Secrets of a Successful App

Creating a successful and profitable mobile phone application can be a daunting prospect, owing to the sheer magnitude and vastness of this market, with a choice of over 900,000 apps now available on iOS alone. This collection, which ranges from the downright silliness of the juvenile iFart to the sublime concept of sophisticated to-do-list, Clear, certainly validates Apple’s now infamous claim (recently appropriated and mocked in Android’s marketing scheme for its forthcoming operating system update, KitKat) that ‘there’s an app for that.’ So, how can your app survive and thrive in such an over-subscribed market? Simply stick to the subsequent formula to remove the threat of your brainchild plummeting into obscurity:

Simplicity

Candy Crush Saga, King.com’s casual gaming juggernaut is sweetly simplistic. Borrowing its style from the iconic Tetris and other similar games such as Bejewelled, Candy Crush is so popular because anybody (yes, even your mum) can pick up and play, its rudimentary mechanics and infinite levels able to keep users enthralled for either half an hour or several months. Don’t reinvent the wheel but put a spin (for example, a variation of theme or colour) on an old classic.

Community

Without wishing to bang the Candy Crush drum any louder; it is hard not to become overwhelmed by its astonishing daily revenue of $850,000, a figure which should be music to the ears of every Freemium game developer. Yes, you didn’t misread that, Candy Crush is free to download and play but recoups finance from players resorting to any measure to beat the often infuriating game, and perhaps, more importantly, their friends. Whilst it may be available to play on smartphones, King’s wildly successful app built its popularity on Facebook with a delicious mixture of friend invitations, leader boards and friend donations that ignited rivalries and incessantly challenged users to wipe the smug grin of that office colleague who proudly resided 20 levels above them. Offer occasional in-app purchases to speed up player progression and get your app recognised in social media and, as evident, hungry gamers will spend their hard-earned cash in the name of competing with, and out-doing, their closest friends and fiercest enemies.

Push Notifications

The way in which a developer connects with the player is perhaps more important than ever before, as, due to the virtual nature of the gaming industry, players often miss and crave the warmth and energy of human contact. This need is now being embraced by developers from all areas and adopted by Apple and Google in their respective intelligent automated personal assistants, iOS7’s iBeacons and Google Now. Establishing a more personal bond with the user, these helpful touches are ensuring that an owner’s smartphone is forever in sync with the individual. Specific gaming application examples include the humorous download error featured in the ‘Spice Up Your Words’ section of this article or indeed, Dojit’s own Notify service, both of which focus on generating engaging, relevant and vibrant messages to keep players and app users entertained and increase chances of retention. If you want players to invest in your app, make sure that you speak their language!

Freemium

As a hefty number of mobile games on the App Store employ this model, it is hard to argue with the credentials of Freemium. Although placing an app on the market for free could be viewed as a major risk, if your game is founded on simplicity (in terms of content and accessibility), community (to inspire competition and rivalry) and features language and notifications that really speak to the needs of your user, in-app purchases and the monetisation of the casual player are virtually guaranteed. Constructing a profitable free app is a fine art but by following the recipe above, your chances will be maximised, the statistic that Freemium apps account for 75% of Android app revenue speaks for itself.

Prioritising simplicity and encouraging player-to-player interaction will prove integral to the establishment of a diverse and optimised consumer base for your application. Ensure to use incisive and witty language, in addition to high-quality graphics, to earn the loyalty, trust and appreciation of your players. Not every game will be prove to a Candy Crush or Farmville but these four basic rules will sweeten your customers and allow your consumership to blossom.

New Report Gets Tough On Developers

After embarking on an investigation into the mechanics and trends of 38 child-orientated mobile applications earlier this year, motivated by the startling statistic that the game-playing experiences and subsequent in-app purchases of children cost their parents on average £30 million per month ,UK watchdog, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), has published a report on its findings, in which it lays out a set of guidelines and principles for games developers. A document that features eight main rules that the OFT expects British developers to meet, the report’s main focus centres on improving the clarity and honesty of applications that can be purchased through either Apple or Google’s stores.

Mainly aimed at the proponents of the popular freemium gaming business model, the OFT’s first principle requires games to feature disclaimers that explicitly state that where a game may be downloaded for free, it may also require users to spend real money on unlocking certain elements of the game. This idea, however, already operates on Apple and it would be fairer to suggest that if the games played by children were policed more effectively by their parents, a much fewer number of people would be greeted with devastating bills. Indeed, in a recent survey carried out by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, parents admitted that they watched and regulated the in-game activities of their children a definitive 97% of the time. So it seems that lax and ‘laissez faire’ parents are actually in the minority, with tech-savvy mums and dads keeping close tabs on their iPads, tablets and Smartphones.

