Marketing your iPhone game

There are lots of great games in the app store which don't sell. I've read numerous forum posts from unhappy developers who are only making several dollars a week from their games. Granted, some of these games are pretty poor quality but I've also seen games which taken a lot of work to put together and still don't sell. None the less, these developers move on to the next game hoping that this time their game will be the next angry birds. So where do they go wrong? Why do some games sell millions of copies while others languish in the App Store?

The Viral Effect

It's important to tackle the viral effect first because it can confuse the issue. Sometimes, games can become very popular, very quickly, for no apparent reason. Bubble ball is a good example of this. It's not the best game in the world, but it was downloaded millions of times! There could be a number of reasons for this:


I think most developers dream about their game going viral. A bit like winning the lottery, they'll wake up one morning and see 50,000 downloads overnight. Occasionally it happens, but it's very rare. The father of one of my friends used to play the lottery. Every week he'd have his tickets ready watching the TV, sure his numbers would come up. One week, I told him that he might as well choose the numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 as they had exactly the same probably of appearing as any other numbers. He told me not to be stupid! It was nearly impossible for those numbers to come up! I said that they had just as much probability as any other set of random numbers. Eventually, after several hours working it out with his pen and paper, he came round to believing me. Even with this proof of the tiny probability of winning, he kept on playing.

Don't fall into this trap! Some Apps go viral but it's very rare. There should be more to your strategy than just hoping really hard that it happens to you.

News Worthiness

I saw a presentation on TED about a boy who had created a fusion reactor at the age of 14. He wasn't a particularly good speaker and he wasn't even the first person to create a fusion reactor in their garage. He was about the 10th person to do it.

Why was he on TED? Because he was 14. It's much more remarkable when a child makes a fusion reactor than when a 40 year old scientist does it.

This can explain why Bubble Ball was so successful. It was written by a 12-year-old with the help of his mum. Let's imagine what happened. He finished the game and put it on the App store. All his mums friends downloaded the game to support him. His mum contacted the local news paper and they wrote a story about "the remarkable 12-year-old child who wrote an iPhone game". It's pretty unusual, so it was picked up by the national then inter nation press. When people found out about the game they became curious and wanted to see what it was like. As the downloads mounted, the story became even more remarkable! Not only did a child write a game, but it was a sensational success! In this case we have a virtuous circle - news coverage drives downloads which drive more news coverage.

Generally, an App goes viral when this kind of virtuous circle kicks in. Maybe it's down to luck. Maybe it's down to the unusual nature of the App, but the cycle of news coverage -> causes downloads -> drives more news coverage results in an exponential growth in the number of downloads.

This is fine, but it's not a viable strategy. Now that we've dealt with how viral growth works, I'm going to explain some more reliable strategies to generate a consistent amount of revenue.

Strategy 1: Persistence

Write a large quantity of quality games. The games must be high quality for this to work. Each game will help you build your reputation. Even if the first game only gets 10 downloads a week, over a year that's over 3000 downloads. Using that platform, you can start putting in-game adds for your next game. When your next game launches, it will already have an audience of 3000 to give it a kick start. By the time you've written 5 games, you will be generating a decent revenue. As you make a name for yourself, websites will start to review your Apps giving you more publicity. It's slow going, but you stand a very good of succeeding in the long run. Angry Birds wasn't Rovio's first game. It was something like their 15th. Imagine how much more momentum they had on launch day with 15 games in the bank!

Strategy 2: Free games

It's pretty obvious that publicity improves sales. Each person who sees your App has a certain probably of buying it. If the probably it 10%, then ten people have to view your app for each sale. With the persistence strategy we're increasing the publicity our games receive over time. Essentially we're cultivating an every growing pool of people who will view the app. Thus, each subsequent app will sell more copies.

With the free game strategy, we're doing something different. We're increasing the probably that each view will result in a sale. By making the App free we're re-balancing the value proposition. The question "Does the values presented by this app appear to be more than $0.99 of my money?" is very different to the question "Does the values presented by this app appear to be more than none my money?" Obviously, the second question will generate more positive answers.

Giving away a free App will give you market penetration. It also has another advantage. There is a chance that a person who's bought your App will recommend it to a friend. Recommendations are valuable because someone is much more likely to buy a product which as been recommended by someone they trust. If 25% of buyers recommend your app to a friend, and all the friends buy your app; if you only sell 100 copies a year you're only benefiting from about 25 of these bonus sales. If you sell 1000 copies every day you'll benefit from 250 bonus sales every day!

Once you have a successful free App, you can use it as a launch platform for your other Apps. Put a splash screen advertising your new paid-for App on the free App.

Strategy 3: Build a website

Ideally, you should use all of these strategies together. The third strategy is to build a website which get's a decent amount of traffic. Imagine that your site is getting 10,000 page views every month. When you finish your game, you can put a big banner advertising it on your website. Then your game is being advertised to 10,000 new people every month.

That's a much better strategy than someone who just sticks their App on the App Store to be buried underneath the 300,000 other games.

But how do you make your web page popular? The answer is to fill it with valuable content. Write interesting articles. Review other games. Participate in forums. If you do this of a year you will start generating decent traffic which you can use as a launch pad for your game.

A good example of this is the game Draw Something. The makers of the game already had a successful website full of flash games. When they launched Draw Something on the iPhone, it instantly got a large amount of publicity from their website.

Final thought

There's no magic answer to marketing your app. But with hard work and a bit of lateral thinking you can produce a successful iPhone App. The main aim is to produce an ecosystem of marketing which works together to get your App publicity. This boost in publicity will your App a much greater chance of going viral and getting millions of downloads and going viral!



We have recently launched our first space invaders style game named Battle for Galaxy. With little marketing we are seeing very good results. The game uses Apple Game Centre, which gives it more visibility. The iTunes link is indexed by google.
We are seeing our game being listed with sites like,, etc
The author 'bensmiley' is right that it takes time and with the release of new version of the games or entirely new games will increase the popularity.

This comment demonstrates another popular strategy - shamelessly promoting your game by leaving comments on popular sites. The problem here is that the message seems a bit spammy. I very nearly didn't approve this comment because it doesn't really add anything to the article - just a very obvious link. For this strategy to work, you need to say something useful or funny or at least relevant. As a webmaster, spam comments are annoying because they don't engage with the content on the site. I think most webmasters will be more tolerant of you posting a link if you also try to contribute something useful. A tip that you've learned about game marketing or something interesting you've experienced.

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