Make it beautiful: how this one piece of advice led to three million downloads

Working in the tech startup space means that you have to be willing to take advice.

Granted, some of it isn’t going to be that great, and it’s important to take everything with a grain of salt.

But every once in a while, someone will drop a truth bomb on you that will completely change your perspective on what you’re doing.

For me, it was the day I talked to someone about the importance of consumer-facing assets in relation to marketing a mobile game.

Here’s the advice: “If your indie game doesn’t look like something that was made by a big company like Activision or EA, you might as well quit.”

Whoa. That sounded pretty ominous and maybe a bit of an overstatement. Has this person heard of wildly popular games such as Flappy Bird, Doodle Jump or Minecraft that weren’t made by gaming empires? They aren’t exactly beautiful works of art.

With that advice in mind, I led my next marketing campaign with a focus to improve the game’s quality to push it from an “indie hit” to mainstream success.

The app developers I was working with at the time, Digital Tales, had created a great racing game for the eni FIM Superbike World Championship. The SBK14 Official Mobile Game faced an uphill battle in the U.S. because the racing league isn’t very well known at all.

However, at the very beginning of the process, Digital Tales dedicated themselves to aligning the app with Apple’s brand standards with hopes of getting the game featured on the App Store.

This is a tall order for any indie developer. While some people think you need to “know someone at Apple” to get featured on the App Store, the truth is you just have to make something that will catch people’s eye upon submission.

In other words, the game and the App Store assets have to be so eye-popping that you stick out among the thousands of apps submitted everyday.

Here’s what the Digital Tales team knew they had to get right:

  • The game had to have console-quality graphics and be fun.
  • The icon had to be sleek and minimalist.
  • The screenshots had to be representative of the game and jump off the screen.
  • The description had to be concise but still tell the full story of the app.
  • The keywords had to be steeped in research.

Luckily for me, as a marketer, the developers did a wonderful job with the graphics and the gameplay. It legitimately had “console-quality graphics,” and we made sure to leverage that at every opportunity.

As far as the App Store presence, we kicked around ideas for the game’s description, screenshots, and keywords for a few weeks — well before we considered sharing the game with the media or bought a single advertisement.

When SBK14 launched, the App Store presence was as gorgeous as the game itself, if I do say so myself.

A few weeks later, Apple contacted the developers to let them know the game would be featured in the “Best New Games” category.

The game went on to surpass three million downloads within three months of launching, and all the work we put into developing the App Store presence months beforehand paid off during that time.

I’m certain the launch wouldn’t have gone nearly as well if we had thrown together the App Store assets a few weeks before the release date.

Now, I try to apply this methodology to every project I work on, and it’s an easy lesson to translate to any other startup.

I definitely understand the methodology of getting out a minimum viable product and optimizing it along the way, but that can still be done with high-quality products that look polished from the beginning.

So, as simple as it sounds, the best advice I ever received was from another person working in startups: “Make something that looks great.”

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