Toes in the Water:  Keeping Sand Out of Your Mobile App Launch

Blog Post created by ablanchard on May 16, 2016

Are you working on a launch plan for your mobile app?  Do you want to avoid spending a lot of money but still ensure it’s successful? Are you wrestling with whether advertising should play a role? And have you been giving thought to what your download strategy will be for launch and updates afterwards?


Whether you are launching a mobile app or a mobile game, chances are these things are on your mind. We consulted our notes from a talk by Mobilize’s CEO, Oliver Kern ( GDC 2016) to help you solve the first problem. And new research “The State of Digital Downloads”, April 2016 offers great insights on what consumers think about downloading content that can help you with the second problem.


One Big Global Launch or Multiple Phases?

Kern recommended at least two phases for launching a mobile game, preferably three.   Too many game launches generate a huge number of downloads in the first week and then fall off steeply.  The worst thing is - the developers don’t know why.


To combat this, he recommends a first phase that includes testing with as many free audiences as possible: friends, family, indie test centers, etc.  The goal is to find out if people enjoy your game (or app).  If they do, go on to a second phase.  The second phase involves making changes based on feedback from phase one, and then releasing it only to a specific geography or audience.  The goal of this second phase is to test whether people will pay for your game.  Indirectly, you are also testing your development team’s ability to react, and adapt based on user feedback.  If people won’t pay for your game, or your ability to adapt the product is limited, now is the time to kill it.


What’s the potential third phase?  If you have a game or app people enjoy using, AND they’ll pay for it, AND your development team has proven their ability to adapt based on feedback, then you’re ready to launch globally and see what happens.


What About Advertising?

Kern reminded his audience “you can spend LOTS of money to advertise for players”.  His advice: consider advertising only if your product has been through the testing and fine tuning described above. When you do advertise, use a disciplined approach that brings back lots of consumer data. Worst case scenario?  Spending a lot of money on advertising and learning nothing more about why people like or don’t like your app.


Should your initial download be free?

Should you offer initial downloads for free, and monetize through enhancements or ad inserts?  This is a big question. Your competitive environment matters.  But so do consumer attitudes about paying for content in general.  The Digital Download report asked millennials: Do you always pay for content you download?


The good news is, approximately 22 percent of millennials (“always pay” plus “pay for exclusive” plus “can’t find it elsewhere”) will pay, provided they see the value or uniqueness of your app.  The bad news is, a majority, 57 percent, will ONLY download if the content is free.  The study showed millennials are slightly less hooked on free content, and they are more likely to both pay for content and pirate digital content, compared with the rest of the population.  Confusing, perhaps, but not surprising given all the mixed signals in the market today around paying for content.


So, should you launch as a free or pay app? Bottom line, you need to decide whether your strength is uniqueness or broad appeal.  A pay strategy will be much easier to implement if you offer something that’s hard to duplicate.  If you think your strength will be broad appeal, securing a large number of downloads up front will give you a better base for selling ad inserts, or offering “value-added” updates for sale.


Automatic or Enabled Downloads?

Once the app is downloaded, it will reside on a phone or tablet that has lots of other applications on it, which raises another question: how do consumers want to initiate an upgrade that might interrupt other things they are doing with their mobile device?  The “State of Digital Downloads” research asked consumers directly whether they wanted their apps and games to update automatically, or only upon request:

                              Question: Do you prefer to download updates (such as your phone operating

                              system) at your discretion, or do you prefer automatic updates? (Millennials)


The answer came back that 53 percent of millennials preferred to control when they downloaded updates, rather than have them done automatically (this percentage drops slightly to 50 percent for non-millennials).  A hefty 45 percent had no preference, or wanted it to be automatic.  So while there is a dominant answer here, you shouldn’t tell your operations guru to pick one or the other.  You’re best off offering both and asking consumers upfront which option they want to enable.


How often will consumers allow updates?

After you’ve launched your app is there any magic frequency for updates that you should adhere to?  The good news is that consumers seem to be willing to download new apps and updates to apps with startling frequency.  In the Digital Download research, over 19 percent of millennials downloaded apps/app updates on a daily basis, and over 30 percent downloaded weekly. And an additional 28 percent simply let their app update automatically. What this means is, mobile app producers have a clear runway (at least for now)  to put out updates and enhancements as often as they  think it will enhance their product’s position, without worrying about overwhelming consumers.





Overall the Digital Download report shows a consumer who is open to lots of new digital content and frequent product updates.  This is good news for your launch and your success planning.  Not only can you get underway using an iterative process, consumers are receptive to frequent new content that will keep your sales curves heading up.




Top Image: sourced from Apps Annie