Casual games continue to dominate the app store’s charts. Many appreneurs continue to thrive in this segment, but what separates the successful from the unsuccessful? What can we learn from them, and which practices should we apply to succeed in the app store?
The Birth of the ‘Super Casual’ Games: Flappy Bird
Flappy Bird established a milestone in the mobile gaming history and was without question the case with the biggest buzz in the app store last year. Its success awakened the indie developer dream, in an environment that had been dominated by big publishers so far.
Flappy Bird’s success awakened the indie developer dream in an environment dominated by big publishers. >> Click to tweet
In case you don’t remember the Flappy Bird story, let me refresh your mind. Flappy Bird was built in just two days by the Vietnamese indie developer Dong Nguyen. The game was released for the first time on May 2013 but it was on January 2014 that it reached #1 place in the U.S. and Chinese App Store’s charts, followed by other 53 countries.
Unprecedented in the App store. An indie dev has top #1 #2 and #6 Free apps right now. I-N-S-A-N-E pic.twitter.com/ejYjD4EqwR
— Ouriel Ohayon (@OurielOhayon) January 31, 2014
The game was downloaded more than 50 million times and gained huge popularity that reached its peak when the developer decided to remove the app from the stores, on February 9, 2014. Even while earning $50k a day, Dong Nguyen declared “it ruined his simple life”. Then, Flappy Bird–and Nguyen–became a legend. A couple of facts: ‘Flappy Bird’ was the 6th trending search term worldwide in 2014 on Google. Flappy Bird then amassed nearly 16 million tweets. Flappy Bird is considered the first ‘Super Casual’ Game.
I can call ‘Flappy Bird’ is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it. — Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 8, 2014
Continuing the Legacy: Ketchapp
Flappy Bird revamped the casual games category and founded a new concept, labeled ‘Super Casual’ Games, that has since dominated the App Store ranks. ‘Super Casual’ Games have basic controls–one-tap–, short gameplay sessions, and don’t involve linear progress. As the player competes to beat their own top score and the scores of their friends, never actually “advancing” in the game.
Flappy Bird revamped the casual games category and founded a new concept, labeled ‘Super Casual’ Games >> Click to tweet
‘Super Casual’ Games have basic controls–one-tap–, short gameplay sessions, and don’t involve linear progress >> Click to tweet
The path started by Flappy Bird was followed by other perfect examples of the ‘Super Casual’ Game concept such as Make it Rain or Timberman. But, the absolute king of the App Store charts in 2014 was Ketchapp, an indie app agency based in France.
Learn From the Best App Publishers: Cross-promoting Apps
How does Ketchapp manage to maintain its supremacy? How does every new Ketchapp game make it to the top positions?
Build a Large Portfolio of Casual Games
The first step to your app empire success is crafting a heavy collection of apps. Cross-promotion strategy requires a strong understanding of your audience, and the ability to target them effectively. Your games–or apps–must be of the same category and, preferably, should have very similar characteristics. Once you have identified a game concept that works for your users, stick with it. For example, Ketchapp creates only Super Casual Games that are extremely easy to play. It seems to be working for them, right? 🙂
Cross-promotion strategy requires a strong understanding of your audience, and the ability to target them effectively >> Click to tweet
Actually, Ketchapp maintains a big portfolio of 80 apps; 46 for iOS and 34 for Android. All of them casual games.
One of their secrets to have such a large portfolio, is that they act as a publisher for other game companies and developers. This strategy is a win-win for both parties: Ketchapp gets more apps and the game author gets a huge visibility for his project.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
They released their first title on February 2014 but it achieved a very small traction. It was 2048, launched in March 2014, that made it to the #1 Top Downloaded Overall in 53 countries. 2048’s gameplay is extremely similar to other two games that were already live in the App Store–1024 and Threes!–but it got a much bigger success than them.
Did you know that Flappy Bird is a remake of an older game with the same gameplay, Helicopter Game?
— David McCandless (@mccandelish) February 2, 2014
Cross-promote Casual Games
Ketchapp distribution strategy seems to be exclusively focused on cross-promoting their app portfolio. They profited of the success of their game 2048 to start a viral expansion that keeps working.
Today, they have such a big power that they manage to catapult every new title to the top ten. They use pop-up interstitials and a “more games” discovery portal for cross promotion.
Release New Titles Frequently
The Paris-based company releases new games at a blistering pace. One each week, roughly. They are perfectly aware of the LTV of their apps. Being Super Casual Games, their LTV is short. That’s why they launch new games constantly.
You too must feed your audience of gamers with fresh titles and gameplays, so you must be able to build apps quickly. App templates are a good choice, as they help you save 90% of the time (and money).
Choose a Good Monetization Model
Besides cross-promotion, it’s critical to define a profitable monetization strategy. For this purpose, it’s critical to perfectly know your users. You must integrate a good analytics platform that provides you insights into your users behavior together with their LTV (lifetime value). This information will help you decide when it’s the better time to change from one model to another.
For instance, if IAP (In App Purchase) buyers usually make their purchase within the first two days of using the app. This means that after 48 hours–if the user has not purchased yet–you could remove your IAP and start using banners. Later, when the users start to lose engagement, put all your efforts in cross-promoting your new games instead of focusing in monetization.
When users start to lose engagement, put all your efforts in cross-promoting new games instead of focusing in monetization. >> Click to tweet
The Ketchapp team use different mechanics for monetizing their games. They integrate banner ads in most titles that can be removed by paying a small fee. Many of their games include in-app purchases to assist ingame progression. Also, players have the opportunity to obtain more currency without spending money, by watching video ads.
Other publishers use a different kind of in-app purchases: those that change gameplay through new characters, as on Crossy Road.
Now It’s Your Turn To Build Your App Empire
Ketchapp consolidated as one of the top publishers in just a few months. It’s not easy but, as you see, it is possible to make it to the top. We are here to help! You will need a good strategy and tons of hard work. Ready? Then, once you will be riding high… just keep riding! Remember: Tap, tap, tap…
With literally millions of apps in the app store, you really need to make your app stand out. Sure, if you have a budget you can run a burst campaign or do one of the many forms of paid promotion. But, in addition to being a key part of app marketing, ASO can help your app generate more organic installs, making your business more sustainable.