A couple of weeks ago I decided the time had come to temporarily give away my iOS game Eve of Impact for free. Now that the free period has been over for a couple of weeks I feel it’s time to share the results.
Setting the price to free had been on my mind for some time, but a couple of concerns had held me back.
- Sales dropping, everyone interested having bought the app during the free period.
- Negative reviews due to people downloading the app just because it’s free.
- No substantial amount of extra downloads, 99 cents is such a small amount of money, why would 0 cents make a huge difference.
The theme of Eve of Impact matched so perfectly to the 21-12-2012 doomsday predictions that a week before the 21st of December I decided to get it over with and drop the price. As everyone had already been making fun of the so called end of the world for weeks, there probably would not come a better time to make use this and embed it in a marketing campaign.
On saturday the 15th of December a week before the 21st I took a deep breath and set the price tier to free.
The amount of downloads in a sales period has a close relation with the amount of buzz you’re able to make. Since it was a last minute decision I had to start making buzz the moment I set it to free. I named the campaign “Eve of Impact - Free till the end of the World”, stating that if the world would not end the price would go up again. Once that was done it was time to spread the word.
There’s a bunch of websites around the internet tracking price changes in apps (for instance AppShopper). These services monitor price drops and give you free exposure by notifying everyone of your price drop. This is of course very nice but I figured it would not be enough to do a successful free run.
Contacting App Reviewers
As I wanted to reach as many people as possible I sent out an email newsletter. I always do this when I’ve added a major feature, you never know if someone decides to give your app some extra attention. To make my emails look professional I use Campaign Monitor, they offer a web based tool to format and send nicely formatted newsletters.
In the past year I’ve gathered quit the collection of contact information and have met some really cool reviewers. Be nice to these people, if they write about your app (taking the time in their busy schedules to do so) it immediately results in more traffic. If you’re nice to them they might repay you with extra exposure, but also might be willing to supply you with other information, for instance the amount of page views a certain article on your app has. This you can use to calculate your apps conversion ratio, which you can use to tweak the app description and or screenshots.
A lot of these contacts can be found on ManiacDev.com, the people of ManiacDev have created a nice and comprehensive overview of all active iOS related sites, very useful.
Reaching out to your Customers
Forums are also useful to direct a lot of traffic to your apps, especially (since this is a bout games) the TouchArcade forums. It also gives you the opportunity to communicate directly with your customers which is a good idea if you want to keep them happy, it’s always interesting to hear what they want and expect from your app. I also posted on Mac Rumors, Cult of Mac and some other sites with active communities but in this case (since it’s a game) TouchArcade is the most important.
Forums also give you the opportunity to monitor the amount of views a certain topic has. So opening a topic about your app and at the same time tracking the amount of downloads could give you an indication of your apps conversion rate. If you plan on doing this, don’t run multiple marketing efforts at once, wait till your sales have stabilized, and be sure to pick a platform that matches your app.
In the beginning of 2012 I added a social aspect to Eve of Impact, the ability to share your score over Twitter. If you choose to share your score, the game automatically adds a screenshot of the game-over screen, in a way it’s a little teaser. Since this generates free exposure, I thought this component was essential to have before even considering dropping the price. Having a lot of people tweet about your app will result in extra traffic, which might result in extra sales.
With the app being free and all, I was expecting to ship more units than usual, around a 1.000 a day would be nice. To my surprise it was bit more.
Before the first 24 hours where over I already shipped 25.000 units. Most of the downloads I think originated from coverage on AppAdvice and my campaign promotion topic on the TouchArcade forums. But I also had some great exposure on other sites like Pocket Tactics, iPhoneClub and a Chinese review site called Banma.com.
Below you can see the amount of downloads during the free period. It’s quit shocking compared to the 2 to 5 downloads I normally get on an average day.
A lot of Reviews
So, a little more than 90.000 downloads in a short week with almost no preparation. Not bad. But what about the negative reviews I was dreading? It was a relief to see almost all people where enthusiastic, some were disappointed the game lacked iPhone 5 support (which I can understand) but with more than 60 new reviews averaging at 4.5 stars I can’t complain. This also means most of those 90.000 people are truly enjoying something I created, and that’s just fantastic!
The social aspect of the game worked out really great, nearly 450 end game screenshots were shared on Twitter, some of them even sparked discussion. Normally there’s maybe one share a week so that’s quit the increase. I’ve collected and uploaded all shots to Flickr.
Racing to the Top
During the week the game shot up the AppStore charts around the world (I tracked this using App Annie) and eventually ranked pretty high in several countries. In a couple eastern european countries Eve of Impact reached half-way the top 25 overall on iPhone and iPad. Compare that to the numbers in the above chart and you can conclude it is a though challenge to reach and stay in the top 25. Although most exposure was generated in the United States (and most downloads originated there), it only reached till position 380 on iPhone overall and 143 on iPad overall.
Since I suspected most of my original sales happened through people searching the AppStore, I also kept a close eye on a service called SearchMan. They track apps based on keywords in the app description and position in the chart, using this information they deduce keyword effectiveness.
Before the sale Eve of Impact was slowly falling down in the search ranking, I also saw this happening to my sales (not a lot but a negative trend), so these two variables might be related. As you can see below the sale positively impacted search ranking which in turn should, if my theory is correct, improve future sales. I’ll only show the keyword “asteroid”, the other keywords follow a similar pattern. At the time of this writing (three weeks after the sale has ended) it’s still ranked around position 25.
AppStore Holiday Closing
Everything was going swimmingly when a friend asked me about the AppStore closing down and how that would affect my price change. Since price changes are an automated process I assumed they would not be affected by the AppStore closing. As always, assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups, now I had a decision to make.
I promised my customers I would restore the original price if the world did not end on the 21st but as I was shipping less and less units each day I could not hold to that promise. Going free for me was about testing my assumptions above and finding out how it impacted sales when going back to paid. I had to start riding that wave of exposure while it was still going. If I waiting for the AppStore to open again, the wave would have been gone and I would miss out on valuable information. So on the 20th late in the evening I restored the original price.
Big in Japan
Once the price was restored I checked App Annie and as I feared all chart positions were reset, ouch. After a week of looking at green up pointing arrows, seeing your app racing to the top, an empty page is not a pretty sight.
The Japanese were however quick to respond to my sadness and decided it would be a great time to put Eve of Impact in the new and noteworthy category on their AppStore front page. This was a very nice surprise!
The feature has resulted in around 550 Japanese downloads for the past couple weeks, which is way more than the amount I normally ship. Before the sale started I averaged at about 30 sales a week, for the past couple of weeks, excluding Japan, it has been at about 120 a week. This is a major improvement and I’m curious as to how long it will stay at this level.
Eventually however the amount of downloads will fall again, thats for sure. For now, this experiment has resulted in a lot of interesting data and on top of that a lot of extra sales, for me making it a tremendous success.