Another important guideline sketched out in the OFT’s report does, however, shine a light onto how children can rack up their disgruntled parents’ payments. In a scathing comment, the document accuses certain developers of ‘exploiting a child’s inherent inexperience, vulnerability and credulity’, lambasting the guilty parties for manipulating language and misleading their players. Some games, the OFT claims in its dissection of ‘child-friendly’ applications, play on the emotions and insecurities of children. Examples include suggesting, through in-game messages, that characters may become unhappy or sad unless food is bought for them (with real money) or implying that in-game popularity can only be acquired through the purchase of a new item of clothing. Implications of children being responsible for the death, sadness or lack of progression of their characters or worlds in order to encourage spending can be seen as highly unethical and when married with the relative non-understanding a small child has of the value of currency in the real world, is definitely exploitative. Certain games will also neglect to inform their players that instead of purchasing, a user can wait an allotted time for a level to be unlocked.

Although a fair plucking of the heartstrings or tapping into the human fear of rejection and unpopularity are quite often hallmarks of big business marketing campaigns, observe the classic Lynx formula of advertisements where a social pariah earns attention and affection by using deodorant, the idea that these tactics are being embraced by child-friendly games developers seems questionable. In other cases, children’s games that feature add-ons that can be purchased for such fees as £69.99 merely reflect how the mobile games market is adopting the premium prices of traditional video games, but choosing to charge during game play as opposed to before it.

Unsurprisingly, as the mobile apps market is ultimately a profit-making venture (in the same ilk as all businesses), many have spoken out against these potential enforcements. Whilst largely agreeing with the OFT’s advocation of an increased responsibility over the interests and happiness of their consumers, trade group, UKIE, has stressed that this tightening of boundaries may ‘stifle the creativity of developers or prevent the growth of the games industry.’ It can certainly be disputed as to what extent the adoption of a clearer and less underhand approach to gaming will ‘stifle creativity’ as this should not affect the complexity and inventiveness of a game but it is easy to see that for some developers, economy and ethics will make for strange bedfellows and could cause a considerable rupture in the worth of the British mobile games industry and its contribution to the overall global gaming market.

The OFT’s publication may prove to be a victory for the enraged consumer but a bad omen for the games developer that will herald the beginning of more restrictive marketing strategies and criteria.

The Text Game: A Forgotten Language

In an industry forever striving to create realistic graphics that faithfully capture the human form and formulate games that translate our real-world movements into in-game actions (Nintendo’s Wii, Xbox’s Kinect et al), this obsession with visual and physical mimesis could prove to be the death knoll to those in possession of a creative mindset. Although modern games look and feel more real and are more user-sensitive than ever before, this progression is coming at a price: a distinct loss of freedom, adventure and spontaneity. Of course it is now mere convention that video games are designed to unfold in an unalterable linear fashion, advancing gradually through each level in time with the player’s ability before unleashing the concluding credits, but before the rise of high resolution graphics, flawless virtual incarnations of famous cities and a fixed plot line, the gaming world flirted briefly with the computer-based phenomenon known as the ‘text game’.

A genre that has now been made mostly obsolete and consigned to the annals of technological history as a primitive relic of a bygone age (like the VHS, Walkman and the MiniDisc player after it) and one only played by its staunchest hardcore (actual and fictional) fans, such as the geeky collective of U.S sitcom, the Big Bang Theory, the demise of the text game is truly a loss to mourn. The reason why its death is so significant is in fact described aptly by the aforementioned show’s Sheldon Cooper, who after discovering a website where classic text games can be played and appreciated, says to his housemate, Leonard, ‘they (text games) run on the world’s most powerful graphics chip, the imagination.’ Regardless of the canned laughter that this comment generates, Sheldon succinctly encapsulates the strength, power and importance of the 70s-80s text game movement. Take, for example, the hugely popular text-based Zork series, a game that placed players in the midst of a dense and ethereal landscape purely through the intricacy and complexity of the language that it used and allowed each player free reign; inviting them to choose how to explore, engage with, and survive an often perilous backdrop, with their usage of language and the lucidity of their imagination as their only guides.

Making use of a revolutionary sophisticated computer system, Zork was one of the pinnacles of a genre that also came to be recognised as ‘interactive fiction’, a movement that combined the power of great literature to imbue one’s soul with heightened emotions and one’s mind with descriptions of undiscovered worlds with a unique liberty to allow players to choose where to go, what to do, who to kill and how to kill them. Although this may seem nothing special in comparison to the big-budget Technicolor graphical firework displays and Hollywood plots of today’s platformers, Zork worked in much the same way as a good book, gifting players a language from which they could manufacture their own images and ideas, fulling involving the audience in the creation and fulfillment of a fantasy world. Indeed, the relative freedom and mystery of Zork also mirrored the role of classic literature; to challenge, confuse and ultimately force the audience to make an informed decision on what they had read. It is fair to say that these games embody the antithesis of the ultra-realistic Grand Theft Auto: V, by leaving everything to the imagination.

