Taming the Wild West: How the iPhone App Store Should – and Probably Will – Change

Faux App Store Walmart Logo

The iPhone has been the biggest boon for independent game and app developers in recent memory, but the surge of devs looking to cash in has overwhelmed the current format of the App Store as an e-commerce platform.

It’s a good problem to have, certainly, but it means there’s a huge opportunity for Apple to push the needle even more by improving the way products are presented to consumers on the platform.

Apple’s brick and mortar stores are hip, sparse environments with big aisles and a dearth of shelf space – they can pull this off because they have only a few product lines, and they’ve achieved premium brand positioning akin to high-end fashion and jewelry retailers.

But if Apple’s retail outlets are Prada and Tiffany’s, then the App Store is Walmart.

There are currently upwards of 115,000 third-party apps available for iPhone owners to choose from, and like it or not, most of these aren’t exactly premium products. There’s a glut of amazing software out there, but most of it’s small, simple and cheap.

And while the variety and value found in the App Store is similar, the presentation of products is nothing like Walmart. It isn’t even like Amazon or other big online retailers. To service those 115,000 products, the App Store actually has surprisingly limited options for product visibility.

The App Store’s shelf space consists of just a few sought after promotional slots, determined by Apple’s editorial team (presumably a group of cloaked and hooded masterminds, convening in an ominous-looking cave somewhere deep beneath Cupertino). Besides the limited promotional space, product presentation is nothing more than a few lists of top-selling products.

And for the majority of that shelf space – even apps lucky enough to show up in the ‘What’s Hot’ spotlight and similar sections – only the app title and icon are visible. There’s a wealth of information that could be added – an app’s rating, a brief description, rotating screenshots, etc. – by slightly increasing the real estate given to promoted apps.

Product presentation in a big-box retailer is carefully controlled. Shelf space is rationed out to specific products based on an overwhelming amount of research (not to mention plenty of deals and partnerships), and endcap promotions are constantly cycling. Similarly, online retail behemoths like Amazon and Newegg have a constant stream of promotions and complete control over the placement of products.

Online retailers are getting even better about customizing product placement based on each user’s viewing and purchasing habits. Apple has dipped its toes in the water with the ‘Genius’ feature, but there’s surely an opportunity to deliver a more personalized user experience for every iPhone owner. If the App Store was as good at suggesting products as Amazon and Netflix, it would mean more overall app sales (good for Apple) – and probably far less of a top-heavy market (good for developers).

There are signs Apple is learning lessons from online and offline retailers. Seasonal and demographically targeted banner promotions (“Apps for Toddlers”) inside the App Store have become more commonplace, and the ‘Apps for iPhone’ promotion on Apple.com recently saw a revamp.

Apple is undoubtedly cognizant of the App Store’s deficiencies – major changes could be just around the corner. Whatever these changes end up being, they could mean a whole new game for iPhone app marketing. Developers need to stay on their toes, as those who are able to adjust when the landscape shifts will be ahead of the game.

LEGO Universe Demo Debut Reactions

Last week we conducted the very first preview press demos for LEGO Universe at the TriplePoint offices in San Francisco. Journalists were invited to check out the game, snag some new screenshots, talk with the development team, and get answers to all their LEGO MMO questions.


Ryan Seabury, the game’s Creative Director from NetDevil was on hand with an in-depth gameplay demo – the first peek for journalists into myriad challenges and worlds awaiting players when LEGO Universe releases next year.

Continue reading LEGO Universe Demo Debut Reactions

Developers Gone Wild! iPhone Gold Rush Uncloaked: Q&A with Rock Ridge Games

The iTunes App Store is a booming marketplace, full of opportunity for independent developers. At an Apple press conference earlier this month, Steve Jobs said that over 30 million iPhones and 20 million iPod Touch devices have been sold to date. There are over 100 million customers on iTunes, and they’ve been busy – downloading over 1.8 billion apps since the App Store launched in July 2008. But with over 75,000 apps and counting (more than 21,000 in the game category alone), it’s a sink or swim space. The unique iPhone platform is luring talented designers from top names in the traditional video game development industry – ambitious artists, code-monkeys and entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes looking to try their hand at a new medium, and take on whatever responsibility necessary – including new shoes they’ll learn to fill along the way.

