Launching Hit Tennis 3 into the Charts

We just launched our new game Hit Tennis 3 into the iOS free charts, and  after just 10 days we achieved:

  • #2 Top free app in the USA (Angry Birds Seasons as Apple's free game of the week was #1).
  • Top 100 free game in 45 countries
  • Over 1 million downloads.

Hit Tennis 3 has not (yet) been featured by Apple, we didn't spend any money on ads, and we didn't get any press. We are a 2 person self funded indie company. So how did we do it?

Cross Promotion

We cross promoted heavily from our game Hit Tennis 2, and we arranged for five friends to advertise Hit Tennis 3 in their games. Hit Tennis 2 has about 1 million monthly active users, obviously a really good audience to promote the new version of the game to. We have users on two different versions of HT2, our newest version has ads implemented with Chartboost (we love you Chartboost!). The previous version has a home grown system for house ads, and both version also have a news feature. Our five friends who advertised for us have apps & games ranging in audience size and they use a range of different ad solutions. (Thanks everyone for your amazing help... we owe you!)

Below are details of the ad campaign. Data in black is measured data, blue are estimates from similar measurements, and red are guesstimates.

Ad type

Impressions

Clicks

Installs

CTR

Inst / Clk

HT 2

full screen

603,653

100,380

18,941

17%

19%

HT 2

app news

16,548

2,315

463

14%

20%

App B

full screen

405,676

93,080

8,396

23%

9%

App C

banner

6,000,000

120,000

10,800

2%

9%

App D

banner

50,000

1,000

90

2%

9%

App E

more games

600,000

90,000

8,100

15%

9%

App F

email

46,000

2,694

107.76

6%

4%

The campaign ran in 2 phases for a total of 10 days starting 6/28.  On 6/28 we released Hit Tennis 3 worldwide, and we turned on ads in Hit Tennis 2, and apps B, C, D, F. This was enough to get us into the top 25 in several big markets after 6 days, but in USA we had only charted in the free sports games category. So for that first week we were showing about 60,000 daily impressions for nearly 2000 ad based downloads a day, which grew total app downloads up to 74,000 on 7/3. By comparison our category charting Hit Tennis 2 has been getting around 10,000 downloads a day.

The second phase kicked in fully on 7/4 by adding one of our larger partners (App E) bumping our ad impressions up to over 200,000 per day for 4000 ad based downloads a day. That made enough difference to kick us up into the top25  free in the USA, and ultimately up to 300,000 downloads per day in total.

Screen Shot 2012-07-12 at 2.45.45 PM
Screen Shot 2012-07-12 at 2.45.45 PM

Costs

We agreed these ad campaigns on a barter basis... we get n clicks and installs now for our launch, and we will repay this debt for similar clicks and install of their games, either for new launches or for existing games. This is an amazingly good deal for a two person self funded indie company because it didn't cost us cash up front (but it will cost us reduced ad-publisher earnings later). How much would it cost to do this with cash instead of goodwill & trust? Fiksu maintains an index of 'cost per loyal user' which is a measure of measure of how much one has to pay in order to drive an app install. Their most recent index is $1.26, which is a bit lower than its been. A lot of the app ad networks are Cost Per Install bidding systems, and to get a lot of volume you have to make higher bids spending more per install. I don't know the bid needed to get the impression volume we had. I know that some games companies with deep pockets will bid more like $2.50 CPI and the feeling in the industry is that CPI cost is on the rise due to supply and demand.  Lets use a CPI of $1.50:

  • 20k installs from our own cross promotion,   20k * $1.50  would cost $30,000 purchased from ad networks
  • 27k installs from partners, would cost $41,000
  • Total equivalent cost about $70,000

Organic & Paid Installs

So would spending $70,000 on any game get the same results? Heck no. As MachineZone's Gabe Leydon said at Games Beat yesterday "nothing helps reduce the cost of user acquisition like a great game". For what we did with the Hit Tennis 3 launch, the promotion works like this:

  1. Ads get  the game somewhere into the charts
  2. Now its in the charts, more people see it
  3. So gets more organic downloads,
  4. Makes it go a bit higher up the charts.
  5. Now even more people see it and it gets even more organic downloads.
  6. People like it and start telling their friends to get it too
  7. It goes up higher in the charts.
  8. Repeat from 5.

Over the 10 days launch campaign period, we had about 1 million downloads in total, but only 47k of those were ad driven downloads. So thats 95% organic downloads. That doesn't happen for any old app. Why did Hit Tennis 3 perform well?

  • We launched Hit Tennis 3 during Wimbledon 2012 (biggest Tennis event in the world). This was not by accident! Tennis was in the air and on people's minds.
  • Tennis is popular, everyone knows what it is, they can imagine playing it before even seeing it.
  • Our icon is stunningly good. You can't fail to notice it in an app store listing, it screams 'tennis' and 'quality'. I can't emphasize enough how important a good icon is. There are hundreds of tennis games and apps in the store but only a small fraction have good icons.
  • Hit Tennis 3 has natural controls. The majority of people can play it in the first 20s without a tutorial. (You have no idea how hard we worked on the controls.) Ain't no stinking virtual D-pad in sight.
  • Once you start playing, the rythm of hitting that ball is fun! You are actually hitting it yourself, not controlling an avatar.
  • Chart ranking is more complex than just # of downloads. The best ranking games are the games people are actually playing, not just downloading. You need a good app with broad appeal to make this work.

Background

Rob and I been working full time in the apps business since the app store opened in 2008. Hit Tennis 3 is our 17th app I think, and our 5th mobile game. We started making apps & games in 2008, and we spent 09-10 making apps under contract for other companies.  We've been studying games, marketing, and the apps business very hard the whole time. We made the effort to attend conferences & events like 360 iDev, WWDC, GDC, Unite, iOS Dev Camp, SViOSD, SVIGDA, et al. Thats how we've built our network of friends and colleagues to ask for help. We didn't go to school with these people or something, we showed up and met them, and then we reached out asking for help. Aka networking and biz dev ;-)

Hit Tennis 3 is the sequel to Hit Tennis 2, but we deliberately designed the controls to be very different from Hit Tennis 2. As much as we love Hit Tennis 2 and we have loyal fans, the controls to Hit Tennis 2 are hard to learn. The majority of people who try it are put off by the controls and we don't retain them as players. (Ie the trier to player conversion is poor.) One of the 3 main goals of Hit Tennis 3 is to 'fix' this problem. I think we did, but it puts our core Hit Tennis 2 fans at a disadvantage because they have to 'unlearn' the controls from Hit Tennis 2. So we've gotten some blowback for this... sorry Hit Tennis 2 fans!

The biggest factor for how we designed this launch was the timing during Wimbledon. If it wasn't for Wimbledon coming around just once a year we would have done things differently. Probably would have worked more on the game before releasing it. (Updates coming soon!) Wimbledon is a worldwide thing, so we went with a worldwide campaign. Otherwise we wouldn't have advertised in every country. We would have picked just a few places to advertise. We didn't localize yet so we would only have advertised in english speaking countries, and we would probably have left out USA too in order to start with smaller campaigns.

We've done paid ad campaigns before with Hit Tennis 2 in 2010 and 2011. We've had mixed results, sometimes driving really well up the charts, and sometimes failing to. This time it looked different, I think that burst ad campaigns can't push up chart rankings as fast as they used to be able to. The market is bigger of course, but my guess is that there are real changes to how the chart rankings work, and it just takes longer now. 1 day bursts won't work any more.