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Trey Smith

App Store Optimization Is Dead

By | Game Business Blog | 20 Comments

We’ve seen the app store go through a lot of changes over the years, but this could be the biggest one.  I really didn’t think there would be a day when I would make a post like this, but I’ve been researching, analyzing, and talking to successful developers… so I’m going to come out and say it.  App Store Optimization (ASO) is dead.

To create any successful business you need two things:  traffic and conversions.  This is true regardless if you’re a SAAS company like Buildbox, a car company like Tesla or if you make mobile games.  In theory, conversions are pretty simple.  You have to have a great product and some system to convert that product into dollars.  With mobile games, this has always been either a premium or freemium business model.  Either charge the money up front, or make money with ads and in app purchases.  Pretty simple, but the traffic side of the business?  Not simple at all.

When I started in 2010, there wasn’t a lot of competition in the app store.  My first game, which was OK, but not amazing, got featured by Apple.  If you got featured on Touch Arcade, you would be in the Top 100 games.  I could email my newsletter list and break the Top 100 of a game category.  Now, that might seem like the “golden years”, but that’s not really true.  While it was easier to rank, it was also a LOT less people on mobile devices.  This year, Apple announced it had sold 1 billion iPhones.  Not only that, including iPad, they have over 1 billion different devices currently active.  That is insane. To put that in perspective, in 2010 when I started there were only 42 million iPhones sold.

So, was it easier to rank in 2010 than 2016?  Yes, but your app was seen by 4% as many people.  Easier launches, much less top side.  This is one reason we’ve generated more revenue in the past 18 months than we have the previous 4 years. The other reason is, the traffic model…

App Traffic

Now let’s discuss traffic, because this is the real lifeblood of any business, and it’s always been sketchy when it comes to apps.  There has often been some sort of short lived “secret” that people would figure out and run as hard as possible until it quit working, and typically this worked around ASO.

Let me give you some examples:

In 2010, people got traffic from Apple features or outside sources like press mentions or email lists.  Again, it was easy to rank then, but less upside because of so few people on mobile devices.

In 2012, people started figuring out App Store Optimization (ASO).  This started earlier, and used to be called App Store SEO, but this is around the time it really took off.  If you’re not familiar, ASO is simply showing up in search results in the app store.

If you can figure out how to rank #1 for “running game”, then your running game is going to get a lot of downloads. Around this time is when people started figuring out tricks. For example, we found out that for a short while Apple was ranking the developer’s company name higher than anything else.  If you made a company called “Best Game, Inc”, then you would rank #1 for the extremely competitive keyword “best game”.  We also found out if you named your app a single name with a period after it, that you would rank #1.  I had a game called “Games.” and another one called “Music.” and ranked #1 for both terms.  To be clear, I didn’t make these up, as a community we were all figuring it out and sharing.  The problem is, it turned into a game of cat and mouse.  None of these tricks work anymore and Apple was constantly trying to shut down the loopholes it created.  They took this very far the past few years making insane changes to the way search works on iPhone.

What App Search Looked Like When ASO Wasn't Dead

In 2016, Apple continued to make changes until they completely killed App Store Optimization as a business model.  At the time of this writing, I do not personally know a single person who is significantly growing a mobile game business based on ASO.  Even the people who had legacy rankings (i.e. they ranked high for terms in 2012) have slipped down the search results.  This proposed a major problem for developers.  App Store Optimization is how I got my first 10,000,000 downloads, and was the de facto way for indie entrepreneurs to make it in the game market.

Now we’re in 2017.  This is a new era, and as typical in these situations, a few other options have risen up to take place of the falling model.  Yes, App Store Optimization is dead.  It’s a crowded market that now gives the games on top even more leverage, but this does not mean it’s the end for the indie game owner.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  I’m happy to say our business is growing faster than ever and the new model that has replaced ASO for us is here to stay.  It’s actually consistent, which App Store Optimization never was for us.

Before I explain exactly what we’re doing, let me show you every option that is currently working for people right now.

