Opinion: Ten simple steps for App Store success

If you're not doing these, don't bother with the game

Opinion: Ten simple steps for App Store success

"If you gave me six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four hours sharpening my axe," Abraham Lincoln reportedly said.

In the forest that's developing for the App Store however, developers and publishers seem happy to immediately start swinging wildly with any blunt object they can lay their hands on.

It's not that many of the games being released doesn't have an edge.

Rather the context of releases often seems ill-prepared, lessening your chances of influencing how your game is received in the all-important period after you've submitted and then the first couple of days of going live.

Obviously this isn't anything like a comprehensive list of what to do, nor any guarantee of success. Also I'm not covering anything about game design or post launch factors such as price management, updates or micro-transactions.

But in terms of basic activities and some things to be considered during the development and release processes, these points are important if you want to make the most of your opportunity.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 What's in a name?

    With 16,000 games already live on the App Store, the naming process for your game is only going to get more complex. Sadly though, anything that's not straightforward will immediately lose you audience mindshare.

    If I didn't know anything else about these recently released games, I still know roughly what they were about: Touch Physics, geoDefense Swarm, Tattoo Mania, Samurai: Way of the Warrior.

    The same cannot be said for Hybrid: Eternal Whisper, iBlast Moki, Fozwot, Skabooki, Crush Bunny or Ynth.

    Another example. A game called 10 Balls 7 Cups was released in August 2009 and didn't chart in the US. It was re-released with some minor changes as Skee-Ball and is now #2 on the US App Store.

    In fact, it's getting to the stage now where if you can't think of a good name, maybe you should be questioning whether you should be making that game.

  • 2 What is an icon?

    Demonstrating such attention to detail, look at the iterative process Imangi Studios went through before finally deciding on the icon for its game Harbor Master.

  • 3 Price to content ratio

    This is simple. Unless you have a brand or are prepared to spend a lot of time building PR buzz or a lot of money on marketing (or for whatever reason you're a non-profit organisation), don't pretend your game will generate many sales at any other price other than 99c. Your development budget needs to match this.

    For example, Nigel Little from Distinctive Development reckons you can't make a profit on an iPhone game if your budget is larger than $40,000, unless you sell millions of units of course.

  • 4 Everyone loves free. The App Store demands it.

    You need to submit a free version of your game at the same time as your paid version.

    As an example of how important a free version of your game can be, Backflip Studios' CEO Julian Farrior says the company has had 11 million downloads of its games; 75 percentage of which were for the free version of Paper Toss.

    Many of the sales of its paid games were directly driven from advertising in this app.

  • 5 Use those free eyeballs

    Talk to the in-app advertisers such as AdMob, Greystripe, Mobclix, Quattro Wireless, VideoEgg, JumpTap as well as similar outfits such as virtual monetisers Offerpal.

    A free game for consumers doesn't mean you don't get paid.

    For example, Tapulous has just signed a longterm deal with AdMob for its games including Tap Tap Revenge 3, and I also know of several smaller developers who have made a profit on free games thanks to advertising.

  • 6 Bang a drum, but not just your drum

    Start your PR process early. You don't need to give out loads of information but you should at least know who the major games websites who might cover your releases are. You should have their email addresses and be following their sites on Twitter.

    In fact, more than this, you should be actively making yourself part of the wider community, even if it's just retweeting interesting information or commenting on the daily ups and downs of development.

    We need to know you know more than just about your game. Good tweeters include ngmoco, Hand Circus (Rolando) and Bolt Creative (Pocket God).

    If you're really keen, set up a company blog and when you update it, let people know. Good examples of this are Appy Entertainment, Firemint and Freeverse.

    Go on the forums, and not just your official thread on touchArcade.

    Don't expect anything out of this activity, but, you know what? When you have something to tell us, especially if you send a press release that's been spell checked with some screenshots attached and a link to a video etc, we'll probably be happy to oblige.

  • 7 Make reviewing as easy as possible

    Continuing the PR trail, yes, it's a hassle, but providing adhoc builds of your game is vital if you want reviews ASAP when you're live on the App Store.

    Amazingly, you can provide these under the proviso that reviews won't go live until the game is actually out. Clearly in that case, you need to tell us when the game's planned to go live and then when it is live, and deal with resubmissions should that happen.

    But this does mean you can also generate preview articles using the same build. Two bites of the cherry then.

    And please remember, promo codes only work in the US. Not all websites are based in the US.

  • 8 Phone a friend

    It's happening less and less now but no game should be released without Facebook and Twitter support.

    You should have as much social networking in your game as possible, even if you think it's stupid. OpenFeint, Scoreloop, AGON Online, Geocade and Plus+ are all free and you can download most of the SDKs immediately.

    You won't gain a competitive advantage through this but we will notice if you're one of the few games that doesn't include these features.

    It's also worth thinking about anything in this area that will make your game stand out.
    Can players save and/or upload screenshots or video, for example?

    Firemint spent a lot of time and money making sure we could upload videos in Real Racing, and the game has been in the US charts priced at $9.99 and $6.99 since its June release.

  • 9 Find a friend

    With so many games on the App Store, there's a shift occuring with some developers moving into publishing. One example is Scottish developer Tag Games.

    Its MD Paul Farley says you should always think about what's best for your game.
    In Tag's case, some of its games will be published by larger companies, while Tag will be working with smaller developers to give their output more profile with targeted PR, marketing and polish.

    Of course, there are still plenty of small developers who do make a splash on their own.
    Freeverse's Colin Lynch Smith says some developers feel the insurance of working with a publisher is money well spent, while some developers don't. There's no wrong answer.

    But it probably makes sense to show your game to as many people as possible, if only to get feedback.

    And who knows? May someone will love your game so much, they'll pay you to publish it.

  • 10 Don't flog a dead horse

    Sadly, the pace of releases on the App Store means it's virtually impossible to resurrect a release that for whatever reason has gone wrong.

    Updates, Peggling(tm) or other promotions might get the corpse twitching but he's once down, Dobbins ain't going to galloping anywhere. Just move along.

    Of course, if you have your own tips, tricks and advice, that's what the comments system is for. It's good to share...

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.