Game and App Marketing

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I remember the first time that I completed my first mobile game, I had versions ready for Android, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry and Bada. I was sat there thinking now what? Do I just dump this lot onto the app store and see how it goes? Which is exactly what I did. Yes, I got a few downloads here and there but nothing that I could evenly remotely live on and I certainly didn’t make the money back that it cost me to make the game for well over a year (a few thousand dollars). I began to ask questions about what I did wrong and the more I researched the more I found out that I had probably got just about everything wrong that I could possibly get wrong.

Marketing begins before the marketing

Marketing begins with the moment you think up that first game or app name and then begin building your product. Here are a things to look out for:

  • App title – My first game title was unmemorable, but sounded cool to me at the time. I didn’t take into account what the end user would be looking for when I chose it. try to choose a catchy title that could turn up in search results. For example if your game features candies then include candy in the title. Also try giving the title to a few friends and ask them what pictures it brings to mind, is it anything remotely like what your app portrays?
  • App Icon – My first app icon was pretty dull and boring. The app icon is likely to be the very first element of your app or game that the user is going to see. if it doesn’t stand out from the crowd then it will most likely get overlooked. If you have text in your icon then ensure that its readable at a small size, but don’t make your entire icon text. Check out other developers app icons to see what you can get away with
  • Description – My first game description was written like an unimaginative 80’s ZX spectrum back box description, it was short, dull and boring and said nothing that would stand out as OMG that’s a great feature. Try to include as much relevant information as possible about your app to help users find it (see keywords below). Also, try to summarise the best 1-2 features about your app right at the beginning of your description as many app users are busy (like me) would not read much further than that
  • Keywords – When users are searching for apps they will use phrases such as “shootem up”, “app for doing accounts”, “kids animal game” etc.. If you want your app to be found then you need to add keywords that you think the user will be looking for, I don’t mean spam keywords of some of the popular apps on top of the app store such as “candy crush” or “angry birds”. For example, if you have written an epic fantasy adventure game that features orcs, elves and cute sheep then include those keywords, maybe write a little about their function in the game.
  • Screen shots – Screen shots are probably the 3rd most important part of your app (behind app icon and keyword optimised description). Usually app users will go straight from app icon to screen shots, if they like what they see then they will probably read some of your description. Its best to have at least 3 shots that show off the best parts of your game. I’ve seen many developers add text and other overlays to their shots to spruce them up a bit and to convey more about what’s going on in the game or to bring out its features. I’m personally not keen on that approach as I tend to overlook games with added overlays, but it has been proven as an approach for getting the user to see more information about your app. The important thing to get right about screen shots is resolution and scaling. Do not take a single shot for one screen resolution (lets say 640 x 960) and then scale them to the other resolutions, it looks awful as it changes the aspect ratio of the images. Also, don’t scale shots upwards ever, that just makes shots look pixelated or blurred and unprofessional.
  • Make a good product – This should go without saying. Its pointless creating the best art work in the world and putting it into a game that is glitchy or just plain crashes. Remember that the user has the power of review and a few 1 star ratings because your app has a glitch can kill your product early in its life time. Conversely (I have been guilty of this many many times), do not spend months developing the best game engine and game then put awful art work and terrible music into it. What is the point? Why waste all that effort?
  • Test test and then get someone else to test – As mentioned previously, releasing a glitchy app to users will in many cases force the user to give you a bad review. Make sure that you test your app on the target platform before releasing it. If the target platform has multiple devices then test on as many as you can to make sure that there aren’t any major issues. When you are finally happy with it, ask others to test your app. This could be via a beta and / or ask family and friends to take a look and provide you with valuable feedback (make sure they are honest :))
  • Don’t trick or mess with the the user – The user has taken the time or even spent the money to interact with your app. If you are offering a free app that is ad supported then don’t trick them into clicking ads by mistake, or if you are offering a paid app then do not put ads in it or high priced in-app purchases. But most of all,  do not mislead your users in your app description or in-game by promising things that the app or your business does not deliver
  • Ratings – Encourage the user to rate your app, but not too early. Display a rate my app button to the user that takes them to the app store to leave a review of your app. Do not display the button until they have played a few games or you may end up with more ratings from users that did not like your app on the first few tries

