PopCap’s 10 rules for commercial failure in mobile games development
PopCap, the company behind social gaming hits as Plants vs. Zombies and Bejeweled, has a way of doing presentations at conferences. Last year’s Social Gaming Summit presentation was insightful in the sense that developers were advised to postpone trying to make money from their game until there is some serious traction.
At yesterday’s London Games Conference, PopCap’s presentation was equally remarkable. During a brief presentation David Bishop (Senior Game Designer) presented the mobile development community with 10 rules that would ensure commercial failure in mobile games. Game producers take notice, or not…
- Ignore freemium. The freemium business model, offering the baseline content for free while generating revenue from in-game purchases, has proven itself a worthy business model. Indeed, 65% of all games revenue on iOS’ Appstore already comes from freemium games.
- Ignore Android and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Android users are soon expected to overtake iOS adoption with the current growth rate of Google’s mobile operating system. Over 550,000 Android devices are activated every day, adding to the 100 million strong installed base. Amazon’s Android infused Fire tablet might well add to this movement. 
- Ignore Facebook and the social graph. Facebook connect and the underlying social graph offer a huge wealth of social data that can be cleverly used in mobile game design. However as nobody uses Facebook on their mobile phones, why implement this in your game DNA, right?
- Ignore the ‘smart’ in smart phones. As a mobile games developer you have access to mobile phone features such as contact lists, date and time, and location. Ignoring these features is like using only half of your toolbox, not particularly ‘smart’..
- Ignore mobile gameplay behavior. Mobile game players prefer to ‘snack’ games rather than to eat meals. Bejeweled is designed around one minute game sessions and this is exactly why the game keeps players hooked for an average of 43 minutes. Being able to put down the game any minute is appealing to the mobile gamer, even though she does not.
- Recreate console controls for your games. Console games and mobile games are two different species. Not taking into account the differences, e.g. having elaborate controls that require touching the screen all over, takes away from the usability of the game.
- Have complex game design with lots of instructions. Mobile gamers want to be able to drop in and out of the game at any given moment. Starting your game with book length instructions is a huge entry barrier to any play session.
- Feature overload your game at launch. Games are in a transition from being a product to being a service. Preventing the ‘feature creep’ to sneak into pre-release development allows for a timely release, a simpler and easier to enter game, and, regular game updates offer engagement tools post-release.
- Accelerometer over-emphasis. Implementing accelerometer control for every player command is guaranteed to put players off. Use this often available technology sparingly.
- Focus on the wrong analytics, or ignore them all together. Game development should walk the fine balance between craft and science. With user analytics up for grabs, the science part of game development has become a lot easier recently. Ignoring the possibilities that user analytics offer would take away from a player focused development process.
Bishop said that when these rules would be implemented, it would lead to even bigger market share for PopCap (Bejeweled is already installed on 150 million smart phones). The company might have grown up even more after being acquired by EA for a whopping 1.3 billion USD, PopCap certainly haven’t lost their wittiness!
Stay tuned for more London Games Conference coverage!