Death knell of App Stores — Your mobile app is probably not the problem

ABSTRACT

Mobile app store was a novel and revolutionary platform in serving as a democratized solution in its early years. However, it now seems to have a Mathew Effect, with the entrenched players taking huge control on the mobile real estate and leaving little opportunity for new app developers. Broken App discovery only makes it worse and coupled with the app saturation on the user side, new app downloads is getting harder by the day.

INTRODUCTION

It took 51 failed titles and 6 years of toiling for Rovio to get a crack at Angry Birds.

If you are wondering what was unique to make Angry Birds a success while not any of their prior attempts, well the answer is as impalpable as the reasons for their other duds. Sure, the right ingredients were there — catchy theme, captivating game play to thoughtful characterization and so was the case with many of their previous titles. But there were two critical enabling factors.

1. Mobile distribution channel

The App Store launched in 2008 and it is still the foremost reason we use our smartphones today, democratizing any developer to showcase their work with a readily available audience. Angry Birds was at the right place at the right time when it launched in 2009 and hit a goldmine. For the first time, they had control over their product to push updates on the go unlike the PlayStation or Symbian(Nokia) platforms. Timely updates only made the game more engaging. Their Android Play Store app launch in 2010 fueled it by making it available to a wider audience — particularly the more densely populated countries. Sometime during 2011, it became the No. 1 game in 79 countries and the stats were beyond impressive making it the first gaming brand to reach a billion. Users had played 266 billion levels and shot 400 billion birds.

2. Social factor as a channel

There was a more subtle factor at play for their skyrocketing success. It was not just the app store and play store that should be credited for. When you have a computing device — smartphone all the time with you, and you have something as good a game as Angry Birds, you most certainly would want to engage during your daily commutes, flight journeys, coffee shops to pretty much anywhere you have some time to kill. Going back to the same stats in 2011, 30 million played it on a daily basis with about 130 million on a monthly basis. That is about 300 million minutes every day adding up to 109.5 billion minutes per year, or 1.8 billion hours.

There is no better marketing for a game than watching other people play or word of mouth vouching — to get curious about something. And when you have such a large number of peers engaging with their game, it exponentially compounds and grows beyond expectations.

PROBLEM

Rovio was not the lone beneficiary from mobile app platforms. The platform was equally democratizing for million other developers vying for the same attention span of the users, making it a cruel zero sum game and it only got skewed ridiculously over time. For instance, in a particular four week time period study during 2015, when 45,000 new apps submitted to the iOS App Store and the chances that any of them breaking into the top 1,000 was effectively 0%, and even if they did, they were not seeing any amount of traffic to build a successful business. It was equally scathing for bigger established players

Just about a year back in 2015, Rovio had to cut up to 260 jobs, or nearly 40 percent of its workforce. Its profit in 2014 fell roughly 70 percent compared with the year before, to just $11 million, according to regulatory filings.

Users are bombarded with millions of games and the novelty of apps as a platform had started to saturate (We talk more about the evolution of platforms in one of our blog post).

Riding the wave along the growth of new platforms couldn’t be emphasized enough to increase the odds for a runway success — be it the Amazon with Internet, Facebook with Internet 2.0 or Angry Birds with mobile apps as a platform. While there are glimpses of new platform prospects such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality to even Voice platforms today — you still have about 2.5+ billion users having their smartphones tethered to them all the time.

These users are already engaged in some way or the other, and it requires novel treatment to differentiate and reach your target users today. Game discovery is broken big time (Mahesh from Redpoint Ventures highlights about it here). When you have 500+ games published on the iOS app store and 250+ games on the Android play store every single day on a combined base of 4+ million apps, it just doesn’t make sense to expect any app to do well just by publishing it in app stores.

You need a solution that is contextual in getting the gamers curious — just the way people saw their peers playing Angry Birds in trains, flights and coffee shops around 2010 when apps were only taking off.

SOLUTION

Initiatives like Google Instant Apps could possibly mitigate the skewed effects but it serves only as a retrofitting solution without getting rid of the apps the way as we know it. Bots might work well for few type of apps, but it is going to be a while before the AI for Natural Language Processing picks up. Certainly, AirPods from Apple could open up new voice platforms like Siri and Alexa from Amazon has already given us a teaser. Until they take over - which is probably not in the next 3-5 years, we would still be using apps in its current form. We therefore need solutions that is more context driven for users to realize the value of any app before they go about downloading it. For instance,

What If?

  • What if your users could challenge other gamers in proximity for playing against each other in a car race game, tic-tac-toe or anything that they would otherwise play with an online peer or a virtual computer?
  • What if there was a simple and seamless platform for gamers to discover and engage with their peers in proximity — like a Tinder for games?
  • What if no external network was required that you could engage your users while in flights or cruises?
  • What if you could drive people to download your huge-sized game on the fly contextually, just when they are challenged by a gamer and not having to worry about burning data?

Klozest SDK has the answers to the above questions. It attempts in providing context for the app publishers to find more reasons for users to engage with their apps. It is particularly effective in bridging the physical-online divide which gets accentuated as more services start to interface with the physical world - like connecting with someone on LinkedIn at a crowded conference could happen with a click of button; or a kid in a flight could find a fellow gamer nearby for a car race game.

Klozest is particularly empowering in serving as the digital word-of-mouth campaign. You might have a huge user base and yet struggle today to find usage beyond siloed digital paradigms. Klozest could catapult the growth with cross-pollination of connections and engagement for your mobile app in the physical world.

CONCLUSION

Create a new distribution channel for your mobile game app, one that drives users to not just install but provide enough context to get them to play it right at that time. Think of options beyond the Facebooks and Chartboosts to get your product across. Capitalize on new Cost per Install paradigms instead of fighting the war with well entrenched and resourceful players. For instance, Klozest platform could serve as a new layer in exponentially growing your user base and not only limiting to the gateway of app stores, where every single user has the potential to bring in new users every day across the globe.

It is wonderful to boast a user base of 1+ million, but getting complacent about it is probably going to make your app a fad very soon. Give your users a reason and a tool to bring in new users, and you could very well break out into the history books just like how Angry Birds did.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Rovio Entertainment
Rovio Wiki

Angry Birds
Success after 51 failed attempts
Usage and statistics
Recent Struggles

App developer struggle
Developers are suffering
iOS Stats
Mobile apps stats

Beyond apps as a platform
Evolution of platforms

FOR MORE INFORMATION