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Heisting the App Store: 500,000 Apps Sold in 1 Week

by Phill Ryu
June 1, 201120 comments

It’s hard to believe we launched The Heist for iPhone just one week ago, but here we are, 7 days later, lacking sleep but making up for it in pure adrenaline and shock. The numbers are in and our minds are officially blown.

The Opening Week Haul

The Heist Worldwide Daily Sales

In just a little over 6.5 days, The Heist has racked up a staggering 501,813 sales at 99¢, totaling well over $300,000 in revenue. To put that in perspective, our last chart-topping app, Voices, managed to clear 300,000 sales… in its first month, meaning The Heist has been outselling it at a rate of nearly 8 fold! Makes us wonder if we outsold the entire paid Android marketplace this week. :P

We definitely think we made a cool game, but even Angry Birds took a couple weeks to get noticed. So what the heck happened here? It’s difficult to separate out everything that played a part in The Heist’s success, but we tried our best to identify some of the more significant contributing factors. So let’s run through the list and see what it takes to temporarily oust Angry Birds in the charts – the App Store equivalent of a Death Star trench run for indie devs:

Bottled Up Pressure

We started teasing The Heist way back in January, hiding clues only accessible for MacHeist bundle customers in Twitter for Mac 1.0. While this secret area was hidden for most, its inclusion in such a high profile software release got our base buzzing and planted some interesting seeds in their collective heads.

Secret BlueprintAbout a week before The Heist’s release, we started teasing in earnest, putting up this teaser page and inviting MacHeist members to speculate on what was on its way in a brand new discussion forum. This was tweeted out and shared to a couple hundred thousand fans following on twitter and Facebook, cueing them into the incoming release (and the app icon!).

The teaser page also included a simple multitouch puzzle for MacHeist fans. Twisting the rotating maze backwards unlocked a blueprint of The Heist’s vault room.

A few days into the teaser page, the app was approved, sooner than expected. But we were ready to go, and set the app for release.

Pumping Up Value

Dump out the cereal!The Heist includes a unique gimmick of a feature: When you beat the game, you unlock another game as a prize. We call it the cereal box prize, and Jamie at Klei Entertainment was happy to play part of guinea pig with one of his Mac & PC games. (I won’t spoil it but it normally sells for $9.99 on its own.)

With The Heist’s expensive production value and valuable prize at the end, we felt it could sell for a solid $2.99. Possibly even $4.99. But after much discussion, we slashed that to 99¢… just in case.

It’s possible we could’ve maximized revenue with a slightly higher price point, but we hedged our bets, deciding charting as highly as possible and building our brand as quickly as possible (by bulking up on happy paid customers) was much more important.

Direct to Fans

Once the app was approved and released on the store, our main focus was announcing the new MacHeist mission to our 500,000 fans opted in to hear from us via email.

Announcement Email

The email also included an invitation to enter an iPad 2 giveaway. This was the latest in a series of ‘Tweetblasts’ we’ve run at tap tap tap and MacHeist to kick off various events and product launches. If you have a bunch of accumulated Twitter followers, Tweetblasts can be great for incentivizing your fans to spread the word – even those who aren’t necessarily interested in purchasing your app!

As the announcement mailing started going out, tweets began to fly and The Heist quickly broke into the top 200 paid app charts. Popular blogs in the Mac and iOS community began spreading the word:

Word of Mouth Buzz

Early on in The Heist’s release it became apparent that customers were responding very well to the idea of a mystery prize to unlock at the end of the game (novel to a new crowd largely unfamiliar with MacHeist), and in particular to a unique story-framing device we employ from the game’s opening moments.

“I won’t spoil it for you, but you have to experience it for yourself!”

We saw this kind of comment repeated over and over again through iTunes reviews and while madly refreshing twitter search for The Heist. It seems like our customers enjoy selling the app as a unique experience to friends without spoiling the gotcha moments and vault loot surprise.

Coy Reviews

As a result we’re now getting some solid word of mouth, similar to an audience buzzing after seeing a movie with a twist ending. Let’s just hope this doesn’t lead to me chasing similar gimmicks over and over again in apps and games that consistently slide in quality and degenerate into clichés until my name becomes a joke…

Oh and of course I can’t tell you what this popular feature hook is! You’ll have to find out for yourself. ;)

It’s Fresh, and No Fowl

In under 20 hours The Heist toppled Angry Birds in the Top Paid Apps chart in the US, and within a couple days it had topped the paid app charts in 30 countries. (With an unfortunate exception in Japan, the land of video games.)

That's no moon… it's a space station.

In most countries The Heist popped into the top, pushing its way past a group of established App Store brands – Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, more Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, Angry Birds, etc., and we think by benefit of not being familiar, and rather being totally fresh, The Heist enjoyed a particularly strong surge of interest and sales once the app started experiencing #1 charting exposure. (The #1 spot is not only representative of how well your app is doing, but also is arguably the most valuable and highly tapped ‘shelf space’ on the App Store.)

