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How to build games and master the mobile apps economy

Posted by Michael Warshaw  April 9, 2013 11:47 AM

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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 who’s 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 you’re 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.

fruit ninja.jpg

Games like Fruit Ninja (above) and Final Fantasy III (below) have different styles, and that often means different fans.

final fantasy.jpg
In addition to generic “most popular” 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 – the ones that represent the overall category - are faring. Understanding the economy you’re 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 don’t like. Focus on the major, repeatedly-complained-about pain points, and make sure your game doesn’t 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.

Don’t forget to do this research for each platform you’re targeting. The same app can be radically different and have radically different user responsesdepending on whether it’s on Apple’s iOS or Google’s 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. You’ll 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 it’s more complicated when it comes to development and testing. That doesn’t 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.

Don’t get wrapped up in metrics that force you to make assumptions, like user retention rate (just looking at a number doesn’t tell you why users stick around or run away) or number of downloads (it doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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 – 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.

MassDiGI, based at Becker College, is a statewide center for academic cooperation, entrepreneurship, and economic development across the local games ecosystem. Follow along @Mass_DiGI.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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MassDiGI 8-24 287w872.jpgThe State of Play, organized by MassDiGI, features stories by digital and video game developers and business insiders. Follow along @mass_digi.

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