Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to Market a Mobile App: Knowledge is Power

Data!!

If you're going to understand how changes you make to your application affect your users or how effective your marketing strategy is, you're going to need data. All of the app markets provide decent data about downloads, active users, ad impressions, etc., but these are no match for deliberate data collection and usage statistics.

In the early days of This to That for iOS, we didn't include any analytics. We relied heavily on iTunesConnect to provide the statistics we needed to determine the effects of our changes. Google Play provides much better analytics out of the box including active installs, device statistics, OS versions, etc., so we had to make a lot more inferences.

For example, we could see daily downloads but we had no idea how many users we were retaining. At that point, we were releasing often so we could compare our download statistics to our upgrade statistics to get a feel for that. We further refined our estimates when we added Game Center support. Comparing the new user statistics to the Game Center names I didn't recognize (seriously), I estimated about half of the users use Game Center. Thus, we could infer that for every player who reported a score to the leaderboard, there was a roughly equivalent user without a Game Center account.

We also planned to be ad supported out of the gate, so we were able to get some usage information from ad impressions. Our app has a roughly 98% fill rate and filled ads cycle about every 3 minutes. Combining that information with estimated users per day, we could guess how much time people spent playing our game.

Several versions back, we started using Google Analytics to collect anonymous (we're not the NSA after all) usage statistics. Now we get a much more detailed view of our users and how they play This to That. I recommend developers consider analytics to be an inextricable part of any minimum viable product. Without analytics, there's no way I could write the How to Market a Mobile App series as I'd have no way of knowing how these experiments impact our application's performance in the app market.

Starting Point as of Version 4.2

  • 910 sessions lasting an average 3.5 minutes per month
  • 108 of these sessions are new users (about half are iOS 7)
  • About 80% of the sessions end on the first screen and last less than 10 seconds
  • About half of the users play at least 10 times per month
  • About 90% of users play This to That at least every other day

I think these statistics tell us a few meaningful things about This to That. The first and I think most obvious inference, which is the reason I'm writing this series (and is likely the reason you're reading it): people can't find and don't hear about This to That. To resolve this, we've added social features, game center, multiplayer gameplay, and have tried advertising. As of yet, to no avail.

Second, I think, is that many users never get past the first screen. I think that's likely because the look and feel of the default game theme may not be appealing (I'm not a designer after all). iOS 7 users are less likely to engage than iOS 6 users; it might be worth updating the default look and feel of the application for iOS 7 users.

I think there are some positive observations in these data too. Users who play the game tend to play it often (at least for a while). They tend to play several times a day for short periods. This gives me insight that the game should be quick to get into. Perhaps, for example, the game should start in the game screen and have a menu option for going to what's now the home screen.

Things to do in Version 5.0

  • Create an iOS 7 default theme
  • Clean up the default color scheme for all new users
  • Make a better app description for iTunes
  • Make more compelling graphics for the images in iTunes
  • Clean up the icon

I'm hoping we'll see a larger number of new users by having more compelling marketing in our This to That iTunes profile. I'm also hoping that the improved icon and cleaner default theme will make new users more likely to complete their first game (most users who complete the first game complete many subsequent games). I'm hoping having more users and retaining a higher percentage of them will also result in a higher likelihood that users will share the game with friends.

There was a slight drop in retention after we released the multiplayer version of This to That. I think that users were frustrated when they tried to connect to a multiplayer game, but nobody else was playing. That frustration overpowered the interest in playing the original single player version. When we released that version, we were hoping it would encourage users to invite friends and family to play. Ideally, the new design and higher retention rate would also result in more available online users for random game center match creation.

What's it Going to Take?

Well, one thing I like to do as an independent developer is work on the cheap. I think that I've managed, on my own, to make a fun and entertaining application; however, I admit it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Perhaps it lacks the polish of the kinds of games people make when they have designers on staff. Perhaps it feels unprofessional. Of all of the negative feedback I've ever gotten, I don't think anyone has said, "the game isn't fun." So, I'm going to have some artwork done professionally. The game, in its current state (with the extensive theming) would be difficult to overhaul, so I'm going to focus on 3 components: the icon, the screenshots in iTunes, and the default theme. I'm hoping to get all of this done for about $500 - $750. I have a few quotes in and I think this is a reasonable expectation.

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