Summary:

Phone app The Heist has been sitting pretty at the top of the App Store charts basically since its release last week. In that time, it’s seen over 500,000 downloads, and racked up $300,000 in revenue for its developers, making it a blockbuster by any measure.

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iPhone puzzle game The Heist has been sitting pretty at the top of the App Store charts basically since its release last week. In that time, it’s seen over 500,000 downloads, and racked up more than $300,000 in revenue for its developers. In a blog post Wednesday, tap tap tap, the studio behind the app, shared details about how it reached such dizzying heights.

Voices, the last chart-topping offering from tap tap tap sold 300,000 copies in its first month of availability, and Angry Birds, which The Heist managed to knock from its long-standing perch, was a flop for its first three months on the App Store in English-speaking markets. So how did The Heist skip the line, so to speak, and zoom to the top of the charts in such a short period?

Tap tap tap principal Phill Ryu sees it as the result of promotion, adding value for gamers, speaking directly to the audience, generating word of mouth, and being a fresh face among a crowd of old familiar mugs. To say that The Heist is an overnight success is to ignore the fairly extensive pre-launch promotional campaign, which began in the release of Twitter for Mac 1.0. In January, people who bought the MacHeist nanoBundle 2 last year were given exclusive access to a secret area within the official Twitter for Mac client that held clues about The Heist. Then, a week prior, the team put up a teaser page (featuring a multi-touch puzzle when viewed on iOS devices) and a new discussion forum to help build buzz.

The app itself is attractive, too, not only because it’s a great, well-designed game, but also because it offers buyers a uniquely attractive value proposition. Specifically, The Heist costs only $0.99 (the going rate for chart-toppers in the App Store), but it offers gamers who complete it a code redeemable for another game that normally retails for $9.99. It feels like you’re getting something for nothing. Ryu says that they considered charging more, but opted to aim lower in order to build their audience as quickly as possible. Making well over $300,000 (total sales revenue minus Apple’s 30 percent cut for distributing the app in its App Store) in one week says they probably made the right decision.

Direct marketing also worked for The Heist: 500,000 fans opted to receive email updates about the product, and tap tap tap used an iPad 2 giveaway to incentivize fans to spread the word on Twitter. Blog coverage picked up quickly based on the buzz generated through other means, and on the reputation of the MacHeist brand as a quality software bundle deal provider for OS X.

The Heist also had two more key elements going for it. First was an air of mystery, as the prize remained unknown for a short time after its release, and as people seemed surprisingly reluctant to spoil the reward for others. Second, The Heist wasn’t an Angry Birds title, or another variant of longtime App Store chart-toppers Fruit Ninja, Tiny Wings and Cut the Rope. Just by virtue of injecting some new life into the relatively stagnant pool of offerings on Apple’s charts, The Heist made itself attractive to buyers.

I asked Ryu if he could sum up the key to The Heist‘s success in one succinct statement, and he did so by comparing the app to a blockbuster movie from last year:

The Heist was the Inception of the App Store this summer. Fanboy-driven, buzz from a plot twist, a high-risk gamble in a relatively niche game genre, heist-structured, more mentally taxing than most, and I guess, unlocking a game in a game. It’s a fairly unconventional hit, I think.

Both thematically and metaphorically, I think that’s a pretty spot-on comparison. Can’t wait to see where these guys go next with App Store innovation.

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