The ever elusive users

Once you begin marketing your games and apps it will become apparent that the process of finding users or more to the point users finding you amongst the see of millions of apps is a daunting and difficult task. The matter is made worse by how the app stores themselves work. An apps visibility on the app store is determined by how popular the app is, the more popular the app the higher up the charts it will reach and the more people will see it. Your app / games chart position is even taken into account when users search for your apps. There are a number of ways that you can let users know that your app exists:

  • Press release – Whilst not half as useful as it once was the press release is a good way to let review and gaming web sites know that you are there. The main problem with a PR these days is that app reviewers are so busy looking at the thousands of apps that they are sent weekly by developers that they get little time to look over PR’s from any but the big names. The best thing about a PR however is that you can post a PR free / relatively cheaply
  • Social media and forums – Join groups / pages / forums where app users and gamers hang out. Post details of your app along with screen shots and possibly a few promo codes. Encourage users to leave feedback and update the thread with new changes you make to the app to increase its visibility. Get a Facebook fan page and Twitter account, Reddit account and others. Encourage users to join and encourage them to leave feedback, ask for features etc..
  • Build a user base – Once you have a customer, why not try to keep them? You can begin building your user base by creating a Facebook page for your company and encourage users to like your page, you can use in-app incentives to encourage users to like your page. When you release updates and new products you can post them on your page and users will see the post in their timeline
  • Friends and family – Your friends and family can be the start of a valuable network, especially on social media for letting others know about your apps release. Personally call or message each member and ask them to share a post / tweet on Facebook / Twitter and any other social media platform that you may share. When creating the post remember to use appropriate hash tags. Encourage friends and family that really like your game to comment on your threads on forums, this will bump your thread back to the top and increase exposure
  • Contact on-line magazines, review sites and blogs – Whilst many developers will undoubtedly be doing the same thing and getting a reply may prove difficult, if you can get a reviewer / blogger interested in your app then it could provide some good exposure. A big list of review web sites can be found here
  • Regular updates – Many of the app stores have an updated apps section, which kind of (I say kind of because it appears to me that they don’t change as often as one would expect) show the apps that were most recently updated. Releasing an update is still more useful because it can encourage users that still have the game installed to update and play again. It’s also useful to let your users know that you care enough about your product to maintain it
  • Videos – Upload preview and game play videos to YouTube and other video services, remembering to use a good collection of keywords and description that can help users come across your app.  Don’t forget to include links to the app store and or your Facebook page / web site. Sending a video to a review web site may also increase the chances of you getting a review. Its a Lot more fun watching a video that reading a wall of text
  • Run a competition – People like to win stuff, plain and simple. Also, on-line magazines and review sites love to run competitions and give stuff away for free. Running a competition can get you a foot in the door and help you stand out from the thousands of weekly submissions that they receive. You could give anything away from promotional codes to get free copies of your app to Amazon vouches. You may even get a review out of it.
  • Give away free wallpapers that relate to the app from your web site / social media channels
  • Free / cut price promotions – Some app stores such as Apple’s App Store allow you to temporarily change the price of your app. I’ve seen some great results by dropping my apps price to free for a couple of days, I usually see a spike of sales for a few days after the app returns back to its normal price. The only problem with this is that you may end up with users that wouldn’t ordinarily like your app downloading and using it, just because its free and if they didn’t like it then they may give you a bad review
  • Good old fashioned leaflets – Print out leaflets and hand them around friends and family, post them in shops, restaurants, ask for the support of your local community
  • Write blogs – If you have an app that relates to a particular subject, lets say you have written a football simulation game. You could write guest blogs for well known sports sites that cover the ins and outs of your game.
  • More stores – Some platforms support multiple app stores such as Android. One of the best things I like about Android is that there are so many places to sell your wares. With each extra store you submit to you have that extra chance of exposure
  • Create a web / desktop version of your game that heavily advertisers the mobile version
  • Paid advertising – Paid advertising has one major disadvantage, you only get as much advertising and as good quality advertising as you pay for. To get into the app charts can cost many thousands of dollars. but, if your game / app is good enough to stay up in the charts then its probably well worth the money
  • Paid reviews – Whilst much cheaper than traditional advertising this area of advertising is a bit of a minefield. If a reviewer wants paying to review your app then it is very unlikely that they will be unbiased and this will be obvious to the reviewers readership. However, looking at expedited review options instead may get you an honest review that the readers respect
  • Get a publisher – Yes we are all small fry and the chances of us having a hit is very small, that’s just the economics of the app stores. If you have something promising then you could pitch your app to a large game / app publisher and ask if they are interested in publishing it for you. Yes, the publisher will insist on a huge portion of the revenue and will probably have you in-app purchase the entire thing up to the eye balls, but 20% of something (if you are lucky) is much better than 100% of nothing. Just be careful what you sign away! For a list of mobile game publishers see here

