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Can a new game still succeed with only organic growth on the app stores? - Gideros Forum

Can a new game still succeed with only organic growth on the app stores?

Fellow game developers,

I’m concerned that the changes to the app stores over the last couple of years have dramatically reduced the chances for indie developers to succeed with new games, or at least eliminated what used to be the easiest, and most straightforward path to success.

A little over two years ago I wrote a reply to the post “How do you promote Gideros games, for iOS and Android?” http://forum.giderosmobile.com/discussion/6314/how-do-you-promote-gideros-games-for-ios-and-android#latest

The short version of my answer was that people would find your game on the new apps listings. Under each category of app or game you’d see a “new” tab that showed all the new releases from the past 30 days. Every app had that window of opportunity to be discovered. If you had a good app that people really liked, it would steadily gain in downloads during its first month, rising higher among the new releases, making it get more downloads, etc., and it would start to earn a ranking in the category it fits into, where it could continue to climb when it’s no longer considered new. So release a good game, and do what you can to get it some downloads and reviews in the first few days to start that process. From there, an app could rise in visibility and succeed on its merits.

Shorter yet: If you publish a new game, and people love it, organic growth could make it a success.

Is that still true?

I no longer see a list of all recent releases in any category on either Google Play or the Apple App Store. Amazon’s app store still has a quick way to see all the new releases, but the two bigger stores don’t. There are short lists of new releases that editors have picked to feature, but getting on those lists isn’t something a developer can control. Having a really good app is a good start, but only a handful will be featured, so you can hardly count on getting featured.

Without a list of new releases that people can browse, what’s left are lists of popular apps. Your app won’t be on those lists unless it’s getting a lot of downloads, and you won’t get a lot of downloads unless you’re on those lists. Catch 22. The new-releases lists used to be the path a good app could take to earning a position on the other lists, and it could continue to grow organically from there. To be on that list your app didn't have to have a bunch of downloads, or be selected by the editors of the store, be advertised, or even have good ratings. It just had to be new. It was probably never the most popular place for people to browse for apps, but at least some people did. If you released an app, you could expect at least a few people to find it that way. If they liked it, then each day the app might inch up in the rankings of the new releases, and more people would discover it. The merits of the app itself could carry it up into the listings or search results for its category.

The only place I see now on Google Play where a new app can be expected to appear, at least briefly, is the “trending” list. Any new app will go from zero downloads to at least a few when the publisher encourages friends and family to install it. Zero to a positive number is certainly trending upward, so it’s likely to show up there at least for a while. But even if your new app is there, it’s mixed in with leading apps that are having surges. More troubling, that list is much harder to get to that the old “new releases” lists used to be, and doesn’t seem to get many views at all. To see a full list of trending word games on Google Play, you tap games, categories, scroll down, tap word, scroll down through several lists of apps chosen by editors, tap “trending”, scroll past the top few, and tap “see all”. Not many people are going to do that.

I just watched my new word game pop up at #13 among trending games in its category after a few days of upward growth, driven by social media posts and an email campaign to around 50,000 people who had registered my other games. All the signs were as positive as one could hope for. The reviews for the new game were glowing and the ratings were all 5 stars. People were, and are, playing it a lot. For a week the game jumped around in the trending list. But then the initial surge of downloads slowed, and the app dropped off the list of trending games entirely. That game is now impossible to find unless you search for it by name. Every store listing visit and download that app earned came from external promotions, using the direct link to the app in the store. Being on the “trending” list for a week didn’t yield a single visit to the app’s store listing, let alone any downloads, so that list hardly gives a new game the exposure that the new releases lists used to.

Some developers complain about the 30% of revenue the major app stores take from every sale. I never minded that, because what I was getting for that 30% was a market where all I needed was a really good app to succeed. Before mobile games took off, I might spend 30% on advertising for a PC game, and I got a decent return on that investment. On the mobile app stores, I never paid for advertising because the stores gave a good app a real chance to succeed just by being really good.

