"30 days left to upload your binary" and lessons learned

Last week, I received an e-mail from Apple’s iTunes Connect team that sent me into a panic. The message warned me that I had 30 days left to upload a binary for Mr. Particle-Man, an iOS game that I’m working on. I created a placeholder app for it on iTunes Connect a few months ago, but I had no idea that creating that app would also create an expiration date for it in iTunes Connect that could result in my losing my app name permanentlyHere’s a snippet from Apple’s e-mail:

You have not yet uploaded a binary for your app, Mr. Particle-Man. Our records show that this app was created in iTunes Connect more than 150 days ago.

If you do not upload a binary for your app by 29 May 2013 (Pacific Time), it will be deleted from iTunes Connect. The app name will then be available for another developer to use.

I was completely shocked. I’m not even close to being ready to upload a binary for Mr. Particle-Man. The game is still a work in progress.

The reason I created the placeholder app in the first place was because you need an iTunes Connect app to be able to test Game Center functionality in your game. Game Center is going to be an important part of my game, so I wanted to make sure it was implemented early in the development process.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that you should always use a temporary code name for your app in iTunes Connect in the early stages of development. I didn’t even think to use a code name. I figured, as many people would, that I should give my app the name that I want to ultimately use: Mr. Particle-Man. Why call it anything else? Why create a temporary app that needs to be deleted later?

Here’s why: Once you create an app in iTunes Connect, you are starting a 180-day countdown. When that countdown ends, you will be forced to upload a finished binary for your game, or you will lose that app name forever. That’s right: forever.

In a panic, I scoured the web for information about this issue, but I came up mostly empty-handed. There’s a lot of hearsay and dubious advice out there. Some people say you should upload a binary that will be rejected by Apple. Others say you should upload a binary and then “developer reject it” yourself. Sill others say you should upload a binary that will be approved, but then set the release date far into the future. But very few of these people actually confirm that their suggestions work. And even more troubling, some people suspect that attempting the aforementioned methods may get you in trouble with Apple for trying to abuse their system. (The purported reason for this 6-month app name expiration policy is so that Apple can prevent developers from permanently “parking” app names to prevent others from using them.)

There’s very little official information from Apple about this issue, so — not trusting the advice that I found on the Internet — I decided to send an e-mail to iTunes Connect support. If you ever find yourself in the same situation, I suggest that you do the same. You can contact them by logging iTunes Connect, choosing “Contact Us” from the bottom of the page, and then choosing “Manage Your Apps > App Name Expiry” and clicking “contact us” in the box that pops up. (I’ve included a screenshot of this at the bottom of this post.)

And here’s the important part: When you contact Apple, be apologetic and polite. In researching this, I read posts from a number of people who wrote into Apple to complain about the name expiration policy, and most of them just received a form letter saying “tough toenails”. Indeed, right on the app name expiration page, Apple says:

Extensions are not granted for this deadline, however, if you believe your app will not be ready by the upload deadline, please click here to contact us.

Fortunately, I decided to contact them anyway, and thankfully I used a polite tone, which seems to have made all the difference. Within an hour of sending my message, I received a phone call from a real live human being at iTunes Connect. I explained my situation, and he kindly offered me a one-time extension, giving me another 180 days to complete my game. Excellent news.

While I had him on the line, I decided to ask a few other questions: What would have happened if I had just deleted my app and then recreated it a few months later when I was ready? His answer surprised me: When you delete an app from iTunes Connect, that app name is lost to you forever. You can never use the app name again.

I also asked him what would happen if I uploaded an unfinished binary and then set its release date far into the future. (This was my favorite of the hack solutions mentioned above.) He told me that might work if the binary got approved, but, even if I updated the binary when I was done, the original unfinished binary would have still to go live in the App Store “for at least one second”. Obviously, I’m hoping to finish my game before the new 180-day deadline, but it was good to hear half-confirmation from Apple that there is potentially another way to extend your app name expiration date.

Despite any qualms I may have with Apple’s policy here, I’m mostly satisfied with the results of having contacted them, and I’m hoping to hurry up and finish Mr. Particle-Man over the next 6 months. This was quite a learning experience, and I’m surprised that there isn’t more information on the web about it. I desperately needed some advice, and I couldn’t find any, so hopefully this post will be helpful to someone else who finds himself/herself in the same unlucky boat that I was in.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me.

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New picobots.net website

My new website is live:

http://picobots.net

Having learned a lot from the limitations of my previous design, I completely rebuilt this version from the ground up. A few of the highlights, for those of you interested in web design:

  • The new site uses responsive web design principles, so it looks great and it’s very readable on any device, from smartphones to desktop PCs with huge monitors.
  • Gone is the busy clutter. No more unnecessary sidebars, no more extraneous text on the homepage. The new design is minimal and to the point, and the important information is front and center.
  • The Picobots “branding” on the each of the game and music subpages is heavily downplayed in this new version, because, really, who cares besides me? People want to play games and listen to music, not look at big logos.

I haven’t created 2x retina images yet, so the images aren’t as crisp as they could be on modern iPhones and iPads, but at least this new design is a step in the right direction.