I recently launched Save the Pencil, a cool stationery based arcade/puzzle game for iPhone & iPod Touch. I should probably start by saying it has only been a week since release, so it is still very early. I should also add that the feedback I’ve received about the game, whilst limited, has been fantastic. As of now, it’s had 18 reviews, all of which are 5 stars. It has also been selected as an app of the week at TiPB. Infact, the team over at TiPB liked it so much, they even put a banner up on their main page!
So, I know I have a great game, and people will like it if they play it. I also, for the first time, made a concerted effort to get the marketing right. Yet early sales have been somewhat disappointing. So what went wrong?
Mistake One – Future Release Date
I love Apple. I love their products. I love their creativity. And I love pretty much everything they stand for. I believe, unlike many developers, that the 70/30 arrangement is incredible, given the amount of exposure we are afforded and I also have no qualms with the review process. I am however, disappointed with what has happened the past week. Mistake 1 was trusting the availability date in iTunes Connect.
I wanted to set a date in future for release, a date I knew the app would be approved by and a date I could target my marketing effort towards. In the end, I opted for December 8th, hoping to catch some of that Thursday magic (I’ll get to that later). I did this prior to uploading the binary. Everything went smoothly, I checked various App Stores on the morning of the 8th and the game was live. I then checked the new releases section, and was surprised to see that Save the Pencil wasn’t listed. I assumed that part just hadn’t been processed yet and continued to flick through page after page of new release. Then suddenly I saw my icon. For a date almost a week earlier, a date which suspiciously coincided with the date my app was approved.
I tried not to think the worst and hoped it was something that would come out in the wash after a couple of hours. Yet it didn’t. Nothing changed, for a couple of days and by then, it was too late. It’s no good being listed as released on the 8th when it’s already the 11th and thousands of apps are ahead of you in the list. This got me thinking about the lite version of my app, which had been approved on the 6th of December but was not available for sale. I decided on Tuesday the 13th to make this app live in the App Store. I hoped for the best but feared the worst. The latter happened. Despite being made live in the App Store on the 13th, my app was listed as released on the 6th, pages and pages back in the new releases list. The result, almost zero downloads. This comes in contrast to the >1,000+ I would have expected based on previous apps.
Now if you are a big player and you subsequently have a big marketing budget, this is perhaps insignificant, but as an independent developer you rely on the initial impetus that being high up on new releases list gives you. Without it, your position in the charts is abysmal and it’s incredibly difficult to recover. So that’s one mistake I won’t be making again. In future I will have marketing material ready prior to uploading the binary, and then when approval happens, I’ll be ready to go. I’m sure this issue will be fixed, probably soon, but it’s just not a risk i’m prepared to take again.
Mistake Two – It Has To Be A Thursday
It’s become almost folklore in the iOS developer community that Thursday is the only day to release a new app. The thought process behind this is that just as your app is experiencing that new release boost, the weekend arrives and with it far more active iOS users (and therefore sales that are in general significantly higher). The logic makes sense. What often doesn’t get mentioned however, is that (in my opinion at least) this strategy has become a victim of its own success. If you look at the number of applications that are now launched on a Thursday, it’s pretty scary. Especially as the major studios / players / publishers seem to abide by this strategy. So not only are you now competing with a larger number of apps for early momentum, but the quality of those apps will, on average, be higher. So mistake two, aiming for Thursday. If it hadn’t been for my desire to do this, I may well have not had to live with the consequences of mistake 1 also.
Mistake Three – Assuming Sites Will Review Your App
When you make a good app, it’s easy to sit back and assume that sites will be fighting to be first to give you a review. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. With the amount of big studios now releasing apps, competition is tougher than ever. Big sites are under pressure to review big name apps. Unless you have something highly original, and are able to communicate that effectively, you’ll be lucky to get more than a fleeting mention. It’s incredibly important to engage with review sites PRIOR to launch, they are much more likely to feature you if you have already offered them some exclusive content. Furthermore, if you begin this process early it’s likely you will already have generated several useful relationships which you can leverage for coverage.
In addition, you’re better off communicating with 10 sites effectively, than 100 sites with a general mail out. I thought I had drafted a perfect email to sites which contained all the necessary details, a promo code, links to all the resources they could possibly want. I had one non-automated reply. Since, my colleague has separately selected just a handful of sites which he felt would be a good fit for us, and has engaged them far more successfully. I’m sure the relationships he is forging will continue to help us in future.
One other tip, although not specifically directed at iOS apps, Ben Kuchera (Game Editor @ Ars Technica) gave an interesting talk at Run, Jump, Dev on marketing. You can watch it here.
Mistake Four – Waiting Too Long To Build A Following
I won’t really elaborate much here, as it pretty much goes without saying…but don’t leave it too late to generate a Twitter following and subsequent buzz. This past week i’ve learnt what a valuable tool Twitter can be. In addition, make sure you give visitors to your webpage the chance to sign up to an email newsletter. The conversion rate from these individuals will be better than anything else.
The End (You Made It!)
Hopefully some of you can benefit from my experiences here. None of it is ground-breaking, but just emphasises the importance of tasks which can be overlooked, or certainly left until it’s too late. I for one, thought I couldn’t have planned better for this launch!
Although I’m still confident the game will be a success (there will be a follow up post!) I’ve definitely learnt a lot from this experience.