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Mobile game review sites are a waste of time
by Kyle Kulyk on 06/10/13 06:31:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

With app discovery being one of the main hurdles that an indie, mobile developer will face it’s understandable to want to reach out to the hundreds of app review sites out there in the hopes that they’ll be able to help launch your game to stardom, or at the very least be a lifeline that could potentially keep you afloat. Dozens of guides exist providing tips on how to make your mobile game stand out in the hopes of garnering some review attention. So armed with this knowledge, you put together a press package, research which sites to approach, find out who to contact and what their favourite color is and then start initiating contact. This is what I did, and in my opinion it was about as effective as wishing on a star.

We now have two games under our belts and trying to court review sites for coverage has felt a bit like sending head shots to a supermodel in the hopes she’ll take you to your prom. On each title I’ve spent weeks of my time reaching out to review sites and have zero to show for it. For our next title, I won’t waste my time on a single one and I wouldn’t advise any other mobile app developer expend any effort either unless they specifically know someone who can provide them an “in.”  Statistics show that roughly 20% of users discover their apps through 3rd party sites including press releases, blogs and review sites combined and given that the chance of being featured by one of these review sites that make up a portion of that 20% are slim, how much time should a mobile developer spend on the off chance that they might be featured on one of the worthwhile sites?

Between Vex Blocks and Itzy3d, I’ve initiated over 400 contacts with mobile review sites, not counting some actual back and forth conversations and follow-up. I’ve received a big, fat goose egg for reviews for our latest title, Vex Blocks and one review for Itzy3d from a site that is no longer active. The other reviews we received for Itzy3d were paid reviews of poor quality I shelled out for in a desperate attempt for exposure before I realized I was being scammed. I currently have an email box full of review sites asking for money for their “expedited review services” ranging from $25 to upwards of $300-$400 for exposure on sites that rarely even reveal meaningful data regarding readership when requested.

I followed the guides. I carefully crafted my press package, I personalized, I included media and gameplay videos. I researched sites and people, attempted to establish a rapport with reviewers and even when a dialogue was established, in the end all the work I put in didn’t help move a single copy of either of our titles.

keepcalm-and-wait-why-am-i-doing-thisNow while I’m sure a piece by a well known game site certainly wouldn’t hurt app exposure, the reality is these sites are inundated with requests for reviews and most likely if you don’t know (or aren’t willing or able to pay) you’re just one of thousands of voices crying for attention. The sites that don’t exist to simply take a desperate indie’s money and throw up a couple of paragraphs for their few hundred readers are most likely so backlogged with review requests that even the most well meaning among them probably hasn’t a prayer of reviewing even a tenth of the requests they receive. So far, based on my experiences, I’d recommend you not waste your time if you find yourself in the same situation. Again, I’m not saying that you might not get lucky with review sites. You might win the lottery. What I am saying is there’s probably more productive ways you could spend your time promoting your game.

There are dozens of promotional activities that can yield results. The sites that have provided write ups of either of my titles I didn’t even have a chance to contact before they had written something based on our press releases. My initial press releases sent out through various PR sites generated more internet exposure and game coverage on websites than 400 contacts to roughly 200 individual sites. Other activities that I’ve engaged in have included blogging, keeping a company facebook page (I try to keep it entertaining while being informative on our products), maintaining our website keeping up with twitter interactions. These have all resulted in far more eyes on our product then reaching out to mobile review sites.
GoldRushAnd in the time it took me to write this recommendation today, I’ve already received two more requests for cash for “expedited review services.” As most people aren't perusing review sites on their phone when looking for apps, the impact of being reviewed is questionable in the first place.  I love review sites and I use them all the time but for mobile indies out there looking to promote their titles I say don’t get sucked into the time-consuming trap of emailing or filling out the web forms for these sites who’ll just use this contact as an excuse to add you to a list to hit you up for money. This isn’t every review site, but it’s enough of them.


