In 2018, mobile gaming accounted for more than 74 percent of revenue in the App Store. This gold rush brings a lot of new games that cost more than 500 a day. This can make it difficult to attract attention. Two of the biggest methods? Use of famous intellectual property and use of augmented reality.
License to Kill
To stand out from the crowd, game developers must find ways to attract players. And with so much to do with acceptance, revenue, and engagement, more and more businesses are relying on IP addresses to do the work for them. Jurassic World, Harry Potter and Pokémon are just a few examples. Studios without access to important third-party IP addresses are even more dependent on sequels, both of which take originality into the background.
That does not mean that everything has to be revolutionary. Pokémon Go is a great example of something fresh and original with a great IP. Before Pokémon Go, there were location-based games, but the idea of going out into the real world to capture them all is to fulfill every Pokémon fan's dream. And the market data express that this fit perfectly. To this day, Pokémon Go is one of the highest-grossing games for mobile phones.
But things are going awry here. Niantic, creators of Pokémon Go, released another monster IP title last month: Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Within 1
What happened? How is Pokémon Go doing so well while Wizard's Unite (and other seemingly strong IP-based titles) have brought a portkey to the bottom of the charts? What can both those who want to use Monster IPs and those who want to establish new ones learn from previous dropouts?
How the Mobile Game Industry Works
Developing free mobile games is a tricky art nowadays. In general, game studios start with a "whitepaper" concept and hire a focus group company to judge this idea. Others may skip the whitepaper phase and create a prototype for testing with a focus group. In any case, the idea is entirely on the side of the studio.
From then on, the studio will develop a full version 1 that can be released in beta markets such as New Zealand or Australia when there are no big red flags. It should be noted that the time and investment required to reach Version 1 may be more than a year and may amount to several million dollars. The game may, as expected, be killed. If the metrics are sufficient to reassure decision makers, the game may be updated and improved, and a global version will be released. Some companies, such as Supercell and their relatively new game Brawl Stars, have been playing their games for over a year in this beta phase.
There's a complete lack of one thing in all the standard design and launch procedures of games today. This is the immediate feedback loop between the fans of the IP and the players very early in the process. The lack of fan input is most easily identified in this hit-and-miss example with Niantic regarding Pokemon Go and Harry Potter: Wizard's Unite.
So how can we change?
Fans Know What They Want
Capture Pokémon while they're walking around – well, that's Pokémon, right? Pokémon Go captures the core experience of this universe. Harry Potter is known for many things – Hogwarts, spells, Death Eaters, etc. – but very few of them happen when walking around. Having a simple conversation with a potential player who loves Harry Potter could have predicted this inconsistency – and we should have these conversations.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is not the only game that has difficulty finding an audience for it, matching the fantasy of its flagship IP. You do not even have to look any further than Pokémon himself to find another example. The Match 3 game Pokémon Shuffle has disappeared from the general public due to the lack of "traditional" Pokémon gameplay. Other games like Magic: The Gathering – Puzzle Quest do not match the gameplay of their iconic IPs.
Again, the fans know what they want and they will give up games that do not exist, or just do not download them.
As an industry, mobile game developers typically rely on early "instincts" based on other successful games, leaving most of our last-minute changes to our games during "beta test" just before the release. Not only do we do one important thing: talk to our potential players while the development is in full swing.
This is not limited to game studios. Check out the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie, which has a big awkward delay due to the bad character design. Movies easily spend hundreds of millions on actors, film locations, and crews just to get a dose of reality when fans throw a trailer (or, in the case of a game, first release) in the bin.
Game studios should talk to their customers earlier about game design, not during the early beta, when it's far too late to turn around. The players as end customers know quite quickly what they are looking for in a game.
The financial and the reception risk of a game can be reduced by listening to and implementing player feedback. Ideally, developers start marketing the concept of a game early, so the community can become part of their first test group. In return, these first testers bring new ideas and ideas to the table.
None of these concepts are guaranteed to create the final design of the game, but open communication with the community gives designers a look into the pre-production, what and how the players want them to react to different elements. The studio can then make changes at the beginning of the development cycle by organically expanding new features and taking into account things that seemed good at the time, but turned out to be inappropriate.
The Future is Feedback
This is an approach that is particularly useful in the development of augmented reality and location-based games. So far, the location-based game was its own genre, mostly digitized scavenger hunts. For the genre to survive, it must seamlessly integrate other mechanics into the location-based features. This is definitely new territory for every game studio. Undoubtedly, someone can find the formula of happiness the players want. However, if you try to do something radically different, logging in to the end user first and foremost is not only logical.
Players and fans know what works well in the scavenger hunt in location-based games and what new experiences could easily fit into the genre and provide dynamic play opportunities. With this knowledge, developers can move faster and safer to find new ways to expand the genre, where it is less important to be lucky and to find the right combination through blind experimentation.
Although I can not say with 100 percent sure no game developer talks or listens to his end users from the outset. Before development, I know why big players in the game industry have invested in my business. You've probably never encountered a gaming studio that works to develop games from a marketing perspective. This means getting players involved in the actual development and building of a game from day one and implementing feedback to create something that the community really wants.
Nobody can be sure that this approach to game design either solves the uncertainty or the problem-driven nature of the gaming industry today. It's a long way from concept to product, no matter how you get there. If this strategy proves successful, established game studios may be able to learn something from the new kids on the block and the audiences they target.
Sami Khan is co-founder and CEO of Cerberus Interactive.