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Rethinking how to win on the app store

02-23-2010, 04:16 PM
Joined: Feb 2009
Location: San Jose, CA
Posts: 546
Rethinking how to win on the app store

I've been looking at some of the top games (the small ones) and trying to understand how they got there. A few observations:

1. The app icon should look cool
2. the title should be interesting
3. The screenshots should look great
4. Rating (number of stars) matters little

Besides being featured on a big review site, I'm convinced that the single biggest thing you can do to improve your chances is to have a good icon, a good title, and a good set of screenshots. For me, these are usually afterthoughts once I'm done working on the game. However, I should be spending more time on this, since this is what most likely determines if a buyer buys your game or not.

Regarding title, don't get creative. I called my Pirate themed defense game 'Tides of War'. It's not a BAD title, but would I have sold more copies if I called it "Epic Pirate Defense", or "Pirate Defense: Protect the Booty"? Maybe. Who knows. Point is, title should immediately let the buyers know what your game is about.

In summary, buyers pay little attention to ratings (evidenced by even 1-2 star apps in the Top 25) and pay a lot of attention to screenshots, icons, etc.. to determine if a game is worth buying, even at the expense of quality. Instead of spending time sweating small details like if the fireball spell should do 10 damage or 15 damage, I should optimize the above elements to engage buyer purchases.

Thoughts? (Assumption here is we're maximizing profit, not necessarily aiming to produce a 'perfect' game)
02-23-2010, 04:26 PM
Discourage people?

What about discouraging your competition? Especially those who may live in an area with a cheap standard of living. Make sure they don't learn too much. Emphasize the negative of being on the app store.

The more you discourage your competition, the more profit you can make.

02-23-2010, 05:28 PM
Agreed. Here's some of the primary elements I see factoring in on the sale of apps (which mirrors greatly with your thinking).
  1. Icon - I wish I could go around and submit friendly emails to every developer with a good app and a less than stellar icon to seek a graphic designer to better their sale chances. The icon is the very first thing you're likely to see, and I've personally been known to say to hell with an app based purely on an icon.
  2. Screenshots - The next thing I look at is if the user interface / art-style of an app is polished. If it looks like a junky interface that's worth of the Windows OS, or has the appearance of being made by an engineer and not a developer they're likely to lose out on a purchase.
  3. Review Sites/Forums - I monitor many review sites as well as the TA Forum and will often be tempted into purchasing something based purely on the reviews made. There've been countless great games that I would have never otherwise stumbled across if not for Touch Arcade and others featuring these games/apps.
  4. Video Demo - Sometimes screenshots don't do an app justice. I'll typically head over to YouTube to see if there's at least a trailer, hands-on demo or quality review of the app.
  5. Online Presence - Other important factors like having a website that's got support and information are also pretty big. I'm a much bigger fan of developers that have a development blog, tease upcoming projects, etc. Facebook and Twitter accounts are also great additions for being responsive to your customers.
  6. Update Frequency - As counter-intuitive as it might seem I think it's a better approach to development in the App Store to be updating your app on a fairly regular basis. You'd think that having an app that's constantly fixing bugs might have a negative impact, but I'm an avid updater. I constantly update apps and I'll often re-install an app I'd previously deleted only to see what enhancements were added or if the overall experience was improved.
  7. App Store Ratings - I hardly pay any attention to unless I'm really on the fence about hitting the "Buy" button.

I think you should still aim to produce a solid game. You definitely won't get any fans by creating a cruddy game with the world's snazziest icon, but the overall marketing is highly important.
02-23-2010, 05:43 PM
The name of the app is also important. I suggest: Doodle zombie pirate tower defence!
02-23-2010, 06:17 PM
Joined: Sep 2009
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 977
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Originally Posted by dmn001 View Post
The name of the app is also important. I suggest: Doodle zombie pirate tower defence!
So...it's a match 3 game then?
02-23-2010, 06:23 PM
Joined: Sep 2009
Posts: 5,678
For me, the icon is a bag factor. May sound trivial, but I like my SB to look nice.
02-23-2010, 07:06 PM
Joined: Mar 2009
Posts: 471

Thought i would offer my bit. I am not a dev in any way, but i am a regular purchaser of games and someone who will often impulse buy.