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Comments


Maryna Petrenko
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Well, I agree that publicity doesn't come easy to indie game developers, however, I wouldn't claim that it is a waste of time. There are a few important things that need to be taken into consideration when courting press: quality press release, quality game review pitch, and a quality game. Also, timing matters (email promo codes before game's release), follow-up...And the most important - codes should be sent to the right person.

tony oakden
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Out of interest Maryna have you released a mobile game?

Irina johnsten
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Great. I think so.

Andreas Heldt
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I agree and exact this is the point. A lot of mobile games are too small to be covered by press although they have a good quality. So in my eyes it depends on the game if the time and money investment in the press is worth it or not.

Kyle Kulyk
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As it turns out, some helpful devs and posters on AltDevBlogADay cleared up the mystery here. The problem isn't that review sites are overwhelmed with review requests, the problem with those of us struggling to get reviews is our games are, to paraphrase, simply crap. As everyone knows, review sites only review good games so for those of us struggling for exposure, the answer is simply to stop making crap. I wish I had read that a year ago! It could have saved myself and my small team a lot of time.

Maryna Petrenko
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@tony oakden: I worked with a number of indie games helping them with their release, pr and marketing, and I am sure that if you build a good game and create a clever marketing/pr campaign you will get positive results. Don't give up :)

Eric Robertson
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I think there are more then one article stressing the importance of viral marketing for small businesses.

Maybe start with your own friends on Facebook, and find a way in your game to incentify them to share with others. A few more degrees and your game will reach even Kevin Bacon.

tony oakden
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ah yes the old viral marketing myth. Good luck with that...

Tyler King
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Well as long as he doesn't have your attitude he might stand a chance...

tony oakden
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But you see Tyler, When I started making mobile apps three years ago I didn't have this attitude either. This attitude is what the mobile industry has left me with. For the record I'm going back to my roots and making indie games for the PC.

tony oakden
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I can't speak for everyone but I have released three mobile games and I completely agree with the author. In fact even when I have got reviews I see very small downloads compared to what is needed to make the product viable. As to viral marketing, it seems to me that unless you have a huge network of friends who really love you, (not just like you a bit), it's not going to do much either. As far as I can tell a mobile game goes one of two ways: You get noticed by google or apple and strike gold or you disappear without trace and of course the vast majority of apps do the later. My advice to anyone thinking of making mobile games is simple, don't waste your time :(

And here in a desperate attempt to get some more coverage is my new game: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.charliedoggames.TiltAndSwipe

Tyler King
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Sadly making apps is becoming more and more like playing the lottery, everyone thinks just one more ticket and I'll be set for life. Sadly there are 50 million other people buying tickets as well.

Jeremy Reaban
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Speaking as someone who writes for a small news site, you are likely right. Any site that would provide coverage to your game would likely be following a PR site anyway (like Gamer's Press). The first thing I do when I get home is go check that for any relevant news

Bigger ones probably won't, but they likely won't cover your game, either, as you've observed.

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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Going to be a minute before I release my first ever game. But I plan on doing the same things as I did with my mods. Go to as many gaming forums as I can and simply make a post.

I also plan on creating basic flyers and putting them up around local shops, libraries, schools if possible, malls.

My game is too basic though. I won't make any money. After the game is released, I plan on patching it. Make a basic game / game engine, then make like, the actual story game as DLC.

You can also get into multi-player games and use it as your clan tag, slightly talk about it when possible. If you have any skill, some people will take notice. If not, they still might be interested in the game anyways.

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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Actually that last idea sounds really tempting. Between Counter-Strike and Team Fortress II, you could get into any number of servers and make a comment or two about your game. Ton of eyeballs.

Robert Green
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In a market where you need hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of downloads to be considered a success, any review site that needs to charge developers in order to pay its staff almost certainly doesn't have the readership numbers required to make a difference.

Matthias Amberg
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Does anybody have any recommendation for a good and not obscenely priced PR Agency for iOS App (non-game) press releases?

Lars Kroll Kristensen
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Completely agree with the author. Review sites are a waste of time, unless you're already a success, in which case you don't need to do a damn thing anyway.
Discoverability on appstore and google marketplace is THE hardest problem these days.
Another reason why review sites are useless: very few make their purchasing decision based on "reading about " the game.
Number one reason is the App store it self, number two is word of mouth. Together, these two account for 80% + of the purchasing reasons.

