Marketing a free game

Apprentice
Posts: 7
Joined: 2014.08
Post: #1
Hi there.

I am about to release (soft launching it at the moment) a simple free game for the iPhone and I am wondering about good ways to market it.

As far as I can tell it is an uphill battle getting any kind of attention so I am wondering what you guys think is worth doing? I am thinking about:

1. Making a support/marketing website. (I already have a little bit at: http://apelab.com/tilt-out/ but of course I could do more.)
2. Uploading a video to youtube.
3. Making a facebook page.
4. Asking at reviews at places like Touch Arcade.
5. Writing technical blogpost on my experience building it (it is based on OpenGL/Objective-C, most interesting bit is probably its realtime sound synthesizer).
6. Buying reviews at places like fiverr.com.
7. Joining the tor-network and buy my way into the top free downloads chart for a few bitcoins or maybe some mushrooms.

...

?
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Apprentice
Posts: 7
Joined: 2014.08
Post: #2
Hmmm - is this forum dead?
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Moderator
Posts: 3,591
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Post: #3
Heh... yeah, it's been getting pretty quiet around here for the last year or two. It's an old forum and things have changed a lot since iOS exploded in popularity.

Anyway, your list of ideas appears to be pretty good.

It is difficult to get noticed on iOS these days. Getting downloads isn't too hard, but generating any sort of sales is pretty much impossible now. However, I don't have any good data on ad revenue. I have been involved in the release of a few iOS products over the years, so I have some minor sense of what the market is like. As of last week, after receiving some info from a friend about their experience with the market recently, I suspended all of my iOS game development indefinitely, as it appears to have become a dead end. I might do other apps, such as utilities, but I am hesitant there too. Good luck!
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Nibbie
Posts: 1
Joined: 2014.06
Post: #4
Hi chvid,

I recently released my first iPhone game, and I can tell you that with little to no marketing budget it is very hard to get downloads, even with a free game. Our game is called CapClash, and it is a unique photo caption competition.

I've found that places like this can be useful. Post on forums and answer people's questions and they will be very likely to check out your game, as will people who stumble upon your answers in google searches. It is definitely time consuming and usually only amounts to a few new users at most. But if we are persistent and the right people end up finding it, it could spread from there.

I have experimented with a few Fiverr gigs. I didn't really see any impact so far. It seems that a lot of users will offer to post on social media to a lot of followers, but they post so many things that they get lost and a lot of their followers are spammy. I am still going to try a few more, this one looks promising.

For a game like yours, a really good strategy would be to localize your description and any buttons or text in the game for app stores in other languages. It is a lot easier to climb the ranks in a small country than a huge one such as the US. This is something that is unfortunately a lot more work for a game like ours because it involves text and interaction between users, so we would need to separate the server for each language.

Hope some of this helps, and I will definitely be trying out your game.
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Apprentice
Posts: 7
Joined: 2014.08
Post: #5
Hi guys.

Sorry for not replying back; I must have forgotten to subscribe this thread.

I have done some of the things on my list:

1. Made an youtube-video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXQkMX4rmYI
2. Updated the copy on the app store
3. Added full 100 chars of keywords
4. Uploaded an app preview

I am still waiting for my update to be reviewed so I have yet to see the effect.

So far my downloads has been dismal (less than 50 in a month - the game is free). So I share your sentiment, AnotherJake, wrt. IOS games. I have written numerous Java applet games before and I am very sure had I put in similar work in making a free JavaScript-based game, I would have had hundreds (if not more) users pr. day. And it would generate some income from advertisement.

I also find it rather silly uploading 20-30 MB videos to demo a 1.1 MB game.

And making up a bunch of keywords for a game seems dubious too; I mean who searches for "accelerometer game"? I guess some do.

-- Christian
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Moderator
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Post: #6
(Oct 9, 2014 03:06 PM)chvid Wrote:  So far my downloads has been dismal (less than 50 in a month - the game is free).

I'm not surprised about that these days. We did a free promotion a few years ago and were able to get like 14,000 downloads in two days. Hardly any sales came from that though. That's about when iOS gamers figured out they could get lots of stuff for free and never pay a dime if they just kept their eyes open and were patient.