There are already more than 100,000 third-parties in the iPhone Developer Program, and the App Store marketplace has created a community mindset among many of these smaller independent companies, who are willing to share some of their “secrets” and learn from their competitors to further their cause and to coexist symbiotically, if you will. One such indie developer is Rock Ridge Games. I had a chance to pick the brains of Rock Ridge’s president and VP, Mike Mann and P.J. Snavely, on what it takes to make the transition from licensed, big-budget console game development to the DIY world of iPhone app development – here’s what they had to say…

RRG Western Wind iPhone

Can you give us a little background on Rock Ridge Games and your experience in game development?
Rock Ridge Games was started in April of this year with the goal of developing interesting and fun original  games for the incredible new smartphones hitting the market. There are only two of us (Mike Mann and PJ Snavely) but we’ve got almost 30 years of combined experience in game development, having come from the console side of development. We’ve worked on everything from multi-million dollar licensed sports games to small independent titles for XBLA. The iPhone is our new frontier.

Continue reading Developers Gone Wild! iPhone Gold Rush Uncloaked: Q&A with Rock Ridge Games

A Social Media Makeover for the Beauty Industry


The New York Times ran an article about the rise of “Everywoman” Lauren Luke, a single mom from the UK who has garnered over 50 million views for her YouTube makeup instruction videos, and is now launching her own product line. Beauty execs say that user-created videos are “not a threat,” however, the passion flowing from Luke’s fans who are sick of the “lies” and unattainable standards of beauty show that change is coming whether they like it or not.

Why is this relevant to the TriplePoint blog, you ask? I wanted to share this story because it’s a great example of how social media has upset the balance of power and given consumers control over brands. Honesty and authenticity matter, and as professionals, we need to give consumers tools to communicate about our brands and products. This is no gimmick, but a requirement for success in the changing world of influence. 

Now, what will happen to Lauren Luke? Will she become less relatable now that she has her own product line? Now that she’s not “ordinary” anymore? As it has from day one, the power lies with her fans, so stay tuned… 

Article link: http://tinyurl.com/nsl8xt

Social Plays in Networked Gaming

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of presenting at the monthly Social Media Expedition Memphis breakfast meetup. It was a great chance to take a look at “social gaming” from a different perspective, as many attendees knew little about the video games industry, but they were all social media enthusiasts.

The result? An exploration of the connection between video games, technology and social media, and what it all means for marketers. For brevity, I’ll just say that the relationship between gaming and social media is, by all means, symbiotic. For a more thorough explanation, check out the full presentation on SlideShare below.

In such an emerging space, one can never have all the right answers. Let me know what you think – insight, opinions, questions… All feedback is more than welcome!

Social Plays In Networked Gaming by Kate Hancock

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YPulse Youth Marketing Mashup

YPulse EventsLast week, we joined YPulse’s Youth Marketing Mashup 2-day conference in San Francisco. A wealth of market research, success stories, intriguing discussions and even heated debates, the conference was highly informative and entertaining.

The conference kicked off with a vibrant keynote speech by self-proclaimed “Advice Slinger” Josh Shipp (HeyJosh.com). Shipp shared insight into his experience as a motivational speaker for youth audiences – an extremely challenging and also deeply rewarding profession. He advised the audience of marketers, brand managers and advertisers on tactics that enable him to connect with the teen audience. Shipp emphasized the importance of telling stories through campaigns and remembering to ask yourself while developing the campaign “Does your brand have a story worth telling?” If the story is worth telling, teens will tell your story to their friends and family, and the story (i.e. your marketing campaign) will grow virally.

