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What’s Wrong With The App Store

App StoreI’ve spent a lot of time in the App Store since releasing my first iPhone game last year. I look at the store from many different perspectives to see how easy/hard it is to find any of my games. First I’ll start at the main Games page (on the iTunes App Store) or the Featured tab (on the iPhone App Store) just to see if any of my apps has been Featured in some way – I’ve had 5 apps featured in New & Noteworthy, which I found out by looking in the store (BTW nothing makes your heart jump quite like seeing your game in N&N).

Next I’ll dig into an individual Category like “Racing” if I’m looking to see where Giant Moto, Giant Moto Lite, or Holeshot are currently ranked. I know I could use any of the websites that show your actual Rank in a given country, but I like to view the store like an actual customer – how visible is my game on the App Store (Note I only check the US store since that’s where I sell the most)? For Giant Moto, it’s usually pretty visible – its been in the top 100 Racing games for most of its short life, but has slipped off once or twice (it might be off now even). But for my other games, they’re usually much much deeper, way way out of sight and therefore not getting many sales.

What’s Wrong With The App Store:
For 99% of apps, visibility is a serious issue on the app store. This is somewhat understandable as keeping over 200,000 apps visible at any given time is surely an impossible task.

When I browse the store, mostly what I see are feature categories like “Featured, “What We’re Playing”, “What’s “Hot”, “Staff Favorites”, etc.. as well as the Top Grossing apps and games within each Category (the iPhone version only lets you see the top 100 paid apps in any given category). So when looking at individual categories, It’s easy to see the top 25 or 50 etc depending on how deep you click.

Anything that’s not within the above mentioned “featured” areas or already in the Top 100, is completely out of sight; buried deep (or perhaps just under the surface) of the store.

For every other app in the store, if you don’t already know what you’re looking for (keyword search), then it’s likely that you might never find it. Of course there are “accidental” finds and stuff that you hear about on external websites. But really for the majority of the apps out there, there’s no good/easy way to find them.

I have been fortunate in that I’ve had 3 of my apps Featured on the App Store, typically in New & Noteworthy. While these apps were featured, I had very good sales – For example, Giant Moto was downloaded 800 times per day while New & Noteworthy. But after the Feature ended, my sales quickly dropped off as the game slowly moved further down the Top 100 list until it stabilized at around 30 downloads per day.

This tells me that the problem is not that people don’t want my game – it’s that they can’t see my game. Of course it’s not Apple’s responsibility to make sure people can find my game, after all there are dozen’s of great new apps coming out every day ready to replace the previous features. But still I think there’s more Apple could do to help make more games & apps visible.

But Apple is making progress in this area – recently they added new categories like Best Undiscovered, Five-Minute Fixes, Best Racing Games (Giant Moto made that list too) which is a great step towards getting more games visible. But the first time I looked in Best Undiscovered, I saw it full of games which I had seen many times on the app store in different Featured lists or in the top sellers. For example “The Impossible Game” is in Best Undiscovered but that game was previously an App Of The Week! In fact, nearly all of the games in Best Undiscovered are already major hits on the store. “Best Undiscovered” to me would mean games/apps on the store that are truly awesome but never saw the light of day because they were immediately buried – games that sold less that 1000 units when initially released for example.

Then there’s the issue of duplication. I see a lot of duplication between Features. If you look in Best Undiscovered and Five Minute Fixes right now, you see many of the same games in both categories! Jet Car Stunts, Squareball, Pix’n Love Rush, Cannabalt and more! And this kind of duplication is all over the app store between featured and top 25 lists. Basically anything that’s featured is probably in the Top 100 lists too making it even harder to find something different.

There are actually 3 different versions of the App Store apps, each with their own ways of displaying what’s on the store. There’s the iTunes (desktop) version which is probably the easiest to navigate, the iPhone version which is a somewhat limited view of the apps, and the iPad version which is the hardest to navigate of them all – you can’t even view top 100 lists in each category like in the iPhone version – you can only view by either Featured or Release Date in any given Category.

Finally there’s a huge amount of shovelware on the store that’s only helping to bury the good stuff. It’s quite distressing to go look in the New Releases the day your app ships only to find it already pushed off the page by a dozen “games” that just give you “Points” that you redeem in an actual game. Why does Apple even allow these things as actual apps/games?

How Would You Improve The App Store?
It’s easy enough to rant about the problems, but how do you fix the issues? Two hundred thousand apps and counting. How do you make them visible?

As I mentioned above, Apple is making progress by adding new featured categories like “Best Racing Games”, “Five-Minute Fixes”, “Best Sim Sports Games” and “Best Doodle Games” which are all visible on both the desktop iTunes store and the iPhone App Store (though not all of those groupings are featured at one time). I think they should add even more of them – the interface in both stores certainly supports these groupings. And why not add even more games within each featured category? Are there really only 18 Best Sim Sports Games on the store right now or only 38 Five-Minute Fixes?

But what we’re really talking about here is helping people to find all of the great apps that are hopelessly buried in the store. More featured categories can still only show so many apps.

Some other ways to discover hidden apps: Create a “random” category that displays 25 random games/apps. And add a Refresh button so you can get 25 new results. This would probably end up showing a lot of shovelware, so perhaps limit it to the top 1,000 or top 10,000 apps. There are Top 100 lists for each Category, how about adding a Bottom 100 List? Or a Middle 100 List?

Reduce (or eliminate!) duplicates across featured categories. Since there are only so many Features and only so many slots within those Features, it’s sad when you see the same game listed in 2 or 3 different features at the same time. Besides hogging up precious slots, it makes browsing the App Store feel like you’re seeing many of the same things on every page: you see some of the same apps in each featured list, then of course those same apps are showing up on the top 25 lists. For the casual browser who’s just scrolling through the lists, this makes it even harder to find something new.

Ok I’ll admit that this last idea is a bit self-serving, but there’s the indie guys like me who don’t have the budget to do external marketing. Apple could put together an entire area of the store (or at least a Category) for independent apps and games – games that don’t have any kind of external publishing muscle behind them. I know there are lot of indie games making it onto the mainstream featured lists (some of mine included) so for sure Apple is helping out the little guys, but still there are so many of us and so many of us who could use a leg up, that creating an indie area on the store would be a huge help and probably would be a super popular addition to the store – sort of like the indie section in a video store.

What do you think? Feel free to discuss in the comments section.