There’s always advertising. Spending thousands on ads can definitely bring in some downloads. In most cases the cost per user acquired is so high these days that it’s unlikely most apps can ever recoup the costs from those users. In that case advertising is only cost effective if the downloads it generates are enough to put the app in a position where organic growth can take over.

And of course one can also generate downloads with press releases, social media campaigns, email campaigns, etc., but those are temporary sources of downloads. Like paid advertising, those may be solutions, but only if they move the app up into a position where organic growth can happen. Those were always ways to boost the growth of an app, but organic growth alone used to be a possible path to success.

Without a path for new games to acquire users organically on the biggest app stores, I think the prospects for all indie developers are slim compared to what they were. There are still paths to success, but the one that relied on the merits of the game itself appears to be gone.

Do you have the same concerns about the loss of a path to success through organic growth? Or do you still see purely organic ways for news games to succeed? Have you found any cost-effective ways to get a new app in a position where organic growth is possible? Have you tried any of third party app stores? Are there new paths to success opening up to take the place of a path that seems to have closed?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Paul




Likes: antix

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Comments

  • olegoleg Member
    edited May 17
    many developers, every month uploaded the old games as new to be in the novelties

    so stores have removed this opportunity
    I do not understand English
    I am writing with the help of a google translator

    my blog: https://simartinfo.blogspot.com
    my games:
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=AndroidMobileGame+(indie)
    Слава Україні
  • antixantix Member
    edited May 17
    Nice write-up there @PaulH :)

    I've reached a point with Gideros where my game class library is advanced enough that I can rapidly prototype an idea in a day or two and then if I really push myself, release a game in a couple of weeks. This was one of my early long term goals and I'm glad I succeeded.

    My other long term goal was to make a living from making games. This goal however has not been met because of the way the app stores are structured nowdays (and of course my games aren't the coolest ones out there by any means).

    There are just so many games being released every day that my games are just another drop in an ever expanding ocean of games. The games that get featured the most are like @oleg eluded to.. big companies just making some update to an already popular product so that no other games really get a chance to be in that list. This has caused me to become rather dis-interested in programming games for a while now, hence I haven't released anything in many months.

    One majorly annoying thing that happened recently was where google (bah phooey) decided to depreciate some API's and therefore required re-uploading of some of my games. Due to another policy change those games then had to use at least some high version of the Android SDK and so on which meant that my games then worked only on about 15% of the devices they originally did. Way to go google!

    I have now come to the realization (personally) that my pipe dream of ever making money from creating games was just that.. a pipe dream. I've been blessed in that I have been able to take three or so years off work to pursue my dream but sadly it has not panned out. Now I've undertaken study to get a bit of paper that says I am competent enough to program boring database front ends for business and in a year or two I'll re enter the workforce (become a slave again) so I can make money to continue eating and so forth.

    I do have a couple of ideas and prototypes that I want to make into actual products so I'll eventually finish and publish those but I doubt I'll ever be really involved with Gideros again. I also have a couple of ideas for non game applications but alas.. Gideros is really not suited for that purpose so I'll probably just endup learning how to make an app from start to end in Android Studio for those.

    I do feel strongly that it is possible to be successful with organic downloads so don't give up if you have a dream.. your's might become a reality :)
  • keszeghkeszegh Member
    well, what i also do find strange is that even though 'memory game' is in the title of my game (i added it after some time), if you search for 'memory game' in the play store, and scroll to the bottom of the list, you will never find my game. this way even people interested in this particular genre have no chance to encounter my game without advertisment. so i wonder how else would they find it.
  • olegoleg Member
    edited May 17
    I use the rating analysis from:

    https://www.appannie.com/
    if your game goes in the top 500, in any category of games then this tool will show you.

    ratings will be sent to your mail every week


    Likes: antix

    I do not understand English
    I am writing with the help of a google translator

    my blog: https://simartinfo.blogspot.com
    my games:
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=AndroidMobileGame+(indie)
    Слава Україні
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  • PaulHPaulH Member
    There are third party tools where you can see where your app stands, definitely. And app store optimization (ASO) is at least as complicated as standard search engine optimization (SEO.) The app store algorithms for ranking search results are secret, and understandably, and while there are best-practices for app store listings, coming up with the right page still feels more like an art than a science. Happily there are app store listing experiments (A/B tests) you can use to get a little more scientific and improve your results these days, but it's still tricky stuff.

