The app success story of Kevin Wolstenholme, a designer-turned-developer from Woking, UK who has got a 100% track record for Apple features with 12/12 games featured by Apple. Learn how leaving his company due to a relocation led him to develop a game studio, get 18 million app downloads and earn a full-time income from the App Store.
Tell us about yourself and what are you working on?
I am Kevin Wolstenholme and I have an app studio RisingHighStudio.com. We are a 2-person team – me and Jilly and mostly focus on publishing games on the app store.
In total, we have received 18M downloads which have enabled me to make a full-time income from the app store.
I was a graphic designer earlier and turned into a game developer after my company moved off to a different place. Since then I have been publishing games.
It has been 6 years and I have done ok. Couldn’t have asked for more!
I have been part of masterminds and Facebook groups earlier but the information there was broader and people were too offering too much praise for too little. Sometimes all you need is tough love.
So we founded a game academy where we provide concrete actionable information for other game developers out there.
We have a new game coming out on Dec 7. So, check that out.
How did you come up with your app idea?
I basically focus on market research for my idea. You should keep checking out the Apple app store and see what games are getting featured.
Also, check out Youtube channels and game jam sites. Just go to Youtube and type in ‘game jam’.
We look at 2 to 3 well-doing games on the app store and then develop our own twist of the popular mechanics.
We also get inspiration from the past, like 90s video games, Atari, and PC games when the processing power was not high. Those simple gameplay games tend to do well on mobile phones with low processing power.
How did you go about developing your app? What was your Minimum Viable Product?
Once we have our idea we directly go to BuildBox and start developing it.
Buildbox is a drag and drop system for game designers where you can easily create your game with no coding at all. There is no wireframing or prototyping as such because of the easy process of building games using BuildBox.
I am a graphic designer and don’t’ have high coding skills but still, I can create an app quite easily using BuildBox. It’s simple to build but quite powerful behind the screens.
Earlier I used to outsource it to developers but there was a lot of back and forth and the final product never actually met my expectations.
There were some little things about the feel of the app which is very difficult to communicate with someone over a long distance. And if you start doing a lot of changes your costs start going up rapidly which doesn’t help.
That’s when I started looking for a tool to build my own apps and thankfully came upon BuildBox.
The time required for building depends on the app. Our first game was built in 4 days and got a featured by Apple after 3 weeks.
We have also published games in 30 days and even 12 weeks. But if I have to put an average number, it should be around 6 weeks.
You had a great strategy for marketing your app. Tell us more about it.
Also, we reach out to Apple using the strategies mentioned in this post – ‘How a cold email to Apple led to an App Store feature‘ and at their email email@example.com.
It’s not like we don’t get rejections. We get a lot of them but it pays to be persistent. Also, we take action and actually reach out to them which a lot of devs don’t do.
Often devs complain that they reached out to press and review sites but nothing happened. Then we ask them well how many did you reach out to.
Mostly the answer is we tried a few and it didn’t work out. That will not cut it!
Keep Taking Action and Approaching the Right People
It’s not that we have big relationships with the press or review sites. We came out with just 2 apps this year and it takes a lot more apps to be in touch consistently.
But people are generally nice and they are looking for good games. They love games and that’s why they are in that profession. What matters to them is, if you are relevant.
If you can reach out to a big journalist who has covered a similar type of game before, he/she would be more than happy to publish your story.
We have also reached to people on Twitter. Twitter is a great leveler for small marketers and just sending a message and pitching your story can do the trick.
People are generally nice and willing to help. But you have to pitch them with the complete package – app, video, screenshots, etc. A half-baked job won’t cut it.
Instead of just spreading yourself thin with 100 emails, be relevant, do some research and try and approach 10-20 people who are interested in your type of game.
In the post-launch stages, we rely on the Apple feature. Depending on the traction that the game gets we keep producing updates to our app and pitch them to Apple.
We also cross-pollinate our users from other games that we have on the app store.
