By Jamie Saine, marketing writer, uTest
The stock market is (supposed to be) a window into the economy. Companies doing well in the stock market are likely pleasing consumers and are in high demand. Examine which stocks are performers, and you should be able to get a sense of whoís doing well and where consumer demand and confidence is high. Are major retailers doing poorly? It may be a bad time to open a big store. Is a new industry booming? Get in while the getting is good. Is an industry dominated by one company? If youíre brave enough, find a niche and try to lure away its customers.
The same goes for the mobile app economy. Would you still produce a new digital game if you knew users were losing interest in that style of play? A smart bet would be no.
Assessing the competition is all about making your app as strong as possible. By building the type of features that users already like, and solving issues they have with existing games, you poise yourself for success.
So before you move ahead with your brilliant new idea, do your research. Keep an eye on the most popular app lists to see what type of games are currently making a splash. Are word games still popular? Which age demographics are driving downloads, and what are they favoring? Fruit Ninja, for example, has a very different target audience than Final Fantasy III, and as such, is a very different game.
Games like Fruit Ninja (above) and Final Fantasy III (below) have different styles, and that often means different fans.
In addition to generic ďmost popularĒ lists, use available tools that track downloads and user sentiment for a more detailed understanding. And keep an eye on the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole to track how bellwether games Ė the ones that represent the overall category - are faring. Understanding the economy youíre about to enter will help you determine whether your game has a market, and how to best position it for success.
Research will also help you identify your competitors, and even allow you to learn from both their successes and their mistakes. Read app store reviews and see what actual users of rival games like and donít like. Focus on the major, repeatedly-complained-about pain points, and make sure your game doesnít duplicate those issues.
For example, popular word games such as Words with Friends and Ruzzle largely leave users disappointed when it comes to app elegance (how it looks and feels), security and, sometimes, stability. If you spend extra time on those areas and can offer a better experience, you can lure users away and more importantly, keep them coming back.
Meanwhile, simple action games like Fruit Ninja, Doodle Jump, and Draw Something are already strong performers. That category of game will likely be harder to break into. While doing your research, also identify fan-favorite features, and consider incorporating something similar.
Donít forget to do this research for each platform youíre targeting. The same app can be radically different and have radically different user responsesdepending on whether itís on Appleís iOS or Googleís Android. Doodle Jump on iOS, for example, is near perfect, but the Android version leaves a lot to be desired.
Users of different platforms have different wants, needs, and concerns. Youíll need to focus on key points such as usability or security, depending on the platform. In general, Android has a lower benchmark than iOS. Its open nature means itís more complicated when it comes to development and testing. That doesnít mean you can slack off on Android. To the contrary, releasing an excellent game that performs well on all the major devices and OS versions (and there are a lot) will win you users and force your competition to play catch-up.
Donít get wrapped up in metrics that force you to make assumptions, like user retention rate (just looking at a number doesnít tell you why users stick around or run away) or number of downloads (it doesnít do you much good if someone downloads your game then deletes it because it keeps crashing). Focus on information and insights that tell you explicitly what users want.
By understanding what your competition does and doesnít do successfully when it comes to the opinion of real gamers, you can cut the risk and better ensure your next mobile game is a smash.
Jamie Saine is a marketing writer for uTest, based in Southborough. She covers all things software testing, web and mobile Ė particularly apps.
The State of Play blog, organized by MassDiGI, features posts by digital and video game industry insiders writing about creativity, innovation, research, and development in the Massachusetts digital entertainment and apps sectors.
By Seth Sivak, CEO, Proletariat Inc.
How do you build a game?
I say, you do it one version at a time.
At Proletariat Inc., a Cambridge-based development studio, every game begins with a prototype. With Letter Rush, the team was brainstorming ideas and started talking about doing something with words that would have a fast-paced, arcade feel. We wanted to develop a new, short-session game that could give players a quick and satisfying burst of fun.
Itís hard to create. Every author, poet, artist, and even video game developer knows that. You donít know what youíll get when youíre done. You donít know whether you can truly realize your vision Ė or whether your audience will have the experience you intend.
Thatís the risk: That we wonít do what we want to do. Itís also why the act of creation is so much fun. You havenít done it right unless it surprises and, hopefully, delights you and your audience.
Iteration is the key to any creative endeavor, but especially when trying to build a totally new experience like a game. In programming, iteration means repeating a series of steps a number of times, or until a desired effect is achieved. In video games, it means producing segments or versions as you build to keep your work moving forward and keep your eyes on the final goal.
Games are complicated. They have many moving parts and it is almost impossible to imagine the exact feeling of playing a game before it is built. When you are attempting to design a game on paper, itís tough to know how to tune the difficulty of a playing level, or how long a single session will be, or whether the game will have enough strategic choices and positive feedback to be fun. That is why we move as quickly as possible from theoretical design on a whiteboard to a prototype.
The initial prototype of Letter Rush was built in a day. One of the things I wanted to try out was a means for using swiping gestures to create words on a board. It was a little like a word finding game, but it was timed like an arcade game. I sent this out to the team as you see it on the left; the board was hard-coded, and there were only about ten words. Interestingly, the original iteration was fun enough for us to use it as the initial seed for the game.
At that point, we did some exploration. We played every word game we could find and we thought hard about what we liked and did not like. The goal was to build a game that was approachable and fun, but also quick to develop. Dan Ogles, our CTO, starting building additional prototypes off this initial idea, attempting to pull in inspiration from other games and genres.
We spent about two weeks just trying different features. The team explored a range of possible outcomes, including allowing players to place words they found onto a two-dimensional battlefield to defend their turf, and a puzzle-ish version of the game that was turn-based instead of real-time. Each new prototype would be circulated and everyone on the team was encouraged to give feedback on what they liked or disliked. We were able to put prototypes side-by-side to compare and contrast gameplay rather than simply speculating. To the right is a screenshot of the final game.
The iteration involved in this process is a powerful way for creative people to collaborate and solve problems. We were able to fix issues we saw in the game, like the length being a bit too long. Each time we produced a new prototype, we would create lists of what we liked and what we felt could make the game better. This process was rigorous and it allowed us to create a better product.
No matter how much iteration you put into the design there is much to be learned from releasing the game into the wild. We released the game less than a month ago and have already made numerous changes to the balance and core game. It can be hard to show your game to the world, but the sooner you do it the more you will learn - and remember: you can always make another update.
Screenshots provided by Proletariat Inc.
The State of Play, organized by MassDiGI, features posts by digital and video game industry insiders writing about creativity, innovation, research, and development in the Massachusetts digital entertainment and apps sectors.