Buying your way into the App Store’s Top 25

Is it possible? Yup. Read on!

I’m the lead developer for Fairlady Media, Inc where we’ve developed 10 games (and counting) with over a million downloads. The projections that follow are based on our experiences with advertising games for the iPhone and ipod Touch on Apple’s App Store.

More than 125,000 developers are registered to create apps for the iPhone. That’s a lot of competition. Can only the biggest developers (EA,Gameloft,Freeverse,etc.) make it into the Top 25? Nope, everyone’s welcome!

While its certainly possible to make great money with apps that never get into the Top 25, most developers want very badly to be on that list. Being in the Top 25 during the last week in 2009 meant a profit of between $12,000 and $22,000 a day.

Conventional marketing ideas have evolved as hoards of developers fight for spots in the lucrative Top 25. Outside of getting lucky (defined as getting featured by Apple, getting reviewed by one of the major review sites or getting into the Top 25 through pure chance), most developers end up looking at buying in-app ads for your app to boost sales numbers long enough to raise your rankings.

To get into the Top 25 with a free game, you’ll need to average more than 10,000 downloads per day. A Top 10 free app will average more than 20,000 downloads a day. Less ambitious? To be in the top 100 free games in a gaming category like Family Games, you’ll still need to average more than 2,000 downloads per day.

AdMob is currently the leading in-app advertising company. At AdMob, the minimum cost for a click on your ad is 5 cents. The highest conversion rate (how many people download your app after clicking on your ad) we’ve ever experienced is 20%. Using that as an average, you would have to purchase 50,000 clicks to get 10,000 downloads. That would add up to $2,500 per day. Note that this conversion rate would be optimistic for free games and would be much lower for paid games.

AdMob’s cost structure is based on bidding. That means that by bidding 5 cents per click, you’ll be competing against others who bid as much as 60 cents per click. In our experience, you would need to average at least 20 cents per click to actually get 50,000 clicks in a single day. That means $10,000 per day.

Our experience is that rankings on the App Store are based on a 3 day average. That means that you would need to maintain your ranking for 3 days to achieve the highest ranking possible.

Total cost to be in the Top 25 by advertising with AdMob? At least $30,000.

Too much? How about raising your ranking from 75 to 10 for a free game in a gaming category like Family Games? That would mean going from 1,000 downloads per day to at least 4,000 downloads per day. At least $9,000.

We have now tried this experiment 4 times for 3 different apps. Results have varied and are very hard to quantify. Our best results were for Spazzle, which went from several downloads a day and complete obscurity to 14th overall. Total ad spend: $5,850 (with another $4,600 after we got into the Top 25). This was in February of 2009 so the volume of the App Store was much less at the time. We were also on the front page of CNET, Digg and several other sites during that month.

Let’s say you read this article and decide to take the plunge (we’re not liable!). Let’s further say that you achieve the expected results (don’t blame us if you don’t). Congratulations! You now have a highly ranked app!!! How long will that last? For us, it depends entirely on the quality of the app. A great app with a great icon, name, screen shots and description may retain its position for months or years. Spazzle is still ranked in the top 50 in the Family Games category a year after its release.

Well, that about sums it up! Please let us know if you would like more information about any of this. Why not download Spazzle now! 😉

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If you give a toddler an iPhone…

A toddler with an iPhone

A toddler with an iPhone

Recently Fairlady Media began developing educational games for preschoolers. I’ve asked a few others in the vast community of  iPhone/iPod Touch users to come up with the best advice they have for making the most of your little one’s interactions with your iPhone or iPod Touch. Here are some ideas:

1. Get a sturdy non-slip case to protect your expensive device. My kids are pretty good about not throwing my iPhone, but drops are inevitable. As one parent wrote, “My rubber case is a lifesaver” – Toucharcade user darchinst

2. Expect it to get sticky. No matter how clean his/her hands are, you’ll always get your iPhone back with “kid goo” and fingerprints smearing the entire surface. Eyeglasses cleaner works great to remove the smudges!

One Toucharcade user wrote: “My 7-year old brother usually gets a bunch of unidentifiable sticky stuff on the screen, and once got the home button almost permanently depressed, but never seriously damaged it.” – Kamazar

3. The quality of the apps is more important than you might think. You may think that a polished well-designed game is overkill for a 3 year old, but believe me, they know what’s good and what’s not. My daughter becomes just as easily bored with hack-job flash cards as I would. Check out the reviews and screen shots before buying.

4. If it’s in the educational category, here are a few key things to look for in the app description:

a) targeted age group (be cautious of games that provide too wide a range… rarely will an educational game be appropriate for ages 3-10!),
b) specific skills taught or reinforced (e.g. letters, numbers, words, etc),
c) specific descriptions of how skills are taught (e.g. through drill and practice, through animation, audio, video, interaction, gameplay, etc),
d) qualifications of the developers (e.g. parents, educators, learning specialists).

A child with an iPhone

A child with an iPhone

5. Check the age restrictions posted in the app description. Many Apps that LOOK kid-friendly (to a kid) are actually NOT kid-friendly. Consider grouping all of the kid-apps on one page of your device. Then tell your child to only select games from that
page.

6. Come to terms with the fact that if you give your child your iPhone, you may not get it back!

As one Dad wrote, “My 3.5 year old has been playing with my iPhone for the last 10 months. Loves it. To the point that when he sees me he doesn’t say “PAPA” any more. He shouts “iPhone” when I reach home, with a hell of a lot more enthusiasm!” – ImNoSuperMan, Toucharcade User

Many thanks to the users in Toucharcade for the great discussion on the topic:
http://forums.toucharcade.com/showthread.php?t=19354&highlight=toddler

– fairlady

Whizzit Counting game by Fairlady Media

Whizzit Counting game by Fairlady Media

“I have no money, but I want to develop an iPhone app!”

I have heard this type of comment a lot in developer forums. It is often paired with “I’ve got this great idea…” and “Where do I start?”. The most recent post I read later revealed the submitter was 14 years old. It got me thinking… What advice would I offer a high-school-age young person about how to get started with iPhone development? Here’s my answer:

***
Tell *everyone* that you know that you are interested in developing iPhone games, and tell them what you need to get started. Tell your parents, your teachers, your friends, your parents’ friends, etc. Who knows? Maybe you have a neighbor who knows someone with a Mac… even someone who does development work and could help you get started?

Surely your school has a computer lab where you could work to get familiarized with a Mac? There may be a computer teacher who would be willing to work with you and get the necessary software installed? There are lots of kids who can earn credit or special honors by completing a special project at school. Try joining or starting a computer club at your school. Sometimes there are *free* resources available to students in clubs like that…

All this will be practice for one of the essential skills in developing iPhone games… it’s called networking! By getting to know other developers and making friends with people who have the resources you need, you will be better positioned to develop and market your games.
***

Best of luck to all those young people out there who are committed to pursuing their dreams! 🙂

– fairlady