One of the main questions I get asked by developers (and overhear at conferences) is, “How do I get on TouchArcade?” I’m not entirely sure there’s really any magic recipe for TouchArcade coverage. At the end of the day we’re just on the lookout for cool games that we enjoy and which we think others will enjoy as well. There are a zillion iOS dev blogs out there already that have exhaustively covered what makes a compelling game, so I’m not going to spend time on that today. What I do want to discuss is how to describe your game when contacting the media and when writing your iTunes description text.
I’m not exaggerating when I say we get tons of email via our ‘tips’ line. Regardless, I make it a point to read every email we get, even though I rarely have time to personally respond to most. Similarly, part of what I do every day involves combing through the AppShopper RSS feeds for all the new games that have been released, looking at screenshots, and reading the accompanying description text.
Back in the infancy of the App Store, I had time to download and play nearly every game that was released. These days, we deal with such a large volume of daily releases that we must use an initial filter of only pursuing games that look or sound like they might be interesting. This isn’t to say that we don’t still play a massive amount of games, but even with our expanded staff, we lack the bandwidth for the same kind of “let’s play EVERY game that came out today” mentality that we used to have.
What does this initial filter generally consist of? Checking out forum posts, reading email, reading iTunes text, checking out screenshots, and watching trailers. If something looks even remotely cool, I’ll post it in the groupware that we use internally. From there, someone will play it, and if it we like it, they will potentially review it. However, unless the screenshots (and/or trailer) of the game look really impressive, I’ll usually rely on whatever text accompanies said media.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that seems to only be getting worse as the App Store continues to thrive: developers absolutely love to describe their game in the most vague of terms imaginable. The purpose of your iTunes text and press release emails is explain what your game is, what you do in it, and why I should download it. If you’re not doing that, you might as well leave it blank.
Imagine this text as something similar to a resume that you’d send a potential employer. You wouldn’t send a page full of fluff about how you’re the hardest worker you know and your friends all like you. No, you’d compile a highly compact listing of your qualifications and experience in an easy to parse format, focusing on carefully selecting words to powerfully convey just how qualified/experienced you are. Your game’s description should be no different, and each word should be chosen with equal importance.
It’s impossible for me to guess the number of emails and iTunes descriptions I’ve seen which are 100% fluff, save the potential existence of a bulleted list that might indicate how many levels are included. I really don’t know what went wrong in the culture of the App Store to lead people to believe that the best way to sell your game is by focusing on how ‘addictively polished’ it is, but I assure you, it is not the way to proceed.
I cannot stress enough that it’s not at all abnormal for me to see either emails or iTunes text which amounts to the following (which tells me absolutely nothing about the game):
”_________ is an incredibly fun and addictive game that features simple and intuitive gameplay that’s easy to pick up and play but difficult to master. This unique and innovative title is highly polished and is impossible to put down!”
In the interest of time and privacy, I’ll just touch on words and phrases most poor descriptions share:
Fun - One of the main purposes of video games existing is for players to have fun. As unbelievable as it is by today’s standards, even the goal behind basic ancient video game Pong (and others) was to have ‘fun’. I enjoy video games because they’re fun. You really don’t need to tell anyone that your game is fun, anyone searching for a game to play assumes it’s going to be fun. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a game, and you’ve got much bigger issues to deal with than your iTunes text.
Polished - I assume that as part of the development cycle of your game, you’ve gone through and tweaked every interface element that you can. You’ve tightened up the graphics as much as you can and you have balanced the game to the point that you’re prepared to unleash it to the world. If you haven’t done this, you shouldn’t be releasing your game yet.
Addictive/Addicting - I’ve never been able to figure out why this has caught on in such a big way in the iOS world. It’s hard to pick a word that has a more negative connotation to describe your game. I’ve actually discussed this at length with non-gamers I know, and very few people seem to see addictiveness as something that is ever positive. It also does nothing to describe your game, other than likening playing it to, say, smoking cigarettes— And really, when was the last time you heard someone say, “I just love how addictive these cigarettes are!”?
Unique, Innovative, and similar - Again, this should go without saying. I would hope your game is unique or innovative in some way. How else do you ever expect it to sell on the flooded market of the App Store? Instead of mentioning how unique and innovative it is, focus on why it’s unique or innovative.
Easy to play but difficult to master and other cliches - It’s safe to assume that most well-made games feature a difficulty curve that makes it very easy to jump into with a challenge that gradually increases alongside progression. What would be noteworthy and worth mentioning is if your game didn’t have this, as that would be more than a little odd.
Generic positive adjectives - There’s a lot I haven’t specifically mentioned here, but generic positive adjectives make up for a lot of filler in game descriptions. Just imagine, for every “cool,” “amazing,” and/or “fantastic” you chop out you could potentially shove a more descriptive word to further convey what your game is about. Think of this as a creative writing exercise like you were setting the scene in a story. “The oppressive heat drained every ounce of their strength” tells so much more than “It’s so hot out that they didn’t do much” in the same amount of words.
In three sentences or less, you should be able to describe the goal of your game, how it’s played, and give the reader an idea of one compelling reason there is to download it. I’m all for getting into more detail as well. Try to open your description with what amounts to a thesis statement of sorts. The quick accessibility of information on the Internet has made people much less willing to pay attention to things they don’t find interesting. With the sheer amount of games on the App Store, if you don’t grab players instantly with what you actually do in your game and why it is good, it is all too simple to just hit ‘back’ and look at the next game.
Similarly, when I’m going through my inbox, if you send me an email that tells me absolutely nothing about your game, I just hit the arrow key and move on to the next email. You might have had the coolest game ever, and, dare I say it, the next Angry Birds… But unless you can convey that in a clear and concise manner, you’re likely doomed to be lost amongst the hundreds of thousands of other ‘addictively polished fun gems’ on the App Store.