Mobile apps and games have always had their share of problems, and it’s not going to stop any time soon. Exposure, pricing, cloning, advertising, cloning clones, freemium monetization, etc - there are a ton of little (and big) things to worry about every time you put something up on the App Store. Heck, simply getting noticed by review sites in the first place can be a monumental task.

The unfortunate reality is that there are no guarantees. Sometimes legitimately great apps and games will fade into obscurity before they even had a chance. It can be disheartening. It can be downright frustrating, even. Another unfortunate reality is that there are people out there who would use a developer’s desperation and frustration to make a quick buck.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, or know of a sure-fire way for you to get noticed, but I can tell you that paying a website to review your submission is wrong. Like “Do Not Pass GO” wrong. So I’d like to offer up some tips on how you can, at the very least, avoid wasting your money on a service no decent person would actually charge you for.

Never - Ever - Pay for a Review

Some sites refer to it as a “standard fee.” Others as a sort of “expedited service.” Despite anything they might tell you, this is absolutely not standard practice. If you submit your app or game to a website in the hopes of a review, and they reply with anything that looks like a bill, run the other way and don’t look back.

I know the temptation is there when you feel like you’ve tried everything and nobody will even respond to you, but any site that will charge money for a review won’t get you the sort of exposure you need. It might be good for a few downloads, but overall it’s a complete waste of money. Money better spent on just about anything else.

Of course if a site asks for a review code, that’s fine. With the sheer number of releases on the App Store these days it would be financially suicidal for a site to pay out of pocket for everything it reviews. If you want a site to review your stuff, you should expect requests for codes. But that’s where it should stop.

Don’t Assume a Site Will Charge You

Ask just about any reviewer and they’ll tell you that they often receive emails asking “how much?” for a review. And just about all of them will tell you it’s about as depressing as it is off-putting.

The thing is, it’s not a given that a site will charge you for a review (as I’ve said). Most serious (read: legitimate) reviewers find the idea of charging developers for a review to be despicable, and when someone appears to assume they would ever do such a thing it can come off as offensive. Not a great way to get your name out there.

So regardless of how many people may have gotten back to you with that ridiculous “expedited review” business, never try to beat them to the punch by asking about in your email. If they plan to charge you, they’ll say as much in their response (and you should opt to break all contact with them). If they don’t charge, you won’t have to worry about it anyway.

It’s Nothing Personal

Submitting something for a review is about as frustrating as searching for a job. You will send out emails and you will start to feel like you’re being ignored because almost nobody writes back. This is normal, and it often has nothing to do with you.

Most of the time, the email will simply get lost in the shuffle. Mistakes happen. Things get flagged as spam by mistake. Perhaps someone is out of town for a while and your email was buried. There are any number of reasons why you won’t hear back - especially when you try to contact larger websites. The bigger they are, the busier their inboxes. We’re talking hundreds, even thousands, of emails a day.

If you’ve emailed 50 websites and haven’t heard back from one, email 50 more. Because you never know.

Be Prepared to Reevaluate

Another harsh but possible explanation for a lack of responses could be your app or game itself. I hate to be so blunt but just because you’ve been working on something late into the night almost every single day for a whole year doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be any good. A big part of creating anything - from software to artwork - is knowing when it’s just not working, and pulling the plug.

If your photo sharing app does exactly the same thing as the default photo app for iOS, it might not be worth releasing. If your game seems a bit too much like a “me too” kind of thing, you might want to shelve it.

That’s not to say that you’ve wasted your time, however. Your ideas may not have panned out, but the time you spent designing and programming is valuable experience that you’ll be able to use on your future projects. And there’s no rule that says you can’t revisit something you’ve scrapped in a year or two, after you’ve honed yourself a bit.

Don’t be Discouraged

For every inspirational success story about a developer who seemingly hit it big overnight, there are thousands of others that have been struggling and languishing for what probably feels like an eternity. You are not alone.

If you love what you do and believe in your work, then don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.

And don’t ever let someone charge you money for a review of your work.

[Illustrations via Bob Rich Illustration]

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