It’s been two weeks now since we launched our first major app, the “Dark Heresy: Digital Character Sheet” (DHDCS) app. DHDCS is a companion app for the Warhammer 40,000 Dark Heresy Pen & Paper Roleplay system by Fantasy Flight Games. Basically, it turns the old paper character sheet, where you keep your characters properties, skills, equipment and more into an application capable of managing all of your characters, calculating dice rolls and much more. It also takes the hour long character creation process and breaks it down to a fast five minute process, keeping every option available.
But this post is not about the app itself, it is about our less than perfect launch. A lot of stuff went wrong, and we still recover from it.
How releasing apps works
App releases are quite complicated. I’ll take you on a very quick tour through the Apple and Google release process. Let’s start with Apple.
First, you need an Apple Developer account for iOS which costs 79Euro per year. This allows you to upload apps onto the app store. Once you have this account, you start to build the app you want. When this is done, you create the app and the store page in Apples store management system. After that, you upload the app to Apple. Then the waiting time begins. Apple runs several checks on your app to get it approved. Due to the volume of apps added each day to the app store, it takes Apple around eight days to check the app. While the app is waiting for a review, you cannot change anything anymore, or your app will be removed from the queue and you have to wait for eight more days. After Apple reviewed and approved your app, you can put it on the store, which usually takes about 3-5 hours.
For the Google Play store, things are a bit different. Here, you pay 25 Dollar once to get a developer account which can release apps. You can now create the app, the store page and upload the app. Google has a alpha/beta/production upload system. Apps in the production state are pushed to the store, the other two parts are for internal testing. This particular system screwed us on launch, but more on that later. When you think you’re ready to release, you push the release app button and Google will put the app on the store after a short review, which takes about 6 hours.
Our first Upload
On April 25th, we were done with the 1.0.0 version of app, checked everything three times and uploaded the app to Apple. We created the store pages for the App Store and Google Play, and with a release date set to May 12th, we were quite calm that everything would work out. We had a minor problem with the Apple developer account, because it was still registered as individual “Thomas Diehl”. Obviously, we wanted our new company name here, but it turned out that this is really difficult with Apple. To convert an individual to a company dev account, you have a get a DUNS number, which Apple uses to check some data about you and your company. After this, an Apple employee starts manually starts the migration process. After obtaining the DUNS number, we send it to Apple, but we got a call that some of the data was not right and they could not start the migration. It is notable that we did not simply got a standard mail, but actually I got called by a native german speaker who tried to help me solve the problem. As it turned out, not all data was synchronized at the time of the first migration attempt, and with the help of the Apple employee, we managed to set our correct Apple developer account on May 11th (thanks again to Horst for the great customer service!).
Our second Upload
Unfortunately, on April 29th, we got a mail from Games Workshop, where they found a bug in the character creation process. It turned out this was a major problem and we had to pull the app from the queue to fix the bug. After going through our internal testing process once more, we uploaded the new 1.0.0 version on May 2nd. With a launch date set to May 12th, this left a slim margin for Apples review and no time to fix anything. It had to work now.
The day before the launch
On morning of May 11th, we finally got our company developer account and our app status switched to “in review”. We were pretty excited and waited the whole day what would happen next. In the meantime, we uploaded the android version to production on the google store, ready to push the release button.
On 7pm CET, we got a mail from Apple telling us our app had been rejected. The reason: “illegal use of intellectual property”. They did not believe we had the rights to the Warhammer 40,000 Dark Heresy Roleplay system, so instead of asking for proof, they simply rejected the app. Luckily, about 6 hours and many angry emails later, they were convinced we had the rights and the app went “ready for sale”. We went to bed late but confident, the launch tomorrow was saved. We were so wrong…
The next morning, we pressed the release buttons for the iOS and android versions and refreshed our stores every few minutes to check when the apps go live.
On 11am, we got a mail from Google, telling us our app had been rejected. The reason: “illegal use of intellectual property”.
No, this is not a joke, we really got rejected from both stores with the same reason. Unfortunately, while Apple has a customer service who responds in time, Google customer service is really bad! Some examples:
- all Google customer service communication is text pattern based. You don’t get any real text from a real person (with one exception, because there was a typo in it)
- Google communications are exclusively in english (not that big of a deal, but worth mentioning)
- You get treated like a thief when you get rejected, threatening to close your dev account if a rejection happens again
- The form you have to fill out after getting rejected is only visible when you set the language of the google site to english. (took us 7 hours to reply to the rejection, because we could not find the right form)
- Google answered 36 hours later, vaporizing our entire launch, the marketing and the news on the official warhammer app and the games-workshop licensing page. We had to tell everyone that the android app will come out “soon” and stopped our social media marketing before it had started.
The funny thing is (no it is not…), they still rejected the app after we send them the contract we had with games workshop. On thursday evening, more than 48 hours after the launch should have happened, they cleared the app for sale after I send them a very angry response with a lot of proofs, including the option to just call games workshop or look at their licensing page.
To this day, I did not get any apology from them for wrecking our launch or some offer of compensation. Do I sound a bit bitter here? Of course, when you worked hard for year to create something you are really proud of, and it gets punished because no one bothers to ask first, that is just stupid.
Could we have done anything different? Maybe we could have uploaded the app to the alpha/beta channels first, and maybe Google would have checked it then, but there is no indication on Google’s dev page when or if the app is checked at all.
At the time of writing this post, we are waiting for the 1.0.1 patch to review from Apple and uploaded the new android version to the beta channel. We can only hope things will work better this time. The real test will be the release of the Dark Heresy: Digital Character Sheet First Edition app later this year.
It’s been a rough two weeks with lots of ups and downs. Feedback for the app has been great so far, android sales are increasing slowly and iOS sales are stable. The new patch will be live in a few days, adding new content, new features and some bugfixes. After all and thanks to Games Workshop and Fantasy Flight Games, the launch was not a complete failure after all. Now it is our turn: marketing, customer service and app improvements, building the first edition app and looking for new opportunities.
If you have any questions, just mail me or send me a tweet @dievo.
Have a nice day!
Founder DIZELABS – Daniel Zerner und Thomas Diehl GbR
Bonus pre-launch checklist:
If you plan to release an app, here are 10 things you have to do. Number 5 will blow your mind! (I had to do something funny here… *g*):
- get developer accounts on the desired systems
- get real test devices, emulators are inferior
- the store page is your “shop”, use really good texts and screenshots
- create a video walkthrough for the store page
- your app logo is the eye-catcher, create a stunning one!
- triple check everything in your app before uploading it to the review queue
- upload with 14 days to your launch date left
- upload Android apps to the alpha/beta channel, even if you only test in-house
- get your marketing approaches ready, but don’t start them if you don’t have the approvals yet
- after the launch, immediately start working on the next version, because it will take another 5-8 days to get a patch through the Apple review queue