It’s never been easier to build and launch a mobile application, but it’s never been harder to make that application a success. With well over 1 million applications in both the iOS App Store and Google Play Store, discoverability has become a major challenge for developers. Ultimately, you now have to work harder than ever to make a living in the mobile ecosystem.
Sure, there are many challenges associated with app discoverability, and these are openly discussed across blogs, forums and events around the world. However, one issue which I don’t believe gets enough attention is how developers can manage the rapidly evolving expectations of consumers.
In this blog post, I am going to look at what users currently expect from mobile applications, the impact of pricing models on user reviews, and how developers can better manage their user feedback.
What Do Consumers Expect?
Freemium apps now dominate the app store charts. At the time of writing, there are just 3 paid apps in the top 100 grossing chart on the US App Store, and on Google Play, it has been reported that 98% of revenue is generated by freemium products.
Make no mistake, the freemium model has been very profitable for a number of developers. In particular, large game publishers have been able to invest in and refine extremely lucrative applications with well optimized monetization strategies. As the free to play model has developed, it has without doubt had an effect on consumer expectations when it comes to app pricing, with the majority of users now expecting high quality content for no cost.
Monument Valley, which has been widely accepted as one of the most beautiful mobile games ever built, caused a lot of controversy in November 2014 when they asked their users to pay for their a long awaited expansion pack. With the app being a £2.99 premium application, users were then asked to pay an additional £1.49 for access to the new levels.. This caused outrage from users:
It should be noted, the positive feedback for Monument Valley also continued to flood in, and the app is still averaging a 4 and a half star rating, but the backlash was enough to draw a frustrated response from ustwo (the developer behind Monument Valley)
Seems quite a few people have gone back and 1 star reviewed Monument Valley upon update because the expansion was paid. This makes us sad.
— ustwogames (@ustwogames) November 12, 2014
That’s it, we’re giving up the premium game. Next time we’re just going to sell you 500 coins for $2 instead. — ustwogames (@ustwogames) November 12, 2014
While these Tweets may be deemed as not being in line with ‘best practices’ when it comes to community management, I think credit has to be given to ustwo for defending their business model. As a developer, you have to be brave to invest huge amounts of time into building a high quality game in which you expect users to pay for the initial install, and subsequent updates. If going down this route, you have to build a genuinely world class application, and ustwo succeeded in doing this.
Ultimately, Monument Valley’s business model already exists on other gaming platforms. Look at console and desktop games for example. For example, “The Sims” would launch a large number of expansion packs alongside their main title and expect consumers to pay for the add ons, whilst games such as Call of Duty which cost around $50 to buy, then contain a number of premium weapons and power ups. Consumers are sold this model on these platforms and accept it, so why the outrage when the same model is applied to mobile apps?
Managing Negative Feedback
ustwo aren’t the only developer to come under fire for their pricing strategy. I’ve spoken to a number of indie developers who have also had their fair share of criticism regarding price increases or monetization strategies. Of course, receiving any form of negative feedback is always disappointing. However, how you react to this feedback is crucial.
On Amazon and Google Play developers are given a voice and are able to reply to reviews on their application. Below is a great example of how to respond to negative feedback. The developer involved is Per Haglund, a children’s games publisher based in Sweden…
Sadly, and to the frustration of thousands of developers, on iOS you are not able to reply to reviews in this way. But this doesn’t mean you lose complete control of what people are saying about your app.
From the outset, you should always look to engage with your community of users as much as possible. If you can channel as much conversation as possible through social channels where you can interact with your customers, then this gives you greater control over what people are saying about your app.
To help with this, there are a number of useful services and SDKs which are dedicated to helping developers to manage the quality of their reviews and ratings. Services such as Helpshift and Apptentive are good options for here, and offer native in app feedback forms which enable developers to interact directly with their customers. Ultimately, if a consumer is unhappy you can engage with them, try to help resolve their issue. If a user leaves positive feedback, then you can direct them to the App Store. One of the best examples of this in action can be seen in the Circa News app.
Additionally, Circa work hard to ensure that this messaging only appears once they are confident that a user is genuinely engaged and happy with the app they are using. So that means after 10 app opens, over 3 days.
Developers Need To Make A Living
As we have seen, an increasing number of developers are being affected by negative reviews from consumers that don’t agree with an app’s pricing model. The big problem here is that users expect applications to provide hours of fun at a very low (or no) cost, whilst indie developers deserve to make a living from the software they build. I know that the majority of developers build mobile applications as a passion, but they also have bills to pay and families to feed.
It would be wrong to assume that consumers have a full understanding of the effort and planning that goes into producing a mobile application, and this lack of understanding is why many users are so quick to complain when prices are a little higher than they expected.
It’s currently a challenge for indie developers to cover the cost of their own time via their app’s revenue streams. Consumers are now so easily aggravated when being asked to pay for even the highest quality app updates, such as the expansion pack in Monument Valley, that it leaves many indie developers questioning how they can actually monetise their user base.
We’re also now very confident that user reviews have an effect on app ranking on iOS, meaning that avoiding negative feedback is of a higher priority than ever. For this reason, if you’re going to opt for a paid or paid with in app purchase price model, then you have to make sure that your app really is providing value to your users, or you will soon attract negative reviews and ratings.
Ultimately, developers need to research and test both their product features and pricing model as extensively as possible. On top of this, there are a number of steps which can be taken in order to manage consumer feedback. This has a lot of value when it comes to maintaining high ratings, but more importantly, user feedback can help developers to shape a stronger product for their customers.
This article was originally published on Tapdaq’s Blog and it can be found here.