When you're making a decision to buy a 50$ game in a box, reviews matters. When youre making a decision about downloading a free or almost free game, you just download it and try it out.

Kenneth Poirier
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Only bad reviews are free!

Katy Smith
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I've had moderate, but significant bumps in downloads when our games were reviewed on game sites. There is definitely a hierarchy of review sites. Some offer very little bump, while others are pretty big. TouchArcade has always given us the best response as far as additional downloads after reviews go. The biggest DL bump factor is getting featured by Apple. I'm not sure what magic juju is needed to do that consistently, though.

Andrew Pellerano
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The install funnel sourced from reviews needs to improve. Right now the best they can do is link to the app store page where the funnel is as follows:

1. click to launch itunes
2. download game (login/password?)
3. sync device (attach cable?)

Look at all those drop off points! It would be nice if the link taking you to the app store page in your web browser let you click a download button and you're done - the app store app on the device now has a badge reminding you to complete the download.

The next thing we need is tracking from these links. If review sites want to consider themselves UA channels they should get paid like one. This would encourage them to get as many eyeballs on your review as possible, aligning their goals with the developers.

Curtiss Murphy
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I've released 5 products in the past 2 years, and I've long since stopped wasting my time contacting review sites. They've had no impact. For me, I'm focusing on the basics, in this order.

1) Build a quality product
2) Pick a catchy name that is searchable!!!!
3) Have beautiful icons, screenshots, graphics, & description.
4) Design a compelling monetization strategy. Freemium is HARD.

Ryan Carson
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Hang on a second here and lets look at this objectively.

If you're marketing a game then surely it's worth spinning the review wheel, even if you eat up half-a-day or so reaching out to people. If you do get lucky and have some of the larger review sites taking notice of your game then it's certainly worth it.

Obviously it's worth spending the majority of your time making something amazing first but surely getting more of a wealth of information from review sites is going to help as opposed to not.

I've only released one commercial game so far but the number of downloads were vastly different between platforms (iOS and Android) None of the 50 odd iOS sites I sent out review copies to got back to me or reviewed the game, it's sold about 50 paid copies on there :(

However, I got a really nice bunch of feedback from android review sites (including a couple of larger ones) and had over 600 paid downloads so far with downloads still trickling in 4 months later.

I'm soon going to release another game and really hope that I can get better results, marketing via review sites is still going to be part of my strategy. It doesn't take too much time to do and can be really great!

Alexander Jhin
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Ryan, do you think this reveals a difference in the way people shop for apps in both the iPhone and Android markets? I've heard a ton of stories of games that make it on one mobile platform but not the other.

Would it you guess it's the nature of gamers on each platform (certain types of people own Android versus iPhone) or do you feel it's a result of the how the platforms operate (App Store's emphasis on "featured" apps)?

Dan Robinson
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Questions

What are some successful alternatives to review sites to promoting games?
Should developers team up with marketers to help build awareness?

Sam Coster
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We've had massive bumps in downloads from a concerted review effort for both our current titles. What is more likely than reviewers simply being ineffective is that it takes a good deal of time to get your foot in the door and have people cease to ignore your emails. We still only have a 45-50% hit rate on our review email requests. Our first game was a 4% rate.

Persistence is key.

Erin OConnor
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suggested reading:
Gold rush

Curtiss Murphy
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Can you be more specific? Gold rush is not a searchable title ;).

Les Bird
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Totally agree with this article. What I've discovered is that the review sites only want to review games that are already successful. This is because those are the games that drive traffic to their sites. Every app review site has reviewed Angry Birds, Temple Run, Fruit Ninja, etc. If your app is unknown, forget about it getting reviewed unless it's a huge hit, then all of a sudden you'll get a ton of requests. This really sucks for us small developers who are trying to get our apps noticed.

