· 12 min read

7 ways to optimize your mobile game on the app stores

Mobile gaming expert Jupiter Hadley spoke to four separate studios on what they think are the best strategies when competing on the app stores. Here’s what she learned.

“One does not simply hit the top of the app stores” – Boromir, Lord of ASO.

Seriously though. Getting your game noticed on the app stores is no easy feat. Just like websites have SEO (search engine optimization), app stores have ASO (app store optimization).

So I thought it best to ask some of the industry experts. I took the time to talk to a bunch of different developers, some with games on the Google Play store, others with games on the Apple store. And some with games on both. Simply to see how they set up their game’s pages, what they felt was most important, and to discover their top tips when it comes to the Mobile Store Page.

I’ve compiled them into a bunch of takeaways, but I’ve kept all of the quotes in so you can see what they exactly said. Here’s who I spoke to:

With the fellowship ready, let’s get started.

1. Players will judge a game on its icon

I asked everyone what they thought was the most important asset to pay attention to on the store page, and the majority went with app icon. It’s one of the first things a potential player will see, after all. Here’s what they said:

SnoutUp: “My vote goes to the icon. Without paid acquisition, getting your game seen in an overcrowded marketplace is very tricky. Having a catchy icon makes every impression more likely to lead to a download. And more downloads, as well as higher CTR, lead to better rankings.”

Josh Presseisen: “It’s hard to say these days when so many factors are important for ASO algorithms… But the icon is by far the most important thing and it has always been that way. Take extra time designing your icon, showing other devs, family, get their feedback. It’s so important to have an icon that stands out above others. Otherwise, you’ll instantly be getting fewer downloads than you would with a carefully designed icon.”

Kevin Andersson: “In the App Store, there’s this feature that’s called an App Preview which is about 10 seconds of gameplay. So it’s like a mix of the trailer and actual gameplay from the game. I think this video is the closest to what the player will experience. Almost like a 10 second “let’s play” video right in the store next to the purchase button.”

Callum Lory: “In terms of acquiring a player, it really depends on where they are coming from. If the potential player is just browsing the app store, then, in my opinion, the app name and icon are the most important. Otherwise, if they have been brought to the store page through an ad, then the screenshots are the most important.”

2. And you need to make sure that icon stands out (tips below)

Everyone seemed to agree that the icon is probably one of the most important aspects when working on ASO. So the next question on my list was, what exactly should you consider when picking out the app’s image?

Here’s what the experts advise:

SnoutUp: “For the icon, I try to find something that stands out in the list of similar games. Easy to recognize, scaled-down and ideally, reflects the gameplay.”

Josh Presseisen: “Does it represent the game well? Does it make sense with the content of the game? Does it stand out above other top icons on the store? It’s good to make a copy of the App Store page with the top apps that you are competing against, put your icon in there next to them, and see how it looks. I am not in any way saying you should make icons similar to the other top icons. But you should make sure that it stands out and you can quickly spot it at a glance, at any size. Its important for quick recognition when a potential player sees it.”

Kevin Andersson: “The first thing I do is take a screenshot of the store and try to find a color from the game that would fit well beside other games/apps. Something that might make it stand out when you scroll.”

Callum Lory: “The things we think about when designing the app icon are:

  • Trying to make it stand out to someone when they’re looking at a large grid of apps.
  • Establishing a clear association with our app, so that users know exactly which game they’re looking at just from the icon.
  • Not just using our standard logo, but having a custom asset made specifically for the app icon which features our main player character.”

3. Devs have mixed feelings on trailers

I asked the group about trailers on the app stores, and honestly, I got mixed feedback. The general consensus is if you want to have a trailer, great, but make sure it’s good. Everyone seemed to prefer a preview of the game instead.

Here’s what they said:

SnoutUp: “I think they’re good to have, but I don’t believe they really drive downloads that much. Good screenshots are enough! I recently asked my Twitter followers about app store trailers and most of them agreed that videos are not that important.”

Josh Presseisen: “I go 50/50 on that one. I feel that trailers can either help or harm your game. If your trailer is good, and the gameplay is interesting, then it can instantly get someone interested in playing your game. If not, it could have the opposite effect on downloads.”

Kevin Andersson: “Honestly I don’t feel that it’s so important since the App Preview is already there.”

Callum Lory: “I’d say a trailer always helps promote a game, and helps give any potential player a much better understanding of what the game is before they decide to get it. Whether they are necessary depends on a lot of different things. For example, the complexity of the game, whether or not screenshots are enough to honestly portray the game in a way that sells it to the potential player, as well as what the target audience is for the game.

I think the target audience is probably the most important factor. Perhaps you’re trying to acquire users who don’t bother with trailers, or are in an area of the world with slow internet connections, and don’t want to load an entire video for each of the thousands and thousands of games they could download. In that case, a trailer isn’t necessary. There are also several freemium games that have shown that a trailer on the store page isn’t needed to be in the top free games. Right now, we don’t have a trailer for our game on the app stores. But we do on Steam and Itch, and we’re looking into getting one made for the app stores too!”

