Dr. Carla Fisher is a game designer and digital strategist with fingerprints on more than 300 games for kids and families. She continues her musings outside this blog via a free weekly newsletter (sign up here) that curates articles, videos, and games that catch her eye. She can be reached at KidsGotGame@NoCrusts.com or @NoCrusts.
On Thursday, October 31, my second indie game released into the Apple App Store. Stride & Prejudice is an endless runner played on the text of Pride and Prejudice. It’s for all iOS devices, including iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
In less than 24 hours from launch, we were #14 in the Education category. And we weren’t featured on Apple’s homepage. Being featured is often considered a key component for success, especially since there are just over 100,000 apps in the Education category (148apps.biz). We also didn’t have a PR agency.
But we were covered on VentureBeat, TouchArcade, Macworld, Pocket Gamer, GameInformer, and a number of other influential sites. (The list of articles is below.)
So what did I do?
1. I’ve been collecting press addresses and/or URLs for submitting news tips for sites that will cover iOS games, parenting sites, and anything else that might be relevant. This is an ongoing process that I started more than six months ago. Do some searching before you start aggregating the lists yourself. Some people have already created useful lists like this and this.
BUT… know who is actually likely to cover your app. It’s not a huge effort to submit to these places, but don’t hang your entire strategy on being featured by one of the major sites. Many of them don’t care about kids games or education unless it’s really novel and crosses into their turf. I was lucky enough to have an idea that was of interest to some of these.
2. Throughout development, I’ve been doing regular demos of the game for feedback and to press when the opportunity presented itself. Because of this, I already had several solid leads. When we were close to launch, I emailed them with promo codes and the press release.
By doing the demos, I also knew what kind of press to reach out to. I frankly never would have targeted the major gaming press except for the fact that I was getting really great interest from a wide range of players, not just people in the kids and education space.
3. I set-up a dropbox folder with marketing images and screenshots. This was shared with all press and is embedded in the release.
4. I drafted the press release about three weeks before launch and then continued to edit it until it was very tightly written. I also wrote multiple versions of emails to introduce the app. I experimented with various ways to get their attention and how to succinctly pitch the app. By revisiting it regularly over the course of several weeks, I had plenty of time to reflect on what I was saying and to whittle it down to the basics.
5. I also drafted as many emails as I could possible write in advance and saved them in my inbox for launch day (press, friends, family, etc.).
6. On the day of launch, I emailed at least 400 family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. I emailed 150 press leads. I did a lot of online submissions to press sites, too. I posted to about 12 mailing lists, selected for the mix of gamers and educators who would likely enjoy it. All messages were customized for the list as much as I could, but I also included the press release. I tweeted. I made liberal use of direct messages on Twitter. I posted to Facebook and encouraged friends to share.
Even though I used mass mailings to reach a number of people, I made the effort to follow up. I wrote back to as many people as I possibly could and said thank you and took a moment to catch up. I’ll continue to do this as we go. (I’ve talked about the mindset of reaching people individually when possible in my recent marketing post.)
Here’s the press mentions we received in the first days. (We released on 10/31/13.)
- “Jane Austen gets her game on” The Guardian 10/31/13
- “Stride & Prejudice – The Weird Result of Mixing Reading and Running” TouchArcade 10/31/13
- “Stride & Prejudice is exactly what you think it is — a Jane Austen endless runner” VentureBeat 10/31/13
- “Stride & Prejudice – Run and Leap Through Jane Austen’s Classic Novel” Game Informer 10/31/13
- “Classic Gaming in Jane Austen-Inspired Stride & Prejudice” Vitamin W 10/31/13
- “No Crusts Releases Stride & Prejudice App” Kidscreen 10/31/13
- “Stride & Prejudice is the App Store’s first endless reader” Pocket Gamer 11/1/13
- “Stride & Prejudice Review” Fat Duck Tech 11/1/13
- “Stride & Prejudice, A Jane Austen Endless Runner” The GameFob 11/1/13
- “30 Best iPhone and iPad Apps This Week” The Guardian 11/1/13
- “Sharpen your Austen powers with Stride & Prejudice” Macworld 11/1/13
- “Stride & Prejudice: A Jane Austen Endless Runner” GeekMom 11/2/13
By Friday afternoon, Stride & Prejudice and articles about the game had been tweeted more than 100 times, including by the Jane Austen Society of New York, Raph Koster (a serious smartypants), and someone with the screen name GTAV Rules. (That’s Grand Theft Auto V.)
Is this replicable?
Yes and no. Stride & Prejudice has a particular quirkiness that caught the attention of gaming press, a group that otherwise doesn’t tend to cover educational games.
Because of the demos I did during development, I knew that Stride was a novel concept (no pun intended), which meant I had an opportunity to capture attention and had to essentially distribute the press release widely and quickly. I had done my homework to know who was the right press to target. That’s always going to be true – know who your audience is. I carefully crafted the messaging for the press and worked the connections that I did have. And if you’ve ever doubted whether press outlets read the “tips@” email addresses, I can tell you that they do.
Meanwhile, Stride fell from the top 100 by day four in the App Store, which is testament of the extraordinarily tough market. Staying in the top takes a lot more than a great day of press. We did great as a sprinter in the app store, but building a viable business in the climate is a marathon.
I’m continuing to generate press leads for Stride and I’m also beta testing a service for parents, where I curate great apps, articles, and other materials for parents. If you’re curious to try it out, subscribe for the free emails or send me tips at Carla@NoCrusts.com.