[Founder Lessons] Matt Rix On How To Make A Popular iPhone App

[Founder Lessons] Matt Rix On How To Make A Popular iPhone App



Matt Rix is the creator of Trainyard, a popular iPhone game that he made in his spare time. For about one week in October of 2010, Trainyard was the #2 app on the App Store. Matt Rix shared his story about how he made Trainyard at struct.ca. In January 2011 Matt founded Magicule, a game development company. Matt is now focused on creating innovative mobile games. This is a summary of how he took Trainyard to #2 on the App Store.

  1. Trainyard started out as a couple of scribbles on a notepad in May of 2009.
  2. I did a bunch of paper planning, and eventually coded up a quick Flash prototype nicknamed “PaintTrain”.
  3. One of the key things I’ve learned is that the first project you make with any new technology will be awful, or at least full of issues and problems.
  4. I didn’t want Trainyard to be awful, so I decided to make a simpler, smaller game first.
  5. I submitted the game to Apple on May 30th and began my marketing preparations.
  6. I created an “upcoming games” thread on TouchArcade
  7. I made a great trailer, and sent dozens of emails to major iPhone game sites and blogs.
  8. The trailer really helped to get a small core of people excited about the game.
  9. I posted on Facebook to tell my friends that the game was coming, and told every iPhone owner I knew to get ready for the game.
  10. The reviews from blogs and on the App Store were great.
  11. I tried a variety of mini-marketing escapades, including spending $50 on AdMob, $50 on Project Wonderful (Axe Cop, specifically),  and $50 on Google Adwords.
  12. None of that worked. $50 is almost too tiny an amount to spend, but it became immediately obvious that any ad campaign within my budget would have no effect on sales whatsoever.
  13. In the 4 months between launch and the end of September, I sold 2338 copies and made $3200.
  14. Not enough to live off, but decent part-time residual income.
  15. I’d always planned to make a lite version, but I wanted to make sure that the game was as good as possible before I did it. I went through a careful decision making process and ended up making Trainyard Express, which had 60 puzzles, all of which were completely new and different from the puzzles in Trainyard.
  16. I released Trainyard Express on September 30th, the day I’d nicknamed “Trainyard Thursday”.
  17. A day later, an editor at a prominent Italian blog discovered the game and wrote a fantastic article about it.
  18. The game shot up the Italian charts and quickly became the #1 free app in Italy, netting 22,795 downloads in its first day at #1.
  19. Word of the game gradually spread to the UK, and by October 5th, it was climbing on its way to becoming #1 in the UK free chart
  20. Trainyard Express just dropped to #2 in the UK, but it’s already been downloaded over 450,000 times
  21. Trainyard is going on sale for $0.99.
  22. Two days after this post was written, Trainyard climbed the charts and reached #2 in the App Store (beating Angry Birds). Mission accomplished.