What Works Now

There are a few things that work right now in the mobile market.  Some are harder than others, but I’ll list them all out below, then explain what we’re doing (as well as our most successful customers).

Social Influencers

We’ve seen a lot of people doing well by either hiring or partnering with social influencers.  Obviously there are the really big deals done with Kim Kardashian, but this has also worked out on a smaller scale.  We’ve seen people partnering with Vine (RIP) stars, Instagram famous people and more.  It’s a good approach if you have a big following, are great at networking or don’t mind spending some money to promote your game.

App Store Feature

This is a tough one to base your business on, but I do know one person, who is not a publisher, who does it.  He literally has built a business solely based on getting featured.  The key here is to first meet someone from the editorial or business development team, and then make sure to add as many new features to your game as possible, and create polished products. Even then though, it’s a bit of a lottery.  If you can somehow make yourself desirable – and have Apple or Google chasing after you – then you have a real strong shot at getting lots of features… but again, easier said than done.

Buying Installs

Buying installs is a huge market dominated by big players like MZ, makers of Game of War, and King, makers of Candy Crush. Because this upper echelon of developer has nearly unlimited financial resources, it’s made purchasing traffic extremely expensive for game developers.  I’ve heard you can gain chart position buying Facebook ads for some more obscure non-game app types because they are less competitive, but as a general rule, it’s not easy at all to get profitable buying installs on arcade games.  The one exception I often see is the Piano Tiles which is now owned by the Chinese company, Cheetah Mobile.  I haven’t quite figured out their strategy yet, but they often advertise what seems like a pretty simple game.  Probably worth investigating ;)

Getting Published

The final option you have to get traffic is also the most consistent one.  The only other option that might match it in consistency is partnering with a social influencer, but that largely depends on the outside success of the influencer themselves overtime.

Regardless, probably at no surprise to anyone, getting published is our option of choice to get traffic to our games.  The reason we pick this over other models is because:

  1. Diversification – You’re not locked down to one single source (Apple Feature) or the monetary value of a market (buying installs).  Just like every other major media market, there are many publishers to choose from and the list is only growing.
  2. Creation Guidance – We create games by analyzing what is working for publishers.  This vastly helps us decide what to create, and ensures that we have at least a decent shot of the game doing well (we don’t always hit home runs, but we almost always make it on base).  If you get featured, partner with a celebrity or buy installs, you are pretty much on your own.  There is no roadmap to follow or guidance on what you should make.
  3. Ease of use – Not having to worry at all about the marketing has been a huge stress relief on our company.  I used to stay up all night trying to figure out the latest ASO hack when we would get delisted.  Now we just focus on one thing:  Making good games.

Most importantly, it’s been the most consistent way to grow a game business that I have ever seen.  This is how every Buildbox customer who is crushing it has dominated the App Store.  In fact, 70% of the games on our All Star list were published.

$500 Buildbox Customer Promotion from Microsoft and Vungle

By | Buildbox Notes | 19 Comments

To celebrate the release of Buildbox 2.1.0, and the addition of a major new export feature, we have partnered with Microsoft and Vungle to create a great promotion for the Buildbox community.

The Buildbox 2.1.0 Update

Buildbox 2.1.0 launches today with two major new features:  Swipe controls and Windows UWP (Universal Windows Platform) support.  With UWP support, Buildbox customers will be able to immediately export to the Windows 10 store on desktop computers, and soon stores on Windows mobile and Xbox one.

Buildbox founder, Trey Smith, recently commented, “We’re very excited about adding official support for the Windows 10 store.  Microsoft is doing some great things with the platform and we’re especially excited about their desktop store.  Right now their install base is rivaling iPhone with more than 300 million computers using Windows 10 that have access to the store.  We are hearing developers are making eCPMs that are comparable to Android and iOS”.