I know without deep pockets it’s hard to market your app. For the next year, we are also looking at doing a few partnerships with big publishers out there and producing games for them.
How do you make money from your app? Can you share the revenue and user growth?
Most of our apps are free to play apps. We monetize them through ads, mostly banner ads, and rewarded videos.
Videos work pretty well for us where users are ready to watch ad videos to unlock a bonus or a gem. We also have in-app purchases but they don’t convert well for us.
Most of our revenue is on the iOS app store. We don’t concentrate much on Google Playstore as we don’t see much traction there.
But in the next few years, we want to partner with a few influencers and increase the traction on Google.
We have had 18M downloads till now from the 12 games that we have made. All of the games have received an Apple feature.
Our downloads and revenue are evenly spread out across all games. Probably because all of them have received an Apple feature.
Here are some of the app features which we have received:
- Pocket Gamer – Glide review – A smart take on the one-touch runner
- App Advice – Fly and blast your way through Hex Brutal, a twitchy shooter
- Touch Arcade – Jumping is the key to survival in the aptly titled ‘Sir Vival: Do Something or Die’, coming December 7th
What does it take to get an Apple feature? How much impact does it have?
All 12 out of our 12 games have been featured by Apple. We are quite lucky in that sense.
If I have to speak about the top 3 things that have helped us in getting an Apple feature they would be
- Fun/Playability in terms of gameplay and
- The whole package – screenshot, videos, icon, description in term of experience for the user
But among all of them, I would rate design as the highest. Apple has a beautiful platform that has been built by designers and there is a lot of focus on good design.
Another designer turned developer, Phillip Stollemayer who has received 9 Apple features till now had a similar advice. He also emphasized the importance of design and one-touch subway games to get featured by Apple. You can check out his full interview with App Disciple.
Also, it’s really important to get really good with your market research and identify what’s the trend for getting featured by Apple.
If you look at apps from Voodoo and Ketchapp most of them are bus-stop games. Essentially, they are one touch snackable games which you can play on the commute while taking the subway or sitting in an Uber.
What’s next for you?
Firstly, our new game is coming out next month on Dec 7th. That’s the big thing for us. Do check it out.
Then we will focus more on the academy and produce more stuff for it. Recently, we recorded a full walkthrough of what goes into building an app.
Right from starting from a blank paper, coming up with an idea, building your wireframe or prototype using BuildBox, publishing your app and marketing it.
We call it From idea to app store in 30 days. We covered it for our last game. It’s a beautiful and complete resource and quite helpful to our academy members.
We also do a weekly coaching call and would like to do more of behind the games stuff. I love helping other people out and sharing more information.
A lot of game devs think it’s a zero-sum game and try to copy and steal. But that doesn’t work.
There is a good opportunity out there for everyone who is willing to learn and put in the effort. That’s why we created this resource in the first place.
In the next year, we will be doing more of the same. Building more games, working on the academy to make it the best resource out there for game developers and will also look toward branching out on Google play by partnering with some influencers.
What’s your advice for app disciples who are just starting out?
For the developers who are struggling, there is a host of factors that can be responsible for the same – your idea, design, gameplay, app store copy, etc.
It’s hard to put a sweeping statement as to what might be the actual problem and depends particularly on your app.
For new developers out there, I would advise them to keep an eye on the market.
When you are starting, start small, get a game together quickly as an MVP and put it on the app store and observe the traction.
Aim for big-ticket games after you have released 3-4 apps on the app store and are experienced with the process.
Where can we go to learn more about you?
We are pretty reachable and just typing ‘Rising High’ in Google should give you our contact.
Feel free to shoot out questions to us and we would be happy to help.
What tools/books do you find indispensable for your app business?
My number one tool is Buildbox – a drag and drop builder for making apps. You can check it out at Buildbox.com.
Other than that I use Photoshop which is easily discoverable. We also use AudioJungle.net for sounds for our apps.
I am not a massive reader but I listen to podcasts. Some of the podcasts I recommend are AppMasters from Steve Young for marketing.