The very first post I wrote on this blog was about test playing and deconstructing games. It is really, really useful to do, but we never seem to have enough time to do it as much as we should. Of course, you can learn a great deal by reading through game deconstructors that others have done. For instance, over at deconstructoroffun.com you can find a lot of good stuff.
Now, there’s something even better available. How about systematic deconstructions of all the top grossing games, as well as a lot of the lower ranked ones? Over at gamerefinery.com you can get that. The data there is down to a very detailed feature level analysis, together with trend-lines for the features and for different game genres.
They have analysed all these games, and are then running some sophisticated statistics to figure out which features are most important for getting a game to rise up the charts, and which features work well together. Of course, making a good game is not simply about ticking the box for a number of features. Nonetheless, it helps a lot to see what the successful games have in common. As an analogy, reading a recipe will not make you into a Michelin-star chef, but understanding which ingredients the best chefs often combine will still make you a better cook.
Also, bear in mind that this data will tell you how to rise on the App Store top grossing charts. Ad revenue will not show up on that chart, only IAP revenue. This will tilt the numbers in favour of complex games with large in-game economies, rather then the quick ad-driven volume games like what e.g. Ketchapp is doing. That said, below is a very brief summary of what the data tells us.
It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one when I tell you that the single most important area for App Store success currently has to do with publisher and brand. Branding a game with a well-known IP will help it break through the noise on the App Store. Something published by King, Supercell or Machine Zone is way more likely to break into the top charts than something published by small indie companies like our Tribeflame. On the one hand, it looks like this supports indies publishing through larger publishers. On the other hand, none of the companies who publish third party games have a really consistent track record – the three publishers mentioned above will only ever publish games developed in-house.
A second trend that you can see is that games are becoming ever larger in scope. According to this data, I helps a lot that the game is both broad – with lots of different troops, buildings, enemies, puzzle types, etc. – and deep with lots of levels, upgrades, etc.
To further stretch out the mass of the in-game economy, gacha mechanics are trending. This means that the player cannot directly buy some of the things they want. Instead they can buy lottery tickets that might give them something really cool, or might give them something useless. It’s sort of like buying a pack of trading cards in a physical game like Magic the Gathering. With all else equal, it will take the players a lot longer to complete their ambitions when there is an element of luck involved, compared to when they can just buy directly what they want. It is also more fun and engaging.
A third big trend is the rising importance of a number of social features. Broadly speaking, the more space you give to player interaction, the better your game will do. User generated content, trading resources between players, stealing said resources, helping clan members out, seeing others’ progression, and player-vs-player (PvP) battles. All of these will help your game. And yes, synchronous PvP is a trend, and according to the data, I might have been wrong in criticising it as a hype wave a few weeks back.
A forth category that sticks out for me is slightly surprising. It is that part of the gameplay is automated, or can be automated. As an example, think of the battles in Game of War. You don’t really do anything as a player in the battle itself. It just happens, and you’re told the result. In some games where the player actually plays the battles, they are also given the option of skipping this gameplay and letting the computer figure out what happened. My interpretation is that long-term, it is the meta game that keeps players retained and spending in the game. The core game might by then become repetitive and boring. Hence it can be automated to let the players concentrate on the progression.
There you have it: the broad recipe for success on the App Store today. Let’s recap:
- Build a huge in-game economy with some random elements (gacha).
- Give it meaning by having as much player-to-player interaction as possible.
- Automate any section of the core game that can get boring in the long run, and let your players focus on their progression.
- If you can, brand it with something popular and release it through a successful publisher.
That shouldn’t bee too hard, should it?
Actually, I think that the data is slightly over-stating how complex successful games need to be. You see, a successful game will get a team to maintain it, and will thus become larger and more complex over time. The causation thus goes both ways: larger games become more successful, but more successful games also become larger over time.
Of course, this is all just my reading of the data, where I group together several of GameRefinery’s features into four broad trends. You should go have a look for yourself to see what you can take away from their analyses.