When venturing into a new arena, it’s always good to look at the highest possible upside. In the mobile game industry, that high mark is being set by Supercell, a small game studio in Finland that developed the mega hit games Clash of Clans and Hay Day.
As reported by Forbes, Business Insider and more, they are doing $2.4 million dollars per day in revenue with a valuation of $700,000,000 dollars, they are now being touted the fastest growing mobile game company ever.
Not bad for an outfit that was just founded in 2010. So how did they do it?
The Secret Sauce
First off, Supercell had experience. We can see from their about us page that 4 of their 6 founders came from Digital Chocolate, which is a huge gaming company with over 200 employees and a few big successes in the social game arena:
Having experience is great, but what is mind boggling is how fast Clash of Clans rose to the top. This wasn’t a slow and steady climb that took months, it was basically released and immediately hit the top 30 grossing on iPhone and iPad within a week. Even the biggest (and most controversial) social gaming giant, Zynga, doesn’t pull numbers that fast.
It’s no secret their biggest hit, Clash of Clans, borrowed heavily from Digital Chocolate’s big social hit, Galaxy Life. If you download Galaxy Life and Clash of Clans you’ll be shocked how similar these games are. They both have similar gameplay, tutorials and the same basic premise. What’s interesting though is how much better Clash of Clans did than Galaxy Life.
“…they have similar gameplay, tutorials and the same basic premise.”
The secret to Clash of Clans success goes back to the golden rule when deciding what game to make: Theme matters. As similar as Galaxy Life is, people are much more interested in a fantasy theme than a bug theme. The idea of holding down a fort for medieval townspeople who are helpless in defending themselves against evil trolls is much more appealing than space bugs.
Supercell were very smart. They didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, instead of they chose to model and improve. They took a popular game and made it better by upgrading the theme, graphics and gameplay.
They’ve found a successful formula that works, and they’ve used it multiple times. Others, like the makers of Minecraft and Angry Birds, have done the same thing.
Let’s break it down into 2 simple parts:
Rules of Success #1: Make something people want
It sounds obvious, yet so many people miss this one. I’ve heard so many bad game ideas it would be impossible to list them all, and they all had one thing in common: they were pulled out of thin air. Luckily, to find out what people want is pretty easy. You simply look and see what’s already working.
For instance, there is a good reason why over 40% of the top grossing games right now are either Sci-Fi or Fantasy:
If we look at the top 10 grossing movies in the United States, we’ll see that 90% were either Sci-Fi or Fantasy. The only one that breached the list in a normal setting was Titanic. Science Fiction and Fantasy are huge themes that are bred into our pop culture since Star Wars debuted in 1977. It’s no shocking wonder they also prove to be themes people want to play in video games.
This doesn’t mean you should never branch out and try something unique. It means that you should research the theme of your game before jumping into development. If you are creating a game about building wooden desks, there is probably not a big market for it. You should base your game idea loosely off of something that is successful. Get ideas from proven concepts. That’s what successful indie game developers, like Mojang’s Minecraft have done in the past. Minecraft completely took over the indie game scene generating $100,000,000 last year alone. Where did they get the idea? From the open sourced game Infiniminer:
Looks pretty familiar, right?
The truth is innovation is a risky business model. This doesn’t mean you should take the Zynga approach and copy games drastically close. It simply means that not using proven concepts is a risky business move. If you already have a legion of loyal fans, then maybe it’s time to take some big risk. But if you are first starting out your mobile game company you should be focusing on getting profitable, keeping cost down and making games that you know people will like. Just like Mojang did with Minecraft, Rovio did with Angry Birds and Supercell did with Clash of Clans.
Rules of Success #2: It’s (unfortunately) all about the marketing
Most programmers can’t stand marketers, but the truth is, without marketing your game is destined for failure. If we look at the most successful game of all time, Angry Birds, it’s no secret there was some really smart marketing behind it. Just check out the merchandising isle at your local Toys R Us for proof. They somehow managed to get more merchandising than a big Disney release which is a feat in itself.
“…Marketing is a different beast to slay altogether…”
Anyone can work extremely hard to make a good game, but marketing is a different beast to slay altogether. The app store is proof of this with it’s never-ending graveyard of great games that have never been seen by the masses. Remember, the Field of Dreams lied. It will not come just because you’ve built it. You have to be really good at letting everyone KNOW you built it.
Here’s the three most important parts of marketing your app (click to expand):
Have A Plan
Grab a pen and notepad and grab a seat. Now think about TRAFFIC. How are you going to get traffic to your game? Is it going to be in the top charts? Will you get massive blog coverage and exposure? Will you generate thousands of downloads per day with app store SEO? If you don’t know, then this is an issue. You need to have a solid game plan written down that you know works. If you don’t have a clue, then make sure you stick around here, as we’ll have more blog post and videos will be covering this in the future. Here’s a quick hint though, while you’re here… Find someone with a similar app as yours that is successful, and figure out HOW they are getting traffic.
Set A Goal
Most people don’t set goals with their apps or games. They just make one and then cross their finger. You know who does set goals? The big app companies that appear on the top grossing list. After you’ve written down part of your plan, you need to have specific strategies from that plan to meet your goals. Your goal might be to hit 10,000 downloads in a month or maybe it’s to reach $1,00 profit in the first week. Anything is possible, but the first step is to write out what your goal is. Then you need to write down exactly how you will achieve that. What this does is mentally forces you to come up with new ideas in your plan to reach your new goal.
Tweak and Improve
Now that you have a plan and a definitive goal, you need a backup. What happens when you release the game and it’s not monetizing as well as you hoped? What if you get no downloads or your programmer jumps ship? Hopefully things will go smooth and it won’t be an issue, but we all know that typically happens less than it does more. Be prepared for any situation by thinking about it BEFORE it happens. This way while most people are scrambling, you’ll be cool headed while acting out your audibles.
We’ve now had over 40 students pass the 500,000 download mark with their games. Many students have quit their jobs to pursue this full time and we’ve even had 3 people past the $100,000 per month mark which is an amazing milestone.
These students worked hard and SMART for their success. While most new game business owners close their eyes and hope for the best, these students formulated a strong plan based on proven techniques and success. That’s the real (and definitive) secret. Using proven techniques that work to grow your business.