The Microsoft + Vungle Promotion

Vungle has not only been the leader of in-app video advertising on mobile, they’ve also been an early adopter for advertising in Windows 10 apps.  They have released their Windows 10 SDK – which will be automatically included in Buildbox 2.1.0 – and have seen serious success with the platform.  In order to promote Buildbox 2.1.0 and UWP integration, Microsoft has generously partnered with Vungle and agreed to give $500 to Buildbox customers who bring their games over to the Windows 10 Store.

“Developers are making eCPMs that are comparable to Android and iOS”

There are a few requirements, so let’s walk through the rules.

The Promotion Rules

Joining the Windows 10 promotion is simple.  Here are the ground rules:

  • You must be a Buildbox customer
  • Your game should be exported for the Windows 10 Store
  • You should use only Vungle ads in your game
  • A single game must generate $25 in Vungle Ads revenue before July 1, 2016
  • Offer available to the first 30 people who cross this revenue threshold
  • Only one $500 bonus can be paid per developer

After you’ve crossed the revenue threshold for any single game, email with your account email address.  Make sure to notate in the subject you are part of the Buildbox community and have completed this promotion.  After Vungle has verified you are one of the first 30 people to cross the threshold, Microsoft will add $500 to your developer payment account and you will be paid during the next billing cycle.

Integration and Exporting

With Buildbox 2.1.0, exporting your game with Windows UWP is simple.  First you’ll need to setup Vungle by signing up for an account.  Now you’ll enter your Vungle Key in settings, and choose Vungle as your ad provider.  Next, update your key bindings for keyboard use in settings.  Then simply choose File > Export > Windows Store.

Once you have exported your file, sign up for a Windows 10 Developer Account and download Visual Studio Community to compile your binary.  Upload your game into your Windows Developer account and upload your game into the Windows 10 Store.

For more help, and to discuss this promotion with other customers, make sure to check out the community forums.

New Buildbox Game: SKY

By | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

We’re happy to announce that our latest Buildbox game, Sky, has been both Featured by Apple and given banner placement on the home screen:

Sky was created by our very own Nik Rudenko (lead developer at Buildbox) and shows off some pretty cool new features he’s been playing around with on a prototype version of Buildbox, including portals, clones and paths.

You can download SKY now on iOS and Android.

Announcing the Buildbox Subscription

By | Buildbox Notes | 50 Comments

Notice:  We have updated our subscription terms and have a yearly contract.

The subscription terms are very similar to other desktop software products. Here’s how it will work:

  • The Buildbox subscription price is $99 per month with a 1 year commitment totaling $1,188.
  • With an active Buildbox subscription, you get access to every feature available in Buildbox including the full game creation, monetization, effects and export options.
  • You can cancel your subscription after fulfilling your terms, and your copy of Buildbox will revert to demo mode.
  • All updates, including new releases, are free during an active subscription.
  • Buildbox does not take any royalties or fees for the content you create with the full license purchase or subscription. Anything you create with Buildbox is 100% yours regardless if a subscription is active or not.

You can find more information about the subscription plan here.


Final Event Teaser

By | Buildbox Notes | 16 Comments

Ok Guys and Gals,

The big event is now only a few days away.  This final “leaked screenshot” isn’t really a screenshot… but it’s probably the biggest hint we’ve given out so far.  Check it out below.

Also, few final details about this event:

  1. We will be releasing our biggest package to date (bigger than any previous “elite” course we made)
  2. We will not be sending out recordings of the event, though we might possibly open up another night if we have a request (as of now, it’s only Wednesday at 5:00PM PST)
  3. The event will be about 1.5 hours long.  We will be getting straight into it, so don’t be late ;)

Final Teaser

Leaked Screenshot #2

By | Buildbox Notes | 21 Comments

We had a great time releasing the all-stars yesterday and also the first leaked screenshot.  It’s been exciting to read all of the guesses, and for the first time someone got pretty close in our customer forum!

