pyehouse
9Dec/110

Building Buzz for your iOS App

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.

4Oct/110

iPhone 4S – Did You Expect a 5?

Shiny glass like image of an appleThe Wall Street Journal, and others, seem to be bummed that Apple announced the iPhone 4S without the expected hoverboard and dishwashing upgrades. Apparently, having a faster processer, faster graphics chip, support for both GSM and CDMA on the same device, more capacity, sharper camera, incredible voice control capability, support for faster downloads via HSPA+ along with an extra letter 'S' wasn't enough.

The fact is that for any other device, the hardware bump from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S would represent sufficient advances as to warrant a version bump, no sweat. But because of the expectations which Apple has built up around their devices, it is almost inevitable that they can't keep up with expectations. In the weeks leading up to today's announcement, blogs and news sites trotted out lede after lede baiting users with tantalizing might-be's and possible could-have's. Some were spot on, some missed the mark. Regardless, there was precisely one voice missing from the hype machine. Yep, Apple. Apple made no grand pronouncements other than that it would be about iPhones. There were bits and pieces which we could glean from their activities and from various leaks (perhaps some more astroturfy than others but still) but nothing that set expectations terribly high. Some even surmised that some of the news leaks just prior to today's Apple announcement were intentionally leaked by Apple in order to lower expectations that were running rampant leading up to the iPhone 4S unveiling. And given how many Debbie Downers are disappointed in the hardware bump, I can hardly blame Apple for wanting to set expectations lower.

Jazzed About the iPhone 4S

To be honest, while I'm appreciative of all of the enhancements, it's the GSM/CDMA on a single device on top of availability on Sprint that I'm most jazzed about. Because of the support for both cell protocols, the iPhone is being called a world phone, which is now a fair statement. It now means that I can take my phone to whichever carrier I desire to take it to, without having to worry about the hardware inside which tied it to one set of carriers or another. It adds the element of freedom that has been missing with the iPhone since it was first released. And while I haven't had an opportunity to check for myself, Sprint is known for having lower data and voice plan rates. I don't know if that will translate to lower rates for iPhone users, but if so, that might apply a little additional downward pressure on fees that have only gone up since the iPhone's debut. I wasn't considering myself to be in the market for a phone upgrade but I might take a look at what Sprint will offer and, if it makes sense to do so, make the switch.

Really, there is a lot to love with this upgrade. If you can't find something that at least piques your interest, you aren't trying very hard. It seems strange to hear people complaining that they didn't get the toy they weren't promised in the first place and instead have to settle for the toy that is still clearly better than what they already have. I suppose, though, that it speaks volumes about the popularity of Apple and what people expect from their design team.

19Aug/100

Review of Mobigames’ game: Edge

So as I’ve mentioned, I’m a Macophile. I loves me some Apple goodness. I am also a gadget lover and more than anything I like the notion of digital convergence, having one device that does everything. Some day I hope to have a simple wrist watch looking device with a direct neural link that will provide communication, computing, entertainment and any other digital desires I may want. Ahhhhh...

Um... where was I... oh yeah, Mobigames’ Edge for the iPhone and iPod Touch. First off, as the name implies, it is for the iPhone and iPod Touch. If you don’t have one of these marvelous devices, words don’t do justice to the pity I feel for you. If you follow the link I provided, you will see a gameplay video with some of the in game music. You control a cube that can roll along all cube like, thumpety-thump, as well as climb small walls (taller walls can’t be climbed), cling to surfaces and you have to traverse various maze like structures to complete what is called the Edge Challenge. Along the way there are smaller colored cubes you can collect. You are judged based on how quickly you complete the level, whether you collected all of the colored cubes and how many times you died. You die by falling off of the platforms. At the end of each completion, you are awarded a grade (S, A, B, C, D, in decreasing performance). To unlock the final three levels you have to have completed the first 43 levels and collected all of the colored cubes.

To make things interesting, there are various techniques you have to learn along the way. There are ‘?’ marked tiles which when you rest on them, a ghostly image of your cube self appears and shows you how to get around the difficult part you are at. This is how some of the new techniques are introduced. Later levels assume you can figure out how to apply these techniques to get around such obstacles. In addition, your point of view does not change. You cannot rotate the screen to look at the map from a different perspective nor is there an overall map you can examine in order to figure out which way to go. There is no way to scroll the view elsewhere. You are always locked onto your cube at a specific angle and no way to control the zoom level. As a result, there are visual illusions that the map makers created to trick you and which you must use the minimap in the top left hand corner of the screen to recognize and avoid. Finally, if you are trying to complete the challenge, you have to be imaginative and look for non-obvious points to “jump off the tracks” so to speak, in order to find some of the harder to find colored cubes. Otherwise you won’t ever complete the challenge.

I finally completed the challenge this morning, finishing the final map with more than a few difficulties. The reply value is now in improving my times/grades. While that doesn’t normally hold my interest in a game (once completed, it’s done), I understand it can be a nice draw for many folks to continue to play it. That said, I don’t plan to remove it because honestly it’s still fun to play, the music is cool, and it’s easy to jump into and put down again, great for when you are standing in line or somewhere out and about waiting because you got there too early, that sort of thing.

The downsides... not much. One thing I didn’t like were the controls. You can control the movement of your cube either by using the motion sensor of the iDevice to tilt and thus roll your cube that way, you can use strokes on the device surface, or you can elect to have four virtual buttons overlayed on the screen and use those to move your cube. I found the motion sensor too unwieldy, especially if I happened to be playing at a weird angle (don’t ask). The stroke option required too much effort to make work correctly so in the end I opted for the virtual button overlay. The main drawback there is that it is an overlay on top of the screen. For the most part it wasn’t a problem but every now and again, my thumb would conceal the tile I was on, which meant I wasn’t aware of the type of tile it was. That can be bad.

The other drawback is... it is not currently available. I happened to see a recommendation for the game on a website I frequent, purchased it and have been playing it since. In that time, another company has sued Mobigames over the use of the term ‘Edge’ in the name of their game. And they wanted an obscene percentage of the royalties as compensation. There is a link on the Mobigames website. In any case as a result of the kerfuffle, they have removed the game from the iTunes App Store until such time as the issue is resolved. Which is a pity. It’s an excellent game and one I highly recommend. Just too bad the recommendation is coming so late.