    Even if other sites list your app among the top 500 of the category, it's having new apps show up on the stores themselves where people can find them that's really critical. That used to be pretty easy, and now it seems it may be all but impossible without a big budget.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Antix. It is rather demoralizing to think we've lost the opportunity for the individual or small team to have a shot at a hit.

    The advent of mobile gaming reminded me of the earliest days of PC gaming, or even Commodore gaming in the 80s. Yeah, my age is showing. Anyway, one person or a few could make a game, and if it was good, you never knew how far it could go. Then gaming developed into a bigger industry than the movie industry, and the budgets and teams got massive, and people's expectations went way, way up. With big budget games to compare them to, folks weren't satisfied with just a really fun game. They expected Hollywood level production quality including motion capture, voice acting, level design... Without a budget in the millions and a team of hundreds, you couldn't expect a game to be taken seriously. It seemed, at least for a while, that the mobile game market was mostly immune to that trend, and a place where you had a real chance if you just made a really fun game.

    Lately there's the movement toward supporting the maker culture, indie creators, and artisanal products, that I'd like to believe includes enthusiasm for indie games. Heck, Steam has a lively category for indie games, giving the little guys a market for their work. With the tools getting so much better, a lot of the popular games these days are things a small team could make.

    But that's also part of why the market is so crowded now. Crowded, but seemingly not without room for something new. Even with the mobile app stores so flooded with games these days, it looks the vast, vast majority of them are really obvious copies of one of the top few in their category, or poorly made, or very often, both. Even the icons, especially in the word category I've been delving into, are mostly pathetic copies of one another. I'd sure like to believe something original and well made could rise above the knock-offs. But it's starting to look like even the less contested categories on the app stores are now the exclusive domain of the big studios with deep pockets.

    Oleg's point makes sense - that the app stores dropped the new-release listings because they were abused by people re-releasing the same stuff. If so, it's a pity they couldn't have policed that, suspending publisher accounts or dropping the apps of offenders, rather than eliminating the listings altogether.

    I really don't mean to sound all woe-is-me, but rather woe-for-all-of-us, those who make games, and those who would like to. Yeah, I'm feeling down about what may be the best work I've done in a 27 year career in software falling off the app stores in a matter of days. But overall I've been very fortunate, enough that I've been able to make my living independently developing games for quite some time. I have other apps, including a couple games that are at the top of the search results for their very niche categories, and that hasn't gone away. At worst I have to focus on finding new ways to improve and monetize those games, rather than making new ones, so I'll be fine.

    There used to be a door that a solo mobile game developer could walk through, if they had the skills to make good enough games. On the other side of that door was a career, having a blast creating fun stuff and making a comfortable living in the process. I walked through that door years ago, and I'm still making a living from my games, and very grateful for that. The idea that that door may have mostly closed... that's what really makes me sad for everybody who likes making games.

    I suppose it's just the inevitable change in the market. When it's new, everybody has a shot at earning a fortune. Once it's a mature market, only those who are prepared to spend a fortune have that shot.

    But... Could there be a way to restore an organic path to success? My personal pipe dream at the moment is finding a way to convince the app stores to put back a new-releases list, or create some other listing where a game that's got everything going for it but a massive marketing budget could earn its place. But without being a virtual lottery, where editors pick out a fraction of a percent of the new apps that catch their eye and give them a high profile listing. Sure, whatever system they could come up with, there will be those who try to cheat it, to rig it in their favor, and dealing with that will take effort. But for them to scrap the thing that gave the market some real meritocracy... there has to be a better solution.

    Paul
  • olegoleg Member
    @PaulH
    In Russia, all the studios that created games for pc went bankrupt.
    And now they started making mobile games
    That is, now in Russia, indie games make large studios-in which the staff is 25-50 people ..

