This isn’t exactly rocket science – so I apologize in advance for stating the obvious. It isn’t realistic to expect your app to gain any traction on version one. My first mistake was in expecting to incorporate too many features into the first version. As a result, the project went over budget and took too long to complete. We worked hard to eliminate memory leaks and bugs and as we hoped, it was approved at the Apple store on the first try. On the big day of the release, we were blown away by the roaring silence of the game’s reception. The silence was deafening. For two weeks I agonized about the painful anonymity of an app that cost several thousand dollars and hundreds of hours of labor to “complete”. It was a flop. It was a flop like the vast majority of apps on the Apple store. It was generating about $5.00 per week in revenue. Since Apple doesn’t send the first check to a developer until $150 has been generated, this was going to take a long time to even see the first check – let alone recovering my investment or (to dream) – paying off my mortgage.
Oh Marbles! was published in the fall of 2009 when there were about 80,000 apps in the Apple store. Now there are more than 200,000, and about 20,000 added per month. This knowledge left me with two choices. I could cut my losses and move on, or figure out what I am doing wrong and make corrections. After periodic bouts of depression, I have committed to the latter.
The obvious question to ask then is how to improve the app.
Listen: Marbles is a game usually played by kids. In the US, it hasn’t been widely played for decades. Young kids tell me that they like Oh Marbles! My teenage kids tell me that the game really sucks. One adult reviewer completely misunderstood how it works. My reviews indicate that people either really love it, or they don’t get it at all and give it a one-star rating.
Some of the features that I implemented from the start are either unnecessary, unhelpful, or poorly done. Features other people routinely implement to help their app gain users were missing completely from my app.
User Reviews: In spite of not finding bugs in testing, users report bugs, and we are gradually fixing them.
Friends and Family – If I had listened to my family, I wouldn’t have made this at all. Sometimes you must follow your dream.
Target Audience – It has been important to understand my target audience. I have come to realize that this is a kids game targeted to sentimental adults. This corresponds with the reality that kids are more likely to download free games, while adults have credit cards associated with their iTunes accounts. If kids like it for the play and their parents approve the purchase, all the better.
Observe – You can identify an independent iphone app developer because they are the ones logging into the developer portal and checking stats daily. We are the ones buying other apps just to see how they implemented facebook or some other social networking device. This is a productive exercise. Purchase some of the most popular or best revenue generating apps and consider how to use the marketing strategies built into their applications. Oh Marbles uses the video link in a similar fashion as Angry Birds, for example.
So be inspired. Take the best ideas used in other applications, synthesize them into your design, and make the app better.