Mobile success lies with the audience, not just the game

Mobile success lies with the audience, not just the game
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

August 30th 2016 at 2:06PM

Nordeus game designers explain why more devs need to embrace broader demographics and support active communities

For all the increased opportunities available on console and PC, the big money remains on mobile – albeit for the percentage of studios that dominate the upper echelons of the charts.

Breakout hits continue to emerge from the mobile sector, offering hope for the myriad of studios around the world attempting to create the next Clash of Clans, Candy Crush or Game of War. But the ever-changing nature of the mobile market means that simply tapping into mechanics and themes that are currently popular limits your chances of achieving this.

Instead, the focus should be on the audience – the true measure of a mobile game’s success. Of course, it can be hard to even get that audience’s attention.

“We’re now living in a world full of endless disruption, and so gaming companies are competing with more than they’ve ever had to before,” says Nordeus games designer Lance Winter (pictured above left). “Netflix, social media, movies – the list is long. Today, one of the toughest challenges is to capture the attention of the player.

“There’s no shortage of games on the market, which means games need to have a notable and exciting point of difference. Why would gamers play your game over the next one? You need to have a great game with a huge amount of content that constantly delivers new experiences.”

But, says Winter, the competition with countless other forms of entertainment – even on other devices – isn’t as intimidating as devs might think. Instead, the very knowledge that their games won’t be able to dominate all of their audience’s time means they can focus on less time-consuming gameplay ideas.

“It creates an opportunity to give gamers an experience that they will come back throughout the day for bite-size bits of fun,” he explains. “It’s about a shift in how users think about their gaming experience.

“At Nordeus, we want to be able to cater to a short session or a long session. We need to be agile and adaptive to change, and react to the ways in which our player’s lifestyles change. That is the ultimate challenge, but also the ultimate secret to success.”

We’ve seen a huge shift from typical industry stereotypes that gamers are predominantly male. Game designers need to embrace this change and ensure that their products cater directly to these audiences.

The explosion of mobile gaming over the past decade, especially since the advent of the smartphone, has changed the potential audience for developers. Countless studies have shown that women now represent a larger portion of the overall gaming demographic – driven largely by casual mobile titles – and yet Winter argues that many studios have yet to fully adapt to this.

“We’ve seen a huge shift from typical industry stereotypes that gamers are predominantly male,” he says. “Game designers need to embrace this change and ensure that their products cater directly to these audiences.

“Gaming is also now more social than ever. People are sharing experiences like never before. The rise of eSports demonstrates that people are not only playing games by themselves but are also playing vicariously with others.

“The element of community is a great driving force within the games industry. Pokémon, for example, is a universally loved brand, and Pokémon Go is breaking down boundaries by introducing people to gaming who haven’t gamed before.”

Fellow games designer at Nordeus, Mladen Markovic (pictured above right), adds that the growth of gaming communities around mobile means developers need to think globally when designing their titles. There are crucial markets to target, and doing so requires a much higher awareness of cultural difference.

“To achieve a perfect user experience in all global markets, your product needs to solve all culturally related issues,” says Markovic. “For example, the colour red is actually positive sign in China and Japan.”

The influence of an active community must also not be ignored. Your players are your game’s most powerful marketers. Developers need to be tuned in, actively listen to players and update their game accordingly.

Regardless of where your players are, both designers say the key to success is giving more control to that community. Enable them to define their own experience as much as you can, and they will begin sharing those experiences with friends, becoming invaluable advocates for your game.

“The influence of an active community must also not be ignored,” says Winter. “When everyone wants to play and talk about your game, they’ll share it on social media. This is a hugely powerful tool for gaming companies – they can actively mobilise an engaged community to help strengthen their game.

“Your players are your game’s most powerful marketers. Developers need to be tuned in, actively listen to players and update their game accordingly. One of the most important things is to make sure you continue to update players on what’s changing and evolving within the game. There’s no harm in over-communicating these changes – players want to feel involved and that’s what will keep them coming back for more.”