tl;dr;

Getting featured by Apple is incredibly difficult. Their criteria is completely subjective. Large AAA companies are favored over all. If you’re an indie developer, it’s unlikely you’ll get featured.

Background

I’m the creator of A Dark Room iOS. It’s a minimalist text based RPG that went viral and became the #1 app. Here’s a list of all the things this game has accomplished.

Even with all of these accomplishments. Getting any of my games featured is an uphill battle. You need to understand this. To reiterate, there is very little chance that your game will get featured. But I’ll try to provide some tips that will put you in the best position possible.

The Ugly

Publishers are not created equal. It’s something I learned very quickly when trying to understand the App Store feature mechanics. If you are Warner Brothers, SquareEnix, Kim Kardashian, King, etc, you get a red carpet to getting featured. You can release whatever trash or shoddy port you want, and you’ll get featured. So you have two options, accept this and play by the rules I’m about to lay out, or don’t participate.

A List of Do’s and Dont’s

Here’s the list of tips you need. You really need to do all these things. It’s how you show Apple that they can take you seriously as a game developer.

Do: App Preview Video

Your game needs a preview video. Without a preview video, you significantly limit your chances of getting featured. There are plenty of examples of good preview videos out there, so make one for your game if you are serious about getting featured.

Do: Good App Description and Screenshots

Your game needs to have a compelling description and good screenshots. Look at other featured apps to see what constitutes a good app description and screenshots.

Do: Localized?

Is your app localized? It isn’t? Good luck getting a feature (this is the primary thing that’s keeping A Dark Room from being considered for anything other than the Best New Game Updates category).

Do: Email After Your App Is Approved

If your app is new, you need to make sure your game is already sitting in the “Ready For Release by Developer”. Additionally, you need to give Apple at least three weeks of lead time for consideration. Even if you have an incredible game, if you only give Apple a couple day’s notice, you wont get featured.

Don’t: Releasing During a Holiday Week

Don’t submit feature requests during holiday weeks (unless your game is holiday themed in nature). There is so much competition against AAA game companies along with an influx of shovelware related to holiday X. You’ll just be lost in the noise, so take those months to do polish releases, minor bug fixes, etc. Don’t release during New Years, Valentines, Christmas, Thanksgivings, etc.

Don’t: It’s Your First App

Apple wants to showcase developers that have experience. If this is your first app/game, it’s unlikely you’ll get a feature (unless the app is exceptional).

Don’t: Spinoffs/Clones

If you’re going to pitch “Crossy Road, BUT BETTER!!”, just don’t bother. It’s a great way to get immediately dismissed.

If you don’t buy featured apps, how can you objectively tell if your app can compete? You don’t have to buy apps by AAA companies, just apps by other indie devs. Here’s my list:

Do: Use New Apple Features

Using these techs will help you get Apple’s attention:

Do: Release Every Six Weeks

Apple wants to see apps that are updated frequently. If you don’t get featured as a new game. Don’t lose too much hope, you can always get featured as an update. Updates should be non-trivial. If you are doing just bug fixes/minor tweaks, you won’t get featured for that. So make your updates enticing. Updating (and sending feature requests) too often overloads the Apple team. A six week release cycle seems to be a good sweet spot.

The Steps To Follow

Alright, what all of you have been waiting for. Here are my recommended steps to follow for getting featured. I’m giving this information out for free. It took me an immense amount of work to get this knowledge. Please support me and continued posts like this. Buy my games A Dark Room, The Ensign, and A Noble Circle. It’d mean a lot.

1. Consider All the Do’s and Dont’s

You really need to take all the do’s and dont’s seriously. My contact at Apple has been very consistent with what the editorial team is looking for. And when I ask him “Hey, I did a major updates, why didn’t I get featured?!” In my case it was “You need to localized. You need a preview video”. So don’t waste their time if you’re not going to do the things in the list.

As I said in “The Ugly” section. Not all publishers and games are created equal. As a nobody (myself included), you just have to accept that you have to go above and beyond other publishers. So, take the list of tips I’ve given seriously. I do get some slack from Apple, simply because all my games are highly rated, and I had a viral smash hit.

2. Pick A Target Feature List

Don’t swing for Editor’s Choice, Indie Game Spotlight, Best New Games, Best New Game Updates, etc. You’ll swing and miss miserably. For your first attempt at a feature, pick a minor category. Here is an example.

If my game A Noble Circle was my first game, I’d target “Great Game Soundtracks” under the Music category, and “Pay Once and Play” under the RPG category. Every game subcategory has a minor feature section. Target those type of feature lists first.

