Mobile games now rule at the Apple App store, claiming a 22.49 percent stake of all active apps as of December 2015. Last year, the Store offered 396,094 gaming apps, which was almost double the inventory available in July 2013.
While there is a seemingly endless supply of games, the reality is that only a very small percentage of these games are successful and profitable. With thousands of new ones being added every month (13,002 in December 2014) the space is extremely competitive.
To find out what contributes to the success of a mobile game, I spoke with Niccolo de Masi, chairman and CEO of Glu Mobile, which in my opinion is hands down one of the most successful mobile game developers. The company boasts hits such as Deer Hunter, the Eternity Warriors franchises and the revenue monster Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, which generated $132.4 million in non-GAAP revenue through September 30, 2015. Here are the 10 characteristics of successful tgames that de Masi shared:
1. Possess the 'profitability formula.'
The three requirements for profitability include:
- Achieve a high number of installs
- Users remain playing the game for a long period of time
- A very small percentage of the user-base is willing to pay for higher status, upgrades or speedups
2. Offer a compelling platform
Mobile games are competing, on average, against 25 other apps that users keep on their phones and routinely use. A game must offer a compelling "platform" along one or more dimensions. The world has gone mobile and as such, games are competing not just with other games, but rather the entire entertainment and social messaging space.
That competition includes Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, HBO Go, Netflix and more.
3. Include 'surprise and delight.'
'Surprise and delight' is achieved through the innovation of graphics, presentation and core game-play mechanics. A successful game must be seen as “new,” but also recognizable and understandable. This ensures that news about the game will be spread virally by gamers and non-gamers alike.
A prime example is Glu’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. It’s an innovative title for lovers of fame, fashion and the art of working your way to the peak of popularity in Hollywood, while blending the real and virtual world of Kim Kardashian West's life.
4. Be a brand that resonates.
Whether your game represents a new gaming IP, an old gaming IP, movie, film or celebrity brand, it must match the subject's core mechanic. This ensures that the game can be installed with minimum friction. Glu’s Cooking Dash 2016 is the leading game for lovers of food and hospitality, while Deer Hunter is a popular hunting brand, with 150 million installs since its 2014 release. Game brands that resonate with an audience will experience exponential growth.
5. Include socially competitive features.
Offering users the ability to play with and against their friends adds a critical layer of engagement depth. Playing on teams with friends against other teams is referred to as "guild/clan" competitions.
This type of social feature exists within many different game genres -- Glu includes it in its shooter, sports, racing and simulation games. Studies show that once a player gets six or more of his or her friends playing a game, he or she is far more likely to still be playing the game 30 days later.
6. Include 'monetization depth.'
The majority of players will never spend a dime in a free-to-play game. Most that do pay will part with only $1 to $10. However, among those that do pay, a minority will spend hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetime of engagement.
As such, the game must have monetization depth for these players. The player must be able to purposefully spend tens of thousands of dollars, granularly upgrading dimensions of items in a game, with recognizable differentiations between and among the various spend levels.
7. Be frequently updated.
Successful games must be updated frequently. This means only large updates with additional levels, content, items, and characters, but also weekly, if not daily, live events. Compelling reasons for users to log in and play daily helps keep the experience fresh and positions the game as one of those top 25 apps on a player's phone.
8. Have a successful team at the game company.
Successful gaming firms are really service companies that understand and deliver for their target demographic. They need to have deep passion for their product and love what they do. You don’t want people who go home each night and play a shooter to come to work and build a farming game.
9. Use The ‘Moneyball’ model.
The most profitable and successful game teams are like winning sports teams. You need great individual players who are experts in their positions, but even more important, you need a team that has worked and played together for many years. At Glu, this is called the "Moneyball studio strategy." Teams are organized into "labels" focused on four master genres: Shooters, racing/sports, celebrity and simulation.
Each label is run by a strong leader, and there are multiple game teams in production simultaneously. The label is focused on how to plot out a course to be number one (and, worst case, number two) in each genre.
Gaming is like all other entertainment, in that the frequency of any level of performance is inversely proportional to its amplitude. There are half as many games making $100 million of lifetime revenue as there are making $50 million, etc.
10. Built for winning hardware.
Winning games are designed and built for their hardware platform from the ground up. This has been true for every hardware shift, from arcade to console, and PC to mobile. We will see this again for virtual reality and augmented reality.