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Five Keys to Building a Blockbuster App

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Jeff Hughes has discovered five key things that all blockbuster apps have in common. Discussing each key to success in detail, Jeff shows you why following his advice for your app will increase the likelihood of success.
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Every app developer dreams of hitting a grand slam, selling millions of copies, and retiring rich on a desert island somewhere. Over the past several years, I have searched for the Holy Grail of app marketing, in an attempt to find what things work to have a blockbuster app.

Just when we think it's impossible for an independent developer to hit the big time, another Tiny Wings comes along and corrects our thinking again. It's not impossible to create a smash hit, runaway, best-selling app, but the odds are against you because of the sheer number of apps in the App Store competing for the top spots.

As I've evaluated winning apps, especially in the game categories, I've identified five things that all successful apps have in common. I'm hesitant to throw in a sixth key, which is luck, but that's true with anything in life. A person can prepare to be a great artist, singer, ball player, or whatever, and there's still an element of luck for which we have little control.

One of my favorite quotes from Samuel Goldwyn is this: "The harder I work, the luckier I get." We have to do everything we can to make our app successful, and sometimes luck is what finally pushes it over the top. However, if luck shows up (in the form of positive reviews and huge initial downloads), and our app isn't yet ready (buggy quality, limited game play, etc.), the market will move on to another app.

Everyone is hoping for the black swan event to occur for their app. Here are five things that I consider must-do's in order to have a shot at creating the blockbuster app. They are not in any particular order, but I believe each one is a pillar of a blockbuster app. Without these pillars, your app will not be ready to take advantage of the black swan event, if it should occur.

Key #1: Your App Must Be Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master

If you look at the most successful apps in the App Store, you'll notice that they are mostly games. The games category is where you have the most competition, but also the higher likelihood for success. From a games perspective, your app must be so easy to learn that anyone can play it within 30 seconds or less.

Take Tiny Wings, for example. This app allows you to fly a tiny bird from mountain to mountain by tapping the screen to fold its wings inward. The bird picks up speed whenever the wings are folded in. Within seconds, you get the feel for how to play the game. Anyone can understand how to play it within a few seconds.

In order to keep people coming back to play over and over, you also have to build in more challenging levels of game play. This is where the "difficult-to-master" part comes in. If someone can achieve all levels of play relatively easily, they will tire of your game quickly and will not have any reason to continue to play. They will also be less likely to talk about the app to their friends.

All successful apps have a quality about them that gets the person coming back over and over again and gets them talking to their friends about them. This word of mouth is absolutely needed to propel your app into the top categories.

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