken out of their earnings.

Then There Was Trainyard

Trainyard is another one of those applications that has made a difference in the life of the developer. Released back in June, the App took a few months to get noticed, but it’s by no means a bad way to start. As the developer has explained in the past, the his Trainyard game was getting positive user reviews, but was never quite taking off the way he wanted it to. After a few prominent sites featured the game and had good things to say about it, it really started to take off. Apple featured it and sales skyrocketed. The Maker, Matt Rix, lowered the price and worked earn his game more publicity through Reddit. Before long, his game had overtaken Angry Birds as one of the most popular games on the App Store. Rix’s game is probably one of the most recent success stories of the App Store, and we can bet that there are more to be seen in the coming years.

So All I Have to Do Now is Make an App?

Well, if it were that easy, there would be a whole lot more millionaires out there today. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be the case for everyone. Some will hit it big, and others will simply release games and see that nothing will happen. There are thousands of Apps on the App Store and as Mr. Rix himself said in the comment section of this website, “There are hundreds of apps that drop their price to 99c every week and they don’t even reach the top 10. I also had the benefit of a popular blog post, being featured by Apple, ad having a TouchArcade review all at the same time, as well as the price drop and Reddit.”

In other words, it’s a good deal of skill, very hard work (it took him a year to make the game during his spare time) and a lot of luck that make these things happen.


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