Ever since Apple opened up the doors to its Online Store, the digital marketplace has been flooded with a steady stream of apps and games. It did not take long before the developers learned how to take advantage of the new device and its unique user base. Breaking the one billion download mark, Temple Run proves another success, but does it discredit the uncertainty of developing mobile games? What can be learned by looking at some of the top titles?
The current top mobile game is Clash of Clans, giving the player dominion over a virtual kingdom and the power to invade your friends’ bases in order to loot and plunder. Clash of Clans is a good example of a social game, one meant to be played with a group of friends and strangers alike, spreading out the interaction in short bursts over the day. Perhaps a bit of collecting loot in the morning or an attack on a base during the bus ride back from work. The social lure combined with fun spread-out gameplay has proven a great way for keeping the players engaged, as well as encouraging them to recruit their friends.
One of the first apps to really break record numbers was Angry Birds, a simple game relying on launching the titular birds at forts occupied by evil pigs and watching the structures crumbled realistically like a house of cards. The success of the game can undoubtedly be attributed to its excellent design, making an old concept easily accessible to a whole new mobile market, and a gorgeous coat of paint that made watching the little birds a joy. Today, Angry Birds’ success goes beyond just the game, including merchandise such as t-shirts or plushies, as well as cross-overs with other popular IPs including Star Wars.
Temple Run’s success is another example that might seemingly dispel any uncertainty of pursuing mobile game development. It follows a different model than the previous two titles, falling in the genre of so called endless runners. It delivers on the premise – the player puts themselves in the shoes of an avatar running through a temple, constantly jumping and sliding around to avoid a variety of traps. The sole goal is to see how long they can survive or how many special bonuses they can collect along the way. Various stats and records are shared on a common leaderboard, allowing the players to compare their achievements with others. In this case, the varying difficulty curve and challenges along the run, combined with occasional updates to the game, result in an addictive desire to try to beat the last record.
However, for every successful mobile title, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of games that struggle to break even. The constant influx of new games, many trying to copy the latest popular trend, can make it really hard to stand out. Often, a big marketing budget or a long social media campaign is needed to stand out in the saturated market. But even quality content or good marketing cannot be predictive of a game’s success – some titles can go viral in a fluke.
Such was the case of Flappy Bird, a very simple game which required the user to keep tapping the screen to make a virtual bird float, avoiding obstacles. It was renowned for its completely unforgiving gameplay (a single collision meant a complete game over), as well as lack of any form of progression or updates. Unlike Temple Run, where the obstacles, bonuses and powers change over the course of the game, Flappy Bird never deviated from its repetitive formula. Yet, it was wildly popular for the short time it stayed on the App Store. Eventually, the author decided to take it down, seemingly overwhelmed with all the negative reaction to the game’s popularity. Numerous clones, unsurprisingly, followed but few managed to reach significant sales.
The Apple App Store market is an interesting dichotomy of both truly innovative and addictive games, and countless unimaginative clones hoping to ride the wave of the current trend. Temple Run may be another big success, but one should not forget that the future of mobile game development is uncertain. Stories like these should be treated as inspiration, with a bit of reserve. One can try to follow the established models but must remember the success is a bit like gambling – the winning ticket is worth a lot, but the chances of winning are ever so slim.
By Jakub Kasztalski