A couple of years ago, I wanted to turn my abstract app store access (ASO) ability into a alive skill.

So I absitively to advance a mobile game. My goal was to validate the antecedent that in the super-competitive mobile gaming market, you can launch a artefact that will grow into article large solely through amoebic traffic.

Let me say right away that I accurate this hypothesis: a mobile game we created over the weekend ended up accession over 2 actor downloads, and accustomed over 30,000 new users per day at its peak, all through amoebic traffic.

But the path to success looked annihilation like the aboriginal plan. Here is the story of how the activity acquired and how one small change added the number of downloads by 200 percent.

What artefact should I create?

I anon absitively that I wanted to make a game. At the time, it had almost been a year since I had quit Zeptolab (the developer of Cut the Rope series, King of Thieves, and CATS) and I really missed the thrill and joy of game development. This was an befalling to revisit this old hobby.

I spent two weeks anecdotic and belief accepted game niches in app stores. I explored the space, acrimonious out abeyant competitors with whom I would have to attempt for first place in the search results.

webrok

Following my analysis, I absitively to build a truck simulator. Without going too much into the details, here are the affidavit why I chose this niche.

  1. It was a niche with a lot of amoebic traffic, and most importantly, it was growing. Top games were accepting millions of downloads per month (I used Sensor Tower for the analysis).
  2. Even though there were clear leaders in this segment, there were also many apps with more than 100k installs per month, which adumbrated the games were accepting amoebic cartage in assorted ways.
  3. Most games were low-quality and monetized through ads. This meant their users’ lifetime value (LTV) was low, and they could not afford paid user acquisition. This was good news, because I could not afford it either.
  4. These apps didn’t access users through paid ads, and they were not featured in app stores. They survived purely on amoebic cartage from search and app store recommendations.

Here is an archetype of one of the most accepted truck simulators that was downloaded over 700,000 times within a month on Google Play alone:

webrok

The aboriginal plan to win amoebic cartage in the truck actor niche

Here’s what my antecedent plan looked like:

1. Make an arcade game about trucks.
2. Launch it on Google Play. Search and recommendations work much better on Google Play than on the Apple App Store, which is why I made this choice for the experiment.
3. Transform abstract ability about ASO into activated skills using $1,000 for the product’s launch and its promotion.
4. Make some money (if I’m lucky).

Here is what absolutely happened…

Making the game

I made the game with a friend (he wished to remain anonymous, but in many ways, he deserves equal merit for the success of this project). It took us about a week to come up with a concept.

In the end, we absitively to make a game based on a famous Volvo commercial. In this ad, Jean-Claude Van Damme did a split on the side windows of two moving trucks. We anticipation it would be fun for players to try being the driver of the right truck.

The goal of the game was to go as far as accessible while befitting Van Damme from falling down. The task was complicated because the left truck acted unpredictably. It could advance and switch lanes. The player active the right truck needed to adapt to the left truck and keep Van Damme standing. The gameplay became arduous when the trucks accomplished road billboards, because Van Damme had to do the splits every time the trucks would go under one. It was a casual arcade game with fun hardcore gameplay that drove some of the players mad.

We developed the game on Unity over a weekend. We spent addition week creating the copy and actual for the app store, testing on altered accessories (Android was a real pain), and implementing ad monetization to the game (keeping in mind point 4 in our plan — “earn some cash if we’re lucky”).

Here’s the bivouac of the game:

The game’s launch and “advanced” ASO practices

We launched the game on May 15, 2016. On the day of the launch, there weren’t too many new users aside from us and a couple of friends. It was time to start acquirements how to get amoebic cartage through ASO tactics.

Our first target was amoebic search cartage in the app store. We had $1,000 to outdistance our competitors and abduction search traffic. I accomplished there was no chance to win the top keywords right away. Therefore, at the start, we aimed at low and medium antagonism search queries.

A abundant assay of the semantic core using ASOdesk accustomed us to analyze three acute search queries that had reasonable antagonism and just enough traffic.

We used the afterward action to get to the top baronial for keywords from our target list:

  1. We afflicted the name of the game so it would accommodate the keyword we were aggressive for. The attendance of the search phrase in the title maximized affairs to rank high for this keyword in search results.
  2. We launched an ad attack and acquired cartage in Russia only, but due to the Google Play algorithms, this afflicted the app’s positions in search after-effects of the targeted keyword in other countries as well.

The advance attack for each search keyword lasted several days (depending on the time it took to reach top positions). Some keywords that could be accompanying placed in the title were answer together. After extensive the top-three positions for a specific keyword on Google Play, we afflicted the name of the app, so that a new keyword appeared in it, and then conducted a agnate campaign.

At the end of the attack for the first search keyword, the amoebic cartage alfresco Russia accomplished 40 downloads per day (right Y axis on the graph). After the paired attack for the second and the third keywords, the downloads alfresco Russia accomplished 70 per day, and in Russia itself there were as many as 500.

webrok

If we had more money for the promotion, we could have connected to consistently win more and more high-frequency keywords, while advancement positions for the old ones.

But due to the bound budget, I absitively to go all-in and spend the actual money on one able search query that might have taken the game to the top. This query was “eurotruck actor 2.” This was the name of a accepted game that was accessible on Steam, so people were attractive for it in mobile app stores very often, even though it wasn’t there. As part of this campaign, we also answer the query “euro truck simulator” to access both search queries.