    Just wait until most of these studios go bankrupt.
    I do not understand English
    I am writing with the help of a google translator

    my blog: https://simartinfo.blogspot.com
    my games:
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=AndroidMobileGame+(indie)
    Слава Україні
  • Apollo14Apollo14 Member
    edited May 18
    Yo guys! What is that, anonymous pessimists fellowship meeting?

    "A lot of indie developers who became 'Overnight Successes' were working at it for ten years."
    (Dan Adelman)


    > Newcomers roadmap: from where to start learning Gideros
    "What one programmer can do in one month, two programmers can do in two months." - Fred Brooks
    “The more you do coding stuff, the better you get at it.” - Aristotle (322 BC)
  • olegoleg Member
    @Apollo14 а ще більше, розробників, працювали все життя а успіху так і не досягли =), це все лотерея, і успіх залежить не від твоєї працьовитості, а від випадковості..
    I do not understand English
    I am writing with the help of a google translator

    my blog: https://simartinfo.blogspot.com
    my games:
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=AndroidMobileGame+(indie)
    Слава Україні
  • PaulHPaulH Member
    I know it sounds pessimistic, but I do think the path to success has recently become much more difficult. I'm not looking for overnight success. I've been making my living developing games for the last 12 years, and dabbling in games while developing other software for 15 years before that.

    I'm just trying to figure out how to adapt to loss of what had been the best opportunity for a new game to get discovered so it had a chance to grow organically.

    Yes, as Oleg put it, there's a strong element of chance, and it can feel like a lottery. If you start with a good game, there's always the chance of getting featured, or having a game become a viral hit through luck. The loss of a way that an app could succeed based on its merits make it even more like a lottery. The more it becomes like a lottery, the less it's a realistic career path, especially for those who don't already have some successful titles. And that's sad.

    Likes: antix

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  • Apollo14Apollo14 Member
    edited May 19
    @PaulH I've heard what developers from big companies say on conferences about current situation.

    It seems that there're two solutions:
    1) Nowadays game developer must cooperate with publisher (good publisher, not a parasite). I think you've noticed that most of the popular games nowadays come from publishers (Voodoo, etc.).
    2) Main traffic source if you wanna know is facebook. This is the first place where every publisher goes for traffic now. Second is UnityAds. Then everything else.

    If you've made a game with good LTV (life-time value), you will be able to buy lots of traffic, and the cost of it will pay off.
    > Newcomers roadmap: from where to start learning Gideros
    "What one programmer can do in one month, two programmers can do in two months." - Fred Brooks
    “The more you do coding stuff, the better you get at it.” - Aristotle (322 BC)
  • gemboy100gemboy100 Member
    edited May 19
    I believe that it is interest of any app store to offer best packed product that they have. Its just that we came to a point where there are sooo many good games. The competition is huge. And surely there are other things involved like calculating what genre is popular with what audience and all kind of statistics. And then the user reviews to keep it or eliminate it from cmpetition . I see hope in one thing and that is player base growth generaly in gaming industry. It was always about chasing the audience.
    Have anyone watched blizzcon ? The audience were yelling at blizzard when they announced Diablo for mobile platform xD
    How come they expected that all their pc fans jump at mobile game xD
  • olegoleg Member
    edited May 19
    @gemboy100 It is interesting for the store to make money and not to make the best product

    Product quality is a thing subjective, someone likes to play the game, and someone thinks it a crap - and the store can not solve it, the store has to publish everything, and the players themselves decide!

    the problem is that if your game is monetized not through the store, then the store will not know the real rating of your game, because the game's rating is not the number of its installs, the rating of the game is the amount of money earned by the game !.

    The conclusion is that your game was seen in the store-do not increase the number of game installs, and monetize the game so that the store also earned from your game.
    I do not understand English
    I am writing with the help of a google translator

    my blog: https://simartinfo.blogspot.com
    my games:
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=AndroidMobileGame+(indie)
    Слава Україні
  • antixantix Member
    I agree with @oleg, any app store is only about generating revenue.. itch.io may be the notable exception here though. If these stores were about releasing great content then they would filter out a lot of the crap that's floating about in their respective cesspools. They also wouldn't take such a large chunk of a developers profit either.
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