iOS App Free Promotion, Chinese App Market, and Grand Canyon


Originally published at www.clingmarks.com on Dec. 28th, 2011.

Early this year, after I quit my job and started my indie developer life, I spent quite some time working on my iPhone game “PenguinLinks 2″. However, even though I have tried my best to tweak the UI, enhance the game logics, it has never been as successful as I hoped for. Even in China (it is a popular game category there), it is just OK at most — hardly beats its previous version “PenguinLinks”, which has a much rougher UI than the new version.

In the second half of the year, I shifted my focus to another iPhone apps (not game), which I think I am better at. However, I am still curious about how far my PenguinLinks games can go if they can have some exposure. Nowadays, the most used iOS app promotion technique is probably “Free Promotion”. So I asked several companies in this business, including FreeAppADay, FreeAppParty and a few others. Their offers are from $4000 to $18K per promotion, and usually guarantee top 25 in Game category. Some of them also offer performance based charge, usually $1 per install — please note this is actually a much more expensive option: your app can easily get tens of thousands of downloads when it becomes free, which means you need to pay $1 for each download to the promotion provider. It’s like a no-limit hold’em game.

The Free Promotion

To me, all the options are too expensive. Most importantly, I am not 100% sure how much it can help, specially once my game goes back to paid. So I decided to run a free promotion by myself. Here are what I have done and the result:

Results

  • On the first day of the promotion, the rank of my game “PenguinLinks Pro 2″ went up dramatically in most countries:
    - US: 28 in Board, 45 in Family, which is the best it ever achieved.
    - China: 2 in Board, 3 in Family, 25 in Games, 71 Overall — this was achieved a few days later, actually today, 12/28.
  • On the first day of promotion, it received 12.5K downloads total: China — 8.7K, US — 2.4K.
  • In the following days of the promotion, downloads from China grow gradually to about 10K per day and stay there; downloads from all other countries have dropped significantly comparing to day one.
  • The reviews for the game has been very positive:
    - US: 20 ratings, 4.5 on average;
    - China: 272 ratings, 4.5 on average.

What I Learned

Before the promotion, my goal was pushing my game to top 25 in one category in US, and top 25 in Games in China. As of today, it has reached the goal in China, but nowhere near the goal in US. But I am still pretty happy about the result. What I have learned from this promotion are:

  • Quality is the ultimate factor of success. You can push an app up to the top, but only apps with great quality stay. Ranks of most the apps will drop like a rock once promotions end. Remember this is just a chance to get exposure, and it doesn’t necessarily convert to success.
  • You can run a “test” free promotion like mine just by yourself. Many services, websites are monitoring price drops in Apple App Store. By making a paid app free, you will naturally gain a lot of free exposures. It will give you a better sense about how far your app can go; and from user feedbacks, you will know what to improve next.
  • Are all kinds of expensive-for-developers free promotions really worth it? It all depends on the quality of your app. All the promotions can give you is short time exposures. To stay there, your app must have high quality.
  • Last but not least, different markets have different needs. That’s what I am going to talk about next –

Chinese App Market

A few days ago, I read an article on Techcrunch. It mentioned that:

In January, China generated only 18% of the downloads when comparing the U.S. iPhone App Store together with China’s. By November, it was generating 30% of the combined total downloads. And on the iPad, the two stores are almost equal in size in terms of downloads.

I totally felt it in this free promotion.

In August 2010, the first version of my game “PenguinLinks Free” become #2 overall app in the whole app store in China, and stayed there for about a week. At that time, it had about 8K to 10K download per day.

16 months later, with about the same amount of downloads, my game is only #25 in Games, #71 in Overall. From #71 to #2, that’s a huge difference. I don’t know how many more downloads it takes to get to #2 overall today. But if somebody tells me it needs a few hundreds of thousand, I won’t be surprised. Just from this one small case, you can see how much the Chinese app market has grown in last 16 months.

Apple also sees the opportunity there. Recently, Apple just started accepting the local currency in China. In addition, credit card is not a required payment method anymore in App Store China, since most people there don’t have credit cards that are capable of foreign transactions. Apple also added a way to pay by cellphone, which is popular in China, Japan and South Korean. All these are important steps to attract more paid customers there. In the next several years, with the introduction of the new iOS devices, this market will grow even bigger, with no doubt.

Grand Canyon

My free promotion started on 12/22, just a few hours before the iTunes Connect locked down. And then, on 12/23, I went to Grand Canyon for a vacation. Yes, it’s cold there. But the stunning view is well worth it. As an indie developer, vacations is as needed as any other career. So take advantage this holiday season, go out, enjoy. And come back refreshed, with more energy and ideas.

And finally, I plan to end my free promotion tomorrow morning. So if you are interested, don’t miss this opportunity. Grab it. You may like it. Who knows?