Orbital – The iPhone App That Does Everything Well But Sell

What can we tell you about Orbital that has not already been said?

Orbital on iPhone - Gravity Mode

Orbital on iPhone - Gravity Mode

The reviews are unanimous. Orbital is one of the best games on the iPhone.

The awards are well documented.

Ryan Seacrest and Dane Cook have tweeted about their love for Orbital. Dane still has a high score in the top 10. We’re not sure what Oprah is waiting for, something to do with career changes.

In our office, Orbital breaks have replaced Xbox breaks.

Orbital has been described as “addictive”, “compulsive”, “mesmerizing”, “superb” and other adjectives.

This game must have sold like a million units right? The developers must be on a beach somewhere buying Ferraris on eBay and having Scottish castles airlifted to Brazilian mountaintops, right?

Not quite.

Orbital’s sales figures are somewhat more modest than the reviews would suggest. As of this writing the game has still sold far less than 100,000 units. That’s not even a gold record.

When we say Orbital is addictive, we really mean it. The average user plays for 5.8 hours, which is almost unheard of on the mobile platform. Several users have topped 100 hours, including a well-known celebrity who has logged 118. In total, Orbital has sucked away ten years of human lifetime and productivity in hours logged, and from just seven months of development.

Are pirates to blame?

In its first week on the iTunes App Store, the game saw a piracy rate of 80%. Today, the piracy rate is down to 24% because they attached cannons to it. Even so, all those pirates grab the dollar candy, stuff their pockets, and don’t pay.  Whether or not that really represents lost revenue depends on if you believe the pirates would have paid in a checkout system with better security guards. 5.8 hours of entertainment is worth two bucks whoever you are, guaranteed.

What about a “lite” version?

Apps need free versions to let us know what we’re buying. Well, now there is one, and there has long been an online flash demo of Orbital.

So before you take out that second mortgage, sell your car, and bet it all on iPhone development, keep in mind that even the best apps are no guarantee of commercial success.

App Store success isn’t so much about catching lightning in a bottle as it is about when your lightning strikes and what other bolts are coming down at the same time. Of course if you have a particularly strong bolt, a sustained effort to keep it in front of key media and in the minds of consumers may be the best way to live past the day when your app is new.

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  • MetricQuestion

    Interesting article. How did you determine the piracy rate was 80% at first launch vs 24% now?

  • Sam Dalsimer

    Here's the reply to your question from the developer, Bitforge:
    “There's some pretty simple code to find out if the app has been pirated. There is something in app that will never appear if it has been bought. We simply check for that. Most crackers know, but they're usually too lazy to take that detection away.” – Reto Senn, COO, Bitforge

    For a more technical explanation, read here: http://thwart-ipa-cracks.blogspot.com/2008/11/d

  • I love that game. I have it on my iphone and became addicted fairly quickly.

  • I love that game. I have it on my iphone and became addicted fairly quickly.