30 seconds to make a hit

I’ve written before on how competitive the mobile games market is, and how difficult it is to stand out. Whilst having a great idea might give you hit game, it’s unlikely to fare well against the entrenched competition that dominates the top grossing charts. If you want indie fame and creative glory then by all means come up with a great idea and build it. If you want commercial success then you need a commercial strategy. So how do you do that?

  1. Understand your audience
  2. Articulate your Key Selling Points
  3. Deliver on your vision in 30s


Understand your audience

With a team in place it’s vital that you understand the audience that you are targeting. What are they playing at the moment? How many of them are there? What do they like and dislike about the current games they are playing? What are the points that they pay at or stop playing?

To make a commercially successful game you need to build a superior product for your audience, and if you don’t have a good idea of what they are looking for then it’s down to blind luck whether you make it or not. The odds aren’t great given the number of moving parts in a game if you don’t have a solid understanding of who your audience is, what they want and what they don’t want.

There are lots of ways that you can find out about your audience. Adam covered some here. See what the audience of existing games talk about on their Facebook pages and in forums. See what they are doing in the metrics of your existing games, if you have any. Recruit players via targeted Facebook ads to surveys and ask them about everything you can think of. Get a few players on the phone if possible, as the insight you will get from one to one conversations will be even deeper. Distill down all these insights into personas of the idealised player that you are building your game for, and make this visible and clear to the whole team.

Articulate your Key Selling Points

When I was 24 I set up a soft drink brand. I quickly learned pitching to retailers that I had to be able to articulate not only why it was great, but why it was better than something else that they were already selling. Pointing to their chiller cabinets, the conversation would go something like this:

“Hey, do you want to buy some of my drinks?”

“Do you see any space in my chiller?”


“Ok, so what should I take out of my chiller to make room for your drinks?”

“[Something disgusting looking]”

“Why would I take that out? I sell hundreds of those each week”

“ …. “

chiller cabinet

Which product are you going to replace?

It’s the same with games. People are already playing games in the little free time that they have. The games that they are playing are the really good successful ones. That’s why those games are successful. If you’re not making a game that is obviously better than what they are already playing then why would they even try it?

So this leads to defining your Key Selling Points (KSPs). By this point you should know your audience inside out, so you should know what will really stand out and appeal to them. It doesn’t matter what you are excited about, it matters what your audience will get excited about. This needs to be a short list, perhaps 3-5 items long, each concisely articulated. Think about what you could communicate in a Facebook ad or a tweet, or even with your app name and icon – this may be all a player sees of your game before deciding whether or not to download it.

Empires and Allies

Empire & Allies has striking visuals in its marketing materials that clearly set it apart from Clash of Clans.

Exciting visuals are imperative here – as the adage goes: “a picture is worth a thousand words”. You can also look at the app descriptions of other apps in your category that are doing well. Many apps list out their Key Selling Points in convenient bullet form in their app description. Work out how to make your app sound even better and more exciting.

And remember, each of these 3 steps should come before you do any work actually building your game …

Deliver on your vision

Now you have a great team, a firm understanding of your audience and a snappy list of KSPs. These KSPs are effectively your design pillars. If a feature doesn’t support one of your KSPs then consider cutting it. It might be the best feature in the world, but if it’s not delivering on a KSP then your audience doesn’t care about it, or will never know about it before they stop playing your game.

Criminal Case spent 30% of their development time (6 months) working on their first session

Criminal Case spent 30% of their development time (6 months) working on their first session

Consider breaking the normal flow of the game to deliver a first experience that is exciting enough for players to want to play more. A great example of this is Clash of Clans giving you wizards in your first session to go and make an attack with. It immediately gives you a very visual impression of how exciting battles can be, fireballs flying everywhere, whilst you’re still a complete noob and weeks away from actually being able to build wizards yourself.

You need to deliver on all your KSPs in the first session, and preferably within the first 30 seconds of the user experience. F2P games are by definition free to download, so players barely think twice about downloading stuff that looks interesting. But if it doesn’t deliver on the promise immediately they’ll also likely never give it another chance – they have nothing invested in the experience both literally and metaphorically. Think about how many free apps you’ve downloaded because they sounded great, tried once, and then abandoned in disappointment. If it’s anything like me then it’s a LOT. You know what your audience wants, so make sure they see you are good for it as soon as you possibly can.


In today’s crowded app market you need to have a solid commercial strategy if you hope to have a commercially successful game. 

  1. Understand your audience
  2. Articulate your Key Selling Points
  3. Deliver on your vision in 30s

This post was originally published on Adventures in Mobile Game Design.

Big Fish, Small Pond: Surviving in a Maturing Market


Last week I attend Quo Vadis in Berlin and gave a talk on the title above. The slides are below.

My main take away was that companies need to set themselves smart constraints within which to be creative.

The four ideas I gave for setting yourself smart constraints were:

1. Know your strengths

Whatever your strengths are, be that an existing audience, particular technical expertise, or genre knowledge, you have to build on that. The market is tough enough without you giving yourself the best chance.

2. Find your pond

Incumbent games have too much market presence and content and too many systems and players to go head to head with. Define your market as a niche that is small enough for you to dominate (though big enough to pay the bills).

3. Manage the Risk

All game production is risk management – no one knows for sure if a game will be a success or not before it launches. Make sure that you manage the risk in production as well as possible. Do a risk assessment as you start out a project to get an objective feel for the number and scale of risks involved, and an idea of when they can be addressed (sooner is better!). This will also help you tackle the biggest risks first wherever possible.

4. Stick to the plan

It’s very easy half way through production, when things aren’t going well, to convince yourself that you just need a couple more months to fix things. Set yourself some fixed targets at the start of the project that trigger a full scale review of the project if they are missed. That way you will waste the least amount of time on projects that are doomed.

This post was originally published on Adventures in Mobile Game Design.