Developer Interview: Daniel Leivers from Sofa Racing

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Developer Interview: Daniel Leivers from Sofa Racing

Daniel Leivers is a Software Engineer and iPhone App developer from Worcester, with apps in the App Store such as myPSN, myCOD5 and myKillzone.

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Sam Gibbs: What made you become an iPhone developer? What was the original spark that you thought, there’s not an app for that, yet?

Daniel Leivers: Pretty much! I was sat in a pub waiting for a friend to arrive and wanted to see if he’d actually finished playing Killzone 2 or not. Later that night we also wanted to see who had the better Killzone stats so two apps actually came out of that night! Really I’m just writing apps that I find useful and hopefully other people do too.

Of course it wouldn’t have happened at all without the support of my wife (who also happens to be a graphic designer — all the logos and graphics are her work!)

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SG: You’ve got several gaming apps in your library currently, primarily based around the PS3. Are you a PS3 gamer per-chance?

DL: Sort of… I’ve been playing games ever since I was six years old and they’ve been on all kinds of formats. While I was a University I became mostly a PC gamer as taking over the living room TV with a console was just a pain. A couple of years after I had graduated I was still mostly playing PC games and really only bought the PS3 as a blu-ray player with the idea being that I might play the odd game or two — little did I know how wrong I would be! As it turned out I played on the PS3 a lot more than I thought and it’s on almost every day now. I do also have a 360 but I don’t seem to have enough spare time for both consoles,  with a full time job and iPhone app development!

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SG: Talking about your apps. We’ve had a look at the recently updated myPSN, which allows you to see who’s online, what they’re playing and allows you to compare your trophy stats with your friends. Do you have any plans to expand myPSN’s feature set with messaging features or any other value adds?

DL: Messaging PSN users is by far the most requested feature for the app, ever since day one! It’s certainly something I would love to implement but even the Official Playstation website doesn’t let you send or receive messages. Should that change or Sony open up a proper API for third party developers then I will be adding it in ASAP.

As far as other features go I’ve got a few ideas to add in there but nothing I would really like to promise just yet. Though the biggest thing is an iPad version of myPSN, I’m hoping to fill all that extra screen real estate with some really useful stuff!

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SG: Given that Sony hasn’t yet opened up any APIs for the PSN, have you had any contact with SCE and do you know whether they are likely to expand the PSN past the Playstation and onto the web?

DL: I’ve not heard anything at all from SCE, though I would very much like to (especially if they would like another employee!). The PSN is still in it’s early days compared to Xbox Live and I’m sure the PSN will grow in ways we can’t even predict in the future.

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SG: You’ve also go apps such as myKillzone and myCOD5, the latter allowing you to track your stats on both PS3 and Xbox 360. Do you have any plans for a Infinity Ward’s newest Call of Duty game Modern Warfare 2? Currently there are a number of apps in the App Store that let you manually track your stats in MW2, something automated would be really handy.

DL: Before MW2 was released I was pretty sure they would have some stats available on the web following on from Treyarchs fine example, so I had begun writing an app. Unfortunately Infinity Ward seem a lot less focussed on the community than Treyarch (other than all the blogging, twittering and Facebook-ing that Robert Bowling does such a good job on!) and have yet to show any signs of any stats being available, which is a real shame.

I’ve seen the manual tracking apps as well, I guess you’d have to be REALLY in to MW2 to use those, I haven’t got the patience to enter all my stats in to something like that after every game!

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SG: Have you been in contact with IW about perhaps opening some APIs for outside access to the online stats of the game similar to what Treyarch provided?

DL: I’ve emailed IW a few times but I’ve never had anything back unfortunately.

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SG: That’s a shame, perhaps Robert Bowling might be able to help you out as the front facing social media king of IW.

Onto the App Store. We’ve heard of a lot of horror stories from Apple App developers in recent years about rejections without real reasons, and a lot of complaints over the vagueness of the guidelines Apple provides. What’s your take as an App Store developer on the whole approval process and the revenue sharing deal that Apple has?

