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The App Store Ranking System: How To Hit #1

Amir Rajan, the indie developer and brains behind ‘A Dark Room’, guest blogs today giving us some insight into what he learned on his quest to hit #1 in the App Store.

I previously published an article ‘How To Build An iOS Game And Hit #1 In The App Store’. Given it’s popularity, I thought I’d share a few more things I learned from the App Store regarding how apps get ranked.

It may not be perfect, but this is what I’ve seen after obsessively watching ‘A Dark Room’s’ rank rise and fall over 2 years. So, here’s part 2!

Downloads Over a 4-5 Day Moving Average Dictate Rank

The Ranking System bumps the rank of apps that have consistent download numbers over a ‘long’ period of time. Having a huge spike, following by nothing, will only temporarily bump your app a few spots for a few hours.

You Need 8-10k Downloads A Day to Hit #1 (Premium) in the US

To hit #1 in the premium App Store, you need a sustained 8-10k downloads a day (the moving average is important). Once you hit that spot, D-day will get you 20k downloads.

Here’s the number of downloads needed to reach various spots across different country App Stores.

  • USA: Top #100 apps: 1k DL’s, Top #10 apps: 5k DL’s, #1 app: 10k DL’s
  • CA: Top #10: 500 DL’s, #1 app: 1k DL’s
  • UK: Top #100 apps: 100 DL’s, Top #10 apps: 1k, #1 app: 5k DL’s
  • AUS: Top #10 apps: 200 DL’s, #app: 700 DL’s
  • NZ: #1 app: 200 DL’s
  • SGP: #1 app: 80 DL’s
  • GER: #1 app: 1k DL’s
  • ZA: #1 app: 15 DL’s
  • IND: #1 app: 15 DL’s

Some things to note across countries:

  1. The ranking systems are completely independent – being #1 in one country doesn’t directly impact other countries
  2. Going viral in UK indirectly impacts virality in the US
  3. Going viral in US indirectly impacts virality in CA
  4. Going viral in AUS indirectly impacts virality in NZ and SGP

photo-1442849914809-0df6c377974f 2

You Need 100k Downloads to Reach #1 (Free) in the US

Generally, you need 10x the number of downloads to reach the same ranks in the free App Stores. When ‘A Dark Room’ was the #3 free iOS app (out ranked Facebook Messenger & Crazy Taxi), it got a quarter of million downloads on D-day. I kept it free for 1 week to spread word about the game.

So, What Does Minecraft Make?

Given the information above (and the fact Minecraft is pretty much the #1 iOS game all year round), I can project what they make on sales, assuming the following:

  • Price Point: 6.99
  • Downloads Per Day: 8-10k (let’s go with the low end)
  • Time at #1: 365 days

Daily Revenue (conservative): $55,920

Yearly Revenue (conservative): $20,410,800

‘Heads Up!’ Gets Special Treatment

Alright, just throwing this out there… but after 3 years watching the App Store, I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘Heads Up!’ (the app created by Warner Bros and endorsed by Ellen Degeneres) gets special treatment in the rankings.

Let’s look at the lifetime reviews for games surrounding ‘Heads Up!’:

  • #1 Minecraft: 451,612
  • #3 Plague Inc: 138,970
  • #4 Geometry Dash: 224,832
  • #5 Bloons TD 5: 39,868

And, what are the review numbers for ‘Heads Up!’ ? 6,977. Why has ‘Heads Up!’ stayed at the #2 spot for so long? Maybe the following:

Lifetime Rank (and Age of App) Influences Immediate Rank

One thing that influences your current rank is how long your game has been out, and what rank it’s held during that period. There is a ‘reset’ that occurs in the App Store. I’ve seen this happen (at least) once every quarter.

For one day, it looks like app ranks are ‘reset’ to the lifetime average for a given app. There have been numerous times where ‘A Dark Room’ has slipped down to #50 in the RPG category, and then the next day it’s at #5 without any increase in downloads. And of course, when you are ‘above the fold’, your downloads organically increase (solidifying your spot). This could have happened to ‘Heads Up!’ but I doubt it.

Review System, What I’ve Learned

  1. Reviews sell games. Keep your review count high (even make your app free after release to get an influx of users and reviews)
  2. People who are given a promo code won’t have their review registered
  3. Whenever you do a new release of your app, the current views your app has get archived (you can use this to sweep bad reviews under the rug)
  4. 5 star reviews show up first, but can come after 4 star reviews if the 4 star review is longer (there also seems to be a top end to the word count where really, really long reviews are discarded)

Holidays Sell Apps

Here’s some numbers for ‘A Dark Room’ before and on a Holiday.

  • Nov 10, 2015: 161
  • Nov 26, 2015: 232
  • Dec 23, 2015: 166
  • Dec 24, 2015: 164
  • Dec 25, 2015: 286
  • Dec 26, 2015: 325
  • Week before Spring Break 2016: ~400 DL’s daily
  • Week of Spring Break 2016: ~900 DL’s daily

So, don’t put your app on sale during holidays – put them on sale when you’re falling in rank (make your app free even). There are syndications out there that scrape the App Store for ‘apps gone on sale/free’ – the syndications get referral money if someone buys an app using their referral link. So, you’ll get some free press from that.

Luck, But Also Quality and Transparency

Sure, it took some luck for ‘A Dark Room’ to go viral and hit #1. But, it took a quality game to accomplish staying at #1 for 18 days straight.

Guys and gals, we’re all in this shitty rat race together. There is plenty plenty of pie to go around when it comes to money in the App Store. So, for other successful people out there, share your secret recipe and help people who are in the same boat as you are. I’ve even put all of my revenue info online for you to look at.

My Book

I’m writing a book, ‘Surviving The App Store‘ that goes into details about the issues I’ve discussed. 10% of proceeds goes to a charity that helps kids learn to code. 

My Games (all built using RubyMotion)


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