4. Screenshots need to show off the essence of the game (not your UI or menu)

So we’re not too worried about trailers. But what about screenshots? For these, avoiding UI and menu shots is always a good way to go. And after talking to the team, they mainly recommend showing off the most exciting aspects of your game.

Here are their tips:

SnoutUp: “I record gameplay videos and go through them, looking for the juiciest frames to use as screenshots. Something with most motion and particles! Usually, I select multiple images to show a variety of in-game areas and objects, sometimes create collages with unlocks and cosmetics. Generally, I avoid shots of menus, unless I have a nice logo to show off.”

Josh Presseisen: “Similar to the icon, you want to pick images that best represent what your game is all about. The images should stand out and be engaging, pulling the potential player into the atmosphere or content of the game, and getting them interested.

Also, if you have text, it’s important to localize the screenshot text in any language that is available in the game.”

Kevin Andersson: “For my game, there aren’t too many different camera angles. But if it did then I would try to highlight that. Then, I would try to showcase different areas that you visit in the game to show the player that there’s a lot of variation.”

Callum Lory: “We focused on gameplay pictures and intentionally didn’t show any UI or menus. The pictures we picked were the ones we felt told a story with our mechanics and gameplay. For example, just dodging a bullet, jumping into a wormhole, or picking up a bunch of points and your drone companion giving you an ok-hand emoji.”

5. Text on screenshots needs to be carefully considered

Although not essential, if you do want to add text to your screenshots, make sure that they’re there for a reason. Anything that will support the gameplay or give a reason for the player to download your game.

There’s a bunch of things to consider here, though, so here’s what the experts had to say:

SnoutUp: “I know for sure that whatever I put over screenshots will make me cringe after I’ll read it in a few months. So, I either ignore overlays completely or slap a few basic calls to action together with higher quality character art.”

Josh Presseisen: “Text that describes important gameplay elements that could make a player interested in your game. How much content does the game have? (Like how many levels or characters, etc.) Does it have multiplayer? What game mechanics stand out above others in your game compared to others?”

Kevin Andersson: “I started by looking at what other games were using on their screenshots and then reading reviews of other games to try and find out what people complained about. So I decided to focus on letting people know that there were a lot of levels and that you could unlock outfits to customize your characters.”

Callum Lory: “Currently, we don’t have any text over our images, but we’ll probably be changing that in the future!”

6. Know where players look and think about what they expect

For this, I asked the team ‘what do you feel jumps out most to players and gets players interested’. Essentially, what makes your game stand out from the rest?

There was a mixed reply here, so I’ll let you peruse their advice.

SnoutUp: “If a player is already browsing a game page, then it would be ace if the first gameplay image they see would meet their expectations raised by icon, game name, and whatever they were browsing app store for. At least that’s how I browse for games.”

Josh Presseisen: “Definitely the icon [gets players interested], followed by the trailer/screenshots. I believe fewer and fewer people actually read the description of the game.”

Kevin Andersson: “I think that a unique mechanic is what usually grabs the players attention, this could obviously mostly fit the type of games I’m playing.”

Callum Lory: “In terms of our game, and what we’re showing off from it, I feel like primarily it’s the aesthetic we managed to achieve for the game – cosmic and colorful, but also cartoony. In addition to that, I think it’s also the “controlled chaos”, or a sense of “method to the madness” that we’ve tried to establish with our gameplay. In terms of the app icon versus trailer versus screenshots, I’d say it really depends on where you’re getting your players from. If you’re using ads to promote your game, definitely the trailer. If you’re relying on organic traffic, that I’d say the app icon is probably the most important as it’s the first thing players will see before deciding they want to go visit the store page. Once they’re on the store page, I would imagine the app icon is pretty much ignored, and then trailers and screenshots take over as the most important.”

7. There isn’t really much difference between the Apple Store and Google Play

This is a question a lot of developers ask: “What about when uploading assets to Apple vs. Google? Should I be changing my artwork and assets for each?”, and the general answer is, no. There’s not much difference between them at all.

But this is what the team said:

SnoutUp: “I feel like audiences on different platforms might like specific things and be attracted to different store materials, but I haven’t done enough research to base that on more than my intuition. I never tried creating different assets in different stores either.”

Josh Presseisen: “One of the main differences is that on Google Play you can upload a YouTube trailer, which makes things quite a bit easier than doing the very specific 30 second App Previews on iOS. Other than that, they are very very similar, with some specific requirements for the size on each platform (such as a 512-pixel icon on Android and 1024 icon on iOS) Google Play also lets you A/B test anything in your App page to see which gets more clicks (a very nice feature to have before launch!)”

Kevin Andersson: “I haven’t uploaded to google play so I wouldn’t really know. But I do like the short gameplay snippets you can upload to App Store, gets right into what the player would experience.”

Callum Lory: “The key difference I found between the App Store and the Play Store was that the Play Store was not restrictive in terms of what screenshots you provided. The App Store, on the other hand, required several screenshots each for specific resolutions that matched some of their devices.”

That’s it for this roundtable. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and taken something away from this article. And if you enjoyed this post, let me know on Twitter what you would like to learn about for the next topic and I’ll keep that in mind.

Till next time 👋