5 Ways To Make Better Games, Earn More Money, Get More Downloads

Elaine Heney will give us 5 tips on how she grew her app business from zero to 200 apps and 3 million downloads in 14 months.

App developer and entrepreneur Elaine Heney

About the author: Elaine Heney is CEO of Chocolate Lab Apps, and #1 bestselling author of the ‘App Escape Plan’ and ‘App Marketing’. She has over 200 apps published, 3 million downloads and 5 online App Development courses.

14 months ago I started a mobile games business. Through bootstrapping and reinvesting profits from successful games back into my business, Chocolate Lab Apps is now generating annual revenue in six figures and is still growing.

Here are 5 ways I have used to make better games, earn more money and get more downloads:

1. Surround yourself with great people

I am not a programmer and one of my greatest challenges was to find honest, fast reliable developers to work with me. After some initial failures (lack of skills or motivation on their part, terrible to work with or just really expensive), I now use the Haystack Method to find great developers.

lt="Find good app programmer

My main issue was identifying developers that are honest and trustworthy and who know how to do their job well. Here is the Haystack Method, is a simple 7 step process I developed to achieve this.

First, write a short job post in your favorite outsourcing website. Then write a list of ad SDKs or third party platforms you want to integrate into your app.

Search for people with these exact skills. 24 hours later, review all applicants and delete any applicants with a 1 to 4 star rating. You do not want to hire someone with documented issues.

At this stage refuse all Skype requests. Instead email everyone one question “How long does it take you to integrate Chartboost into an app”? (I can integrate Chartboost myself in about 15 minutes.) Delete any people that say over 1 hour.

Rinse and repeat until you have three shortlisted developers. Then interview them to see who is the right person for your project. I’d also strongly suggest hiring them for a small project, with a total cost of under $150. When this is completed successfully, then you can hire them for your bigger job.

I have been using the Haystack method for over nine months now and it has worked really well for me. What I have found is that by hiring rockstar developers who are passionate about making games and apps, they can have some excellent ideas about how to improve the gameplay that you had not thought about before. The right developer can add a lot of positive influences to your games and monetization designs.

2. Update your app after the initial launch to increase your downloads

Reviewing your app keywords, screenshots and icons can make a big difference to your downloads. I published a nature sounds app (White Noise and Nature Sounds) a few months ago. It was getting some downloads every day, but nothing major.

I updated the app with two changes and the result was the app shot from low ranks to being the #1 free medical app in over 21 countries worldwide. Firstly I replaced the old icon with a new icon I had made. I wanted the icon to better express the features of the app - i.e. to tell the user that this app plays sounds from nature.

lt="Icon replacement experiment

Secondly, I reviewed the app keywords (using Sensor Tower), and took out more general keywords (best, cool, etc) and replaced these will keywords more directly related to my app.

3. Think global

I live in Ireland. But even if I got to #1 in the Irish app store, it is not going to earn me a ton of money. So I’m not going to make apps focused solely on Ireland.

There will be no ‘Great Irish Pubs’ App or a guide to the Ring of Kerry. When I do market research I look at the top charts in the US store, as it is the largest store when most of my potential customers can be found.

While I’ll concentrate my focus there, I will also localize the metadata descriptions of any apps I think have potential to do well overseas as well. This is another reason why my nature app, once I change the keywords and icon, did so well in a lot of international markets.

4. Experiment with different ad networks

lt="Using ad networks to promote app

Over the course of the last year there have been big changes in ad networks. Some started off with amazing eCPMs (effect cost per thousand impressions) and have since jumped off a cliff and are now on life support.

Some continue to innovate offering existing new features within their SDK. And then you get the new kids on the block.

Brash, fun and the ones everyone is talking about. Because things change the whole time I’ve found it very useful to keep up to date with what’s happening in the community in terms of which ad networks seem to be working the best for people, and I am always opening to trying new ad networks that people recommend to me.

I’ve also recently started with video ads and early results are quite positive so I will definitely be testing them out more in my new apps. Unless you are making games with well thought out IAPs and a high user retention, most of your income is likely to come from these large ad companies, so it is worth making sure you are maximizing this revenue stream.

5. Get a virtual assistant

lt="A VA to help with an app development business

As my business has grown, my biggest problem started to be that I was now working 16 hours a day and living off legal stimulants. I hadn’t seen my friends in weeks, my family didn’t recognize you anymore and I couldn’t remember the last time I had a day off. Instead of me running my own business, my business was running me.

It turned out that I was spent a lot of my time every day doing repetitive tasks, like keyword research in Sensor Tower, resizing and uploading screenshots, creating app IDs and uploading everything to iTunes. When I realized the amount of time I was wasting - when I should have been growing my business doing more important things - I decided to hire a virtual assistant.

This has been one of the best decisions I have made in my business this year. They now work full-time for me, and do all of the repetitive work that was slowing me down. Now I can grow my business faster and have some days off.


We thank Elaine for giving us many insights into her experience and wish her continued success. One thing that we can take away from this post is that you do not need to be a developer to start making apps and be successful at it. Even if you are a developer, hiring other people to help you with the more repetitive tasks can free you up to do the important things. Finally, remember to think global, especially if you are in a smaller market and concentrate on improving your keywords and app icon.

For more information, check out Elaine's website and get the Express, a unique, totally free program for increasing your app downloads at Contact @choclabapps on Twitter for questions.

Photo Credit: Meeting | Coffee

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Hugh Kimura

Written by: Hugh Kimura, Head of Content

Date: August 2013

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