6 Months of iPhone App Sales Stats, Cause and Effect.

My iPhone game Hit Tennis is a simple iPhone tennis game, but with really fun engaging gameplay I designed specifically for playing tennis with the touch screen. You swing your finger across the screen to hit the ball, controlling strength and direction, so you get the feeling of real rallies as you play. The game has been out for 6 months, durring which I've been working on the consulting side of my business, but I'm planning Hit Tennis 2 (as an upgrade) with much deeper gameplay. I'm sharing six months of sales figures from this app in order to demonstrate effect on sales of various events, some under my control and some not. Here's that 6 months of sales: rev6m.psd

Launch

I launched in November 08 in a real hurry. Consequently I had a bunch of bugs which manifested as a lousy umpire who annoyed my players, so I had to do several quick updates. The reason for rushing was that I'd been developing Hit Tennis during a lull while Apple spent 101 days approving my app Smart Caller, which made me fearful of long waits for approval and I wanted Hit Tennis to be on sale in time for Christmas. My launch strategy was a simple online press campaign by emailing review sites with a YouTube demo vid, and starting off as a free app to ensure lots downloads. I quickly got small news stories and reviews on some good gaming and iPhone sites, and the first 2 days saw about 70,000 free downloads. On day 3 I switched to my planned price of $1.99. Why not 99c? I'd put a lot of effort into the basic gameplay, and I think I was too proud to price the same as all the 99c toy apps.

Christmas and TV Ad

Christmas saw a huge sales spike 4x over normal and welcome extra revenue, and then through January sales came back down to pre Christmas levels. January through April I worked on other projects and did no promotion of Hit Tennis, but I got a little lucky. A competing Tennis app Touchsports Tennis was shown for a few seconds in Apple's TV ad for the iPod touch in February. It got people looking for Tennis in the App Store, and as my basic SEO was OK of course they found my app and I got increased sales. I was not tracking app store rankings at the time, but this sales spike probably lifted my rank in the sports games category, leading to ongoing sales in March.

March Sales Decline

March saw no promotion or updates from me, and no external events. I took the sales data for March and plotted it with a linear trend line to describe the decline in easy to understand terms:

marchUnits.png

The trend line has a gradient of -0.5, meaning that on average, every two days sales went down by 1 unit. Just using that trend line to 'predict' sales (by calculating the area under the line) we get 1021 units, which for a $1.99 app predicts $1,422 in revenue (after Apple's 30%, and not accounting for currency differences). In fact my March financial report gave my earnings as $1,364. The point here though is that if sales keep declining by 1 unit every 2 days, then by now (May) Hit Tennis wouldn't be selling much at all.

Tracking App Store Rank

I'd occasionally take a peak at Hit Tennis' rank in the app store by using the Mobclix's website, but in April I started using MajicRank to check my stats. (Check out my posting about these and other sales stats tools). To begin with I'd misunderstood what MajicRank does, and I wasn't sure it was reporting my rankings correctly because the numbers didn't match Mobclix's. However I finally figured out that Mobclix and MajicRank report on different ranking lists, they are both right, but MajicRank's number are more important than Mobclix's now that the App Store ranks paid and free apps in separate lists. (All the different ranking lists are explained in my posting Understanding App Store Top 100s.) MajicRank showed that Hit Tennis was present in the sports games top 100 paid list in most countries, and in a few countries it was in the top 10. (I'm very happy to be ranked well in Croatia, but it only takes a couple of sales a week!) Finding out that Hit Tennis was not completely buried inspired me to see what I could do to increase sales, short of the big update I have planned for later.

Cut Price to 99c

On April 21st I cut the price from $1.99 to 99c. I did not publicize the price change as I wanted to see the elasticity of demand among app shoppers who happened across Hit Tennis by whatever means customers had been finding the app for the previous weeks. As you can see below in the graph of unit sales for March, sales climbed steadily for a few days. The increase in volume did offset the lower price, and as you can see in the revenue graph, revenue (at that time) held and then grew also. Due to the increase in volume my rankings went up somewhat. (I'm dumb for not recording them. MajicRank now records them for me :-)

unitsMarchWorld2.png

revMarchWorld2.png

Version Update and Release Date Trick

Mean time I'd been working on an update. Hit Tennis was my first time programming 3D graphics, so I did everything with simple billboarding 2D textures and alpha masks to create shapes. Pseudo 3D if you will. It worked for the simple game that Hit Tennis is, but several reviews in the app store had said 'it should be more 3D', and in fact due to the tennis racket's 2D existence, it would disappear when you saw it side on. Saving gameplay enhancements for later, for this update I replaced the 2D tennis rackets with real 3D objects. A fun journey which had me learn to buy stock 3D models, edit them with Cheetah 3D (which I highly recommend), and load them into the game using Jeff LaMarche's Obj File loader.

The update came out on the 28th. Apple had just stopped sending out 'your app is approved' emails, but I'd noticed that app approvals have been reliably taking 7-8 days so I knew when to expect it. On the 28th I changed the availability date in iTunes Connect to 28th April. This is the 'release date trick'. It requires careful timing and a bit of luck to make it work, but when it works it gives a sales boost. As I explained in Understanding App Store Top 100s an app's release date is important in one place: the default view of a category in iTunes on the desktop. With the release date trick I got Hit Tennis near the top of that page, and it stayed there for a several days. This update almost doubled sales. There were two other effects with the update that may have been factors in the increased sales. The new version triggered several thousand updates per day (see below), proving that I still have a lot of people that play the game. Maybe Apple uses updates in the ranking algorithm and it helped raise my ranking? Secondly, stars are now reported in the app store by version, so the new version gave me a chance to shake off my two and a half stars and start over (I'm now much happier with three stars :-).

upgMarchWorld.psd

Translating App Store Copy to French and Top 100 Paid Games

I'd not localized any of my apps, but Hit Tennis was relatively popular in France and I wanted to see the effect on sales of translating the app store description into French (and I knew a French person who would translate it for me). It could only increase sales right? Right. MajicRank reported the next day that sales had gone up enough to get Hit Tennis ranked not just in the top 100 sports games in France, but Hit Tennis was now placed in the top 100 paid games in France. Pretty lucky! You can see below that this brought a huge boost, and in fact for a couple of days I made more from sales in France than I did in the USA. Revenue in France for the period shown was 7x revenue in France for the previous month.

revMarchFrance.psd

Sales Back in Decline

It's been a few weeks now since my Hit Tennis update, and sales are back down to 'normal'. I hope sharing these 6 months of data along with looking at cause and effect on sales is helpful for other app sellers.

...and just in case you were wondering, here is the geographic breakdown for the 6 months of revenue:

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