The perfect newsline

In-app marketing is super efficient. Every developer needs to do it. Here is my latest take on the “newsline”. There are other helpful marketing posts coming up regularly through the idevblogaday.com initiative, make sure you check those out.

What?

A newsline is a short text string that the app requests at start from a server and displays it in a non-obtrusive way on the home screen.

Why?

My favorite reason for doing this is because it requires mainly… coding! So none of the stuff that developers typically don’t like about marketing, like sending boxes of chocolate to review site editors or leaving iPhones with only your new app installed in bars where Gizmodo contributors have their drinks. No, as you will see, a good newsline integration is somewhat tricky, so take it on as a coding challenge and have some fun with it.

And don’t forget the Eyeballs

I display newslines in five of my kids games and had days where the string was requested from the server 15,000 times. Simply meaning that those apps were started 15,000 times on that day. That means 15,000 people read my text. And no matter where you look, classic web, facebook, etc, that is a really powerful number! Apps that made it into the top charts can get hundreds of thousands of views every day.

Most of the time I just display a friendly hint to the game. But sometimes I show information, like “hey, I just released a new app”. A newsline is the perfect vehicle to carry such information, it is much less dominant than say a house ad, in fact it is harmless enough to integrate it into paid apps as well.

Ever wondered how some companies are able to push their new releases up the charts? Those innocent looking newslines play a significant role in that. It is one of your safest bets, it is one of your strongest target groups, those who actively play/use one of your current apps, that you approach in a nice and non-obtrusive way. Very high gain and if you play it nicely, almost no pushback.

Use newslines to communicate with your user base:

  • most prominent use certainly is to promote new releases
  • point to sales promotions
  • ask for ratings
  • including: confess there was a bug, offer more information on it and ask for forgiveness/ratings
  • offer tips & tricks
  • or just say “Hello and Thank You”

Don’t change the text every day, a good cadence is every 1-2 weeks.

How?

Here are some notes on the implementation:

  • the web-request should be asynchronously and not disturb any flow
  • any problems with the newsline retrieval: just don’t show anything
  • my newsline files are simple text files in a password protected folder on my webserver, nothing fancy
  • your text format will change, so I construct the file name programmatically out of app name and version number
  • I additionally encrypt my files with md5, it’s a bit of a security overhead and I have mixed information how/if that influences the encryption questions in ITC
  • you need some basic security, if your app is successful you don’t want anybody to replace that text file with “great p0rn HERE”
  • the text file contains the newline text and potentially a link, which the app then interprets if someone taps on the newsline

Advanced

If a simple newsline can have such dramatic impact on marketing, I always wondered how one can improve the concept. So I set out to study some of the other apps using this concept and found back then I liked how Doodle Jump implemented it.

One of the biggest limitations of the classic newsline is the one-line text. Nice, but really really short. Doodle Jump popped out a small window at the bottom whenever there is a news update, hosting up to three lines of text (later images). You were able to scroll within this text to see older messages (note: they changed their concept since then).

So I replicated that in my current implementation. I also implemented a mechanism to trigger a newstext to appear as a full popup, using a very simple mechanism to enhance the textfile with leading special characters.

“Space Master is free today only”: regular newsline

“/1Space Master is free today only<link>http://itunes…&#8221;: show text as a popup with ok button

“/2Space Master is free today only<link>http://itunes…&#8221;: show text as popup with cancel and “go to appstore” button

“/3Please help us out and rate this app<link>http://itunes…&#8221;: show text as popup with cancel and “rate now” button

Not very elegant but straightforward to implement and pretty versatile. The popup versions obviously react to the link when the respective button is clicked.

Now popups are certainly effective, but very annoying. I planned to use this concept mainly in free apps, with occasional usage of the rating function also in paid apps.

The implementation, mainly of the three-line window popping up when the newstext changes is quite trickier already compared to the plain newsline. You have to store the current text locally in order to detect changes. You have to put a mechanism in that the popup only happens once per new appearance. Same for the big popups. Not bad, but trickier, especially testing it.

However, I didn’t release this version. Something felt really wrong. After the first showing, the three line text goes back and all it shows is a tab that says “News”. So I felt I’m missing out with this concept. Instead of having 15k people reading my text every day, they would have to tap actively on that news tab and who does that? I just didn’t like it.

Nirvana

Well, long story short, I found the perfect solution. First, Noel mentioned something casually in his talk about IAP at 360iDev that really resonated with me. Something like “the users are really conditioned to click on anything that shows that red (1) bubble marker that is used for updates, push notices, emails, etc.”. Noel uses it successfully to point his users to new items in his IAP shop. So I thought that might do the trick for a “News” tab as well.

And then I found an app that implements a beautiful combination of both ideas and it is “Words With Friends”. On the top of the screen they have a “News” button. If there is new News, it shows the red bubble marker. And on the right of it is a classic newsline. After reading this post you will probably notice how it takes a quick second before text appears on that bar, a typical indicator for an asynchronous newsline.

This is a beautiful combo, it brings together best of both world. Because whenever you have something exciting going on that demands a broader description, put it out as a message for that Newsbox (which pops up when you hit “News”). It will show the red (1) bubble and lure users into clicking on it. And if it is really important, support it with your newsline, like “<= Huge Thanksgiving Sale!”, pointing to the News Button, but also making it clickable by itself.

Again, study Words With Friends. Excellent Implementation. The only drawback is that this newsline is even shorter than a regular one, but in the combination it doesn’t matter much.

For myself, I will rewrite my newsline class to resemble this behavior, I strongly feel this is the current state-of-art concept.

Summary

I want to one more time highly encourage you to do the same. It’s really worth it. If you put this out consistently with your new apps you should be able to create a growing outreach to your customer base that you would otherwise pay thousands of dollars for.

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9 Responses to The perfect newsline

  1. Really good article. I actually have the code-base to easily implement this into my apps…just never thought of it really.

    Thanks for the great examples!

  2. Nice man, this is a great and detailed post, and really makes me want to do the same for my apps. Much appreciated! :]

  3. Jeff Weber says:

    I’ve actually been thinking about this lately. I have a small spin on the idea.

    I’m thinking of creating a twitter account for my game(s), then and using it announce news/info/promotions. I’ll then just feed that into my game and display it as a “newsline”.

    This way people that play the game will see the news and those that want to be more proactive and see news outside the game can follow the game’s twitter account.

    Thoughts?

    -Jeff

    • Markus Nigrin says:

      Hi Jeff,
      that’s a creative thought! Generally I think that maintaining a Twitter/Facebook account is more interactive and more frequent, but I can see how that mix would work and you can still be interactive from your main Twitter account. Better than NOT doing a game specific Twitter account for sure! I don’t know if there are any libraries out there that would ease up the implementation as well, please share if you are going to use something there.

  4. Amazing, I’m doing this for my about to be submitted Santa in a Hurry game:)

    Thanks for the tips.

  5. Jeff Weber says:

    Hey Markus,

    My first crack at this will be to just read the twitter feed directly, parse and display.

    My game is actually a Windows Phone 7 game called Krashlander.

    I’m not updating the twitter account yet, but it’s data is publicly accessible via url:

    http://api.twitter.com/1/statuses/user_timeline.xml?screen_name=krashlander

    In my app, I will just grab the xml that is returned by this url, parse, and display the top1,2,3 tweets or something.

    -Jeff

  6. Pingback: Linkvent Calendar, Day 7: Spice up your game with Particle Effects | Learn & Master Cocos2D Game Development

  7. bamunda says:

    Does anyone have a working implementation they can share?

  8. Pingback: Blog – Mobclix

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