The mobile game industry has a variety of apps ranging from ‘why did I download this?’ to ‘everyone needs to play this game!’ By acknowledging the problems with the mobile gaming industry we, as gamers, can not only fix them but increase the number of quality games in the app store.
The gaming industry is alive and always evolving and I would even say that there are more mobile gamers than any other type. With all those gamers come a variety of games to suit them. It can be hard to know what games will be good so people often just download it and give it a try. While it's nice to be able to download and play with no greater risk than the game sucking, it’s also part of the problem. One of the reasons there are so many crappy mobile games out there is because we, as gamers, created a culture that has games centered around ads and paying for content for content's sake.
So, just how many people are playing mobile games? Surveymonkey reports that 62% of smartphone users install a mobile game within the first week of owning a phone which, as a point of reference, is a higher percentage than any other type of app. So it’s a safe assumption that if you have a smartphone you have at least one mobile game.
One of the biggest hurdles that the mobile gaming industry faces is creating a game that has longevity. People download a game that looks fun, play it for a week or two until the game becomes stale or they feel it’s requiring them to “pay to win.” This short attention span fuels a self-perpetuating cycle. Short term life of a game fuels poorly made games and poorly made games fuels a short play life.
Investment vs Reward
“Simpsons tapped out” is a great example of stale gameplay. The game has over 10 million downloads on the google play store and it has a rating of 4.3 out of 5.0 with over 600,000 reviews. Looking at that data alone suggests it’s a very successful game. There are game missions, dialogue, and new characters to keep people invested, but the game suffers from the same problems as other, similar games. As you level up and progress, just to play the game and do the same things you've been doing starts to take too much time. The game that started out as a time waster became a time consumer.
There are short term goals like seasonal events to mix gameplay up but as soon as the holiday ends those special missions and costumes have lost their appeal. At the end of the day because games like “Simpsons tapped out” have no actual end goal or mission they become too repetitive and gamers lose interest. For a game to keep people playing and coming back it needs to have new missions with end goals and rewards that are worth your time. For a game based on a television series with incredible longevity, this game just doesn't hold up.
Empty your wallet
Plants vs. Zombies is a good example of a game that has clear missions and good rewards. It's fun and engaging. Players have clear objectives and a purpose to playing in the first place. Then came Plants vs. Zombies 2. It still had the objectives and goals but like other games before it PvZ2 fell into the “pay to win” category.
It's not impossible to beat the game without spending a dime. It's the gamers choice to spend money or not. If they choose not to spend money whether or not they stick with the game till the end goes back to their own personal investment vs reward scale. However the game is designed to have the average gamer spend money. The fact that there is plant for free in the first game that cost a couple bucks in the second is proof to that fact. Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting to make money from your product but there needs to be a better balance.
To be clear, as a gamer I have no problem spending money on games, even mobile games. I bought Knights of the Old Republic as well as all the Kingdom Rush. Even though games like Kingdom Rush still have in app purchases for premium content, I never felt I had to spend money to beat the game.
Having the sequels of games cost a couple bucks up front that gets you all the content from the first game (characters and so forth) and then having premium content to purchase that adds more to the game is a better model than a free download full of items that cost money which are designed to help you beat the current level you're on.
Looking at surveymonkey again there are clearly some games that people like to play over others. Keep in mind though that many games fall into multiple categories so parsing the data can be a bit nebulous. A game can be both arcade and strategy, it all depends on how the publisher wants to classify it.
Arcade games are a dime a dozen in the app store and certain ones like Candy Crush grab people's attention and are still being played today. Looking at its stats of 500 million downloads and a rating of 4.4 with over 17,000,000 reviews, it’s clearly one of the most played and enjoyed games out there.
So, what makes arcade games so much more successful?
They have multiple levels to beat and each level has a clear goal to complete. As you progress, the challenges get more intense and introduce new levels and gameplay. You still have the option to buy things that help you beat each level but it’s very possible to beat without having to purchase anything or spend hours playing over and over again.
The other thing arcade games have perfected is player vs player. Beating a level that you and your friend were both stuck on is a great feeling. Then you realize your friend has somehow moved three levels ahead of you and that's just unacceptable. This style of competitive gameplay keeps people invested. It's one reason why games like the ones through Game Pigeon on Apple devices are blowing up right now.
They’re simple, fun, and can be challenging, depending on how good your friends are. Now that praise comes from someone who is an android user, so you can trust me to be unbiased in this respect. My point is that these games were able to tap into that base need we have to beat our friends at things, and they’ve done so in a very effective way.
There is no secret formula to making a mobile game everyone will love. If there were, we would be playing it right now instead of reading this. However, the mobile games that are successful are the ones that leave you wanting more and we learn from them. Games that are the flavor of the week are the biggest contributors the problems the industry is facing.
The games that are in it just to make a quick buck are the ones I’m talking about here. They see a game like Candy Crush or Clash of Clans and then make something similar and hope people will download it. They're clones. You've seen them. They're not on the same level and the ads are so annoying you go and search for another game that fits your needs better. If you look at your download history there's a good chance there's more than a few games you've downloaded that you don't even remember.
There's nothing wrong with downloading the trending games or the ones your friends are obsessed with. Word of mouth is the best advertising a mobile game could get. It's one of the reasons Clash of Clans and Pokémon GO rose to the top of the charts with lighting speed.
However because of this, we jump from mobile game to mobile game not really sure what we’re looking for. If we did that with our consoles we would go broke. We need to start being more selective of the mobile games we download. The mobile game industry has created this mentality of just download everything and hope for the best. The problem with doing that is that we get more bad than good. The apps that rise to the top of the charts are the ones that are trying to do more than just make a quick buck.
They have levels with a purpose, good content that doesn't cost extra money every 5 levels, while still offering premium content if your heart so desires. Now of course the games need to make money, that’s the world we live in and by making money they can give us better products which fulfills our need to be entertained. If we continue to download the bad and say “that's just how it is” and move on, it will be harder and harder to find the good. We as gamers expect a certain level of quality from our console games and the mobile games we play shouldn't be any different.
The other side of that coin though is we pay decent money for our console games. Free games mobile or otherwise are what they are. They have tons of ads and content to purchase because at the end of the day they are a business. That might be the first step of fixing the problems with the mobile game industry. We as the gamers need to be willing to pay money for decent content. I'm not talking about $60 dollars but a couple bucks isn't to much for the developers to ask for in return for a quality product. The old saying of you get what you pay for might be the exact answer we've been looking for; and if so we as the gamers need to be willing to accept that.