Sanford, the CEO of iOS gaming company FlipSide5 and whose Touch Hockey app ranked among the top 20 downloads in the history of the iPhone, has the right credentials to give advice.
“During the holidays last year, about 20 companies received roughly 80 percent of all the revenue in the App Store,” he pointed out to me. “If you weren’t part of this group, you had to scrounge around the rest of the 20 percent.”
With more 775,000 apps in the App Store, the competition there is fierce. When it comes to submitting your app, he says you can make the process faster and smoother by considering these things.
Typically it takes three days to work through Apple’s approval process. If you offer an in-app purchase feature, be prepared for the process to take about a week. Apple is a stickler for its app guidelines, so be sure to be intimately familiar with them, including their ban on adult content and requirements to run even an Internet connection and support for older devices.
“The only times when we’ve had issues is when we made a mistake and thought an app supported an older device when it didn’t,” Sanford said. “Initially, there were some growing pains in getting apps approved, but since 2008 Apple has been good at getting apps approved in a timely fashion.”
One of the toughest aspects of placing your app into the iOS ecosystem is rising above the crowd. Stanford has three tips: cross-promote, reinvest in your app and take a shotgun approach.
iOS developers who already have a following can leverage their reputation by advertising their new app every time an old one starts up. If you’re just getting ready to launch your first, you can still cross-promote it by partnering with someone who already has a title in the App Store. This will probably involve payments to them, but it may be worth it to get your foot in the door.
Reinvest by setting aside about 75 percent of your profit for promotion. This is especially critical when you’re just starting out and users aren’t familiar with your work.
Re-Skin Those Games
A shotgun approach combines re-skinning and cross-promoting games. For example, let’s say your app featuring a bone-detecting dog begins to develop a following. Re-skin it with new graphics of a fish-detecting cat and add in a few new features. The cat and dog games can be cross-promoted, and you can expand the concept to feature other characters as well.
But, Sanford cautions, “Apple does care about the shotgun approach, and there has to be enough of a difference between the games. You just can’t change the name of the game and expect that to be enough of a difference.” And, he adds, a re-skinned game that fails to offer sufficiently distinctive features may not make it through the approval process.
You have two viable ways to make money. Sanford advises you to either charge for the app, or give it away while offering in-app purchases. “Angry Birds is sold for 99 cents, and it has done extremely well,” he said. “Then you have Temple Run, which initially charged $4.99, but didn’t do well. Then it switched to a free model with in-app purchases, and it’s been equally successful to Angry Birds. Some titles can make more from a ‘freemium’ model than a traditional one. It depends on what the app does.”
Once you know what the app will do and whether it has the potential for upgrades, you can decide whether to sell the app outright or as a freemium product.
Using the app as an advertising platform is less lucrative than it used to be. Since 2009, Sanford estimates that the number of companies using mobile advertising has remained about the same, even while the number of iOS apps has exploded. As a result, the rates charged for mobile ads have plummeted.
Over the past three years, FlipSide5 has largely adopted a freemium model for its apps and relies on cross-promotion for marketing. In 2008, Sanford devoted himself full-time to his company and app development.
“If you don’t do your apps full-time, it’s hard to come up with quality apps to make money,” Sanford says. “And if you have an idea and don’t execute quickly, then that good idea may not be such a good idea a year and a half from now.”