October 19, 2015

Built to Fail: Why Most Apps (or Games) Flop and How Yours Can be Different


The average app in the Google Play or Apple Store has never been downloaded. The same is true for the average e-book on Amazon. Zero downloads. Zero sales. To sell even one copy of your product via these marketplaces makes you above average.

And it gets worse.

The average smartphone user downloads just 25 apps. Played out over a lifetime of smartphone, the average number of apps a smartphone user downloads per month is zero. Zilch. Nada. The ecosystem for apps—and this includes games—is complex and competitive. These averages are largely the result of the sheer volume of apps being released every day. Now that app development is more accessible than ever, with many small business owners and independent developers using out-of-the-box solutions to quickly develop and release apps, having an app is almost as ubiquitous as having a website.

The other complicating factor is the nature of app ecosystems themselves. Getting your app noticed means having to cut through the static of a noisy market so that your app appears at the top of a search query or within a top downloads list. For the typical developer, making this sort of breakthrough is too costly to be practical for all but the largest of budgets.

It may seem odd for a company that specializes in game development, which includes mobile, to talk about app development in these terms. In our mind, there is huge potential in mobile games, even if your brand typically wouldn’t be thought of as a gaming brand. Before you venture into those waters though, you should be aware of the realities of the landscape so that you can partner with the right development team and lay the groundwork for a successful launch.

Before You Build

If you think that an app or a game represents an opportunity for your brand, do your homework. The success of your product hinges upon your planning. Yes, your app or game needs to have a great user experience and be awesomely engaging, but in many ways that can be the easiest part. Before you begin the building process, consider these suggestions:

  1. Work with a forward-thinking team.Finding developers in a connected world is not hard. In just a few seconds you can have a team of off-shore developers cranking away on whatever you want. Development talent is important—because your app or game needs to be enjoyable—but you also need to work with a team that understands the realities of a competitive market and plans accordingly. The right team will be honest with you about how difficult it can be to get sales and will have a plan for maintaining the app in the long term. An exceptional team will have recommendations for a go-to market strategy as well.
  1. Plan around your target audience.Before a single line of code is written, you should conduct exhaustive research into your “ideal customer.” Would your audience even buy an app or game (and again, you might be surprised)? What apps do they use already? Who are the thought leaders in the space? What are the major publications? Where do people in your market gather to talk about things they care about? These are all pretty standard marketing questions, but they are still crucial. Your app or game won’t be a magic bullet instant success. You will need to have a well-developed marketing plan if you want to move units.
  1. Build your audience prior to launch.Marketers have said this so much that it’s become cliché, but it’s still true. Starting from zero is a tough place to start, especially if you just put six months of development into an app or a game. That said, the reality for some businesses will be that you are in fact starting from nothing. You have an idea and a vision, and your project will be your first effort to capture a piece of the market. Even under these circumstances, you can partner with other businesses and organizations to seed your audience with relevant prospects long before your app or game goes live. Your development team should have some insights into this process as well.
  1. Plan for success with a phase 2.Thinking ahead will help you to maintain the momentum of your project. If you allow yourself to get locked into your launch date, you run the risk of hitting your initial goal and having to scramble for a way to capitalize on your own success. Yes, lots of sales are great news, but how do you continue to build that forward energy? Your post-launch plan should have plans for a B-list of press coverage, follow-up to A-list press members that didn’t cover you at the start, customer service follow-up (both on and off your properties), a process for drawing attention to positive coverage, and on-going development plan for expanding your offerings.

Partnering with the right team will make this entire process easier. Even if you do this in-house, your developers should be able to work alongside you to match their development process to your research and to your planning. This relationship will be collaborative, of course, but accounting for these points ahead of time will help you to avoid some of the biggest pitfalls in app or game development.

You’ll notice that none of these suggestions have anything to do with competing in app search engine listings. Those factors matter, but the safer philosophy is to avoid competing where every other project is trying to compete. The apps that do well in search rankings optimize for them, yes (and you should still do that later), but they also side their apps with enough interest prior to launch that they get the downloads and reviews that algorithms favor.

Let me repeat this core Synersteel principle: don’t compete where everyone is else competing. Make your plan about finding the most meaningful ways to connect with your target audience through other channels.

Note: Blueprint image by Will Scullin used under Creative Commons License.

This article originally written for Synersteel Studio.

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