Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'top grossing' appstore list challenges assumptions

The iphone appstore added a 'top grossing' filter to the 'top paid' and 'top free' lists (which were based on units only.

Some of the takeaways are going to challenge conventional wisdom, which is that (a) there's a $1-2 sweet spot where impulse buys propel you to riches, and (b) that originality and innovation will be rewarded.

Some things to note on the list:
  • Only 5/25 are $1.99 or less, and only 1 of those is a game (Battlebears).
  • 14/25 are games. Just over half, despite a huge glut of game titles in the appstore overall
  • 5/25 are priced $29.99 to $99.99 (Utilities, GPS apps...)
  • Brands rule: Of the 14 games, 10 are around recognizable IP (Madden, Scrabble, Uno, Tetris, Bejeweled, Sims, Need for Speed, Dexter, Monopoly, Civilization). More than ever, brand matters when you have limited time and space to influence purchase decision.
  • Publishers rule: EA has 6 of the top grossing apps. Gameloft has 4.

They don't state if this is the current week only, or cumulative lifetime gross, though I beleive it's the former, or the list would be far more stagnant.

This approach isn't perfect. Why should an app's large gross revenue be an indication of whether I want it or not? And like any of the lists, it can be gamed (a publisher could, say, purchase a bulk number of applications to prop up their own numbers).

Still, it's another perspective, and thus interesting.

So, if you are a small indie developer, what do you do?

  • Develop remarkable product. There's a lot of competition, and if you don't have something special, and you don't have a publisher's marketing budget, then nothing's going to help you.
  • If you don't have a recognizable brand, then at least develop an intuitive name. (I'll post a presentation I did a couple years back at the Montreal Game Summit on this subject, but the challenge I discussed in that presentation was about the casual games space where the same limited shelf space, attention time, etc, exists: You have a fraction of a second to get someone to determine if your game is something they might like. "Magic Gem Collapse", "StuntBike", etc) Oh, and don't make the name one that is so long it gets cut off in the app store list! Looks like approx 24 characters is it. Unbeleivable how many people blow that one.
  • Lobby Apple HARD for a Sundance Channel style indie games list. You want a store where you don't have to compete with EA. Then work with the dev community, press, and Apple to make it cool for people to buy games there. Both hard tasks, but the alternative is competing with EA, and last I checked, that was hard too :-)
  • Build community on the web, use your community to market outside the appstore. Use the community to game the app store itself. Lots of people experimenting here, but the idea is to get escape velocity and get your app into orbit (aka on the prominent lists). One idea might be to offer a PC version for some amount of time before, offer a code for an extra level for people that buy the game, provided they buy it during the introductory week. Get them on a mail list for when launch is going to happen, and then when it does, get them to go buy, mail them invite codes they can mail friends to get a discount or free extra level or something.
It starts with building a great game, but now more than ever, that's only the beginning. In a limited shelf-space world (and don't kid yourself, Digital Distribution doesn't fix this, it only changes the rules a bit), marketing matters more than ever, especially for the little guys.

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