iOS development: why did my downloads plummet after only a few days in the store?

For those of you dabbling in iOS apps, you may have noticed a phenomenon whereby your app’s downloads drop significantly after a few days in the app store. You might have been getting ~30 downloads a day but now it’s only 1 or two. Not only have I experienced this myself but I’ve heard the story from a few fellow developers. What gives?

I don’t have any official information on how the Apple app store works, but I’m pretty sure I have a good idea what is happening here.

If you think about how people find apps, the number one way is surely through the app store itself – browsing the latest recommended games, new games, or in some other specific category or list.

None of these categories is infinite, and even if they were, mostly people would just look at the first few on the list. So the question is where and how Apple decides to showcase new games in their store.

They could give everyone a limited time (say one week), and then remove them – but that isn’t optimal since after all Apple’s goal is to get the total number of app downloads. This is obvious for paid apps since they get a cut, but even for free apps, the more people download games on their devices the bigger their market share is. And free games always have the chance to evolve into games with in-app purchases later.

Given this motivation, what they are likely doing is giving all new applications a chance, which means listing them on some relatively high-visibility category. I’m not sure if that is the “new apps” one or something else, but the exact place doesn’t matter. They do this for approximately a week, and then based on the number of downloads, they decide to either keep that app on the list, remove it completely, or maybe even upgrade it to a list with even higher visibility.

So if you happened to get a hundred downloads in the first week, you might be wishing to at least retain that level of popularity, but Apple determines this is not nearly good enough and declares your time in the limelight is over. You could beg to Apple and say “But, if I only had a few more weeks I would gather so much more popularity!”, to which they would respond “Sorry, you had your chance.”

With a huge number of new apps coming in each week, I’d say they are forced into this sort of strategy.

There are some unanswered questions here. For example, do they ever give you another chance on a high-visibility page? What happens for updates?

I don’t know all the details, but based on my recent experience they don’t seem to be giving another full chance when there is an app update – thought it could depend on the extent of the update.

What this all translates to is that to really have your best chances for a popular app, polish the heck out of it before putting it on the app store, since your first week may be your best chance to show Apple your app really has what it takes. Even without Apple’s help, you could advertise your game various places and eventually build up a big user base, but that’s significantly more work and takes much more time.

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