The Most Successful Mobile Game Studio of 2014

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Kevin Ford

September 22nd, 2015

NativeX Voices: This blog post is part of the NativeX Voices series, a set of blog posts that present the gaming experiences of NativeX employees from the perspective of a gamer.

As a 12 year old, I would rush home from school on Thursdays to turn on re-runs of the original Adam West Batman TV series. I couldn’t miss a minute of the action because the previous week the show ended with the Joker dangling the Caped Crusader over a pool of acid. WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT?? The action continued from one episode to the next. Today, be it Jack Bauer, Rob Stark, or Frank Underwood, we are all familiar with “cliffhangers” and their ability to keep us coming back for more.

adam-west-batman

Cliff-hangers in the games era

If mobile games are “the new TV,” what are the weekly cliff hangers for Mobile Game Studios? Of course some games create their own cliffhangers but for me, the real suspense is in waiting for Apple’s weekly features! If you aren’t waiting and watching for this weekly release, I think you are doing gaming production wrong. Unsurprisingly, the Apple Editors’ Choice list is updated on the App Store right when kids are getting out of School on Thursday’s, just like the Batman reruns I used to watch.

If you and your sweaty, underpaid team just spent weeks, months, years polishing THE game to destroy all games, there’s no doubt you are sitting on the edge of a cliff waiting to see if the Apple Editors will award your studio with a feature, or maybe even the most coveted prize of them all, Editors’ Choice. In my opinion, getting selected for the App Store Editors’ Choice is the highest award for mobile app developers. The amount of competition for the placement and the bountiful payoff of getting selected make it invaluable.

app_store_editors_choice

A brief history of the App Store Editors’ Choice placement

Apple introduced the “Editors’ Choice” feature to iOS developers in 2012 and it has become more prominent in each iTunes update since then. With the release of iOS 8, Apple is expected to continue building upon this value of the Editors’ Choice selection by displaying a permanent badge on the download page of apps that have been selected. While getting featured by the App Store editors isn’t a science, there are some things you can do to help your app get noticed by the team – check out these tips. In short, your game needs to be unique, it must be optimized for the latest devices, and it helps to have a strong relationship with the App Store team. Each Thursday the editors select one new app for the Editors’ Choice feature.

Noteworthy mobile gaming trends

So far in 2014, I’ve noticed two noteworthy trends happening in mobile gaming that make the Editors’ Choice recognition even more meaningful:

  1. Shallow content – easily digestible titles can become mega hits, quickly. At the beginning of this year, if your app wasn’t called Flappy Bird or 2048 you were not going to get to the number one spot in the Top Free charts. These mega-hits produced a wave of some of the worst titles to ever hit the App Store.

  1. Shareholders – too many once great indie studios are going corporate. I can’t blame ‘em, I guess. It’s hard to argue with Natural Motion walking away with $527 million, or just a few weeks ago King Digital awarding a $150 million “special dividend” to shareholders. However, I assure you, the last question these suits doing market valuations are asking is, “are your games fun?”

Both of these trends will continue to make it even more challenging for game developers to get noticed.

Selling doesn’t have to mean selling out

Despite the trends above, a few studios continue to produce great games, even after getting acquired. One such company is BackFlip Studios out of Boulder, CO. Only three studios have had more than one free-to-play game receive the Editors’ Choice award this year: NaturalMotion (acquired by Zynga), Chillingo (acquired by EA), and BackFlip (acquired by Hasbro). Unlike the others, BackFlip has done it three times! Hit title after hit title, they’re creating great gaming experiences and Apple repeatedly rewards them for their work with the Editors’ Choice award.

backflip_studios

 

If you haven’t already played their games, stop reading this post and go play Dwarven Den, PlunderNauts, andSpellfall. You will quickly discover why BackFlip has been so successful this year, and it’s nothing short of record breaking. Breathtaking visuals, engaging core loops, and superb Free-to-Play mechanics say loud and clear that these guys have figured out the formula for creating a hit mobile game. This is the year where everyone is supposed to rave about SuperCell and the millions and billions they make on IAPs. I get it. For me, as the kid who still loves to see how Batman continues to succeed despite all odds, I can’t wait to see what the scrappers from Boulder come up with next.

Kevin Ford

Marketing Manager

2015-09-22

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