Post-Mortem of a failed re-release on the Apple Store.


I will try to enumerate and explain all the issues that went wrong on the re-release of the game Space Dreads on the Apple Store.

Its important to keep in mind that this will be a constructive analysis of what went wrong and, if possible, a list of possible solutions.

Why a re-release ?

When we released Space Dreads back in 2013, we released it under another iTunes account, different from where our original game Red Gun was released. This was inconvenient at that moment but it was necessary. The real error we made, with the greatest of the ignorances, was to put the same SKU number that Red Gun had.

Late on 2016, Apple announced that the Apple Store would do not accept or display apps that were not compatible with 64 bit. And Space Dreads was 32 bit compatible only.

With these two events, we decided to:

  • Update Space Dreads to be 64 bit compatible.
  • Migrate Space Dreads from one account to another one.

However we discovered that Apple does not allow migration of apps between accounts if there is an SKU collision between apps. This pushed us to make the decision of removing the app from one account, and then, re-released it onto the same Red Gun's account.

What went wrong ?

1.- The iTunes URL did not work during the first 5 days of the release.

While we were able to reach the URL to Red Gun: <-- Worked OK. <-- Did NOT work.

The URL of the iTunes Space Dread page was down for the first 5 days, preventing any URL direct access to it.

Turns out that we have a convenient button that helps the user reach the Space Dreads iTunes page through the app in case he/she wants to rate it. The fact that this button led the user to an "Item Not Available" page on iTunes, plus the several hits we saw on the Unity Data gatherer, make us think that, while not all the users were willing to write a review of the app, it was much harder for the user to write a review.

2.- No more Apple Store "New Releases" list.

In the past, that list was very helpful for small/indie games because it provided a short period of visibility to them. For the recent re-release of Space Dreads we were not able to use the visibility we got in the past because of that missing list.

3.- New customer reviews were removed from the review list.

During the first two days of the release, we noticed some positive customer reviews disappeared from the list of the reviews. While knowing that we had less visibility and also few reviews on the app, having legitimate reviews to be removed from the app was not helping a lot :)

In addition, we discovered later that we were not alone because other developers experienced the same behavior on their app reviews.

4.- Mixed feelings about Game Center.

We have mixed feelings about Game Center. On one hand we are grateful that such a service exists. Thanks to this service, Space Dreads is a reality. It allows our customers to maintain matches and enjoy a fight in space. Without it, maybe we would have not enough resources to keep a server up and running to keep an stable service.

On the other hand, Game Center behaves very weirdly from time to time. We noticed these things:

  • It has a high chance of not auto matching you into an incomplete group of players if that group its been waiting for some time.
  • It has a chance of sending you repeated packets of disconnected players. This can be fatal if a player exits a game and rapidly joins another one, because if a "Disconnected Player" packet arrives twice, it will ruin the second game.
  • In some scenarios, it will not show the initial login dialog, letting the new customer wondering how to start to play the game.

Being honest, we still think that we can do better on how the menu interacts with the Game Center functionality to improves the customer experience. Sadly we did not found any way to improve the matching process or the packet repetition.

5.- No marketing strategy for this release.

We had not enough resources to properly drive a marketing campaign, we were also relying on Apple Store characteristics that we finally discovered were no longer available, like the "New Releases" list. The lack of both did not help to the visibility of the app and finally to its success.

Final words

We need to learn from our failures to achieve greater things, so we will continue working on making greater experiences :D

Posted on
Written by Llorenç Marti
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