3. Craft and Send The Pitch Email

Here is an example email that I’d send to Apple.

Subject:

A Noble Circle [MONTH] Release

Body:

Territories Available: World Wide

iOS Device Target: iPhone 5 and up, iPad

Product Title: A Noble Circle

Publisher Name: [Name]

Apple App Id: [App Id]

Desired Live Date: [At least 3 weeks in the future on
                    a Thursday, your app should already
                    be approved by Apple and Waiting
                    Developer Release.]

Release Info:

- 8 new chapters including many hand drawn pencil
sketches to create an immersive narrative.

- 2 new custom composed musical scores with
original sound track.

- Brand new jump mechanic "wallkick" will be
introduced (this is a very very big deal).

- New developer commentary exploring awe and
empathy.

Languages Supported: EN [you should have more languages]

Price: $0.99

App Preview: [the answer to this better be yes]

Game Center: [the answer to this better be yes]

Game Controller Support: [yes/no]

Metal: [yes/no]

SpriteKit: [yes/no]

SceneKit: [yes/no]

WatchKit: [yes/no]

Apple TV: [yes/no]

Comments:

This is an artistic game. It's a simple vertical
platformer, but hides a satire about the world we
live in now and explores topics such as science,
materialism, and gender/social norms.

It's a single tap game. No complex controls.

A Noble Circle puts a heavy emphasis on
musicality and emotional connections.

No In-App purchases. No ads. Pay once and Play.

Indie Developer title. Just two people: Me and a
musical composer.

Inspirational and deep story line. Portraying
simple graphics, beautiful black and white hand
drawn sketches, and an emotional soundtrack.

You can use the comments section to showcase all the things you’re doing right (such has having multiple games, updating often, etc). Here is where you send the email: appstorepromotion@apple.com.

4. Send a Follow Up Email

Send a short follow up email when it’s nearing the release date.

Reflect on why you didn’t get featured. See which apps did get featured. Try to understand why. Try not to cry. Go in the corner and cry.

6. Plan Your Next Release (Which Should Be a Minimum Six Weeks Out)

You can submit other games to get featured, just not the game you just sent.

7. Rinse and Repeat

Follow this protocol. For me (even with a #1 app in the App Store). It took four months of emailing, before I got a response.

What To Do If You Get a Response/Get a Minor Feature

The response you’ll probably get is something along the lines of “we got your email, thanks”. If you get this response. Keep doing what you’re doing. If you get a minor feature, you can then start pitching for front page features under “Best New Games”, “Best New Game Updates”, and “Game Collections”. You have to make stronger cases of course, and your competition will be higher quality games, and bigger shops. But hey, it’s progress.

What To Do If You Get Assigned an Apple Contact

After the first four months of email, I emailed for another two months before I got assigned an Apple contact. At this point, you have hit a point where very few people will ever get. Your contact will be your advocate. So you can ease up on the pitch emails. Be short and to the point with your contact emails. Your job (now) is not to pitch anymore, but provide your plans for future updates. They will handle your submissions to the editorial team.

What Kind of Impact Can You Expect From a Feature

A minor feature won’t get you much. It’s simply a stepping stone to the front page. You’ll probably see a small bump. As far as a front page feature, that is a big deal. My best revenue increase was when The Ensign got a second position placement under “Best New Game Updates”. I saw my downloads increase 5x (to about 700 to 1000 downloads a day for that feature week). It also had a residual effect to all my other games. Which brings me to…

Unless your feature is because of an app bundle, disable them immediately if you get featured. Creating app bundles is a great way to get your other games noticed. But the download of a bundle doesn’t contribute to the individual rank of each game. So if you get a feature, you want to make sure app bundles don’t dilute your downloads for the specific game that was featured (lots of downloads means higher ranks).

Cross Promote Your Games

Have tasteful interstitials to your other games (hell, Apple even encourages this). Cross promoting your games will help you regardless of whether Apple features you or not. So do it :-)

Ask For Reviews

If you don’t ask, people who download your games won’t review them. So find the perfect time to request a review. Don’t nag them five minutes into your game. See how I did it in A Dark Room, The Ensign, and A Noble Circle. Geometry Dash does a phenomenal job of timing the review request too. Desert Golf does some cute things with sharing accomplishments too.

Be Persistent

It’s hard work guys. There’s no lifehack for this. You just have be consistent and persistent.



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Also, I've spent the three years fighting the uphill battle of getting noticed in the App Store. I've decided to write some words about it in book format.

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17 November 2015