DL: When I started writing my first app I have to admit that I didn’t pay too much attention to Apple’s guidelines for several reasons. Firstly I didn’t think I was doing anything controversial enough for a lot of the guidelines and secondly I had so much to learn already that the prospect of more documentation to get my head round was not very appealing. Funnily enough my app was rejected three times before it was finally accepted! However, each of the rejections were totally understandable and actually improved the app, I was also lucky enough to have gone through the rejections when Apples review process was relatively short.

To me the App Store approval process is a funny beast. Short of having some long waits for approval (one update to an already approved app took nearly six weeks!) I’ve not had any real problems with it. Any rejections I’ve had have always had clear reasons for rejection along with advice on how to sort it out. Then you hear about apps which are rejected for duplicating Apple’s functionality, such as web browsers, or Apple deciding to bar “adult” apps except from “recognised brands” which just seems crazy.

The revenue sharing is really a pretty good deal in my opinion. Sure 30% is a lot but if I was developing for another platform, such as a PC, I would have to sort out a website to buy the application from, some kind of payment mechanism, some way of advertising the website to people, etc. With the app store I can just concentrate on writing apps and not worry about the rest.

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SG: It does seem from an outsiders point of view that the App Store essentially levels the playing field a lot more for independent developers compared to the big boys and in my opinion that can’t be a bad thing.

Given that the App Store has such a large install base and therefore market, it’s no wonder developers have been clambering over each other to get a piece of the pie, but the effect has been that it’s seemly very difficult to get your App to stand out and not be washed out by the vast number of Apps available. How have you gone about trying to make your apps stand above the parapet and do you have any tips for would-be developers along those lines?

DL: It is certainly a big problem with the App Store, I’ve heard that Androids App Store does a better job of randomising the “Featured Apps,” but this still doesn’t solve the problem entirely. I’ve not really done a huge amount to promote my apps, I post on a few forums and I show the apps to friends and it seems to mostly spread through word of mouth or people searching the app store for the game they’re playing on their PS3/Xbox 360.

If I develop my own iPhone game in the future, I dread to think how I would make it stand out as it really is swamped. Only the fortunate few get any real recognition for their iPhone games and that seems to be getting less regular now that the bigger developers like EA have gotten involved.

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SG: Have you ever thought about expanding the audience for your apps by developing them for any alternate platforms? The Android market place is gaining ground as the Android market share grows, but there’s also web OS, the newly announced Windows Phone Series 7 and of course Blackberry. Do you have any plans for any of these other platforms?

DL: It’s certainly something that I keep thinking about, it’s mostly a matter of finding the time. Android would be my first port of call for porting my apps on to as in my mind, if I hadn’t bought an iPhone then an Android phone would have been my next choice.

I’ve actually got some experience of writing Windows Mobile applications and after doing some iPhone development I can safely say I’ve no real desire to go back. Windows Phone Series 7 does look like Microsoft are finally getting the idea that they can’t just try and shoe horn a mouse driven OS on to a mobile device, but the whole thing looks like too little, too late to me.

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SG: Yes, Microsoft have finally ditched the pocket Windows paradigm, but things like lack of copy and paste do seem to say that they haven’t hit the nail on the head just yet. A step in the right direction however.

Do you have any new Apps or goodies up your sleeve that we can look forward to?

DL: Lets just say I’m really looking forward to Battlefield Bad Company 2 (and not just because I was a huge fan of Battlefield 2 on the PC!).

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SG: Last but not least, we know about SofaRacing’s iPhone apps but what’s in a name?

DL: Hahaha, I thought you might ask that. When I was at Uni my housemates and I had had a few drinks and for some unknown reason we decided to take the sofa’s outside and race them down the street. This wasn’t the best idea for many reasons but the first one that made itself known to us was that our road had speed bumps, the next reason that struck us was that our landlord happened to be driving past at that moment…

Skip forward a couple of years to when I needed a name for my website and there you have it!

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SG: Daniel, thanks again for taking the time to talk to us.

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For more from Daniel and SofaRacing, check out our review of myPSN or head on over to SofaRacing.com.