Though I am a coder first, I have many spare cycles in my brain to approach the business side of things, and I knew I didn't want to neglect the marketing and promotion side of the app. A failure to launch is many times cited as a source of frustration of independent developers and I wanted to give my new game a fair shot at success.
We finished up the game the first week of February, and it was submitted on Feb. 15th to Apple. We were hoping to launch the app before GDC since we didn't want to compete with GDC news and events. At this point, I was a bit worried that it would linger in the Apple review pipeline for too long, and I would have to postpone the launch until mid-March. Gladly, the game was approved on Feb 20 and we scheduled the launch for the next Sunday, Feb 26th.
Now that you have a basic timeline, I want to break down our efforts into two segments:
Pre-Approval, the time between App submission and approval.
Pre-Launch, the time between App approval and the release data.
During the Pre-Approval timeframe, which lasted only a week for us, we had two goals: prepare all the needed marketing material, and contact our high-target sites. During this week we created our promo trailer setup our website, started gathering emails for a LaunchRock promotion (more on that below), a few other presentation items.
Over the course of the last few months, I had gathered a large list of sites to contact, and from that list I selected 10 main sites that I wanted to write about us. I wrote a short 'new studio' type email, with links to the trailer, our website, and we offered a sneak peak through Testflight (since we couldn't give out promo codes yet).
One article was written by IndieGameMag.com and a few others expressed interest. Really I was just hoping to set the table to the release announcement, so I wasn't discourage that we had only one hit at this point.
When Apple approved our app, we entered our Pre Launch phase, which was a bunch more work. Even though our release date was 6 days into the future, Promo codes still work once the game has been approved by Apple. So I templates and sent out at least 75 emails to game and app review sites offering promo codes for an early look at the game. I focused the email on the release data, included a few screen shots and links to the app on iTunes and to our trailer. I also offered to a few of the larger sites a sneak peak to our Press Release since the feel of an exclusive might get the wheel turning.
About 30 different sites or writers got back to me with interest, and I distributed 35 promo codes to writers leading up to and right after the launch.
This effort resulted in three decent sites, AppAdvice.com, Gamezebo.com and Appmodo.com, writing Preview articles. All three would then write Release or Review articles in the days following the release of the game. In the 10 days after launch 6 more articles were written about the game, including 148Apps.com and SlideToPlay.com, and two from Board Game specific sites, which is the genre of the game (Board and Strategy categories in the App Store).
So as far as effort, 75 emails resulted in about 30 people asking for promo codes, and about 12 or more articles written about us. We issued over 35 promo codes to writers/sites, and only about 20 of them were ever used. Most of those codes were given to people who expressed direct interest in the game as opposed to the fill out this form and add a promo code type interactions. This effort alone probably totaled to over 2 full days of work on my part.
A word of warning: Don't get excited about 'interest' or even 'commitments' to write, only about actual articles. About half of 'enthusiastic' writers never wrote an article, and two higher profile sites wrote 8-10 days after launch, and one firm 'we will write about you' never happened.
The other main item of effort was the writing and posting of the press release. We posted the release in two different places (PRMac.com and GameRelease.net), scheduled it to go out at 3am EST the day of our release (Press Release text).
We felt the press release was part of our multi-pronged approach. They are a low cost way to spread the word to hundreds of sites and writers at one time and shouldn't be neglected.
Giveaways and Promotions
We ran two free game promotions, one for Twitter Followers and one for Facebook fans. Since this is our first game, we decided to only have studio accounts instead of game specific accounts. This way we can increase the followers and fans for the studio which hopefully will be leveraged for later games and updates.
We decided to give 5 free games to five random Twitter followers, and 5 free games to Facebook fans. For Facebook, all they had to do was Like our Skejo Studios Facebook page. We purchased a couple days worth of targeted ads on Facebook which gathered about 100 likes, and cost under $50.
Not sure exactly what the impact was from these giveaways besides increasing our Fans and Followers a bit, but for the cost of $20 worth of free games, and very little actual time, it felt worth it.
2/15 Submitted app to Apple
2/17-2/19 Contact High Profile sites for Preview or Studio Spotlight
2/20 App Approved
2/21-2/25 Starting email campaign, announced Follower and Fan free giveaway, and posted trailers to Youtube
2/26 Issued Press Releases very early in the morning, then started checking the charts
But the true impact needs to be measured in sales and app position. We moved steadily up the iPad Board and Strategy rankings until on Monday morning we hit the #4 and #5 spots on those boards. Very satisfying. Of course we have since fallen to around 80 or 100 on those charts, but we are releasing a Retina graphics update for the new iPad and will probably do another promotional push after it is approved.
#4 iPad Strategy Game
#5 iPad Board Game
Here is a quick sales chart. The exact legend is removed, but for scale the tail is a shade under 50.
Here are some quick summaries of the efforts we pursued.
LaunchRock: Set up Launching Soon page in minutes. They allow you to setup an email capture form, that is nicely wrapped. Then they help those who have signed up to spread the world virally through email, twitter, Facebook and other social avenues. Works best if you can give early access or other tangible benefits to the people who are referring to your sign up.
Impact: 23 Signups, only 6 referrals, about half were people I knew and would have contacted anyway. A waste of time.
Avenues of improvement: Start the signup earlier. Find a more viral message, or a better award for the top referrers.
PRMac: Most of the multi purpose app review sites repost PRMac.com press releases. You will also get 10-20 emails from paid app review sites asking if you want to pay $50-$125 for 'featured reviews'. All of those were ignored.
Impact: Was sent to 700+ contacts, and viewed 11000+ times according to PRMac. According to Google, over 30 sites have reposted the press release, including 148Apps.com and other large general purpose iOS review sites. About five reviewers approached us for promo codes because of PRMac. I don't think any actually wrote.
GameRelease.net Press Release Service
The GameRelease.net community site has a members only system that allows you to post one press release a month, along with member only forums.
Cost: Either $150 for full membership, or $15 a month for 12 months. One Press Release per month included.
Impact: Press Released uploaded to GamePress.com, which resulted in reposting by Gamasutra.com. Not sure exactly beyond that.
Development Diaries: I posted about 12 development diaries along the 17 weeks of development. All were later cross posted to Gamasutra where a few of them were Featured.
Cost: Lots of time writing
Impact: Hard to know, if any. I pointed to the dev posts in the review solicitations, but don't know if that had any impact on reviews being written. At least provided some back history to both the project and the new studio.
Forums: No outreach was done at all in any forums. I did check some major sites after launch and replied to a few threads that popped up, but I it was only reactionary on my part.
Impact: Hard to measure, gives the perception of engagement.
Promoter is a great service that scours over 1000 gaming websites for mentions and reviews of your game (load it with a few specific keywords to look for like your studio name or game title). An example, the public reviews for Operation: Eradicate.
Cost: Free for one app, 12 Euros a month, or 99 a year.
AppFigures.com, used for tracking apps sales. Breaks down country sales.
This wraps up a wandering guide into our marketing efforts. After a few more weeks of sales and pricing adjustments, I will write about how 'successful' the game has been for us, both in regards to the raw sales numbers, and from the studio perspective of laying a foundation for future success.
So far, it looks solidly in the middle of my expectations, have already passed the cash expenditures break even point, and is forecasted to probably hit the 'time and effort' break even point. If our first game out the gate breaks even, I will be happy, and we have plenty of new stuff brewing that I hope has much more potential.