13 top tips for launching and marketing your game, by AppGratis CEO Simon Dawlat
Pre-launch, to monetisation, to re-activation
Simon Dawlat is the founder and CEO of AppGratis, an app discovery platform that serves its 10 million-strong userbase with one hand-picked free app each day.
Keep this in mind: 2013 will be massive, the year of an inflection point for the industry.
The road to 2015 will see an additional 1 billion smartphones shipped globally and that's when we'll reach full market maturity. Until then, the race is still on and the opportunities are open.
So now more than ever is the time to bet it all on mobile.
AppGratis has been in business for four years – basically since the App Store's inception. We started as app developers ourselves before switching our focus onto the big problem: app distribution.
Based on our years of market experience, here are our 13 tips for developers.One
Keep in mind that product is key. Uncontrollable user feedback comes in at real-time – and it can hurt.
The App Store is like the old video game economy where three years of development can be killed by a one-day failed launch. So having a strong product combined with a serious launch strategy is the very beginning of not failing.Two
Also, it's not a feature-heavy-friendly environment. Whether you have an app or a game, keep it simple. The successes of Angry Birds (swipe, adjust, release) or Temple Run (toggle, crouch, jump) are good reminders of that.Three
If you're not a heavily-funded developer, try to play in some of the most sought-after categories. Word games, for instance, and casino games are only a few example of categories that people are craving (even if it can be hard to understand why sometimes!).
Playing in these categories will statistically increase your success rate. Things are constantly changing, however, so keep a close eye on the Top 25 to see what apps are charting and identify the upcoming trends – try to innovate off them!Four
Go viral. A K Factor-positive conversion funnel – where every one organic or bought install will naturally generate 1,X new users organically through invites or sharing) – is one of the strongest and most cost-effective distribution strategies.
A lot has been written about virality, so read. Keep in mind however that as a general rule, social products that enjoy a lot of free, organic traffic, are also the hardest ones to monetise because the user's attention is not focused on your product so much as on other users.
Conversely, you'll find the highest ARPUs with games where you'll need to excel at user acquisition. The shift towards midcore, for instance, is a good example of this paradigm.Five
Address a key vertical and combine this with strong keyword positioning of your app (some call this 'ASO' for 'App Store Optimization').
You will only be addressing search and category rankings traffic. But that can be quite a lot already and usually commands more targeted users, and so better conversion - hence higher monetisation potential.Six
Leverage a strong brand or try to create a new mobile-first one. That's what Angry Birds did, and what a lot of others, such as MinoMonsters, are trying to do.
You can even combine the two for an even stronger effect. Think Disney + Temple Run = Temple Run: Brave.
You're not a big studio or you don't own the rights of a famous brand? Here's an idea. Take two popular titles – say Lords & Knights and Fruit Ninja – and combine their names to form Lords & Ninjas. Licencing status: hacked!Seven
You can also take a portfolio approach by releasing dozens – sometime hundreds – of games. It's a strategy that's been adopted by tiny indies and mobile giants alike, and it has a lot of benefits, such as eased cross-promotion.
Speaking of cross-promotion, you should look at leveraging this heavy trend among developers: by trading traffic you'll be able to grow your user base at little to no cost. Using a platform such as Chartboost to strike direct deals with other developers is pretty effective.Eight
If none of the above works for you, I'm sorry to report that using an icon with a kitten works less effectively than it did in the past.Nine
When it comes to monetisation you'll probably want to take a multifaceted approach combining advertising and transactionals. Most of the freemium developers whose core strategy you think would be in-app purchases also push displayed ads to some of their users.
If you've already achieved the Whales-Dolphins-Minnows cluster analysis of your audience and are able to target them, then why not serve low-to-no in-app revenue users with ads?Ten
After having painfully figured out how to acquire users, keep in mind that the app retention continuum is a real bitch too.
Become a master at push notifications and integrate them within your product without being spammy. Used wisely, they are like a newsletter on steroids without the costs of shipping.
Find ways of hooking users the second they open your app. Keep your app homepage free of unnecessary obstacles: tutorials, sign-ups, Facebook connect.
Take your users straight to the content and please them right off the door. One of the keys to retention is a good product-market fit combined with a high percentage of activated users.Eleven
Emphasise re-activation. It should be as important as user acquisition.
This could take the form of dragging back activated users into your game with a targeted push notification (Smartphone: "Your puppy is about to DIE!!!") or simply reminding a user that they have your app installed.Twelve
Leverage new product launches and gifting periods of the year. You'll see massive moments of growth and the chance to market your product to 'new generations' of customers.
Prepare months ahead to have a strategy in place when these rare moments do unfold. Don't hesitate to 'seasonalise' your product: it's a good option for refreshing your product and for capturing event-related traction (think Clash of Clans with a Christmas theme).Thirteen
And sometimes, you'll just have to go big or go home. Two weeks ago, for the launch of 4 Pics 1 Words, German app developer LOTUM invested in a non-incentivised, one-time-burst campaign targeted at the US and European markets. (Disclosure: LOTUM is an app partner of AppGratis).
In less than a day, the app had reached the Top 1 position in the US, UK, and FR charts and is now a Top 10 grossing app in all countries.And remember…
And when you eventually realise how hard this market is, remember that you know nothing and that I know even less than you do.
So stay creative and explore every opportunity you see fit, run experiments and talk to fellow developers. The best mobile marketing practices are yet to be invented.For more information on AppGratis, take a look at the company's website, or you can follow Simon on Twitter. You can see our recent video interview with Simon at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona below.