Monkey Business: How XMG’s Powder Monkeys became China’s Most Popular iOS App in under 2 weeks


Earlier this year, we decided to pair-up with the Chinese market entry specialist Yodo1 to localize and re-launch our iOS game Powder Monkeys. Hoping to find a brand new audience in the market which currently leads the world in new iOS and Android activations, Powder Monkeys was released on November 18th in the Chinese App Store and in less than 2 weeks, climbed the charts to ultimately hit the number 1 spot on the Top Free App charts. It stayed number 1 all through the last weekend, and because free-to-download apps make up the vast majority of the market, it’s safe to say that Powder Monkeys is currently the most popular iOS app in all of China, an audience of 60 million+.

You can never go wrong with Monkeys – especially if they’re shooting things.


On Novmber 18th, 11:35am Beijing time, our friends at Yodo1 re-launched Powder Monkeys as a paid game in Apple’s App Store. We were confident that the game’s crazy combination of casual mini games, cute cartoon graphics and super polished gameplay, would help it rise to the top and weren’t disappointed when it climbed the paid charts to hit number 30 in just over 24 hours. This was the first indication that our gut feelings were right about the appeal of the game to the Chinese audience. But we knew the biggest test of the games’ success was still ahead of us because the real action in China’s App Store happens in the free-to-play category. The next day, encouraged by thousands of glowing 5 star reviews from happy players, Apple featured the game and we dropped it to free to maximize the distribution.

Chinese don’t like buying games – but they like to spend a lot within them.

Distribution is key in the Chinese App Store because – against common belief – most of the monetization derives from in-game ads in China. Chinese players are a lot more reluctant to buy a game outright when compared to the western markets. They like to get a taste of the gameplay first and tend to churn through a large number of free-to-play games, but once they found a title they like, typically monetize at extremely high rates, through in-app payments. Our partners at Yodo1 had long discovered this and tailored a launch strategy for Powder Monkeys based on their extensive knowledge of the Chinese app ecosystem. Through a combination of viral marketing mechanics, leveraging local Chinese social networks, Apple’s App Store feature, as well as Yodo1’s own cross-promotional network of games and apps, our mischievous monkeys advanced to number 12 in Apple’s Top Free iPhone Apps chart within just 24 hours. That’s quite the success since when compared to the Top Paid charts the game needs to drive more than 100x as many downloads in Top Free for the same chart position. What we were now nervous about was how it would do over the weekend, where it would meet heavy competition from apps with massive marketing campaigns.

How to keep Monkeys afloat without plundering your own treasures

As expected, Powder Monkeys got swarmed by competitors over the weekend and raced up and down the charts, around the number 30 mark. To our advantage, Powder Monkeys had gotten over 4,500 five star ratings from players at this point ­– which is the kind of support that money just can’t buy – and as the heavy promotions over the weekend died down, Powder Monkeys clawed it’s way back to number 19 in Top Free. At this point, after the Apple Feature had ended and a last burst of marketing through the Yodo1 network and other cross-promotional partners, we were expecting to witness it’s slow decline from the charts that nearly all good games in the harsh jungles of the App Store face. Boy, were we wrong.

Never underestimate Monkeys. They could mean some serious business.

Then on Friday afternoon, local time Beijing, it happened: Powder Monkeys hit the number 1 spot on the Top Free Apps chart! It even stayed number one throughout the weekend that followed! There’s even auctions on Taobao (China’s equivalent to eBay) selling Powder Monkeys in-app credits!

In the last two weeks, Powder Monkeys has been downloaded over 700,000 times. Kudos to our buddies at Yodo1, who helped us reach the Chinese audience who then so willingly embraced our quirky little Monkeys and gave them over 23,000 five star ratings so far. We’re still in awe of what happened… but if our furry, bra-strapped simians can fend off the competition for a little while longer, you can count on the fact we’ll be celebrating with ‘many a bottle ‘o Rum’!

Written by Ray Sharma, Founder and President of XMG Studio Inc