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Surviving the App Store, a review of Amir Rajan's book for indie developers

A Dark Room also got a million downloads in seven days, more than six months after it's initial release. Amir compiled everything he's learned into a 51,000 word book titled Surviving the App Store. This review is for you to see if it's worth your time.

Amir Rajan didn’t expect that leaving his corporate job and going on a sabbatical would lead to developing A Dark Room, a text-based app that became one of Apple's Top 10 apps of 2014. 

A Dark Room was featured in the Huffington Post, the New Yorker, and many top 10 lists. A Dark Room also got a million downloads in seven days, more than six months after it's initial release. Amir is also the developer of A Noble Circle, The Ensign, and Beautiful Go. 

With that level of achievement, it's a huge surprise how much Amir has been giving back to the game development community. Amir has been sharing his developer's journey publicly, revealing his discoveries to help other indie developers get the same level of success.  

He compiled everything he's learned into a 51,000 word book titled Surviving the App Store.  

(You can get the book now at LeanPub: https://leanpub.com/survivingtheappstore

This review is for you to see if Surviving the App Store is worth your time. 


NOTE: I got this book for free when Amir graciously shared it with the /r/gamedev community, while it was still being worked on. After skimming through it, I made a purchase. At the time of this review, the book is at 85% complete!

WHO IS THIS BOOK FOR? 

If you're an indie developer with little-to-no experience, then you're in luck. Amir shares his journey as a newbie launching through the app store - meticulously tracking his sales, experimenting with pricing, and discovering methods to promote his apps.  

If you have some experience launching games, then you're also in luck. Amir goes into detail about the insides of the App store. Also included are interviews with other successful app developers who have had reached #1 in the rankings and have generated a sizeable amount of money from their app. 

WHAT DOES THIS BOOK CONTAIN? 

Surviving the App Store is divided into four parts -- which I've segmented in this article. 

The Developers Mindset 

The first part, Amir shares big-picture ideas about being an indie developer and framing the proper mindset for success. 

Documenting A Dark Room's journey 

The second part contains Amir's journey in launching A Dark Room - from him leaving his job and taking a sabbatical, to how it achieved popularity. He shares his process of marketing without a budget, how he reached out to the press, and how he watched and reacted to sales metrics. It's Amir in his first year as a developer as he tries to figure this whole app business out as a one-person operation.  

While this journey is already publicly available on his website [amirrajan.net/a-dark-room], Amir provides additional value by creating a mini post-mortem to each post. Being a lot farther away from the experience has given Amir additional insight on why he felt particular tactics work, and potential do-over opportunities.  

One big takeaway is how much value he places in replying to feedback. Amir shares the good reviews, as well as the bad- and as how he approached replies with a calm demeanor.  

There's an email exchange with a user who called The Ensign "a crippled mess" and "you've made me regret giving you money." Amir answered with empathy and includes workarounds on the obstacles that user faced. He also shared his dream of aspiring to be a developer as a full-time job, while inviting the user for additional feedback. By the third email exchange, the user replies with: "Well, now that my blood is down a bit, I’m feeling a bit embarrassed." 

This email exchange (which Amir shares in its entirety) is perfect example of how to teach other game developers the best way to turn angry users into super fans.  

Also seeing Amir's thought-process in defusing a situation reveals how genuinely helpful he wants to everyone around him.  

App Store Strategies 

The third part contains Amir's experience developing for the iTunes app store. 

Amir runs through the "Do's and Don'ts" of the App store. He goes into such as the preview video, the app store description, and what Apple looks for in a feature. He also provides information about getting a response from Apple, and what to do when you are featured, along with how to frame it.  

What I like about this section is how Amir likes to add additional details, rather than dish out soundbites.  

When he shares his thoughts on when to release, he breaks down all 52 weeks in a year, and why you should or shouldn't launch in those weeks. (Spoiler - The week of Oct 12th, most apps have their reviews reset because everyone is releasing updates in preparation for the next version of iOS) 

When he reveals how Apple ranks games, he provides how many downloads you need per day, to stay in the top rankings, in each territory.  

Amir also shares an added bit about Making your Apps accessible to the blind. When he received a message from the blind community about not being able to play A Dark Room, he immediately went to work and added those features in the next update.  

From a marketing standpoint, this strategy is tapping into a niche community and providing something of value to them.  

But the quote in the book (from one of Amir's friends) reveals Amir's intentions:  


"Their happiness is more important to me than the happiness of 1,000 spoiled nerds with $2. It matters." 

Interviews with Other Successful Indie Developers

The final part of the book are developer interviews. These developers have also released apps that have climbed high into the ranking charts, and made significant revenue from their work. 

Amir interviews Doug Cowley (Hoplite), Gerard Kelly (Hipster CEO), Ryan Cash (Alto's Adventure), Jurgen Richter-Gebert (iOrnament), Sam Barlow (Her Story), Whitaker Trebella (Piloteer), Philipp Stollenmayer (Sometimes You Die, Okay?), and Yacine Salmi (Ellipsis).  

The questions Amir asks range from the technology behind their app, the happiness/saddest moments of being a developer, the programming and development side and why they made specific decisions.  

The part I enjoyed most was how each interview had a major takeaway.  

Gerard Kelly shared how he got Hipster CEO featured on Buzzfeed and other news outlets before he had written a line of code. Jurgen Richter-Gebert, at age 52, made an app that grossed around $50k and shared how he had a fix a major bug while in a place with non-existent internet. Phillipp Stollenmayer shared that he learned to code directly from Youtube videos (which didn't stop his app from hitting #1). 

 

CONCLUSION 

If you've gotten a lot of takeaways from this article - you're only scratching the surface.  

Surviving the App Store is a must read for any indie developer - if you're just starting out or if you're already far along. Amir is transparent (both from an emotional side of developing games, as well as his discoveries with selling his apps), and backs up every piece of advice with evidence.  

Surviving the App Store can be purchased on a sliding scale (minimum of $5).  

You can get the book now at LeanPub: https://leanpub.com/survivingtheappstore 

If you like this article, then share this article with a friend, or buy them "Surviving the App Store" as a gift. They'll thank you for it.  

 


Rocky (@Rockykev) is passionate about helping indie developers succeed through social media marketing, content marketing, and audience building. If you want to make an income by making good art, join the community he founded, Serious Game Devs Only - where you can download marketing resources for your next launch.

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