Last Friday was a milestone in my app development career. Along with two friends, Troy and Jeremy, I released my first iOS game, Viva Stampede, one of the best match three games of 2013 (wink, wink).
Viva Stampede is noteworthy for several reasons.
Jeremy created gorgeous graphics and artwork for the game. We went with a kid-friendly zoo theme, complete with a coyote, hippo, rattlesnake, otter, panda, toucan, and, naturally, a deranged platypus. Because I had very little to do with that aspect of the project, I can compliment him without that compliment being a humble brag.
Viva is a match three puzzle game—a la Bejeweled and Zookeeper. It’s easy to learn how to play it, but mastering the game is another story. A quirky (albeit, brief) storyline and memorable Powerups, such as the Magic Net and Platypus Trap, all work together to make Viva worth playing more than once. (Now that was definitely a humble brag!)
We hired a fourth friend, Michael Grubb, to create an original soundtrack and sound effects for the game. I don’t know whether to call it world-jungle music, or a drum-line-jazz-flute medley, or urban-tribal-zoo tunes on crack, but Mr. Grubb knows how to create some ear worms. I find myself whistling melodies.
Beginning to end, the game cost us about $600 out of pocket. Granted, Troy took care of the lion’s share of the programming, and Jeremy did all the graphics.
Our approach to bringing this game from idea to reality was different than my past development projects, due in large part to a tool I discovered last December—AppStoreRankings.net.
I’m going to share the quick-and-dirty of our process. Maybe something similar will help other indie app developers put our more games for less money.
1. Identify a popular gameplay style and “reskin” it. Reskinning is all the rage these days, and you don’t have to look far on the App Store to find games that are for your eyes what a deep-fried Twinkie is for your heart.
Don’t create spammy apps that aren’t fun to play. Do find a simple gameplay style that would work well with a fresh theme. Some top match three games have done quite well, so we knew that simple puzzle games have staying power.
I was able to trade source codes with a friend, and get a solid code foundation for free.
2. Research popular themes. The App Store is a brilliant marketing tool because it allows you to do beta testing, crowdsourcing, and market research all in one place. For free. Anytime you like. Brilliant.
Troy, Jeremy, and I all did research on our own, and then we pooled our best ideas. Zoo and animal themes are very popular right now:
Popular gameplay + popular theme = recipe for success.
3. Do keyword research with AppStoreRankings.net. The next stage for us was identifying strong keywords. Most developers make one of two mistakes: they create a game that they like without paying attention to what’s already popular (or unpopular); or they model what’s popular but don’t put a fresh spin on the theme, graphics, and artwork.
That’s why you see spammy titles like “Angry Space Ninja Birds Temple Subway Dragon.” These derivative games that don’t look as good, work as well, or make as much money.
We wanted to avoid those two mistakes, so after defining a general direction, we decide to let keyword research determine the particulars.
Gettin’ Nitty Gritty Wid It
If you’re going to create a game with a zoo theme, you have hundreds of animals from which to choose. As you can imagine, lots of games already feature lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!
But the funky platypus, common coyote, and deadly rattlesnake were all underutilized and just as fun!
To say that your keyword choices affect your app’s success would be a gross understatement.
With over 800,000 active apps available for download, there’s a lot of clutter and a lot of competition. Now that the App Store only shows one app per “screen” when you’re searching for apps on your phone, those precious spots in the top 10 for each keyword (and phrase) can mean the difference between profitability and oblivion.
Here’s what we used AppStoreRankings.net to do:
- Choose the keywords in the title, “viva” and “stampede.”
- Choose keywords for the “subtitle”: “match,” “three,” “puzzle,” and “game.”
- Fine-tune the theme, including animals and storyline.
- Select optimal keywords to use in the 100-character META keywords section.
- Pick extra keywords to use in the app’s description.
Choosing the Right Keywords
Choosing the right keywords is an art. You’re often trying to predict the phrases that people will use, so you need to understand the relationships between keywords, and maximize the number of potential combinations.
For example, most people searching for a game like Viva Stampede aren’t just going to search for “match.” They’ll search for “match puzzle,” or “match game,” or “match three game.”
We also had to consider the various ways that people might type out “match” and “three”: “match three,” “match 3,” “match-three,” “match-3,” “matchthree,” “match3,” and so on.
Other people aren’t familiar with the match terminology at all, and think more in terms of slide games, line games, or tile games. We used the Keyword Spy feature to poach keywords from some of the best match three games.
AppStoreRankings.net also helped us figure out which keywords were the most valuable. The best keywords have the right ratio of number of searches in relation to the number of apps targeting that keyword (i.e., the competition).
We knew that Viva would never be able to rank in the top 10 for “game,” but after the game was live for only a few days, it did rank #1 for the phrase “match three game.” Not bad!
Extra Keywords in the Description
Even though keywords in the app’s description don’t seem to factor heavily into Apple’s current ranking algorithm, they can attract the attention of Google’s ranking and indexing bots.
In other words, it can’t hurt to throw as many good keywords into the description as possible because your app’s iTunes page is a web page. iTunes pages tend to rank well in general for their keywords.
Don’t take my word for it. Do a Google search for “viva stampede,” and you’ll see that the Viva Stampede iTunes page ranks #1.
The Rest of the Story
So once we had a solid foundation of popular gameplay, a fresh spin on a popular theme, and strong keyword choices to boost discoverability, we actually started building it.
I won’t go into all the other decisions that went into making Viva Stampede a great-looking, addictive game, but we’re pleased with version 1.0.
We think it’s already one of the best match three games, but we’re biased.
Download Viva Stampede for free by clicking here—http://georiot.co/yAa—and let us know what you think.