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GDC Online 12: PlayScreen's Volk on why Apple broke the App Store charts and what to do about it

GDC Online 12: PlayScreen's Volk on why Apple broke the App Store charts and what to do about it
One of the most open talks at GDC Online 2012 in the Smartphone and Tablet Games Summit was from William Volk, CCO of PlayScreen.

Talking on the subject of 'Marketing Casual and Social Games on iOS', he highlighted that everything was always changing in mobile games.

Indeed, as he argued Apple's reworking of the charts and search in iOS 6 has totally changed the way companies need to market their products.

"Apple wants to break the App Store to stop companies gaming the charts," Volk said.

In this context, he pointed out you now need to make sure your best screenshot is the first one people see.

Additionally, Volk said that PlayScreen would consider working with larger publishers, distributors and service providers such as GREE and Fiksu.

Golden Apple

These changes have had a wider knock-on effect on PlayScreen's future strategy. 

"Free-to-play is really hard. We're now looking at releasing more paid apps," Volk said.

Of course, the most important thing on iOS is getting an Apple feature.

"Anything you do to get Apple to feature you, you do," Volk said. "Getting a feature from Apple is like the doors of heaven opening."

In this context, he reckoned that Apple was now featuring more paid apps on iTunes.

"There's something going on there," he commented.

Finding users

More generally, PlayScreen spends a lot of time considering the best ways to get users, and how to make those channels as effective as possible.

A good example is using Apple's iAd system. Partly this is because having a relationship with the iAd people is good in terms of your wider relationship with Apple.

However, in order to make an iAd work - which is charged at 25c per click - Volk said you need to make sure that your advert only attracts people who will really be interested in your game.

"Make sure your ad is a good filter," he said.

In this way, PlayScreen has seen effective CPI rates on iAd as low as $1.20.

And thinking more broadly, Volk used a single billboard in Las Vegas to advertise a gambling-style game, which he said had a cost per install of $1, at least for a period time.

Win prizes

Other growing channels he recommended included video ads, especially if you can come up with an interesting viral concept.

Volk wasn't need on using incentivised channels to get users though. "Apple hates incentivisation with a passion," he warned. "And incentivised users are garbage."

Not all incentivisation is bad, however. PlayScreen does a lot of competition around its games, and makes sure these are integrated deeply into social channels.

But if you want to give away Apple stuff, you should only give away iPod touches or iTunes gift cards.

"Apple really doesn't like you giving away iPads or iPhone 5s," Volk said.

Yet despite all of its restrictions and the changes it forces on the ecosystem, Volk was enthusiastic about the future.

"The App Store is the greatest meritocracy in 30 years of the games industry," he commented.
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.

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William Volk
Link to the GDC-Online presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/bikingbill/gdco12-marketing-casual-and-social-games-on-i-os
William Volk
The highest grossing apps are overwhelmingly Freemium Apps. So Apple is making more money from these Free-To-Play apps than the paid ones.

This may be as Nicolas says, a bias against IAP based apps.
Nicolas Godement-Berline
Russel -
"Whats going on is they make infinite times more money off a paid app 70 cents/dollar than 0 cents off a free app"

this is not true, at least not for the top grossing IAP-supported apps. Apple takes the same cut on paid apps and IAPs.

If it's really the case that Apple is featuring more paid apps, I'd wager it's because there is still some hostiltiy towards free-to-play among players -and possibly Apple reviewers themselves
Russell Mckee
In this context, he reckoned that Apple was now featuring more paid apps on iTunes.

"There's something going on there," he commented.

Whats going on is they make infinite times more money off a paid app 70 cents/dollar than 0 cents off a free app
jon jordan
Was a great talk William. Shame you didn't have more time!
William Volk
Thank you!