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The Most Common Pitfalls Mobile App Developers Face

by Mark Rosner on Jan 29, 2015

In my role as Chief Publishing Officer, I meet a lot of developers, be they indie shops of one or one of thousands at large publishers. Whether big or small, I’ve noticed a lot of developers making the same kind of mistakes, or not taking full advantage of the ways they could be making their lives easier, affording themselves more time to focus on creating fantastic app experiences.

With that in mind, I talked to several of our developer partners and I  pulled together a list of common pitfalls that snag  developers far too often.

Pitfall #1: Going client-side instead of taking advantage of sweet server-side salvation

One of the most baffling things I see is a shocking number of developers I work with who don’t take advantage of server-side architecture for their game or app. Having as much as possible server-side versus client-side allows you to keep the size of your app smaller and lets you adjust variables and values in real time.

When you have to rely on app stores to update versions of your app, you will not be able to get the most optimized version in your user’s hands quickly. You are looking at around a seven day update cycle for the App Store, and although Google Play is instant, you still have to update code and then make pushes, which can be cumbersome for you and your users.

Utilizing server-side technology allows you to implement certain flows and run A/B tests all in real time, by pulling a lever in your backend UI.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep server-side is your ad waterfall–never hard code an ad network as #1 or #2. Ad network performance can fluctuate based on what deals they have, or what time of the year it is, or any number of reasons. By having your waterfall server-side, you can switch it up to favor the better performing network in real time.

It’s also important to keep events server-side. Events can generate a sizable increase in IAP. And by keeping events server-side you are often able to reduce the size of your app because you don’t have to store so much data client-side (yet you still can utilize it). When events happen in games, they increase the ARPDAU and the purchase rate of users. These types of events can be “Tuesday Special – 20% off” which you can send to non-monetizers. You can test the response rate for 20%, 30%, 40% etc. until you see which number maximizes conversion rates. You would never want to do this client side because if you keep using the same event over and over again, it loses its effectiveness.

Pitfall #2: Scaring away users with over-aggressive monetization tactics

Don’t pull the trigger on aggressive monetization too early (or at all in some cases). After a developer has spent months spilling his or her blood, sweat and tears into an app, it can be really tempting to recoup some of the development costs right away by hammering users with monetization tactics. But this can doom an app’s lifespan before it even has a chance.

Instead, be patient and deliberate with how you deploy monetization tactics. Get to know how users interact with your app, and make decisions based on data that tell you how to retain users. Then you can start slowly pivoting off different users and testing cohorts on the efficacy of different levels of aggressiveness. For instance, if you are doing well with 100K DAU, showing users one ad per day, you can see what happens when you show two ads to new users. If your retention doesn’t suffer noticeably, you can experiment with the location of ads   for certain cohorts. Find the holy equilibrium and maximize the LTV of your users.

A great example of under-aggressive monetization is the inclusion of rewarded video to extend the life of a game. Because it’s opt-in, players tend to like this type of unit and appreciate the helping hand.

Pitfall #3: Reinventing the wheel

One of the major trends in the app economy as a whole, is to unbundle your app, and have a suite of similar apps in one genre. This can be a great idea for some developers.

However, one common pitfall that I see over and over again as people try to go horizontal, is they make the mistake of making each individual app from scratch. It may be too late for some, but if you are about to embark on the horizontal strategy, take the time at the beginning to create an engine for your common-themed games. You can adjust the art and back-end variables easily through this engine. Maintenance will be much much easier with this approach.

It’s more work upfront, but you’ll be thanking yourself later.

Pitfall #4: Dismissing negative feedback

Everyone loves to read and re-read their praise. It’s easy to dismiss negative reviews and only focus on the good stuff, but your most harsh criticism, the ten paragraph 1 star reviews, are the most important ones to pay attention to.

Even though they are rating your game poorly, these are the users who care the most, otherwise they wouldn’t be devoting all this time to literally map out your app’s weaknesses. With the caveat that you can’t please everyone, in general if you can win over your harshest critics, your game will likely be better off. You can safely ignore the trolls, but if someone has some legitimate gripes with your app and is taking the time to tell you about them, you need to listen.

Remember, if you see one or two bad reviews and depending on the size of your audience, there can be thousands of additional people who feel the same way and don’t take the time to let you know.

Pitfall #5: Overlooking virality as a growth channel

CPIs are at an all time high right now, and most games can’t support the LTVs to purchase ROIs positively within the market.

This means that they have to look for other ways and means of acquiring users outside the market. A lot of developers check a box by relying on Twitter and Facebook as their de facto social channels in a really basic way. But they are not realizing social sharing’s full potential.

Look into other social APIs like Snapchat’s or Instagram’s. One developer I know uses the Instagram API to great effect. Rather than only have his players spend extra coins, or watch a rewarded video after they die, they are also asked to share their screen to Instagram. If that one user can broadcast to his or her audience and be responsible for multiple users signing up, this generates an incredible multiplier effect. This can be a more effective and cost efficient way of acquiring users for low LTV games and even for high LTV ones of course.

Many, many more

I could probably write ten more blog posts on this topic–and maybe I will–but these are the most common pitfalls I see with developers. Got any others? Share them in the comments or hit me up on Twitter: @Mark_Rosner.



Mark Rosner is AppLovin’s Chief Revenue Officer.

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