Six to Start

Distributing 3000+ copies of an iOS game

Note: This technique is no longer permitted by Apple. It's a long story, but it won't work, and it isn't worth emailing Apple or Six to Start regarding it.

One of the most common questions we get about the Zombies, Run! Kickstarter campaign is, "How did you distribute over 3000 copies of Zombies, Run! to backers when you only get 50 promo codes per version and 100 devices for internal testing?"

It's a crucial question because Kickstarter campaigns usually involve backers pre-ordering the product, and while that's perfectly easy on platforms like Steam or Android, it's more complicated - but not impossible - on iOS. But still pretty straightforward.

Here's how we did it:

  1. We developed two near-identical apps - Zombies, Run! and ZR Advance. Zombies, Run! is a paid app at $7.99; ZR Advance is free.

  2. Before launch, we emailed all of our backers a link that allowed them to set a password for their 'ZombieLink' account.

  3. They downloaded ZR Advance, entered their email and password, and were authenticated by our ZombieLink server; this then unlocked the appropriate content in the app.

But the most important step was telling Apple what we were going to do before we did it. We were pretty confident this plan would work and didn't break their rules, but there was no way we were going to rely on it without getting some confirmation. Luckily, they reached out to us first because they thought the game sounded cool, so we took that opportunity to explain our issue and proposed solution. They were very helpful and in fact offered some other potential solutions, along with the advice that the free ZR Advance app must have at least some content for curious downloaders (in our case, we made some of our Codex available, plus people could look at the base).

After our Kickstarter campaign finished there was still plenty of demand for Zombies, Run!, so we set up a where people could continue to pre-order the game. Apple were also fine with this although they made very clear that we should shut down the store once the game was on sale - which we were planning to do anyway.

Please do not take this post as any kind of official Apple policy. Even if this strategy was fine earlier this year, there is no telling whether it'll still be fine next year. For what it's worth, we feel that it works well and that it complements the App Store nicely. It's not as if any of the most profitable game developers like Zynga or Rovio are about to crowdfund their next game, and even if they did, it would hardly be worth anyone's time since their games are either free or 99 cents. Rather, crowdfunding - and this distribution method - is an ideal way to help higher-priced indie games like ours attract backers and become a reality, which is good news for developers, for gamers, and for Apple.

Q: What if people share their ZombieLink credentials?
A: We can tell. If they do, then we will send them a warning email.

Q: Can't I just put the user/pass credentials in the app, so I don't need to do any server stuff?
A: Sure, but see above.

Q: Who did you talk to at Apple?
A: We're pretty sure they wouldn't want us to say.

Q: How did you market your Kickstarter campaign?
A: Two tweets, one email, and one Google Plus post. Also, it's a pretty cool idea that can be explained in under 140 characters.

Q: I thought that only famous game devs like Tim Schafer, or beloved IPs/genres can get funded?
A: Yeah, don't listen to people who say that. The $73k we raised for Zombies, Run! certainly isn't a million dollars but it's definitely useful for a small dev like us, and more importantly, it's excellent validation for the game concept.

Q: Wait, backers had to pay $10 on Kickstarter for the game, but you're selling it for $7.99!? You monsters!
A: Kickstarter backers get every single paid add-on released during Season 1 for free. There will be at least three add-ons that will bring the price up well beyond $10. They're getting an awesome deal.

If you're a smart app developer who wants to make fun and important games that players love, get in touch.