Ask an average person how much developers are making selling apps on the App Store and they will likely tell you "a lot" and, in a sense, they wouldn't be wrong. However those of us closer to the market place know just how much that skews to those sitting at the very top.

Despite that fact, I never see developers setting conservative expectations for themselves prior to releasing a product; Isn't that a little bit silly? Don't get me wrong, it is easier said than done and I was certainly guilty when I launched my only app last January. The App Store is shrouded in mystery and it has historically been hard to get all the facts yet easy to develop with our expectations in the clouds. However, if we want to be truly rational and strategic people who understand our market place, it is something we need to start doing.

What can we do to set stronger more attainable goals for ourselves? How can we become thought leaders on our marketplace's economics? I hope that you will join me in discussion.

My expectations

The remainder of this article is about the expectations and goals I am setting for myself this fall. I am releasing a large update for my game Pixel Fighters and setting a SMART Goal based upon my personal experience and all the information I have read/gathered in that time.

Looking at past performance

Let's start by looking at Pixel Fighters' history so far. I've blogged about this several times before in more detail but I'll brush up quickly.

So, in summary: 9 months , approx. 3000 sold, approx. $1900 CDN in revenue, averaging to 11.2 copies per day. On launch, I peaked at 222 copies sold on the first day. During my "Best RPGs" feature in Europe I sold an average of 14 copies per day between February 25th and July 16th. Since being removed from the feature section, I've averaged 1.7 copies sold per day.

Thinking about demographics and niches

One important thing to remember, is that not all categories on the App Store perform alike nor do they appeal to the same demographics. My game sits firmly in the RPG niche. Based on several anecdotal experiences, I also believe that my game skews younger, which doesn't really surprise me. I was trying to create something relatively simplistic in RPG terms that was appropriate for the iPhone. Kids that like games like Pokemon enjoy the balance I have struck.

I would declare my primary market as kids, 8 to 18 who play RPGs.

Thinking about strategies and their returns

On my first launch I had a few marketing strategies up my sleeve including a Twitter follow contest for promo codes and later a Facebook picture contest for gift cards. To summarize, they did not work and cost me more money than they earned me.

Re-approaching the market with my update, I will be using more traditional methods. I plan to have a free day sometime this Fall when the time seems right and I will also be releasing a Lite version at some point. I have no regrets about not trying this sooner, in fact, I knew since launch I wouldn't do anything like this until I had a big update. I didn't want to go free too soon, because that sends the wrong message to your customers in my opinion, nor did I want to release a Lite version that was either too reduced to be fun or too much to be different enough from the full game.

From everything I hear, if you've got a decent game you can see positive results from going free with the assistance of a free app marketing group. I'm not interested in spending a lot of money on going free, so I will have to do more research on the various providers and the difference it makes choosing a provider like Free App A Day ($2000 for a Daily Double!) and Daily App Dream (Free) . I download a lot of the free games that become available, and I'm quite confident my game is of a strong enough caliber to see positive results from a free day. I also believe that going free is important to hitting my target market - KIDS.

I will also be potentially using my second game that I have previously tested, Pixel Fireballs, to promote Pixel Fighters. Pixel Fireballs is a free game that reuses some of the art and music and will promote Pixel Fighters in-game. I'm not sure what the return will be on something like this but I will at least have some year round advertising for my game in the free category that is completely new for even the past buyers of Pixel Fighters.

The last thing I want to mention, is that I feel like in the past I have been a little bit reluctant to promote my game and sell copies because I've been dissatisfied with the content depth. This time I'm going all out and milking it for what it is worth.

Bringing it together and setting expectations

With those considerations I've tried to draw what I believe to be reasonable and conservative sales expectations. In the next 9 months after releasing the update, I would like to sell 9,000 more copies of my game - 3 times my current sales in the past 9 months. This time I'm planning to really get the word out and get the game in as many hands a possible in order to reach that goal. Between a lite version, an entirely new free game and also going free - I feel I have several strong marketing tools. Going free, I would be honoured to hit a 40 - 50,000 total downloads mark, even if it means going free more than once. I don't have a lot of experience on the free side but I think that is pretty fair.

I'm not expecting anything from Apple. New and Noteworthy or another feature after the update would be a nice to have and could really help me hit that target but I'm a firm believer in not relying on or blaming Apple for my visibility.

Doing some quick calculations, I'm setting a goal for myself of 33 copies sold per day after my release - that actually makes me a bit nervous. I mean, considering my past performance I'm setting quite a goal for myself, am I crazy? No way! The point of being reasonable in expectations isn't to set the bar so low you don't have to try, nor would that feel very motivating. The point is just to set a SMART goal. If you've worked for a corporation, you have probably heard this term before. It stands for:

Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Time-specific

I feel I have done all these things. I've been specific about how I'm going to achieve my goal. I've set it in measurable terms. My goal is attainable and realistic; I'm talking thousands as an ultimate goal - not millions. Lastly, I've set an end date for my goal.

In conclusion / discussion

With that, it is time to finish my game update off and get it out the door. With some hard work, focus and determination I believe I can reach my goal. Even if I don't reach that mark I'm sure I will be glad I took the time to set a SMART goal for myself.

If you have any thoughts on how we as developers can better understand our market place and set reasonable/actionable expectations for ourselves I would really love to hear it.