If you’ve ever released a mobile app or game yourself, you’ve probably been asking yourself this same question through the whole Flappy Bird saga: how the hell did this game get to #1 in the App Store in the first place?
Sure, lots of articles have talked about how it “went viral” and why its gameplay is “addictive” — but as most app developers know, these are rarely the true drivers of initial growth. Yes, you’ll need a kickass product and if you can design it to be inherently viral you’ll have a huge advantage, but before those attributes can have any impact you need your first critical mass of downloads.
So how does a game with zero marketing spend shoot to the top of the App Store rankings, a spot that many have estimated can cost over $80,000 through paid customer acquisition? I’m convinced that in Flappy Bird’s case, it all came down to user reviews.
To understand why, you first need to know how the App Store’s ranking algorithm works. Apple obviously doesn’t make this public knowledge, but anecdotally app developers have come to believe the current iteration works something like this:
Ranking = (# of installs weighted for the past few hours) + (# of installs weighted for the past few days) + REVIEWS (star rating + number of reviews) + Engagement (# of times app opened etc.) + Sales ($)
Flappy Bird jumped from nearly zero downloads to thousands back in December, something that is usually achieved through paid marketing (buying installs). However, there is no evidence that any money was spent on traditional user acquisition, so how else could an app rise up the rankings this quickly?