Mobile Game Publishing 101

By Jim Range / September 1, 2015

Making mobile games is a lot of fun. But even after the game is complete, you have finished testing it and it is ready be revealed to the world, you may be surprised that there is still more work to be done.

Publishing mobile games is essentially the steps that are carried out to make a game available to users of mobile devices to download and play. This includes distribution, marketing support, and some aspects of updating of your game.

After all of the hard work that you put into creating your game, it is important not to neglect any of the following when publishing you game.

Consignment Store

You may have heard the term consignment store before. It is a place where you can take something that you want to sell and the consignment store will sell if for you and take a percentage of the sales price as a fee for selling it for you. This is essentially what the mobile app stores are that exist today. And this is where you want your game to be.

Apple App Store, Google Play Store, Amazon Appstore and Windows Phone Store are the most popular stores for publishing mobile games. You sign an agreement with each store to provide them with your app and they will let users download it. If the app is a paid app or uses In App Purchases, then the store will take a percentage (usually about 30%) of the sale price and provide you with the remaining money.

Additionally, the above mentioned “consignment” stores charge annual fees to use them. Apple charges a flat fee of $99/year to use the Apple App Store to publish an unlimited number of apps. Google Play, Amazon App Store and Windows Phone Store each charge $50/year.

Overall, these stores are a great opportunity for game developers to get their games out to the world. While there are millions of apps in the app stores, there are also hundreds of millions of users that shop these stores for apps!

Marketing Basics

Your game might be the best game that ever was created in the history of the world. But the number of players of your game will be very limited if you cannot get people to download it and try it out.

Marketing a game is fundamentally about understanding what your players want to experience (the value they will see in your game) and figuring out a way to effectively communicate the availability of that value to potential players.

Understanding Value

Good marketing begins with understanding who you are making your product for. After that, everything you do to create your product should be done with that end user in mind. The objective is to create something that your target user will value.

But what is it that players value in a game? More than likely it is some sort of change in emotional state that they are looking for. What is the experience that will move them? Excite them? Challenge them? Reward them? Make them laugh? Surprise them? Understanding this is crucial.

Players don’t want to buy a list of features. They want to buy the emotional experience they will get. Your game may be the means to that end. But it is the end result that is important to understand. This is a difficult concept to understand, and the better you understand it the more effective you can communicate the value of your game. And understanding this will make you a better game designer.

Key Words

The majority of your downloads will likely come from potential players searching the app stores for certain key words and key word phrases. Apple lets you enter 100 characters for key words. Google Play infers these from the game description sales copy that you add to your game. Amazon allows 30 key words where any two words should make a key-word-phrase, and Windows Phone Store allows eight 45-character key-word-phrases.

It is important that you do some research to determine what key word phrases your potential players will be searching for. Try searching the different app stores for various key word phrases and see what you come up with. Signup for an Adwords account on Google and look use Adwords to determine the popularity of different key words searches.

The goal is to identify key word phrases that lead potential players to your game that are not too competitive and at the same time are likely to be searched for.

App Icon, Screenshots and App Video

The first impression that most players will get from your game is to see the app icon, app screenshots and app video that you can post to the app stores. These need to catch the potential players attention and communicate the value of your game. If they don’t, you will likely lose their attention at this point.

The screenshots can be more than just images of what your game looks like. You can add extra graphics to make them into essentially a billboard advertisement of your game. It is important though, that they accurately depict what the user will be downloading.

Creating Your Game Description Sales Copy

So you know what your players want and you have a visually appealing game icon and screenshots of your game. If a potential player didn’t choose to download your game based on the images and video alone, they might skim over your game description sales copy. It is important to as succinctly as possible communicate the value that your player wants in your sales copy.

Key words should also be considered and analyzed when creating your app description.

User Reviews

After your game is published, it is important to read all of the user reviews that you get for your game. Feedback will likely be positive and negative and cover may different aspects of your game. But if you read each review and consider it with an open mind, there might be something you can learn regarding how to make your game better.

Updating Your Game

Regularly updating your game with features that your players request and bug fixes can increase the perceived value of your game. A game that is getting attention from its developer is more likely to be a better game and player know this. So make an effort to find ways to regularly update your game; and actually make it better over time.

Periodic updates also gives you an opportunity to update information, such as in the Apple App Store, that you can only change when you submit an update to your game. This includes things like screenshots, game description, language localization, and keywords among other things.

User Acquisition

Some games that I have published became instant successes. They were downloaded tens of thousands of times a day. That is awesome when it works out that way. But the reality is that the app store is getting kind of crowded. All of the above techniques are essential for communicating the value of your game to players and acquiring users. But there is another tool that you can use if you need a nudge to get your game downloaded by more users.

Buy players… well, you aren’t actually buying the players, and it is not as “dirty” as it might sound. It is essentially just paying others to show ads for your game in their game/app. This can be done with tools like Chartboost or Admob and can be very effective at getting your game downloaded. But it can quickly get very expensive too.

Another angle to consider about this is that after you have published multiple games, you can create ads in each of your games to promote your other games. There is definitely a cost to this in the form of opportunity cost. Each time you show one of your own ads, you are not showing an ad that can make you money. But it can definitely be a lot cheaper than paying others to show ads for you.

Review/Analyze Analytics Regularly

On a regular basis, maybe even every day, review the download statistics, ad revenue, ads served, and other analytics data that you collect regarding how players are playing your games. All of this data can be very useful to determine what your options are regarding acquiring more users, increasing your revenue, satisfying players, and whatever other goals you might have.

For example, there might be a certain level in the early stages of your game that is too difficult. You might have only one person complain about it in a review, but your analytics show you that only 2% of people can get passed that level. That is a strong call to action that you need to make a change to your game. Making that change can make a huge difference in user retention, session length, money you earn, etc.

Adjust Advertising Settings

If you use banner ads in your game, try using longer or shorter ad refresh rates for banners ads. The optimal rate is probably a new ad every 60 seconds to refresh in the banner. If you game refreshes too often, then your click through rate will drop and as a result you will make horrible eCPM (effective cost per mille, the amount you earn per 1000 ads shown in your game).

Adjust how often you show full screen interstitial ads. If you show ads too often in your game, players will likely quit your game in frustration. If you don’t show ads often enough, you won’t make enough money to justify supporting and updating the game. In either scenario, you and the player of your game lose. So experiment and find the optimal frequency to show full screen interstitial ads.

I also like to give the player a way to buy the game via an in-app purchase to remove the ads. This enables more players to download the game since it is free and some will choose to play with the ads; some will want to pay to remove them.

To adjust advertising settings, some ad networks enable adjustments to be made in their web application interface. However, some require changes to be made in your own game code. I prefer to load a configuration file from my server on the launch of the game that defines how the ads will behave for that session. This way I can tweak all advertising settings easily and on a daily basis.

About the author

Jim Range

Jim Range has over a decade of experience architecting and implementing software based solutions for numerous fortune 500 companies in industries such as financial services, retail, and insurance, as well as small businesses. Jim has an excellent understanding of the software development lifecycle, agile development, and how to manage the development of an app. Over the past ten years Jim has been focused on mobile software development. He has created over 138 apps that have been downloaded more than 10 million times from the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Windows Phone Store. Jim also has experience as an information security consultant where he has provided numerous network and web application security assessments for Fortune 500 companies in the financial services, retail and insurance industries.