How to Market Mobile Games without a Budget [VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Yesterday I was interviewed by Apptentive, a company dedicated to helping developers get the positive feedback their apps deserve. In the interview, VP of Community Management Ezra Siegel and I discussed ways to market mobile games on a $0 budget. For those of you who weren’t able to make it to the live Q&A, Apptentive kindly posted the interview and notes, which I copied below for your viewing/reading pleasure.

Questions with Notes from the Interview

Here are the list of questions we covered during the Q&A, as well as answer summaries.

  1. What research should first-time mobile game developers do before beginning development?

    Audience Research. Who is going to be your target audience? Mobile app gamers are used to free games or paying very little, so you need to make up for that through volume sales. Make sure there is a broad enough audience that makes it worthwhile to create the game you have in mind. Research potential competitors as you are all targeting the same audience. Learn from their success or failure whether there is a broad enough audience that can support your app.

    Product Road Map. Plan out the creation of your app. For example, if you are planning to launch on X date, then you might want to start blogging on Y date to raise awareness. By creating a product road map you are able to smoothly market your app while developing it.

  2. When should your marketing efforts begin and what should early marketing efforts include?

    It is really important to start marketing from day one. The very beginning of the marketing process is knowing your target audience so that you are able to tailor your gameplay to that audience. Beyond that there are two things to focus on.

    Building an Audience. While creating your game, have an active presence on the blogs, forums, and other sites where your target audience spends their time. Utilize the social media channels and even create a blog of your own to share updates and information about the app.

    Building a Network. Build a network of people who will promote your app. Follow the reporters, journalists, and bloggers who write about the games that you like and reach out to them before you launch. A great example of building a huge presence before release is Sauropod Studios with its game Castle Story.

  3. What elements go into an effective App Store download page that will drive downloads for your game?

    There are 5 key elements.

    Killer App Icon. Create an app icon that engages the audience and is also able to convey what the game is about. Avoid text in icons.

    Great Description. Most people will only read the first sentence, so focus on making that first sentence as engaging as possible.

    Benefits List. Instead of a features list, have a benefits list. People aren’t interested in the real-time rendering or physics behind the game. They want to know about what they are getting (#of levels, characters, boss battles, etc.).

    Screen Shots. We live in a visual world so we need to rely on engaging images that accurately portray what the app is all about. Use informative but simple image captions to help tell the story in your screen shots.

    Ratings/Reviews. Ratings and reviews are the word-of-mouth marketing in the app world. Make sure you have really strong, positive reviews as they show what fellow gamers thought about the game.

  4. How can you use in-app advertising without driving away people who play your game?

    Take ownership of how advertisements are incorporated into your game.

    Ad Placement. Place ads in between levels or during loading screens. Try to minimize actual gameplay interruption as much as possible.

    Be Selective. Be smart about the ads you allow in your app. Don’t incorporate low quality, grainy ads that lower the overall quality/look of your app and tarnish your skill as a developer.

    Competitors. This should be incredibly obvious, but, do not show ads of your competitors. Driving traffic away from your app to a competitor = bad for business.

    Testing. Be aware of how ads are affecting the session use. If the number of app sessions start to fall consider lowering the amount of times ads are placed during a session.

  5. Do your marketing efforts end when a person downloads your game? How can you continue marketing efforts to keep players engaged even after they purchase the game?

    No, the marketing never stops! This is some of the most challenging marketing to do, especially if you are a free app relying on advertising

    Addictive Gameplay. The best way to bring players back to your app is through addictive gameplay. This is where the market research that you painstakingly conducted on even before development comes into play. You know your audience, and you have tailored your gameplay to them in a way that will bring them back.

    Frequent updates. Updating your app on a consistent basis will help keep your audience engaged and coming back. If you forget about the people using your app they will forget about you. Frequent updates lets your audience know you are continuing to build for them, and they appreciate it.

    Out of App Marketing. Don’t forget about your out of app marketing. Your blog, game forums, sites, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest… the list goes on. Continuing to be active in your social community and other communities will help keep people in the loop about your app. These are all pieces of the solution and the best success is achieved combining all these pieces together.

