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So you’ve created a new gaming website or a gaming app, freshly launched in the iTunes App Store. Now comes the $64,000 question: How do you make your game popular and get users to download the thing? It can be a challenge, especially if you’re not a bigwig industry player, like the World Series of Poker, whose Texas Hold’em iTunes app was among the top three apps downloaded in 2012.
Perhaps you turn to the good old Internet, like this writer just did, searching inquisitively for information on how recent runaway successes like the $50,000-per-day earning “Make it Rain: For the Love of Money” app became such a hit with users. Alas, no detailed marketing plan or strategy could be found that spells out exactly how Joshua Segall of the developer Space Inch spent that $1,000 “acquiring players” for ‘Make it Rain’ – beyond what he told Jeffrey Grubb of Venture Beat’s GamesBeat.
Segall’s elusiveness makes me think it wasn’t simply a luck run of Facebook ads or a great set of Google AdWords campaigns that got the über -successful app off to the races, and leads me to my first controversial marketing tip.
Game marketing strategy #1: Step into the dark side and pay for users
Okay, follow this tip only at your own risk – but I gotta tell you, it happens all the time. As an online journalist since 2005, I’ve seen people willing to buy everything from Amazon reviews to YouTube video views to followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Why should app marketing be any different?
I just popped over to Elance and searched for terms like “need users to download our app,” which turned up legitimate jobs mixed in with what some would view as sketchy offerings from people willing to pay others pennies to download their apps. Hey, I don’t begrudge these folks. In fact, the marketer in me thinks it a risky and brilliant move – unread ‘Terms of Service’ statements be damned. I know that plenty of downloads from legitimate IP addresses all around the world are nearly indistinguishable from regular user behavior – and a rush of downloads and reviews can game Amazon’s sales rank and perhaps iTunes’ algorithms long enough to bring the real buyers along with the fake ones.
However, not everyone feels that way.
“No, it’s certainly a bad idea to pay users to download the app,” Ben Oren, the Director of Web Marketing at Whiteweb, told GamesBeat.
Warning against the dangers of paying for downloads, he explains: “The objective isn’t just to rack up downloads, but to create app engagement. Fake downloads don’t yield this result, rather simply a flattering download figure. On Google Play, we also have to consider one important parameter – the ratio between downloads and removals, likely to be unfavorable in the case of bought downloads. This parameter could quickly and severely damage the app’s ranking and reputation.”
Game marketing strategy #2: Create a boss app so the ensuing word-of-mouth will work
No matter how you acquire those initial set of users for your game, you’d better have an awesome gaming experience waiting on them once they get there. This means spending plenty of time testing the game – as well as reading gaming reviews to see what users like or hate about existing apps, so that you can improve upon the current offerings. Learning that app users prefer emoji apps that can directly access their keyboards instead of force them to copy and paste the emoticons from one place to another, for example, puts you ahead of the game.
“I think that in order to succeed with downloads, it’s necessary to start much earlier than launching the app or product,” said Oren. “In the development stage, it’s crucial to understand where the target audience is, what drives them and what motivates them.”
Game marketing strategy #3: Rinse and repeat to seek abnormally viral success
Most players may not realize that apps like “Flappy Bird” or “Make it Rain” weren’t expected to go abnormally viral, with the latter reportedly created as a glorified gateway affiliate link of sorts to other apps. All the users realize is that they like the game and want to tell their friends about the experience.
In order for development companies to increase their odds of being the next tech firm raking in the dough over an unexpected hit, it helps to keep pumping out the apps. You never know what simplistic little app will end up toppling that great “Heads Up!” from its number one in paid apps position on the iTunes App Store next.