Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Locally developed app Paper Ninja hits number 1 on US App Store

Ninjas. They make all the difference.

On Dec 2, Paper Ninja, a game developed by a two-man team from Singapore achieved what no locally developed app has done before: it became the number 1 app in the Free Apps chart of the highly competitive US App Store.

Paper Ninja involves killing ninjas that come towards you on crumpled pieces of paper. You swipe at them with your own ninja sword (ie finger) as the paper unfolds and the ninjas appear. The game is very polished. The action is fast-paced, the graphics are cute and professional and the sound effects are impressive.

“Seeing our baby (Paper Ninja) at the top spot in the App Store of the world’s biggest market is something that both of us never thought would happen,” said Yang Ruizhi, who did the programming for the app.

Paper Ninja hit the top spot thanks in part to another app called Game Giveaway. Game Giveaway persuades app developers to release their paid app for free for a limited period of time as a marketing effort and Paper Ninja was the first app that they featured. “We never intended to give Paper Ninja away for free but since we lack marketing dollars, and we believe Paper Ninja can do better, we decided to give it a shot,” said Ruizhi, an Electrical and Electronics graduate from the Nanyang Technological University.

Within a few hours of going free, the app claimed the top spot in the Singapore App Store. By the end of the first day, it was on top of the US store as well. Apart from Singapore and the US, Paper Ninja was also the top app in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Macao. In China, Canada and Australia, it took the number 2 slot. At its peak, the app was being downloaded at a rate of 300,000 times a day.

The app achieved these numbers during the three-day period it was free. It has since reverted to its normal US$0.99 price again. While it is not in the top 100 list of the US App Store now, it is now selling about six times better than it was before the giveaway.

The ninjas behind Paper Ninja: Koh Siang Leng and Yang Ruizhi.
Paper Ninja started after Ruizhi was inspired by how responsive his son’s iPod touch was. In March this year, Ruizhi quit his job as a senior consultant to focus on developing the app full-time. It was a bold move, given that he had a four-year-old to feed. Fortunately, his wife was supportive. “She knows that I always have a passion to create things. I would not have ventured into this ‘adventure’ without her support.”

He started out alone at first but later realised he needed professional help with the graphics and music and roped in a partner, Koh Siang Leng, who handled the art, animation, music and sound effects.

The app was released in just three months, then polished further over the next three months. During that time, he mostly survived on his savings and his wife’s income. It achieved some minor success in Singapore but it was only when it was made free that the app really took off.

Buoyed by the success of Paper Ninja, the two guys behind the app are brimming with ideas. What’s holding them back is a lack of resources.

“We have a lot of plans and ideas but we lack time and money for now to execute them because both of us have fulltime jobs,” said Ruizhi. After six months of devoting his life to Paper Ninja, Ruizhi decided to go back to working as a programmer for another company and he and his partner now work on Paper Ninja part-time.

“We are now working on the updates during the weekends. Time is now the most valuable resource to us.”

(You can read about Ruizhi's journey on his blog. You can buy Paper Ninja for US$0.99 here.)

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