While researching, I stumbled across two very different articles on app marketing and design that made some interesting points. One was focused on general apps while the other specifically on casual free-to-play games. However in both pieces, the underlining theme of how to achieve success was the same. Developers must know their audience and create and market accordingly.
The mobile industry is rapidly growing. Currently there is an estimated 1 Billion active smartphones in the world. For most app developers, reaching only 0.0005% out of that potential customer base is necessary for your app to do well. This massive pool of prospects makes targeting the right users or players crucial.
Design Your Game with Your Core Players in Mind
Although this tip may seem like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised by how many developers overlook this essential step. To design your game with your core players in mind you have to know exactly what type of mobile users are most likely to be downloading your app.
In Buzinga’s article ‘User Persona: Marketing to a Mobile Audience’, they drill home the importance of finding that ‘perfect user’ by creating an imaginary profile. The profile lists their reasons for downloading the app, their daily habits, mood, and characteristics for a better understanding of the typical user experience. The idea is to design your application and strategy to fit their preferences. Whether you’re creating a functional app or a mobile game, taking the time to map out your strategy similar to this, is key.
When it comes to designing F2P games, it’s equally important to design your game with your core players in mind. Gamasutra had a great blog post called ‘A Method Acting Approach to Designing Mobile Games’ which recommended designing your F2P game by tapping into the habits of the casual mobile gamer.
In the post, game designer Jeremy Kang stated, “I’ve always found Method Actors pretty inspirational, and in designing Free-to-Play (F2P) casual games, I’ve been inspired to try to take a similar approach – one in which I try to remain “in character” of a casual player during development – in an attempt to not just design ideas purely based on theory, but on actually trying to approach a game like a casual player.”
This technique is not only an effective way to pinpoint the best direction for your game but it also can be fun as well. Kang broke down the process into three specific steps.
#1 – Play like a Casual Player
The first step is to try to play like a casual player. Casual players differ from hardcore. Hardcore players spend hours gaming as part of their daily routine, while casual gamers fit short periods of gaming into their lifestyle. Casual gamers’ playing sessions are often during periods of downtime like during their commute to work, while on a lunch break, while waiting in line, or even during a bathroom break. Play casually.
#2 – Ask Questions like a Game Designer
The next step requires developers to play dual roles in order to dive a little deeper into the casual player scenario. Instead of simply playing while waiting in line at Starbucks, try to think like a casual player while you’re playing and then switch your perspective to one of a game designer and look for potential issues or improvements that could be made. Ask questions like “Why would I keep playing this? “If I skip the tutorial will I know what to do?” “Are the levels too easy or too hard?”
“Play it over lunch while eating, pause your game and resume it while changing trains on the subway – would you still know what the next move that you have to make is after all those interruptions?” says Kang.
#3 – Commit like a Fan
The third and final step is the most difficult to do. It requires sacrificing a substantial amount of time and maybe even some money. In this step developers must commit to the game. Although many casual gamers only play a game for the first 10 levels or so before deciding to keep or delete the game, it’s the games that players ultimately choose to continue playing that become successful. In this last step developers must go further with their research or ‘method acting’ technique and choose one casual related game and commit to it.
“Casual players often like routine, comfort-zones and really just play to unwind or pass time – and learning a new game is often the last thing that a lot of them want to do – unless there is strong enough driver to convince them to,” said Kang.
Invest the time into really playing the game. Explore all of the social features, add your real friends, participate in the leader-boards, respond to the push notifications, and find out what makes the game work. The goal is to discover the key factor that keeps a casual player engaged. Use what you learn to design your own similar game with those essential components.