Getting your game featured in the Apple App Store is a publisher’s dream — you can generate thousands of installs in just a few hours, and it gives you a lifetime of bragging rights. The “Today” tab is the holiest of grails, as being curated by Apple’s editorial team provides a mark of relevance and authentication. Getting featured on the Games tab is also a huge win, and this is more accessible to most publishers.
While there are many “tips and tricks” to getting featured in the App Store, it’s better to cover the fundamentals. Rather than spread yourself too thin trying various tactics, understand which are most important to your App Store feature campaign.
A place for everything, and everything in its place
To do that, you must first understand how the system works. Users see the App Store as, well, a store … where items placed in front of their eyes are to be viewed, considered and possibly purchased (or in this case, downloaded).
When you walk into a grocery or retail store, subconsciously you know that the items are arranged in front of you in a particular way to get you to buy higher-margin products, usually. It’s very commercial and not focused on quality or what you might actually be looking for. Apple sees its store more as a magazine or fashion runway – it’s a curated collection of content designed to attract “buyers” of the highest quality.
The Church: Apple’s editors
Behind those curated collections is Apple’s editorial team, which is notoriously siloed. Meetings take place sans marketing, with little to no contact with developers.
“You can’t pay them off or talk to them,” said one of Apple’s former app store marketing managers. “They are the sole keyholders for featuring games. They hide behind the curtain, like Oz, and want it all to be about the quality of the games.”
“It’s 100% hand-curated,” he explains.
The State: Apple’s business team
While the curation team keeps to itself, the other side of the coin – Apple’s app marketing team – does not. Their job is to know about new games (especially if it takes advantage of a new technology Apple has just released), track progress and evangelize within Apple and to App Store users. They are keyholders to developer relationships.
No matter how big or small you are, you have a chance of getting their attention. But sometimes it can feel near-impossible to do so, especially if you’re a new or smaller publisher. Here are a few small ways you boost the possibility of being noticed:
- iOS exclusivity: Giving Apple some kind of exclusivity is a huge benefit. In the media world, this is the equivalent of offering an “exclusive interview” to one publication and creating an embargo or timeframe, in which no other publication can feature the same news. When it comes to Apple Arcade, if you’ve already gotten your latest (or another) app in Apple Arcade via its own application process, then this step is much easier. If this is your first app, you should treat both processes as independent routes to take, assuming Apple Arcade is a road you want to go down. With no IAP and no ads allowed for titles in Apple Arcade, your ARPDAU will almost certainly be lower.
- Hardware and iOS support: Make sure that your app takes advantage of wherever Apple is in terms of hardware support, including screen resolutions and processing power. Same goes for software: if you don’t have ‘Sign In with Apple’ enabled or GameKit API capabilities to your game on iOS, it’s like saying “we don’t care.”
- Release timing and notification: Particularly with seasonal marketing (such as a ghost game before Halloween), you need to submit your app as early as a month in advance, so the marketing team has plenty of time to consider the feature. You want to be as predictable, reliable and low-risk as possible in how you present yourself – no one likes being flaked on. Additionally, planning to release on a Thursday is ideal to leverage the changeover in the App Store.
- Localize: The App Store is global, and regional teams select content to feature that is relevant on a local basis. Start with French, Italian, German and Spanish but also consider Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese and Russian. Feel free to test drive your products in certain markets, whether domestic or international, but don’t get greedy and go too wide! If the press discovers them and writes them up, the surprise element is gone, and you may lose the chance to be featured.
- Optimize your App Store listing: Appearances matter! The title, subtitle, icon and screenshots must be accurate and descriptive, but don’t get greedy. Stay in line with Apple’s aesthetic of simplicity: do not use more than three colors, for instance, and don’t try to “game the system” by using descriptions in the title.
- Tell your story with words and images: If you can grab Apple’s attention with a compelling story and slick marketing assets, then you can grab users’ attention – and that is ultimately what Apple wants. Put all the bells and whistles up front. If you have great KPIs like user engagement and retention that proves users love it, include that too. Your visuals have to be stunning because Apple loves good design.
The most important thing of all … quality
You can practice these tactics, but if your app isn’t already great, they won’t be effective. When the Apple team sees what it wants, they know it, so there’s not really a distinct model to follow. However, if you use your common sense as a developer, you know what’s required: A gorgeously designed & technologically sound app that is intuitive, responsive and provides massive value to the user.
One area that many developers overlook, though, that can help you stand apart in terms of quality, is onboarding. Make sure the user immediately understands the goal of the game and easily sees how to navigate through it, so they don’t drop off from the start out of confusion. On that same note, do not put any ads up front, as those too can deter the user from continuing their experience. There’s a time and a place for ads in your game – but to have a higher chance of being featured in the App Store, keep it clean up front!
Liz Waldeck-Pinckert is the director of publisher monetization and strategy at AdColony.