The bid lost. The game only climbed as high as seventh position in the United States under “euro truck actor 2” search query and up to the 5th position in “euro truck simulator.” In some other countries, the game landed an even lower position.

We accustomed some amoebic traffic, but there was no money to abutment our position in search after-effects for this keyword. Epic Split Truck Simulator’s baronial began to gradually abatement in search after-effects for all the keywords we had used. The downloads alone too.

After a couple of weeks, the game counterbalanced at 50 downloads per day. We beat our entire budget, we earned some experience, and we froze the project. But we still let the game stay in Google Play.

Unexpected twist

The axis point came at the end of November (six months after the launch), when Epic Split aback began to grow decidedly (mainly in Russia and CIS countries).

webrok

Finding out the reason behind the sudden growth was not easy. The app wasn’t featured in the app store, the search query positions remained the same, and the game did not appear in curated lists such as ‘top apps’ on the app store. After some research, I didn’t find a single acknowledgment of the game in any tech advertisement or blog.

To find out where the users came from, I began autograph to anybody who left a review, asking them to acquaintance me and tell me how and where they abstruse about the game.

It turned out that the game had somehow found its way into the apprentice community. After advertent Epic Split, these users started to attempt and tried to beat each other in the game.

Epic Split began to spread through word of mouth. This gave the app a able starting push on Google Play, which then helped the game to clinch top positions for accordant search queries in the app store. It also made sure the artefact was picked up by the app stores’ advocacy systems.

Google Play’s recommended app mechanisms cannot be advised a part of featuring. They are alone for each user. That’s why it was so difficult to analyze them.

Changing the access for ASO optimization

After award out the apparatus that helped Epic Split grow, we began to agreement with the game and build on its success. One of the changes we made was to the game’s icon, which had a very abrupt effect on artefact growth.

On the right is the aboriginal icon. On the left is the new icon we advised for the game.

webrok

Here’s what happened:

  • On January 20, we launched a new icon (left) for 100 percent of users.
  • After that, the number of downloads added badly (almost threefold), and we absitively to check whether this had annihilation to do with the icon or not.
  • On January 26, 50 percent of Google Play visitors were presented with the old icon, while the other 50 percent saw the new one.
  • On January 27, we chock-full the agreement because it had a abrogating effect on the number of downloads.

According to the after-effects of the experiment, it turned out that with the new icon, the about-face to download was 80 percent higher. But at the same time, the impact on the number of downloads was decidedly greater ( 200 percent). Why?

Number of downloads by day:

webrok

Number of downloads by hour:

webrok

The reason was that the main cartage source for Epic Split was coming from the recommendations accumulating presented on the main page of the app store. The new icon had a higher CTR, and this had an impact on the accretion funnel on several levels, which ultimately had assorted effects:

  • Conversion from announcement the app’s icon in the advocacy area into beat on the advocacy unit on the Google Play homepage increased. As a result, more users came to the app page.
  • App page about-face rate also added thanks to the new icon.
  • Consequently, the all-embracing access in about-face (from being shown in advocacy into download) became equal to the artefact of convalescent about-face rates in the two antecedent steps.
  • The above factors caused Google Play to acclaim the game more often and rank it higher among recommended apps, since it was more likely to be adapted into a download.

So one small change in the icon led to a threefold access in the number of app downloads.

Building up the success

We connected to engage in ASO access of the app page, alive on the icon and screenshots. The effect of this work was much greater than direct attempts to win over the top search results.

Over the next month, in almost all the key countries, the page about-face rate of Epic Split became acutely above the industry boilerplate for agnate apps. As a result, Google Play connected to expand the pool of users who were shown the game in their recommendations boxes. The growth that started in CIS countries gradually spread to others.

Consequently, the number of downloads added dramatically. We had over 30,000 new users on our best day. Then for several months, the number of new users counterbalanced at 5,000 per day, then fell to 1,000, and gradually alternate to 100 downloads per day.

webrok

The abatement was acerb activated with the abbreviating about-face of the app page. I assume that as the game connected to grow, there were fewer and fewer new users who were absorbed in installing the game. The about-face rate sank, which made Google Play advance the game less.

Summing it up

  • Make games over the weekends — sometimes they shoot for the stars. Epic Split had almost 2 actor downloads, and the ad monetization helped us rake in over $15k in revenue.
  • The game was aimed at a large niche and was unique, which provided it with a abundantly large target audience. We managed to reach out to this admirers through assorted Google Play mechanisms.
  • ASO is not simply about acceptable search traffic, but also about optimizing all the key steps of a funnel along the user’s path to downloading an app. In this case, the effect of such access turned out to be decidedly higher than the effect of campaigns targeted at specific search keywords.
  • Doing research, exploring the target market and coming up with a business plan is a good idea. However, after ablution your game, you should be ready to change your plan and act according to new advice you obtain. For example, I anticipation it would be very easy to unseat the ascendant truck actor games from top search after-effects positions. But even in the heat of Epic Split Truck’s wild growth, we found it absurd to get a ballast in the top results.
  • Organic cartage and app store access must be advised when developing game growth channels. We made a simple arcade game, which had only a 15 percent Day 1 assimilation rate, and our LTV was less than $0.02 per user. But if we had a high affection game with, say, a $0.20 LTV, we could have made good money.
  • Marketing is an capital part of architecture a new product. Keep that in mind.

Read next: How do you teach a car that a snowman won’t walk across the road?