So about 2 weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have a coffee with Keith Shepherd, CEO at Imangi studios – a husband and wife agency who develop and sell App games for iPhones.
I first heard about Keith after reading an interview he’d given in the Washington Post, highlighting young entrepreneurs in the District. At the time I was developing a brand strategy proposal for a company who were looking to market their technology through an App – so I was keen to learn about the market, in particular how developers differentiate themselves, and communicate their value in such a crowded and dynamic market place.
The App economy is a phenomenal story, especially when you consider it didn’t exist 3 years ago. It’s estimated to be worth $4billion in 2012 (ref), and it’s fundamentally redefining the boundaries of what we can now do with mobile devices! (really?). App downloads were up 51% in December 09, compared to Nov 09, which is jaw dropping! (ref). (If you want a ton of analytics on Apps, then visit Flurry’s blog, or click on the last reference link. It’s a great resource.)
Rohit Bhargava – a DC local, brand author and director at Ogilvy 360, recently wrote “the App revolution, more than anything else, is fueled by a new level of utility in content for mobile devices. The popular tagline “there’s an app for that” is based on this ubiquitous utility. When you can find an app to enhance just about anything you are doing, the net effect becomes transformative.” (ref)
Keith and his wife (Natalia) both run Imangi Studios. He describes the company as a family team. “Casual developers” who believe in creating “highly polished Apps”. Their goal is to “create fun – iPhone games with unique game play that everyone can enjoy”.
Both Keith and Natalia are App Store veterans. They launched their first game in July 2008 (the iPhone was launched the year before). Back then, Keith tells me there were around 500 App games on the market – today there are closer to 150,000 Apps, mainly priced around the 99 cents price point.
So how does Keith generate revenues? They have games which are paid for, they also advertise, cross promote with other developers, or they promote games free and offer an upgrade with a small payment.
Keith explained that his company is competing in the “casual games” market, with game play intended for all ages, but particularly popular amongst teenagers. He uses blogs like http://www.toucharcade.com, www.macrumors.com, http://www.ipodtouchfans.com to build a following, and have his ideas for graphics and game play ironed out.
Despite mentioning that many of his users were 20 years my junior, I couldn’t help admit that I download the Hippo High Dive the day before our meeting, and wondered if I was the only one my age compelled to do so?
“Not at all!” Keith replied.
It’s games like these, with their accessibility and sense of fun, that play to the kid in all of us. There are serious minded, ‘stuffy’ corporate exec’s leaving their homes for work today, briefing papers in one hand, and Hippo High Dive in the other – it plays to the need to escape we all have. In fact, Keith sees the middle age player, as the most likely segment to pay for an App game.
Keith stressed the importance of aiming their marketing at the grassroots of the tech blogs and social media, but that sounds fairly passive. The key is “relationship building” he said. Get the influencers to know you, support what you’re doing, so when you need them to talk, they are listening. Apple is so important in this equation. It takes time, but a relationship with the guys inside Apple, may pay huge dividends in the long run. Getting yourself to the World Wide Developers Conference helps too!
Some keys to success:
- Visibility – you want to be charting in the top 25, and preferably featured by iTunes (an honor which few know how to achieve!). At one point his game Harbor Master was No.3 in the US for games.
- Understand the customer journey - (This is critical to brand planning success, and a technique I use with my clients. Go through the steps from when your core customer has the need, the options they consider, how they do research, how they make the purchase, all the way through to the added value your brand may or may not offer after the purchase.)
- In this case, you need to start with a great logo or icon that stands out and speaks to your customers need in a second! It’s got to either provoke curiosity, or be obvious at first sight. To complement that, you need compelling screen shots which draw the buyer in. Keith also talked about how joining forces with other developers, allows you to cross promote. (Click on “more games” inside an App game, and you’ll probably see umbrella brands such as “App treasures” which will direct you to more choices). How does the customer journey end? Well you can Tweet or Facebook your score to all your friends, for some subtle final promotion!
- Build buzz – a month before Harbor Master was released they teased the blogs and forums, sent a press kit along, and gave cuts and images for ‘fans’ to start guessing what was coming.
- Develop a Unique Selling Point – there are many ways to do this. Technically superior. Graphically superior. Theme or Genre. Ideas that people can relate too. The ability to have FUN.
- Marketing spend – not always the key to success, but it helps. It will cost you around $20,000 on ad spend to get to the top 100, or you just let your community take a GREAT idea, and spread it! Here is a stat that will make you sick – it costs $99 a year to put your App on iTunes, and 30% of every download goes to Apple. The strategy for Apple, is to support the App market, which in turn will sell more iPhones (that amounts to quite a few $$$ in Mr Job’s pockets!)
- Go global - 25% of Keith’s revenues come from overseas – he sees this as an untapped market, and already translates some of his games into different languages. (It may not be surprising to most, but you may need special permission if you’re thinking about selling your App games in China.)
There are hundreds, maybe thousands of developers out there who are changing the way we use our mobile devices. Google tell us the desktop won’t exist in 3 years time, and we’re all going mobile.
There are some incredible stories of ‘accidental developers’ becoming overnight millionaires! However, my conversation with Keith demonstrated that it helps to know what you’re doing, and taking a long term view also pays off. Success is not only about being a smart developer. Your relationships with your community is key, first impressions mean everything, and tapping into a piece of insight – a pain point – that customers are willing to drop $0.99 at, could drive you onto the holy grail of the Top 25 list on iTunes.
thanks for following…