by Pete Erickson on June 16, 2016

Five Musts for a Viral Mobile Game


According to the most recent Global Games Market Report published by Newzoo, gamers worldwide are expected to generate a total of $99.6 billion in revenues in 2016, up 8.5% compared to 2015. A good portion of this revenue will come from viral mobile games.  

For example, the math-based puzzle game 2048, which was released back in 2014, still generates thousands of dollars every single day, and King, the producer of Candy Crush Saga made $517 million in profit in 2015. Numbers like these present one crucial question: what makes a mobile game go viral?

For those in San Francisco on July 20th, industry leaders will be discussing this very topic, along with monetization, retention and more, at Amazon’s Developer Day at Casual Connect. Registration for the event is free and is open now.

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As a primer, here are five musts that every app developer should keep in mind if they want to reach a similar level of viral success.

Accessible

When you compare games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, Temple Run, Fruit Ninja, 2048, Subway Surfer, or Jetpack Joyride, you immediately notice how little effort is required to start playing. In most cases, the core gameplay can be summarized in just a few sentences, and players rarely need to use more than a single finger or keystroke to play the game.

What’s more, all of these games have a shallow learning curve. The gameplay mechanics players learn within the first minute or two are enough for dozens of hours of gameplay – focusing them on a single core goal.

In a 2014 article, Aditya Bhushan Dwivedi talks about the ‘Barely missed it’ factor - the intuitive process of learning when players are always just a small step away from success. They can clearly see the mistake they’ve made and can easily figure out what they need to do differently the next time they encounter a particular obstacle. Consequently, even difficult games rarely feel frustrating.

Endless

Another common gameplay aspect is the never-ending nature of most viral mobile games. Developers can achieve this either by focusing the game on achieving the highest score possible, as exemplified by Temple Run or Subway Surfer, or they can create so many levels that it’s virtually impossible to complete all of them. A good example of the latter approach is the original Angry Birds game, which now has 495 levels across eleven episodes.

Even when the game has an ending, a score counter is helpful in keeping players motivated to push forward and try to achieve a new high-score.

Bite-Sized

Viral games are unique in that they can keep players engaged for hours, but could be successfully played in 5-minute bursts. When players “complain” about losing track of time, you know the game is doing something right.

Complex games with deep gameplay mechanics require a substantial time commitment. Players often need to plan their gaming sessions ahead of time, with no guarantee that life won’t get in the way. The same doesn’t apply for mobile games. It’s incredibly easy to say “just one more time” and repeat the same sentence hundreds of times.

Community

What makes the best mobile games truly addictive and generates the kind of viral growth that every developer wants to see is a sense of community. With the ability to connect with friends within the app and compare high scores, share recent purchases or upgrades you’ve received both in-game, and on social media sites like Facebook, and to gain new upgrades by sharing content with your friends, community is baked into almost all top-tier mobile games.

It’s no wonder that a game sitting in a player’s pocket, connected with dozens of friends, becomes addictive so quickly. Whether it is competing in Words with Friends, to comparing high scores in Temple Run, people come back again and again to see how their score holds up against their friends’.


Hype

It’s hard to predict what games will begin to trend overnight, but there are things you can do to give your game a better chance at being talked about. One of the reasons Flappy Bird became an overnight sensation is that people had a good reason to talk about it. It was incredibly simple, and yet infuriatingly difficult. A game that sparks conversation is written about and talked about which helps propel it into virality both online and offline.

Yes, Flappy Bird was frustrating, but, instead of making you delete it right away, the game kept you trying again and again to get past that first obstacle. And the second one. And the third...

In summary, there's no one single factor that leads to a viral game. By working to make sure these five areas are built into your overall strategy, you'll be doing a lot to help your chances.

If you’re ready to learn more about what can turn a mobile game from a modest hit into a financially successful, viral smash, join us at Amazon Developer Day, at Casual Connect on July 20th:

Amazon Developer Day - Register for Free 

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Pete Erickson

Pete is the founder of Modev.com and creator of events and communities including Voicehacks.com, Security by Design, Code Writers Workshop, Machinery.io, DevOpsNirvana and DevelopingIoT. Pete lives in Arlington, VA with his wife and two children.