It is probably no surprise that once better quality graphics were designed and distributed that these games fell into obscurity, perhaps mimicking how a film adaptation can generate much more substantial revenue than its novelistic counterpart. The spirit of the ‘text-based’ adventure is still visible in contemporary titles, with the vast maps of console games such as Skyrim allowing players to exit the game’s main chronology and indulge in alternative missions and activities. Yet the time that the game developer has invested in creating a clear and sophisticated visual landscape eradicates the need for a player to call upon their imagination.

In light of the perpetual controversy that surrounds the video games that depict scenes of violence and murder, from the 17-year-old who carried out a premeditated murder allegedly inspired by console game, Manhunt, in 2004 to the recent stabbing of a 23-year-old by a group of attackers who then proceeded to liberate his copy of GTA: V, many believe that modern interpretations of the ‘text-based’ format are utilising language to comment and critique the violence that has become so prevalent in the real, and indeed, the virtual world. Plucked from games mostly focused on the nature of war, these provocative titles include Maybe Make Some Change, which presents a harrowing world in which the only initial action a user can take is to ‘shoot’ the opposition, stressing the mindless destruction and lack of rationality that accompanies conflict, forcing the player to think before firing, the limited vocabulary a scathing attack on the dogmatism of war.

Importantly, these new ‘text’ games are combating the trigger happy philosophies of console ‘shoot ‘em ups’, eschewing the bright lights and fancy graphics of these titles by placing an emphasis on the written word to drill home an important message to the player. A dead format to some but an iconoclastic medium to others, the ‘text game’ tradition that relied on the imagination does, in its reincarnation, provide players with pressing food for thought as opposed to the substance-less feasts for the eyes that currently dominate games sales charts.

The Power of Push

After months of drafting out your latest marketing campaign and carefully choosing the perfect and most incisive language to draw your customer in to the merits of your company, there is nothing more deflating than your e-mail being unceremoniously overlooked by the intended viewer. Or, if you happen to inadvertently target the savvier consumer within your demographic, your e-mail will never see the light of day as it resides wasting away in the forsaken refuse bin known as the dreaded junk mail folder. Indeed, studies have shown that the average open rate of all e-mails sits at a meagre 20%, which is indicative of internet users being able to choose which messages to read and which to instantly delete.

However, it appears that the recent rise of the push notification is providing a welcome antidote to this pressing problem. A marketing tool that plays on the startling fact that everyone seems to own a Smartphone (there are a reported 43 million in use in the United Kingdom and over 200 million in the U.S ) each of which contain an average of 41 applications per person, push notifications send alerts about new app content directly to the mobile phone user.

Unlike e-mails, push notifications do not need to be opened in the traditional sense as they instantly appear on the home screen of a user’s phone and are normally accompanied by a sound alert. This marketing strategy can pay dividends in two ways. Firstly, this process establishes a more intimate and interactive bond with the consumer, with a company’s pro-active updating on the latest changes to their applications or games generating a sense of customer satisfaction. Secondly, whereas many people have now become immune to the persuasive nature of marketing e-mails, the user will have to unlock their phone screen and read a push message before deleting it. Therefore, even if the recipient elects to decline the notification, they will still absorb and internalise this information, which leaves a lasting impression. Unfortunately, much like e-mail, many users have the choice to opt out of receiving these messages but this should not occur if notifications are timely, relevant and sent out in moderation, some tips on which can be found here.

Regardless of these fundamental rules, push notifications have developed a reputation for being invasive and irritating, with many companies abusing this tool and failing to utilise its full potential. Therefore, the key to the effective usage of the push notification resides in adopting a more personal approach to keep users loyal and engaged. Certainly, in acknowledgement of push notification popularity, Apple’s latest operating system, iOS7, boasts more innovative ways of communicating push messages to the consumer. iOS7 enables owners of other smart technology, such as Pebble Watches, to receive dual coded push notification alerts (sports updates, weather changes) directly to the wrist to ensure that the recipient is kept in the loop whether they are enjoying a meal, engaged in the middle of a run or whilst they are being put through their paces at the local gym. A smart way to maximise connectivity and engagement.