A large majority of my purchases will be word of mouth. This is mainly via websites such as this. If a game gets front page and is in a genre i am interested in (and isn't just another TD or match3 rip off) then it already has my attention.

Now that i am interested, the next factor that will either push me to jump on the appstore an buy it is quite simply... how many other games am i playing right now. If i am already playing through several games then i will hold off. This holding could mean that i will forget about the app unless it gets continued presence in the forums for example.

This presence is often maintained by popularity of the game, which is a direct result of the actual product (so beyond any initial hype / marketing) being a good, well made game. This can also be prolonged by a developer maintaining communication on the forums and fishing for ideas for an update etc.

I have also occasionally purchased apps from the banners on this website. Battle of Puppets was one and it was quite literally the fantastic artwork that sold that to me. I barely new anything about the game other than what the picture in the banner told me... which was that the game looked different to anything else i currently had installed and also polished. Once on the appstore a quick skim of the reviews told me that the game was polished and very few 1 star negative reviews in there.

In regards to negative reviews - It is, on the whole, very easy to tell which of the 1 star reviews are written by spoiled little Jimmy who was hoping for another Mini Gore shooter to spend his pocket money on. Usually the grammar and spelling stands out as being awful and the review is never constructive. I am certain that on the whole reviews like this will not sway any purchaser away from your app unless they are out in force. The only time negative reviews will turn me away is if every single one on there is saying that the game is bad... or worse... it doesn't run properly on my device. The overall rating value is hardly ever a factor unless, like another comment said, i am on the fence. The fact that i am already looking at your apps page and hovering over the buy now button though means that the decision has already been made.... so.. in terms of getting good reviews to sell an app as a marketing strategy, i wouldn't say its the most important step.

In regards to app store presence; i.e. is it on the home page, or the most downloaded page etc. This does have some impact on what i buy although to be honest by the time most apps reach that status i have already read about them here and grabbed them.

Another interesting fact you may not consider is that big company titles such as GTA and Gameloft will actually spur sales of the smaller apps. While waiting for GTA my appstore purchases increased. I would check this site and the appstore frequently and often get sight of other, smaller, indie games and buy them to fill the gap.
02-23-2010, 09:55 PM
Good user feedback Oliath. Not to hijack, but that's why I created my "Free Promo Codes" app (not out yet). I'm a solo developer and without marketing money I was unable to attract enough buyers (especially impulse buyers). I tried to find ways to advertise cheap. Spamming friends on Facebook and Twitter did little. I also read from other devs advertising on review sites didn't pan out much either unless your app is already hot.

So, I made an app that aims to attract users since it's free and offers free promo codes. At the same time it benefits smaller devs because they are exposed to a huge audience for very little money relative to other options. Most devs feel if more people learned about their app, they will buy.

I'm going to stop here to keep this on topic. I have another thread describing the app. Oliath's post reinforced what I was thinking about how many end users operate. Hopefully my experiment will benefit some smaller devs.
02-24-2010, 08:52 AM
Suggestion: Make something that both looks good and is fun to play

Once you have a quality product, the rest is easy! ...Seriously though, if you look at a lot of the successful games they are usually addicting, simple to learn and hard to master. It's a tough road but if you can deliver a complete marketing package that lets people understand what your game is and how it's played, you'll be getting yourself some sales.
02-24-2010, 01:04 PM
Originally Posted by Sinecure Industries View Post
Suggestion: Make something that both looks good and is fun to play
Two recent counter examples are StickBo and LittleRedBall. Granted, they didn't last very long, but they had nice little runs at the top of the free list. LittleRedBall even had a full version that made top-grossing lists, fueled by the lite's massive visibility.

Having an icon that sticks out like a sore thumb may well be a better strategy for short term success than having a pleasing, but otherwise bland icon.