The Great Icon Experiment – A Great Failure

“Yesterday’s failures are today’s seeds.” – Martha McCormick

I Con Do It!

For the past 6 months and for the next 200 months, I plan on uncovering as much information as I possibly can about the abyss of the iTunes store and app marketplace. There is seemingly no clear path to success the way there is on the web (yet) and I am going to continue to experiment until I find out what the hell is going on. This latest project was designed to see what the delta on an icon and screenshots were for downloads and conversion rates.

Quick Background

I built the Oscar app using the exact same gaming engine as Alpha Combat but with a completely new look and feel. Cartooney, retro, and simple – but used virtually the same meta description (not keywords). It’s actually a lot of fun to play and I thought for sure it would get me some good downloads and revenue. I did none of the external marketing I did for Alpha Combat, including a dedicated website, YouTube video, paid reviews on app review sites, and a handful of other things.
The app launched as a free app and I was giddy to see how it performed. Take a look:

Um – yeah, not that great. Like – horrible actually. So, instead of getting down, I made a list of what could possibly be causing such an epic failure which what is seemingly a fun spin on a winning business model. Things that could cause this problem, controlling for the Alpha Combat elements:
1. Icon
2. Screen shots (essentially the graphics)
3. Keywords
4. Name
5. External marketing
The keywords and name change would require a deletion of the app and the external marketing is much larger test than what I was willing to put in, so the obvious answer was to update the icon and screen shots.

Make Me Beautiful So People Love Me

I hired my go-to designer out of Eastern Europe to whip up some hot new graphics for me. I needed a new icon and screen shots. I sent him a bunch of examples, explicit instructions, and let him run with it for a week. Here’s what we came back with:

A definite improvement, at least for $150. I was stoked. Next step was to release an update with this new found aweseomeness and start booking tickets to Hong Kong for a long weekend celebration. Umm….yeah not quite. Here’s what happened when I released the update:

On that first day I took a big sigh of relief – finally! I was going to back in Alpha Combat world where the money poured like candy and the schnozberries tasted like schnozberries. The problem, however, is that this new improved conversion rate didn’t trickle down beyond those that already had the app. The new icon and screen shots were appealing to people who saw them, but no one was seeing them. Ugh.

Remember the Titans – Keywords Crush It In App Land

After a few weeks of depression and retro induced panic, I snapped out of it all and gave the app a serious audit. What is going on? Why does Alpha Combat bury this app on raw downloads and eyeballs? I was looking through my iTunes Connect dashboard and reviewing all the data I had put in for the Oscar app and had a jaw dropping moment – there was only one keyword there: “arcade”
Well, great. At least now I have a better idea of why this is not doing anything for me. So here’s what I did to get going on that.
I deleted the app from the app store (which is why you probably can’t find it if you’re searching right now) and erased all it’s data. I took the Xcode project and updated all the necessary data, graphics, GameCenter, and in-app purchase data to reflect a new binary upload. I changed the name to Alien Combat – Galactic Space Invasion for two reasons – keywords and the fact that it starts with the letter “A.” Then I added the following keywords (you’re allowed 100 characters):
alien invaders,space wars,space invaders,super laser,alien,atari,space ace,cows in space,mr space
Notice that all those keywords are HIGH VOLUME GAMES and not generic keywords. I have a theory that one of the biggest reasons why Alpha Combat is killing it is because I put in MetalStorm as the primary keyword – type that in to the app store search and you’ll see why I get so many downloads – the icon looks just like MetalStorm and I just ride all their marketing horsepower. Who knows if this is the truth, but you’ll see that in Alpha Combat, the second highest “Customers also bought” game is MetalStorm. Go figure.

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Now I wait a week to see what this sort of update will do for the overall volume of the game. In summary, here are the biggest takeaways from this experiment:
1. Icons and screenshots INCREASE CONVERSION – a greater percentage of people that see the app will download the app
2. Icons and screenshots do NOTHING FOR INCREASING EYEBALLS – they do very little for getting more visits to your page and getting in front of people
So, this experiment is slowly turning into a question of how to get lots of people looking at the app, then converting them with awesome graphics. I’ll definitely report on this as the info comes in.
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See ya!


  1. Daniel VanderMeer
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