For the record, I have 6 apps on the App Store (developer Les Bird) and only one is making any money at all, X vs O Football, and I didn't do one thing to promote it (except a post in the forums). I made all my other apps free for 2 reasons: (1) they weren't selling and I'd rather people play my games than see then collect dust and (2) in hopes that if someone likes one of them they'll buy my football game.

Sven Uilhoorn
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The problem with games being free often has the effect that people either expect a low quality product (why would it be free if it was worth the money, right?) or expect a pay-to-win model of some sort.

I think both are the cause of a lot of free games not finding their audience..

Luis Guimaraes
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Media-candy is what a game needs to be a success nowadays. Don't make a game people want to play, make a game media want's to talk about. You can strive to do both at once, of course.

Anything controversial or faux-noble is a plus.

Patrick Garde
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I'm a writer at GameWoof, and we promote a lot of small games. We are also getting thousands of clicks through to the Play Store monthly. Yes, it may not save your game entirely but every little bit of exposure helps.

Kyle Kulyk
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Hi Patrick. I appreciate you reaching out! You're absolutely right! Every bit of exposure helps. The issue I have in general is just one of time management. Reaching out to review sites in my experience thus far has got to be one of the least effective uses of my marketing time. I love the work review sites do. This blog wasn't meant to disparage review sites in general, but just to highlight a real struggle that indie developers have on their road to app discovery. As I pointed out, I've spent a lot of time attempting to establish a rapport with review sites and so far, out of those hundreds of hours I've put in, a blog like this one generates far more visibility than 400 emails sent and webforms filled out. I'm certain that would change if a site like Touch Arcade took notice of us and liked our game, but in the meantime, blogs, twitter, facebook, etc...they've all produced better marketing results for us, and that's not saying a lot.

Dustin Hendricks
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Do you think Apple's app store editors do not in some way use review sites to filter and choose what might be worth featuring each week?

Kyle Kulyk
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"Do you think Apple's app store editors do not in some way use review sites to filter and choose what might be worth featuring each week?"

Given that most review sites are paid review sites as I've found, I'd certainly hope Apple doesn't rely on these sites for opinions. As for feature selection, it was my understanding that Apple focuses on download trends and user reviews before having a look at the games themselves. Certainly user reviews would seem a better gauge of what their community is looking for than paid for opinions bought from this review site or that.

I didn't think the blog was controversial, to tell you the truth. Other devs I've spoken with have over the years cautioned me the review sites for mobile games were more or less a waste of time. I just chose to ignore them and try my hand at it rather then heed their warnings. It seems like common knowledge in developer circles that mobile review sites are generally only for those who can pay. Certainly there are a few bigger review sites that are not and can boost traffic if you can get their attention, but rather than spend hundreds of hours honing my pitch and contacting every review site under the sun, with our next project I'll only be looking at maybe 10-15 review sites that could actually help us.

Dustin Hendricks
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I think Apple looks at all games before they are published on the app store.

Josh Klint
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When I see a huge industry springing up around mobile PR and "monetization" I become concerned. The last time I heard the word "monetization" this much was the height of the social boom. It's an indication that value is being driven to zero.

Leonardo Opitz
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Hi,

The main thing is address the press release to the right person. If you just throw away pr to all emails you know, it will just go to the spam folder...

But in fact the results are not great neither because few people read the review sites....

It is very hard these days for indy developers. If you spend money in ads, it is not worth because the price of the user acquisition is very high for the return.

The freemium model is even worse for small studios because we do not have the "power" (money) to promote the app in several media channels.

So the big question is how to promote your app!?

Best regards,

Leonardo Opitz
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Halloween-Shooter/496877447075612

Nate Howard
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That sucks! We're trying to get exposer for our latest comedy game Touchy Subjects: A Politician Simulator on Android (plug plug plug).

However the good news is we'll write a review for your game for FREE :D
We do them on our Twitter feed.

It's fun and we like playing indie games and writing about them. You might want to DM us up over at twitter and we'll hook you up with a review :) We're not backed up as of yet lol and we don't care who you are our whatever. #NHREVIEWS

twitter@nate_and_howard


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