A lot of people are sick of Angry Birds, and while we have no expectations on knocking it out for more than an abberation of a week, we are definitely proud to have dispelled the ridiculous notion that your app and app icon has to have a bird in it to take #1. Though to be fair, we’re going to have a helluva time merchandising a vault door.

What Next?

We’re going to ride it out. Then, start gliding down the charts, waving Angry Birds on the way down – hopefully dropping slowly, gently, even with dignity. Falling… with style.

But for now the embers are hot, and we need to keep throwing logs into the fire. So that’s enough blogging for now – time to get cracking on The Heist 1.0.1! (Yeah, I know, 1.0.1… but this will be the Best. Bug. Fix. Ever.)

P.S., if you dig the app make sure to follow the crack team within tap tap tap that made it happen!


tap tap tap is a leading iPhone and iPad app developer and publisher. We’ve been creating top-notch apps since the App Store first opened. Our apps are used by literally millions of people in all corners of the world.

A few of our favorite and most popular apps we’ve created are:


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20 comments

  1. Mathieu
    9:17am, June 1, 2011

    Great job!

  2. Andreas
    9:18am, June 1, 2011

    Incredible effort guys – we have a lot to learn from your pre-launch marketing machine for our next app! Well done :)

  3. Steven
    9:25am, June 1, 2011

    How about an iPad version considering your prize for the twitter contest is in fact an iPad…

  4. Phill Ryu
    9:34am, June 1, 2011

    Hey Steven, we are considering it. There are elements of the game that just wouldn’t port over great, but we are mulling it over.

  5. Massimo
    9:46am, June 1, 2011

    Congratulations to the whole team – well deserved!

  6. Andrew Richardson
    11:12am, June 1, 2011

    Amazing job! The marketing campaign is truly unique to your creation which I believe gave a lot of impact. Keep up the good work.

  7. Shane McLean
    12:09pm, June 1, 2011

    Great work guys. Love the blog.

  8. bitcoined
    12:43pm, June 1, 2011

    Wow, that’s amazing. Congratulations on your success and may you have more of it!

  9. Stan
    1:27pm, June 1, 2011

    I didn’t think the opening was funny. Don’t care for tricks. I don’t answer the phone when I don’t recognize the caller, so this just annoyed me until I figured out it was a fake phone call trick.

  10. Jot
    6:06pm, June 1, 2011

    Congrats. And thanks for posts like this as well. I don’t understand how the economics are working by giving away the $9.99 game. Did you negotiate a fixed cost for it regardless of how many people get to download the game? Or are you hoping most people won’t download it ?

  11. Josh of Cubicle Ninjas
    6:49pm, June 1, 2011

    As someone who’s been following Phill and the entire MacHeist crew since the beginning: huge congrats on the well deserved success guys. I’ve never seen a group so driven on building delightful applications, while also understanding the value of impeccable design and clear communication.

    And The Heist’s ending actually left me breathless. Remarkable work.

  12. James Hicks
    10:19pm, June 1, 2011

    As always – a great app from a great team of developers

  13. Joseph Rosario
    10:26pm, June 1, 2011

    Congrats on the sales! I beat it in the first few days. Definitely well made and worth the $0.99. Can’t wait for the next one!

  14. Adnan
    11:03pm, June 1, 2011

    So was it made in Obj-C?

  15. Damon
    9:26am, June 2, 2011

    I posted this on TouchArcade, but just in case you don’t see it..
    Great game! Good job getting number 1.

    With all this success I wouldn’t be surprised if more developers would want to get on board and give away stuff for victors! Any plans on adding more levels to make some more ‘Heists’? I’d love to see that you continually add content in a way that made Angry Birds so popular.

  16. Sophia
    10:59am, June 3, 2011

    Congrats with the quick success. Just curious, how many people did it take to make the Heist from start to finish? How do you determine how much to invest in a game in order to get the ROI? Thanks!

  17. Randall Cross
    12:03pm, June 3, 2011

    Congrats to all of you and THANK YOU for sharing your marketing strategy. As a small dev shop, this information is gold. Here’s to you staying in the top slot for a long time.

    I just downloaded my copy:)

    -Randall
    Ethervision

  18. Dwayne
    5:03am, June 5, 2011

    Wow that is impressive for that kind of sales within in week…

  19. Brian Akaka
    11:17am, June 6, 2011

    Wow, I’ve been out of the country until today, and came back to see it still sitting at #1! Fantastic job guys.

    BTW, I’m still going for 100% on the beta build I have… Logic puzzles FTW. (Is it possible to get 100% or should I give up? Some of them seem impossible in the beta)

  20. Guy Horrocks
    11:23pm, June 6, 2011

    Well done!

    Seems like you guys have built quite the platform to launch great apps from. Well deserved.


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