Indie developers face challenges on the App Store

Since the beginning of the mobile app economy, the App Store has always been driven to new heights when small, independent game companies released a surprise hit. Just look at Supercell, Rovio, Zeptolab, and King! All those companies were tiny (or even non-existent!) when the App Store launched in 2008, and now each company is pulling in millions of dollars in revenue.

Today, independent app developers are facing a different set of challenges than the original pioneers. For one, the cost of install ads is rising dramatically. Big-name companies have enough room in their budgets to cover the costs of installs and incentivizing in-app purchases.

Even if you have a large enough budget to spend heavily on install ads, the large companies will always have an edge in terms of brand recognition and marketing power.

So, how can indie developers make an impact on the App Store? Well, there are 4 major options:

1. Featured Lists

Apps that make it onto one of the App Store “Featured” lists usually see a huge burst of downloads (unless you are in the “Indie Game” feature, which is a whole different story). Reaching out and forging a relationship with the gatekeepers of the App Store lists can increase your chances of being featured.

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However, this strategy is slowly losing its impact as well. Some larger companies are now offering iOS-exclusive releases in exchange for prominent billing on App Store featured lists. These types of deals give big game companies huge bursts in downloads while reinforcing Apple’s “exclusive” brand.

Pay-to-download indie games will receive more benefits from Apple’s featured lists, but, since a large majority of mobile apps are free-to-download, this only benefits a small slice of App Store Apps.

2. Cross-Promotion

This strategy is easiest for devs with multiple apps on the market. Cross-promote one of your apps by using install ads within all of your other titles. Chances are, if a user is already actively using one of your apps, they will be more willing to download another app you have published.

Don’t have multiple apps on the market? Try reaching out to other, similarly-sized app development companies to see if they would be interested in cross-promoting. This is especially effective if they are targeting a similar user base. You may even consider giving your partner’s users some exclusive promo codes or discounts to encourage downloads.

3. Find an App Publisher

This option is for developers who know that they have a great app on their hands, but don’t have the resources to market it effectively. Partnering with an app publisher will take the burden of marketing and optimization off of your shoulders and give you more time to devote to fixing bugs and working on new updates.

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This can be pricey, depending on the publisher. Your best bet is to search out publishers who work on a revenue share model, as it will give each side an incentive to put out the best product. You can read more about the benefits/drawbacks of app publishers here

4. Aim Lower

By this, we mean: You don’t need to aim to be at the top of the charts

This strategy may seem counter-intuitive, but it actually makes sense when you consider the state of the app economy today. The App Store has millions of active users, all searching for apps to use. You don’t have to go toe-to-toe with the mega-app companies anymore to gain a significant amount of downloads.

There are plenty of users who search the middle of the charts to find the next big hit. If you use just enough resources to get to the middle, there will be an install base there for you. It may not be as glamorous as toppling the reigning masters of the App Store, but it is a sure way of gaining both users and recognition for your app and company.

Any more tips for succeeding in the App Store? Share with us!

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