Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Thursday, October 22, 2009

7 Tips for Marketing iPhone Games

Now that there are upwards of 85,000 iPhone apps, and 25,000 iPhone games, the biggest challenge isn't building your game, it's finding an audience. Which is where marketing is supposed to come to the rescue, but this is not an easy task even if you have a lot of money to spend. Given the usual low-to-nonexistent profit margin on iPhone games, and the increasing amount spent on developing games (trying to compete through more spending on art and sound), and the fact that most iPhone game developers are nano-sized companies, marketing budgets for iPhone games are more typically hovering right around zero.

How, then, do you generate some sales for your iPhone game? Here's seven tips that can help you get started. I'll add more details in future posts, but these strategies can point you in the right directions.

1) Make a great game with a hook. Marketing really starts with product development. There are so many games already out there that it's pointless to try to sell a game that doesn't have some exceptional quality. Hopefully it's got great art and sound, and fun gameplay... but if it's just another tower defense game with nothing else to distinguish it, you're going to have a hard time selling it. Either you need some really cool and innovative, fun new game mechanic, or you need some kind of hook to hang your marketing efforts on. What's a hook? Lot's of things... an unusual art design (think Okami), a subject matter that's appealing and not done to death (World of Goo), a license, a new twist... something that is compelling enough that you could see someone writing a news article about it. Then, of course, you go out and find people to write such articles...

2) DFM -- Design For Marketing. Yes, I know DFM usually stands for Design For Manufacturing, where you think about the process of building a product and incorporate those insights into the initial design, thus reducing production costs (and improving profitability). Similarly, you should consider the marketing of the product when you engage in the design phase. Creating a good free version of your iPhone game, and then a paid version with a good reason for the user to upgrade, should be a key consideration when designing. Getting the feature balance right between the two versions is an art. The simplistic way is to build the full game and then disable some features (or limit the pay time or number of levels), but this might not give you a good free version (or a paid version with enough added benefit). Take some time and consider this before you start programming. Ideally you would create your initial design document, then rough out your marketing plan, and see if the marketing plan could benefit from some additional features in the design.

3) Don't neglect the basics. The basics like having a marketing plan. A marketing budget. A web page for the game. A good title that's not tromping on someone's trademark. A good one-sentence description of your game that includes the key feature and creates a desire to buy it. (That should be a short sentence.) All that implies spending some time thinking about marketing, so budget time for that even if (or especially if) you don't plan to spend much money on marketing.

4) Start with an audience. It sure helps if you already have a fan club, because if there's a group of people that already like your work, hopefully they'll be interested in buying your latest magnum opus. Oh, this is your first title and no one knows who you are? Then perhaps in creating a background for your game you can acquire an audience. It's a game about squirrels vs. birds? Maybe you can find a way to interest birders (put in lots of interesting species, or maybe extra points for naming birds correctly). Or plug into the community of squirrel fans (hey, there are web sites devoted to selling squirrel-related products!) If you can find a way to grab an existing fan base of some kind, that makes it easier to attract an initial set of buyers.

5) Work at it. Don't put your heart and soul into building a game and then figure you're done. If you expect to sell enough copies to make back all the time you invested, your odds will improve if you spend some time and effort on marketing. Sometimes, perhaps, somebody gets lucky and sells a bunch of copies because Oprah decided it was cool and featured it on her show. Good luck waiting for that to happen. Most of the time that luck happens to the person who worked really, really hard to make it happen. As Samuel Goldwyn said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

6) Persevere. Keep working at the marketing of your game. One of the great things about the iPhone market is you can overcome a bad launch mistake (usually not true for games sold in retail stores). You can always release a new improved version of your game. Or even just a new improved version of your slogan, or your web page, or your ad. Or even just changing the price... one game went from dozens of sales per day to hundreds by dropping the price from $2.99 to 99 cents. Figure out what works for your product and do more of it; figure out what isn't working and try something else.

7) Be creative. Finally, try to be as creative with your marketing as you were in creating your game. Maybe a crazy stunt will get you a headline or two. Maybe that whacky package of oddly connected items you mailed to some key web sites will get you a great article. Maybe a quickie revision of the software to include a scenario ripped from the headlines will get you some mainstream press. Remember, iPhone games don't come in boxes, so your marketing has to be outside the box, right?


  1. Many of these suggestions are applicable to the hobby gaming industry as well. Good article, Steve.

  2. thank a lot for the post.. very nice one.

  3. These points are really interesting and useful to every developer who want to create first time app.
    iPhone Game Development Company | iPhone Game Application Development

  4. I think you should have written 7 suggestion instead of writing 7 tips. Because here I didn't find anything useful to really marketing any apps or games. These are merely 'best of luck. create a unique game' lines.