The new system also makes use of iBeacons to develop ‘context-aware’ messages that can appear on a user’s phone interface as they walk into a particular high street or retail store. Acting as a type of virtual shop assistant, these notifications inform the recipient of the latest deals and guides them through the store, helping customers on their journey through the shop. However, it seems that Apple is not the only mobile brand embracing the awesome marketing potential of push notifications with Foursquare developing an initially Android-exclusive application that works on a similar premise to iOS7’s iBeacons. Described by Foursquare as a ‘feature that is like a sixth sense: proactive recommendations of things you didn’t even know you were looking for’, this push innovation accurately tracks user location and recommends places of interests to visit and restaurants to feast in. Placing the needs of the customer at the forefront whilst simultaneously facilitating business revenue, this Android service, in the same vein as iBeacons, re-establishes up-to-date and direct communication with the consumer instead of attempting to market products through the archaic method of the cold and detached e-mail.

Linking to both Apple and Android’s preoccupation with generating more user-orientated and specific push notifications, here at Dojit, we have adopted a similar ideology in the game-playing world. We have developed Dojit-notify, a notification service that works on the same premise as both iBeacons and Foursquare, but substitutes the messages that these applications send based on a user’s real-world location with notifications delivered in relation to a player’s progression through a certain game. Instead of sending retail offers directly to a handset, Dojit-notify creates relevant and bespoke in-game messages to keep each individual player stimulated and feeling like a valued customer.

Notify is based around the concept of ‘recipes’, a system that controls the frequency with which tailor-made notifications are sent to users, usually in the guise of cheat codes. This ‘context aware’ system places the needs of each single gamer above everything else and optimises their in-game engagement, providing an effective key to unlocking the increasingly fractured relationship that companies now have with their consumers, and re-awakening an invaluable trust between the two parties.

With much more faith being plowed into push notifications by companies using Apple (visible in iOS7’s list of push improvements and the reported 7.4 trillion messages that have been sent to app-users through the iCloud) and Android mobile systems as an alternative to resorting to e-mail to drum up potential revenue, it appears that a swift new strategy is staking a claim in the world of online and technological marketing. If push notifications can find the balance between annoying and informative, they can be more successful than e-mails in pulling in and keeping consumers using their games and applications.

Dan’s Top Three Mobile Games

A concise run-down of three of my favourite mobile games and apps, unpicking the qualities that set these choices apart from the remainder of the burgeoning and saturated mobile gaming market.

 

Temple Run

Developed and released by Imangi Studios in 2011, Temple Run soon became a synonym for addictive. A game based on the basic premise of escaping from an ancient temple after stealing a holy and highly sought-after relic from its darkest cavities, the user is forced to use their nous and know-how (utilising the game’s simple and sensitive swipe technology) to evade the clutches of rabid monkeys hell-bent on regaining this treasured possession, and tearing the protagonist apart! In addition to eluding the interests of the pursuing monkeys, the user must also cheat death by avoiding hazardous water traps, immovable trees and dangerous, fear-inspiring heights, all of which require a steady hand and perfect timing. The game’s addictive quality resides in its simplicity and seemingly endless world, forcing the user to embed themselves in an eternal quest to sample the sweet taste of freedom and challenging them to outwit the snares of a precarious environment for as long as they possibly can, propelled along by adrenaline and fear!

SongPop

Coming into prominence through Facebook, and boasting the social network’s prestigious ‘Top Social Game of 2012’ title, FreshPlanet’s highly popular multi-player game, SongPop, combines music (new and old) with a fastest finger first motif.  This game is an interactive experience that pits players against their friends or randomly-selected fellow gamers in a battle of speed and skill to determine undisputed musical supremacy, focusing on which player can select the name of the song being played (out of four options) in the fastest time. Users begin with only a small amount of categories in their record collections, usually ‘90s’ or ‘Today’s Hits’, and can expand their challenge options by collecting coins to buy more specific and specialist genres such as ‘Classic Folk Rock’, ‘Metal’ and even ‘WWE Themes’. An intensely addictive game that acquires its popularity from the respective innate human loves of competition and music, each user battle culminates at the end of the week and the winner rewarded with coins and gifts to commemorate their musical knowledge. Again, a simple but highly successful game, SongPop is a game for all ages and every type of music fan, possessing chart music for the radio devotee and classic songs for the lyrical aficionado. SongPop is certainly music to everyone’s ears.

VideoStar

Video Star gives its user full creative control over the production of a music video, affording people of all ages the chance to re-interpret and their favourite songs and embrace the role of their musical idols. In a world increasingly dominated by the social media websites that heave with the views, opinions and pictures of the average person, everybody has the opportunity to express themselves, a notion that the developers of VideoStar have built upon. This app allows the individual to create, direct and choreograph their very own music video from the comfort of their own home, providing the aspiring video-makers of the future with an early chance to hone their production and routine skills. Arriving with an abundance of special effects and colour to add flair and sparkle to the user’s original performances, Video Star is a fun way to set your creative side to music and become the star of a highly personalised and unique video.