Marketing materials

There’s nothing worse than getting half way through your marketing campaign to find that you just haven’t got everything you need. You have to drop what you are doing, start creating or buying in new bespoke art work at various sizes, producing videos, building web sites, writing blogs etc.. The last thing you need when marketing apps who’s performance is measured daily is a pause in marketing. Its best to get everything prepared up front, this is one area where you can never have more than enough. I’ve listed a bunch of things that you would look to have as minimum:

  • A 10-15 word description that really sums up the best of your app
  • A longer 50+ word description that really drills down into your apps features, you can re-use much of this for your PR and forum posts
  • A forum version of your your long description to work with common forums, including links and screen shots
  • 5+ keywords that can help users find your app
  • A Facebook / Twitter / Youtube / Google+ accounts and other relevant accounts (reddit, stumbleupon etc..)
  • Email list containing the email addresses of all the reviewers / bloggers / relevant magazines / news  sites that you can find that may be interested in your app. If you want to get personal then maybe phone numbers too
  • Forum accounts
  • A two minute video showing a user playing your game, maybe add overlays that explain what’s going on. This is useful for app stores that allow you to post a video of your app such as Google Play
  • 3-5 great screen shots at various resolutions, here are a few examples:
    • Android – Any size between 320 and 3840 pixels
    • iOS – 640 x 960 or 960 x 640, 768 x 1024 or 1024 x 768, 640 x 1136 or 1136 x 640 pixels
    • BlackBerry – Any size between 2560 x 2560 pixels
    • Windows Phone 8 – 480 x 800 or 800 x 480, 768 x 1280 or 1280 x 768, 720 x 1280 or 1280 x 720 pixels
  • An app icon at 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution (You can create different sized versions of your icon easily from a super high-res icon). For example, Blackberry requires a 480 x 480 pixel icon, whilst Windows Phone 8 requires a 385 x 358 pixels (Windows Phone 8 also supports a wide app icon of 385 x 173 pixels)
  • Promotional images, here are a few examples:
    • Android – Featured image 1024 x 500 pixels and 180 x 120 pixels
    • BlackBerry – Featured image 1920 x 1186 pixels
    • Windows Phone 8 – Promotional background 1000 x 800 pixels
  • PR header – A wide banner at least 1024 pixels wide and as high as you need, this will act as an header image for your press release. This can also be re-used for things like your web site / Facebook page etc..

An important thing to note up front about art work is to ensure that its created in SVG format, this allows you to export different sizes without losing clarity as well as re-arrange elements to fit different aspect ratios.