Now though, there are so many free games out there that it's really hard to simply get them to download a free game to try it out. I agree that the 20-30 MB videos of a free 1.1 MB game are silly. The whole system has become silly.

RANT: My personal opinion is that Apple corralled indie game development into Apple's walled garden, so they could kill it. They never allowed demos in the first place, which was opposite to standard practice. The claims I heard were that it was a result of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act from the Enron scandal making it illegal to offer products that didn't deliver full functionality. However, I don't know what the truth is about what Apple's motivation for excluding demos was. We have IAP as a workaround for demos, but that's a sinister ingredient that helped lead to "freemium". There were a whole bunch of other notably unhelpful things that they did to put creative indie game developers at a tremendous disadvantage -- one of the worst of which, to me, is and was the difficulty of app discovery, as you pointed out about the keywords. Apple simply did not care about app discovery. We emailed Steve Jobs directly about a discovery problem one time and lucked out that he understood and helped us out a bit. The underlying system was a failure from the start, and continued to fail in terms of discovery. But basically it all worked out in Apple's favor where they get the best of the best at the top and all the rest are just garbage that have to pay Apple $99 per year for the privilege of making Apple richer. What they've done is create an environment where games are specifically engineered for ad revenue generation, with Apple getting a massive cut, and most of the rest of the successful ones are games that work on the freemium model. All other creative types of games are forced to fail, in competition with hundreds of thousands of other games in the free bin, or $.99 bargain bin. The evil genius of what Apple did was create these artificial "gold rushes" that attract hundreds of thousands of people to make games for iOS and get lucky. It led to the "price race to the bottom" where fewer and fewer people were being fairly rewarded for hard work and honest creativity. This is why iOS game development is a dead end for everyone, except for the few precious ones at the top.
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Apprentice
Posts: 7
Joined: 2014.08
Post: #7
I am using the 30-day free trial of Final Cut pro to make the app previews (since iMovie can't work in the required resolution). So Apple is ok with trials and time-based disabling of functionality when it comes to their own products. Not offering that option for developers I guess is just Apple policy.

What they could have done instead of the video-based app previews was to allow apps to be "played in the cloud"; without asking for passwords and without installing on the device. Simply allowing the user to play with the app for say 10 minutes and then asking if they wanted to buy it and install it permanently.

As for the discovery process; yes it is very broken given that there is now around 1 mio apps. The App Store catalogs only give attention to a tiny subset and keyword based search is not really a good way to find apps which do not necessary have a long meaningful textual description.

The heart of the problem is the App Store monopoly I think.

I have the feeling of joining the party too late; after the gold rush with way too many developers chasing a stagnant market. I fear what is evident in the game market (oversupply of developers, declining interest, customers expecting to pay nothing) will soon be evident in the utilities and overall app programming and also cause the pay offered for ios consulting services to crash.

On a personal note I have set out to finish three games (see http://apelab.com) to learn the platform (one in Objective-C/OpenGL, two in Swift/SpriteKit) and to test out different pricing strategies (free/advertisement, free/iap, pay-for-it), thinking that I could always use the skills that I learned in my Java/JavaScript consulting business.

However I must say that I would be very wary of recommending a client to go outside what you can do with JavaScript even for a pure mobile offering.
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⌘-R in Chief
Posts: 1,277
Joined: 2002.05
Post: #8
Quote:RANT: My personal opinion is that Apple…

Hmm. I agree all those things happened, but I don't know how close to the truth it is to say that Apple did those things intentionally. It seems more likely that the combination of the explosive growth of new games (and apps overall) and Apple being to slow to recognize and try to fix the underlying problems are what led to the market making all of those negative things happening for themselves. I don't think Apple *wants* none of us to make money… It'd serve them better to have people buy hardware *and* software.

I'm interested in knowing more about "We emailed Steve Jobs directly about a discovery problem one time and lucked out that he understood and helped us out a bit."

One of the things I recently thought could help the App Store was curated lists, and funnily enough, Steam apparently added them. (Though I have no idea how they work…)

There are 3 ways of finding things in the App Store: browse basic category lists (impossibly tedious), search (useless except if you're trying to find something specific), or watch the top grossing / downloads lists. The last one is the only simply way to find "good" games, and that lead to the chaos to get onto that list leading to price plummets, fake reviews, freemium etc. Curated lists by third party respected people/institutions that are prominently displayed *in the store itself* could be helpful…
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Moderator
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Post: #9
(Oct 10, 2014 10:42 AM)SethWillits Wrote:  Hmm. I agree all those things happened, but I don't know how close to the truth it is to say that Apple did those things intentionally.