Before we release the next screenshot, let me give you two more hints about what we’re unveiling on the big event next week:

1. We’ve seen a lot of people guessing this is just an upgraded version of Buildbox.  I can promise you it’s much more than that.  This is a very high-end product that compliments Buildbox perfectly, but is not a replacement for Buildbox.  Buildbox will always be our flagship software.  We will have a few big new features we’ll reveal on this event.

2. How can this be bigger than Buildbox, while Buildbox is still our flagship software?  Because we’ve never stated we’re just releasing one thing. ;)

Here’s leaked screenshot #2… we have one more coming tomorrow:

Introducing the Buildbox All Stars (and leaked screenshot)

By | Uncategorized | 22 Comments

Hey Guys,

It’s been an exciting week here at Buildbox as we’re all preparing for the huge special event this Wednesday.  This is going to be our largest product to date and I can’t wait to show it off.  It’s absolutely massive.

Today we’re going to leak a screenshot from just part of this product, and also announce the release of our All-Stars.

The Buildbox All-Stars

Just this year Buildbox has had an astounding 9 games featured by Apple.  This is not only more than any other game builder… it’s more than all of them combined!  Pretty amazing and we’re excited to celebrate these customer successes with a new All-Star section.

On a weekly basis, we’ll be updating this section to show you what Buildbox games are Featured by Apple and/or breaking the Top 100 so make sure to check back often.  Just last week we had the release of two All-Star games (.PXL which was featured by Apple and Circulate which broke the Top 8 of all games) and this week we’ve had yet another break the Top 100 Games (Swaggy Ninja) while Cosmos was featured in 94 countries including the United Kingdom.

1st Leaked Screenshot

We’ve seen many forum post, questions and social media write-ups trying to guess what we’re launching next week.  No one has guessed it yet, but we’ll give you another hint right now ;)

With Buildbox, we solved the need of hiring a programmer.  Now you can create games without ever learning how to code, but unfortunately you still have to hire many other people to solve other needs.  Next week, we will solve all of these problems as well.

This will be the biggest project to date and it will consist of many different parts.  Here’s the first “leaked” screenshot:

The Making of The Line Zen

By | Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Last year we were approached by Ketchapp to create a sequel to their hit game, The Line.  Strangely, The Line was a big inspiration for my game Phases, so we jumped at the chance.

What came to be was The Line Zen and so far it’s the most successful Buildbox game to date.  We were featured by Apple, a trending search topic and are currently the number one iPhone game in the US.

Below is a short video detailing how we created the game with our drag and drop software:

Line Zen Takes #1 Spot for All Games

By | Uncategorized | 41 Comments

We’re excited to announce our latest Buildbox game, The Line Zen, is the #1 game in the US iPhone App Store.

We’re a bit shocked and honored by the feedback on our latest Buildbox game.  We’ve been featured by Apple, a trending search term, hit number one of all iPhone games and have broken the Top 10 list of all apps in the US.  The Line Zen is also the number one of all apps in France, Belgium, Hungary, and Poland, and in the Top 100 of 90 total countries!

Thanks so much for everyone’s support and you can follow along step by step on my personal Facebook page here.

The Line Zen is a physics avoidance game and sequel to Ketchapp’s 2014 hit game, The Line.  It’s available now for both Android and iOS.  Look out for a new video walkthrough of it’s creation soon!

Bounce Breaks 2,000,000 Downloads In First Week

By | Showcase Games | 15 Comments

We’re very happy to announce Bounce has crossed the 2,000,000 download mark yesterday which was exactly 7 days after it’s release.   Averaging over 250,000 downloads per day since it’s release, this makes Bounce the fastest growing game every created with Buildbox.

The previous Buildbox record holder, Phases, received 977,000 downloads during it’s first week, and coincidentally crossed the 4,000,000 total download mark yesterday.

At the time of this writing Bounce is still hovering in the Top 50 of all free games and is available on iOS and Android.  Make sure to also check out our story of how Bounce was created and see a video of the Buildbox save file.

Want to create a game like Bounce yourself?  Try out Buildbox with the Game Business Challenge.