Candy Crush, Crossy Road, Clash of Clans, Game of War... These names are now as well-known as Mario, Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto – despite being a fraction of the games industry’s most iconic franchises’ age.
Just as ‘Nintendo’ was synonymous with every console released in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Candy Crush has come to represent the entirety of mobile gaming for the wider public.
So, how did these mobile titans go from fresh-faced newcomers to some of the most successful titles released in the last few decades – if not ever?
“I don’t think there’s a silver bullet,” muses David Edery, CEO of Alphabear developer Spry Fox. “If you have strong established IP that you can leverage, that obviously helps.
"Aside from that, it’s the usual things: trying to identify underserved niches that you think you can credibly reach, building highly polished, original games and using your soft launch to improve them as quickly as possible, adding viral elements that break through the noise – much easier said than done – and working with the major distribution platforms so they have a reason to feature your game.
"Even after you do all that, there’s still a decent chance you’ll fail – the mobile game ecosystem is ridiculously competitive.”
Katherine Bidwell, co-founder of Lumino City creator State of Play, agrees that “it’s tricky to pinpoint any magic formula that would create an instant hit”.
“If there was one, everyone would have hit games – and, unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen,” she continues. “My tip would be to have a game that genuinely stands out and isn’t a clone of another formula; if another game is doing what you do but better and was first to market, then that’s where the audience will go.
"If you are doing something different to everyone else, then shout about it. Make sure the fact that it’s special is the first thing people see in your description or the first scene of your trailer.”
The last five years have made bringing a game to market easier than ever for devs. That’s just the start, however: an influx of competitors has made effective promotion critical. MAG Interactive CEO and co-founder Daniel Hasselberg recalls his experience launching mobile hits Ruzzle and WordBrain.
“In the early days – 2012 to 2013 – MAG benefited a lot from using Facebook’s Open Graph stories to automate sharing between players and their friends,” he reveals.
“At the peak we got about one million referrals per day from Facebook to the App Store. Today, you need to rely more on word of mouth and peer-to-peer messaging than news feed posts.”