Everyone in the app industry knows games are a tried and tested business. Like strip clubs and the entertainment industry, they are recession-proof. Though there are apps to do everything these days, from compiling and storing records of your vehicle to preventing you drunk-dialling and abusing an old flame or tyrannical boss, games are arguably the core of app development. It’s been that way since Snake was introduced way back in the early 2000s, on that little piece of vintage glory the Nokia 3310, and it will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future. But what exactly does it take to make a good game? Is it marketing, is it press, media, exposure? Do you need editorials, utilize Twitter or Facebook? App promotion is important, right? Fear not. In this article we’ll give you a run down of the key ingredients needed to whip up instant app gaming success.
1. Make It Free
People don’t like to pay for things. We all know that. So if you’re coming into the vast world of app development with a game that you KNOW is hot stuff but you’re charging $4.99 for it, then good luck to you, pal. You’re starting what they call a cottage industry, which will ultimately end up as merely a footnote, a niche in the market. The bottom line is, you’re not going to get very many people paying for it; with the huge amount of apps available, you need to reach as wide an audience as possible; the best way to do this, straight off the bat, is to make it free. There’s a lot of really good free apps out there; unless your idea is the next Snake, you haven’t got a chance of catching people’s attention.
2. Build A Community
Engage your audience. You know they’re already going to be interested because your app is free, so you’ve got a connection already. The next step is about actual communication. Use the various social media platforms available to you; the best thing about this method is that someone else has already done most of the hard work for you. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all of the big three have billions of combined users, and potential gamers, all available for you in one place. That’s a lot of exposure if you can build the right channels. You need some hype around the game; ideally, users will tell their friends, who’ll go to tell their friends. Word of mouth is your ally here, as it is with any commercially viable commodity. Think about it this way; people are much more likely to rely on the words of their friends than the faceless advice of the internet. But how do you get those initial players playing? Via the internet of course. Get as many editorials flowing as you can, splurge on all the press you can get. Let the people know what your game is about, how you play it; give your audience some incentive to get involved. Twitter promotion is especially good for this, as you can market in a concise, precise way. It’s all about promotion and exposure is the name of the game.
3. Make It Familiar
The best apps come from games that are already familiar to the users. Ones that exist in real life are a sure bet, because the users will already know how they function. They can get straight in to the gameplay from the get go. This also aids with your promotion and potential exposure, because you can sort of piggy-back on the success of your inspirational predecessors. It’s easier to get press and editorials written if you have a familiar angle. Some of the most successful gaming apps have come from tried and tested real world classics like Scrabble or Pictionary. As a case study, look at Trivia Crack, one of the most successful quiz apps in the world; they took their basic idea from old-time Christmas favorite Trivial Pursuit, put a new twist on it and then combined it with some strategic and smart app marketing. The result? An addictive, modern take on an old classic that went on to be downloaded by the millions. The good ideas are the ones that have been around for a while; look to those, and again, let someone else handle the heavy lifting of your basic concept, then seek to improve on it.
4. Keep It Simple
This is age old advice, but still applies. Complexity is death when it comes to apps. There has been several instances where I’ve put down an app mere minutes after picking it up because I sensed an arduous and convoluted path ahead. A user should be able to understand the basic mechanics of a game within thirty seconds of picking it up. That sounds sage-like, and I may well have just invented it on the spot, but go with it. It sounds about right to me. Whatever the genre of game, when it comes to handheld devices, simple will always be the way to go. Again, look at Snake. The game is literally timeless, there are still apps being released today that rely on its basic premise. But the beauty of Snake is that games can be as quick or as long as you like. People carry their iPhones in their pockets; no one whips it out looking for a five hour long intense session of gaming. Bite-sized chunks are the order of the day. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that your game has to be easy; quite the contrary, most of the games that are considered the easiest to grasp are often the ones that reveal the most depth. You can extend the ‘keep it simple’ philosophy to your app marketing too; when it comes to online promotion and exposure, you want to convey a simple, clear-cut message that doesn’t confuse the potential player. Make sure they know what they’re getting.
5. Make It Pretty
Visuals are crucial. There are all kinds of apps out there, with visuals ranging from the beatific to the downright poor. It’s important to grab people’s attention with some pretty looking graphics. Make them want to play it, make them want to show their friends (refer to Secret 2, above). We all know the limitations of handheld devices graphical capabilities, but with a little imagination and creativity, you can produce some stunning results. It’s usually the creativity that will get people talking more than flashy, detailed graphics; gamers have always appreciated a clever touch or an immersive gaming world. It’s the reason why Nintendo continues to flourish and is able to stand side by side with Sony and Microsoft; despite the latter two having clearly better graphics, Nintendo injects a little something extra. Look to Okami, the beautiful, breathtaking Japanese-style platformer for an example of how creativity can triumph all. Push your graphics team to invest themselves in finding new, exciting interfaces; it doesn’t matter if you’re working with 2D or 3D graphics, there will be some way to push the envelope that little bit further. On the marketing side, you’re going to need some great visuals to get people clicking on your links; remember, when you’re starting out, all the ammunition you’re going to have to get people clicking on your link are a couple of screenshots. Whether it’s twitter or Facebook, when it comes to gaming apps, visuals are king. At the very least, if you know your graphics are a little on the wanting side, put everything you’ve got into your screenshots and promotional art.
6. Cross-Platform Is The Way Forward
Let’s be straight; limiting your game to just iOS or Android is not a great way to start proceedings. While the iPhone might have the edge on popularity, you can never tell which way the pendulum is going to swing; counter this by making your baby playable across all types of devices from smartphones to tablets. This might take a little bit of extra time in the development phase, but will pay back dividends once you get your app off the ground. Cross-Platform also suggests professionalism, while at the same time indicating that your game is universally enjoyable. The consumers will think, hey, if they’ve bothered to position it across all platforms, then they must have some faith in it! This also aids you in your marketing, the key tool for a grassroots campaign. Editorials will be keen to mention your cross-platform standing. When it comes to your Facebook and Twitter promotion, you can be sure that you’re appealing to 100% of your audience, and not immediately cutting anyone out. Double platforms mean double exposure.
If your app is a smash hit, you’ll have been glad to have covered these bases at the outset, allowing you to capitalize on any sudden explosion of interest. Things move fast in the app world. After taking in all these developmental secrets, one golden rule still applies; as the Cub Scouts had it, be prepared!