Same Tactics, Different Game: How Indie Developers Can Embrace Technology to Gain App Store Glory

With 2 million apps on the App Store today, and this number projected to grow to 5 million by 2020, competition is stiff. WildFire CEO Ken Johnson explores how indie developers can leverage tech to get ahead in today's marketplace.

You know the old saying, if you build it, they will come? If only it were so easy for mobile game developers. With 2 million apps on the App Store today, and this number projected to grow to 5 million by 2020, competition is stiff. And it’s no surprise why so many indie developers look to the App Store as mobile Mecca: over $70 billion will be spent on mobile games in 2018 alone, and a high ranking from Apple can help secure a piece of this profitable pie.


Problem is, making it into the App Store (or Google Play Store) is only half the battle. Today’s gamer has a short attention span, and most games aren’t made to be played indefinitely. It can cost just over $11 to bring on a new user, making it crucial for developers to build a loyal and sustained current user base and identify new, more affordable ways to entice new players. Doing so can be daunting for even the largest and most successful of developers with significant marketing budgets, but it’s exponentially harder for up-and-coming developers.


For indie developers - like many of you readers - challenges can range from a lack of funding and outside support to an absence of sophisticated development tools and resources. And while there is no silver bullet to tackling all of these challenges, there are viable solutions to tackling many of these problems. Just not necessarily the traditional ones.


I’m sure you’re familiar. To generate visibility, encourage downloads and build a user base of engaged and loyal players, marketing advice often tells the same old story: Write a press release! Produce a trailer! Take high-quality screenshots! Optimize your landing page! And while these suggestions aren’t necessarily wrong, relying solely on these standard industry practices will leave you fighting for  visibility in channels just as convoluted as any app store.


Instead, I’d like to offer advice that may sound counterintuitive: to break through the clutter, forego traditional marketing and advertising methods and instead, embrace technology. There are new, innovative and out-of-the-box solutions that can enable developers of any size to gain a foothold in today’s crowded market.


Make Friends and Join App Networks


While building and growing a user base is a crucial, initial step, it’s important for developers to think beyond their primary and secondary user base. Targeting users who haven’t heard of the game isn’t easy, and for indie developers, the thought isn’t just daunting - it’s expensive.


Traditionally, to reach an entirely new group of potential users, developers rely on costly advertising or marketing campaigns - like in-game or pay-per-click online ads. Problem is, in-game ads can often feel like a distraction from gameplay, and pay-per-click online ads don’t guarantee downloads. I encourage indie developers to avoid going all-in on these tactics, and instead, embrace the power of a developer community or app network.


Premium app developers have the option to join Aprofita, which recently launched to incentivize users to download by reducing the fee to download - allowing developers to reach new audiences of discount, or “outlet,” shoppers.   


The Gift That Keeps on Giving: Word of Mouth


Word of mouth is defined as the oral or written transfer of information between people or groups, and it’s also the first - and most powerful - form of marketing ever recorded. What makes word of mouth so powerful is that it is inherently not traditional marketing or advertising, and people will always trust the opinion of their friends and family over a TV ad or billboard. The best part? Word of mouth doesn’t cost a cent.


I’ve learned the power of word of mouth first hand. Back in the 80s, I was inspired by the success of Uno and set out to create a similar card game. After a few days hunkered down in my apartment, I came up with Phase 10. With no formal marketing budget or strategy, I encouraged my friends and family to share what they loved most about the game with their own friends and family. Interest grew. A few short years later, I licensed the manufacturing and distribution rights to the game and today, Phase 10 is produced by Mattel and sold in over 30 countries.


Social media is an obvious 21st century version of word of mouth, but again, indie developers will find themselves jostling their way through a just-as-crowded market. Instead, developers should look for app networks that have their roots in word of mouth and encourage players to embrace social media-style sharing.


This was my inspiration behind WildFire: a user growth platform and referral network that helps apps spread like wildfire. Through WildFire’s cross-app virtual currency, WildFire Coins, users are incentivized to leverage word of mouth, refer friends, and reap the rewards.


Megacool offers a similar model, which enables developers to encourage current players to refer friends to a game via rewarded referrals. These players receive a small incentive for recommending the game ot others - whether through an in-game currency, special characters or items within the game that can only be unlocked once a referral target has been met.


Whatever platform you choose, leveraging word of mouth-driven referrals are one of the most effective ways to elevate a game from its initial, core users to a larger group.


Get Smart About Player Feedback


It’s true: one bad apple can spoil the bunch, and one bad review can send a game tumbling from the top of app store charts to the bottom of the barrel quicker than you can say Candy Crush. And while I’ve spoke to the positive aspects of word of mouth marketing, the flip side is that negative word of mouth - via reviews or ratings - can have just as big of an effect.


Positive reviews from happy users are integral to a game’s lasting success. Beyond offering a new, different and awesome gameplay experience (which I trust is first on your list), indie developers must be vigilant when it comes to addressing negative feedback and adjusting course when necessary. Listening to your users and finding out what went wrong costs nothing but time, though the rewards are monumental. Work to build these relationships, with the goal of turning skeptics into your biggest fans. It might not always happen, but showing these users that they’ve been heard can make all the difference.


There are a handful of tools that can help streamline this process. Apptentive is the most notable, given its suite offerings including in-app messaging, native surveys, customer feedback and ratings support to better understand customers by understanding their behavior and expectations. What developers love about Apptentive is that the solution is scalable, offering tiered levels of support for devs at any stage of the process.


While there’s no one-size-fits all approach to total app store domination, one strategy is clear for indie developers: don’t get lost in the mass-marketing shuffle. Instead, embracing out-of-the-box solutions can help developers of all sizes break through the clutter and build a loyal, engaged and growing user base. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. See you on the top 10 list.

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