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.