Obviously I was "ranting", so maybe I pushed it too far. Wink

However, it is pretty easy to argue that if they didn't do it intentionally to begin with then they allowed it to continue to happen, presumably for their benefit. Apple clearly had a lot to gain by creating an ad framework to capitalize on all the folks out there making free games... which were forced to be free in the first place because of the crazy market conditions Apple allowed to happen, or intentionally encouraged. In my view, they took advantage of a situation that they, at the very least inadvertently, created, and which harmed thousands of independent game developers. How much Apple is to blame, I really don't know, but I think it's fair to at least raise the issue.

(Oct 10, 2014 10:42 AM)SethWillits Wrote:  One of the things I recently thought could help the App Store was curated lists, and funnily enough, Steam apparently added them. (Though I have no idea how they work…)

There are a whole bunch of different things Apple could do, and could have done all along. Curated lists would be a huge help, but Apple did not and does not appear to care much. Simple as that.

(Oct 10, 2014 10:42 AM)SethWillits Wrote:  I'm interested in knowing more about "We emailed Steve Jobs directly about a discovery problem one time and lucked out that he understood and helped us out a bit."

When the grand opening of the iPad happened in 2010, we (Casey Gatti and myself) scrambled to put out a little game for the iPad. It was crazy intense making the deadline, even for a small game. Jobs had said in the keynote that they would make universal apps prominent. We had one of the few universal games on opening day, called Ace Omicron. It's a pretty primitive game by todays standards, but there were only about two hundred games on the iPad when it first came out. BTW, it finally broke with iOS8, and since sales died off a while back, and the market is so terrible now, we don't have current plans to update it. Anyway, back to the story... Once we got our own iPads and looked for Ace Omicron on opening day, it wasn't anywhere to be found! So Casey sent an email to the famous steve@apple.com saying that our new iPad app was not discoverable. Well, as luck would have it, Casey got a reply back from the head of the app store at the time saying that Steve Jobs had contacted him about our app not being discoverable and said he'd take care of it. Next thing you know, Ace was on a couple of the front page lists for a few weeks. Great memories... It's also the main reason I have been hesitant about criticizing Apple for the last four years, since they did personally help me and Casey out. But Steve is long gone now, and still there remain realities to face about developing games for iOS which I don't think Apple has adequately addressed since then.
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Moderator
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Post: #10
I agree Apple could have done more in days past. But I think we've now progressed to the point where noone really knows how to solve it. Steam has the same problem..

I myself just took my game Pawns down. I thought that iOS8 broke it, but I think now my developer profile happened to expire at the same time.. It was overdue for a refresh anyway, but between the lack of sales and the need to support more screen sizes, I don't know if I'm going to bother updating it. I might let my iOS developer license lapse instead. I'm on the fence.

Measure twice, cut once, curse three or four times.
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Apprentice
Posts: 7
Joined: 2014.08
Post: #11
There is an alternative architecture and platform: HTML5/JavaScript.

Here there is no single app store, no single directory, no single top chart. Instead there is an ever-changing web of news sites, social sites, personal sites, search engines etc.

Apps are run in the cloud with no installation. Some technical stuff (html5 app caches) allows apps to be cached (rather than installed) on the user's machine.

I am not sure that Apple perceives that there is a problem with the Apple app store - on the contrary I think they believe that they are on the top of the game and the app store they have is the envy of the industry.

They might be correct in that but that does not mean that there are not an alternative design that has the potential to become dominant simply because it rewards small-time developers more and thus unleashes more creativity which ultimately is what provides value to the end-user.
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Apprentice
Posts: 11
Joined: 2016.04
Post: #12
If you haven't created a Facebook page yet, do it. People on Facebook are interactive about products, and if you find the right group to promote your app, you can get people's feedback and even use that to improve your app. Make sure you talk to real people, listen to them.
We at Guarana always make sure we are close to the audience to make the product as perfect as it can be to match people's expectations.
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