I recently received the following email:

Hi Lynn,

I hope you are doing well and that this holiday season isn’t keeping you too busy.

The reason for my e-mail is because I have a friend from College who just finished an iOS game and is looking to get some press for it. I wanted to know if there are any tips that you could share with him to help his game out there. If you could help him get in contact with any iOS websites, I’m sure he would be very grateful too.

What I responded with is more or less what I wish I had done with Centripetal and would do if I had it all to do over again. To begin with, this is premised on the notion that you are a small time developer, have virtually no reputation beyond your circle of friends and are planning to release your app with the hopes of making some money on it.

What I found is that timing is very important. When an app is first released on the app store, it will show up on lists all over the web. Ask anyone who has released a small app with little exposure what their sales looked like and they will tell you sales were highest within the first 24-48 hours of app store availability. So if you do absolutely nothing else, you will see a bump in sales and therefore in eyes on your app during that period. You want to make the most of that.

My suggestion then is to try to focus on driving your marketing and buzz building on that moment when your app first arrives on the app store. Granted, I haven’t tested this since as I said this is what I would like to have done, but work with me here. :)

Let’s assume for now that your app is not now nor has it ever been available for sale on the app store. You can make it available for review when it is done, but put the release date out into the future. This won’t affect the review cycle but will keep it from being up for sale immediately after approval. Once it is approved, you can push the release date back to a current date and have control over the actual release time within a 24-48 hour window.

Next, start building buzz NOW! Don’t wait for the game to be complete. Got a blog? Blog about your game. Hint at what features you’re going to have. Hold a poll about which feature to include or how to implement it. Get feedback. Drum up interest. Have people anticipating the game’s release. The more people get your game and at this state, the idea of the game, put in front of them the more likely they are to mention it to friends or at least share the link.

Can you create a gameplay or app usage video? If your app can be simulated on your Mac without any loss of features, then use something like Screenflick to record on your Mac. If that isn’t an option, you can use a separate recording device to view a physical handheld in action. Of course that’s not going to look as good, but what can you do? The point is, you want folks to see what the game is like. During development you can release videos of beta builds if you think they will be enticing. As you approach release you can snazz it up with music and such. For actual release, you definitely want to have a high quality app video available for your users to see.

You also want to have a webpage or website devoted to your app. It should make people want your game. To do this, list things people will look for in an app like yours. If it’s a game, tell them how fun it will be, how many levels it has, what groundbreaking new playstyle it involves. And link to the reviews for you app.

Ah yes, reviews. I used O.A.T.S. to get a list of sites that do reviews without accepting money to create or promote your review. It’s less expensive and more honest. Of course it is possible to get an honest review that you’ve paid for, but there is always the likelihood of a bias. If that doesn’t bother you, you can of course find many sites which are willing to take your money in exchange for a review and a little extra to move yours to the top of the pile. I leave that choice to you.

To get your app into a reviewer’s hands you will either have to release your app and provide promo codes, which all review sites accept but which blows the whole “control your launch date” idea out of the water, or you will need to provide them beta access through something like TestFlightApp. TestFlightApp is free and while it requires some extra fiddling on the part of the reviewer and the developer, it’s pretty easy to use. I imagine a number of review sites would be willing to meet you half way and make use of this. Regardless, no reviewer is going to want to have to pay for your app in order to review it, especially if you are requesting the review. At this point, you have to wait for the review. This could take awhile. Weeks. Perhaps even a month or so. Technically there’s no guarantee (unless you bought it) that you will even get a review. It’s up to you how long you wait.

Once you have a satisfactory number of positive reviews you can link to, set them up on your site and in your iTunes app store description. Make the app available. Once you see it on the app store, make additional announcements about its availability anywhere you can. Ask friends to spread the word. If you’re willing to spend money, you could consider advertising on sites you would expect users of your app to frequent. Advertising options vary greatly across websites. If you wish to do this, contact the webmasters of those sites directly for details.

Now, why all this fuss over timing everything to hit all at once? As I said, you get a free bump when your app is first listed on the store, especially if it is free or $0.99 because there are a number of sites and services that exist solely to scrape the iTunes App Store and list all new apps in those price ranges. It is my belief that if you can build enough buzz such that a large number of people are discussing and playing your app at the same time, it increases the odds that your app will then be mentioned to others, i.e. that it will become a hot item. And that’s what this is about, increasing your odds. As I said to begin with, the premise here is that you are an indie developer with no name, no buzz and nothing to build on. If you already have established credentials, you can build on that and you’ll see more success on average with the same app than if you had nothing to start with.

Of course, that’s not the end of it. You should never consider your app ‘finished’. Always consider things you could do to expand on it, build on it. When you release updates that provide more features or more fun or more playtime to users, it increases the perceived value and provides an opportunity for more buzz. Keep making the announcements, keep interest up.

And if your app is already on the store or if you simply disagree with this notion of opening day timing, then you can of course bust the sequence up. Release sooner, don’t hold back. But the rest of it still makes sense. You still want that app use or gameplay video. You want that website. You want to build interest before you ever release anything. You want the reviews. Of course if the app is already up, you can use promo codes.

Whichever way you go, however you choose to market your app, the important thing is to give the user something they want to use and something they want to share with their friends. There’s no marketing with higher quality than simple word of mouth. Hopefully, you’ll be able to build your own Angry Birds. If you do follow my advice here, particularly if it’s not what you were originally planning to do, I’d appreciate it if you drop me a line and let me know how it goes.