  6. How can you drive positive ratings and reviews for your game?

    Amazing Gamplay. It’s simple and hard at the same time, but amazing gameplay is what will undoubtedly drive in great ratings and reviews.

    Negative Feedback. It is hard to create a game with the perfect type of gameplay for any audience, so embrace the negative feedback. Reach out to those who give you negative feedback and encourage them to share more information about what was wrong. People who post negative reviews like to be heard. App developers should try reaching out to people who leave negative feedback to make them feel important, and more importantly, involved. Show them that you have considered their feedback and improved upon it and ask for another review. Most likely the person who left negative feedback will become one of your biggest advocates because of the time you spend talking with them.

    Friends, Family, the Network. Utilize your friends, family, and audience that you have built during development, including those more influential bloggers, journalists, and game reviewers. But, be careful that they don’t over hype or give inaccurate reviews–gamers will see through that.

    Apptentive. Apptentive is a great tool for app developers to use to connect with their customers. Apptentive helps you intercept the negative feedback from reaching the app store, engage with your audience, and make sure that the positive ratings and reviews roll in.

About Apptentive

Apptentive helps app developers engage with the people who use their apps with easy in-app feedback tools to drive better ratings, solicit customer feedback and deploy real-time surveys. Visit Apptentive.


Emmy Jonassen is a marketing pro who helps indie developers build adoring fanbases. Marketing people who love buzz words call this "lead generation."



about 11 years ago

I was really bummed that I missed this. Thanks so much for posting so soon!



about 11 years ago

You're welcome! Thanks for checking it out. Hope it was helpful.



about 11 years ago

Hi, Thierry from Sauropod Studio here. Someone pointed us here saying you talked about us a little so I took a little bit of my time to watch the video and read your article. We aren't working on any mobile version of our game but all those points can clearly be applied for any platforms. One major thing that I would like to point out is that when you build your community, don't expect to do it all by yourself. If your product is interesting, there will be a lot of people willing to help you for free just to be somehow part of the project. Also, communication, communication,communication. This is a so much important but sometime complex aspect of the developpement that you can easily forget. In our case we had a little problem at the end. we ran out of ideas for the blog. Then for about 2 months we didn't showed any progress at all and people got a little angry at us. That's normal but on the other hand we had nothing to show. Our problem was that we always wanted to show polished videos about the recent progress and that took too much time and effort each time. So we decided to start making just little posts about every little breaktroughs. no more staged video, we take now our camera, film the new feature for 2 seconds then push it to twitter. that helped a lot.



about 11 years ago

Hi Thierry. Thanks for the comment and watching the Q&A with me and Apptentive. You bring up a really great point here: polished content vs. getting content out there to keep interest going. When it comes to trailer/teaser videos, or videos that you're submitting to review sites, etc., these need to be very polished and finished. However, videos to get fans excited about new features or updates, don't have to be perfect. In fact, often times it's better when they're not. Quick and dirty videos have ums, ahs and are not perfect. But these imperfections bring fans a little closer to knowing who is behind the game, i.e., what the real developers are like outside of slick videos, screen shots and so on. They show your personality and build a connection with your fanbase. Plus, they are way easier to make and push out. Speaking of...looking forward to seeing more of Castle Story :)



about 11 years ago

I would like to get feedback from you about issuing a demo. It is safe (in terms of sb else copying the idea...) vs the benefit of the feedback got? A demo may or may not be issued to everybody or just people asking for it (directly or the base of newsletter subscribers...?) Any other consideration about¿?¿?¿?



about 11 years ago

The best way to ensure that no one can copy your idea (without facing legal action), is to copyright your game. This is rather expensive and time consuming, but is your safest bet. Beyond that, the best way is to be selective with who you choose to give your demo to. If you're just looking for feedback, why even give out a demo? Why not just do some kind of closed beta where all participants understand the purpose of the beta is feedback. If you go this route, you could even get away with having your participants agree to some kind of a statement of confidentiality, etc.



about 11 years ago

Thanks a lot for the answer! I will follow the closed beta route. Just a few, informed and conmmited testers can be safer and way better than an open beta.


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