Doug Sweeney, Vice President Levi’s Brand America’s for Levi Strauss, presented a case study on the success of their “Foster Levi’s Love” campaign, which was executed through a series of viral videos. Levi’s launched 10 films in 6 months, each video lasted 10-15 minutes, and was produced for under $75,000 per film. Originally, the films launched on YouTube without Levi’s branding, and eventually branding was incorporated and the films were edited into short TV commercial spots. Out of the 10 films launched on YouTube, about 3 or 4 were wildly successful in driving viral growth, and were subsequently edited into shorter versions for advertising spots on TV. The films that were successful had the following characteristics: authentic, truthful, and relevant, and carried Levi’s brand values of empathy and respect. From the video clips Sweeney shared at the conference, it was evident that they were also funny and entertaining, which likely also contributed to their viral growth. See one of the videos here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pShf2VuAu_Q

Likewise, the folks at Disney Online have increased their usage of video to engage youth audiences. Jason Davis, Vice President of Disney.com, Kelly Hugunin, Executive Director of Marketing for Walk Disney Records, and Paul Yanover, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Disney Online, shared their experiences driving the “U Rock” marketing campaign based on user-generated content. The team at Disney discussed how they were able to design a program that enabled kids to create and share their own videos while also ensuring that parents were involved in the safety of their children. During the panel, the Disney team announced the next edition of the campaign called “U Rock 2” and you can learn more about the campaign here: http://urock.disney.go.com/?int_cmp=dcom_UR2_home_tower_0601__Intl

In addition to case studies presented by leading brands, several researchers provided insight into the habits, trends and mindsets of youth audiences. Bill Carter, Partner at Fuse, shared some interesting statistics about youth’s response to different types of advertising. 75% of teens prefer TV ads and think it’s appropriate to market to them through this medium. 10% of teens approve of advertising via text ads, so most teens generally don’t want to be solicited on their mobile phones. Traditional print magazine advertising was ranked by teens as the second most effective medium to reach them. Paul Metz, Senior Vice President of C&R Research, stated that 95% of teens are interested in social causes based on youth issues such as child abuse, education and school violence. Donna Fenn, Author and Contributing Editor for Inc. Magazine, discussed how this generation has been affected by the recession. Two-thirds of teens graduate from college with significant personal debt in addition to student loans; however, they are optimistic, they don’t have any fears of saving money and utilize their parents as a financial safety net.

One of the best ways to learn about teens is to hear directly from teens, so the conference also featured two youth panels. The panels were very interesting and revealed a great amount about the interests and passions of what Don Tapscott, Author and Chairman of nGenera Insight, calls the “Net Generation.” Tapscott characterized this group as the echo of the baby boomers. There are 80 million people included in this echo, and ranging in age from 13-31. He also calls this group “digital natives” and stated that it’s the first generation to be an authority on something over the previous generation (ex. internet technology).

On the first youth panel, the panelists ranging in age from 15-20 years old shared their hobbies and interests. Popular interests included: being involved in causes, listening to music, reading books and magazines, and gaming. Each panelist was heavily involved in a different type of cause including support for the environment and organic products, breast cancer awareness, youth activism, and music programs for youth. During the session, the panelists were asked to compare different advertising campaigns in a battle of the brands (Coca Cola vs. Pepsi and Mac vs. PC) and weigh in on the advertisements that resonated with them. While the panelists were very critical and often sarcastic in their commentary about most of the ads, they provided some insight into the types of ads that would be interesting to them and recommended that the ads be real and authentic, funny and entertaining, imaginative and inspiring.

In the final session, teens took the center stage once more for a panel about young entrepreneurs. Guy Kawasaki, Managing Director of Garage Technology Ventures, led the discussion with challenging questions for the panelists about how they started their business – touching on topics from inspiration for their ideas to scaling and fundraising. The common theme among all the young entrepreneurs was their eagerness and fearlessness to build companies that realized their dreams. And, the panelists were quick to advise the audience on how to realize their own dreams by dismissing inhibitions, and simply getting out there and building it.

Overall, the YPulse conference was a big hit with marketers and brand managers. If youth audiences are a core target for your business, spend some time checking out the YPulse online publication for insights into engaging this demographic. Also, stay tuned for more information about additional upcoming Ypulse events on their website.

For those interested in checking out presentations from this event, YPulse posted many of them here: http://mashup.ypulse.com/2009-ypulse-youth-marketing-mashup-presos/