How Kik, Overkill 2, and other App Store winners broke the million-download mark

Want to get your app downloaded a million times? Don’t understimate YouTube’s selling power.
Want to get your app downloaded a million times? Don’t understimate YouTube’s selling power.

Games continue to dominate the app stores. On Google Play, 145 of their top 300 downloaded apps are games with many over one million downloads. So, how do they get there?

This is obnoxiously redundant, but an exceptionally user-friendly, bug-free app at launch is absolutely critical to the success of a game or app.

Martin Chamrad, chief executive of Craneballs Studios, found there were a lot of keys to his company’s success. Launched in April of 2013, Overkill 2 already has 4 million downloads.

When asked about his marketing strategy Martin replied, “Use every channel at your disposal.’’

That’s a common theme among developers interviewed in a new ebook (App Success Stories by Sean Casto). Chamrad said that he used cross-promotions with other games, blogs, YouTube, gaming forums, press releases, communities, and PreApps in his launch.


“Having previews and reviews on blogs is very important,’’ said Martin in an interview for this article. “Not only players learn about your game, but also app store managers read those websites. Over the years we curated a list of bloggers and other people from the press, but it is not easy to get a good coverage.’’

YouTube reviews also provided a viral effect for the game. One video was 21 minutes long with over 12,000 views, and there are many shorter reviews including this one out of Canada which yielded 5,100 views:

These are all great advocates for downloads.

“It’s a mix,’’ Martin said, when asked about the origins of the videos. “Some of the videos were paid, others reviewers simply liked what they saw and put up the reviews on their own. We started the process once we had the game completed; before, it doesn’t make sense.’’

Another tactic Craneballs used was a micro-website for users to pre-register for the game prior to launch. They promoted it on Facebook and Twitter. To aid their campaign, they boosted the frequency of their posts.

He further advocates cross-promotions. “Through Chartboost we set up a few cross promotional campaigns with fellow developers.’’


Martin said previously that his test-market was Canada and New Zealand to see the initial response, balance the difficulty, and fix bugs, all with a focus on launching a perfect game.

Kik is a massive success story with over a hundred million downloads according to the Wall Street Journal.

At present, they boast less than 30 employees, yet their smartphone messaging service has caused them to garner $29.1 million in funding, including $19.5 million in its Series B round led by Foundation Capital.

One of the factors that differentiate Kik from all of the others is that usage is free to the user – no data charges for those on a plan. It’s also an exceptionally fast messaging process.

The smartphone messenger is also a versatile platform. “Kik is the first smartphone messenger with a built-in browser, so any web app could run inside Kik,’’ said Ted Livingston, Kik’s chief executive. It also offers a great deal of utility. Kik Messenger is faster than most of its competitors.

Livingston’s marketing strategy is partially to offer what Kik is calling “Cards,’’ games and apps that can be used within the platform . Other messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger don’t offer the same functionality.

“Kik’s growth was purely viral,’’ Livingston said. “We were the first to do address book matching to help you find friends, and combined that with a great product and Kik quickly took off organically.’’  This referral backbone seems to be grounded on other eminently successful referral engines like “You might also like…’’ on NetFlix, or “Other readers bought…’’ on Amazon.


The result is that over 80 percent of cards spread virally as a result of referrals by other users who are associated in some way.

Because Kik has become a platform, Livingston has not only seen his startup go viral, his company is also responsible for other games and apps reaching the million-plus plateau.

“Costume Party really took advantage of the virality that’s inherent in a messenger like Kik,’’ Livingston said. “When you start a game with a friend, they instantly receive the game as well. Everything works seamlessly and there’s no friction when the game lives inside the messenger. We also occasionally notify users of new cards when they upgrade, so that played a part, too.’’

Costume Party reached a million downloads a mere 21 hours after its launch. It’s simply the basic, functional nature of Kik that games and other cards become addictive and contagious among users.

So, what factors contribute to a game (or app) reaching one million downloads?

— A bug-free, sticky, and thoroughly user tested product

— Don’t put all of the game’s eggs in one basket – use every channel

— It must have an exceptional social component (consider Kik’s social nature and that Zynga’s games generate over 90% of their revenue from social platforms)

— Build in utility, like improvements on existing models (free data, faster messaging, etc.)

— Base designs on historically successful business models

Doug Atkins is Founder of HONOURoll Games (@HONOURoll).

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