What do apps such as Angry Birds, Where’s My Water, Cut the Rope, and Fruit Ninja have in common and why are they so popular? They offer compelling game plays through easy to understand and fun to interact through an entertaining design. They set the bar for the way app games should be – simple and addicting. They’ve not only proven to be a mobile app sensation, but have all made it big as toys, giving the plush toy market a much needed awakening. There’re opportunities for future engagement and untapped market, and these brands are leading.
Do you want to launch your very own “Angry Birds” brand? In this article, I’ll discuss some features that will show why game apps such as Angry Birds are one of the most popular and addictive mobile, social games on the market. Their popularity, mostly due to their clever and entertaining animation, provides Rovio massive opportunities to sell beyond games. They have a merchandise market for Angry Birds related iPhone cases, notebooks, stationeries, card games, board games, plush toys, clothes, etc. Angry Birds is clearly in a league of its own, along with other highest grossing apps of all time. Let examine why these (with the main focus on Angry Birds) are popular and addictive, and design techniques that your app should emulate.
- Create a game with no age bar and a simple purpose. Easy to learn and play games appeal to all ages. They are plenty of game apps in the market that have simple yet addicting games. Check out any of them to see that it only takes a simple purpose to generate a lot of players’ interests. Here are some: Angry Birds lets players employ cartoonish birds as weapon-like projectiles in an escalating war against a posse of egg-stealing green pigs. Cut the Rope allows players to maneuver and cut their way through obstacles and into the mouth of the eager Om Nom, a small green creature who’s awaiting his treat. Fruit Ninja allows players to slice and dice as much fruit as possible getting high score combination along the way while trying to avoid the bomb. Doodle Jump offers players with long snouted doodler as he climbs the graph paper while dodging black holes; the doodler can run, jump, slide, and collect coins while escaping from a pack of skull masked apes. What do these games have in common? They all have simple gaming concept with simple tasks and interesting plot that anyone can pick up and play right away.
- Have a story, a mission, a task, and a measure. Provide multiple aims or missions for players to tackle.Each mission, in Angry Birds, provides players the ability to build skills and capability of the birds to defeat the pigs. The task is to destroy the pigs’ structures by catapulting each bird. Your game apps should tell a story, assign players with a mission as they interact with your story, with tasks that they need to complete to unlock the next level, and with a way to measure their performance. Offer hints and opportunities to review and improve performance. Angry Birds incorporates Help feature in their games by animatingly showing how to play that level.
- Engage players with simple but addictive interaction that unlocks different features and challenges. Angry Birds apps have simple rules, simple strategy, and simple scoring methods, allowing players to easily master the game within a relatively short period. The objective of the game is to gain points by using slingshots to toss birds to destroy all the pigs on the playing field. Easy to play and easy to get addicted. Isn’t that what get players back for more?
- Motivate players to continuously interact. When you’re adding progress features such as bars, points, badges, customization, you’re showing players their progress. Add levels of difficulties, challenging players every level. As players advance through the game, like in case of the Angry Birds game, new birds appear with special abilities activated by the players. As they progress, increase the challenge. This encourages players to spend more time with your brand. You want your game apps to drive more time spent playing. Perhaps one of the Angry Birds’ most differentiating factors from other games is that it constantly encourages failure. Players failing ten times for every level win. This is powerful motivation. It encourages low-stakes failure.
- Provide different characters with different skill set. After the bird has been launched, players at their own discretion can separate a blue bird into three small birds, use a white bird to drop explosive eggs, or use an exploding black bird. Hence, you game app should provide each of your character a unique trait or power that fit nicely into your game’s plot. Together, they should create a story that make players a part of that story where they interact with the characters and at the same, interact with your brand.
- Release with different versions and seasons. Currently, there are six Angry Birds themed editions – Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio, Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Magic, and Angry Birds Star Wars. Like the latter, when you release themed editions with other licensing partnerships, you’re ensuring that your brand remains creative, entertaining, and relevant while extending your brand into popular cultural and into consumer’s awareness. This provides you with a nest of opportunities. When you introduce newer versions, you’re feeding your players more reasons to invest in the game and continue playing. With each new release, give them something extra with an interesting twist. Take for instance, Angry Birds Space offers several different planets having their own gravitational field that affects the trajectory of the birds after launching, as well as a few new birds, a giant green guy, and an ice bird that freezes things. When you’re creating different versions of your original release, make sure to keep the gameplay of the original and take it to a whole new level. Each new release of Angry Birds uses the same easy play and concept and adds a new dimension to it.
- Provide media-rich advertising. Campaigns using media-rich video advertising like YouTube can aid in brand awareness and exposure. Rovio promoted its newly launched Angry Birds trailer on YouTube and celebrated its one billionth download with the release of its video on YouTube. Check out “1 Billion Angry Birds downloads” video. Using social channels like YouTube for marketing and advertisement is a great way to promote your new games and new releases.
- Include in-apps purchases. Like most apps, users or players are given the option to purchase digital content using actual money. Angry Birds contains 60 initial levels with extra levels available as in-app purchases. This is a good option for hard-core players. And for those players that need an extra help, provide an in-app purchase that unlocks this extra boost: If players get stuck in the game, Angry Birds, for example, they can do a one-time in-app purchase to unleash the Mighty Eagle, giving them unlimited use. If your game warrants an in-app purchase (that is, if your in-app purchased feature fits nicely with the game story, then include this feature. Since kids are also playing these games, include the ability to configure parental controls for in-app purchases.
- Build a free lite version for different platforms (e.g. Apple, Android). Everyone likes to try free versions before they commit to buying paid ad-free versions. Like Angry Birds Free, offer players an ad-supported version. It’s a great opportunity to make money by providing third party ads. However, make sure these ads do not interfere or lesson their user experience by discretely placing them where there’s minimum, if any, impact to the overall gameplay. If you include ads on a lot of screens, they will most likely dissuade players from playing or returning. Check out how Angry Birds are placing ads with little to no impact to user experience.
- Build an ad-free version for different platforms (e.g. Apple, Android). Ads can be an annoyance to players, interfering with their overall user experience. Give them the option to avoid ads all together. If it’s a paid version, do not include ads. Social consumers nowadays expect better user experience and as such, they’re expecting that paid apps are ad-free.
- Offer break time and short interval gameplay to allow relaxation. We all need a break from playing. It’s important to give your players time to break away and not lose their spot in the game. That’s why it’s great that Angry Birds give the players the option to pause within the play itself as well as a replay or the levels screen after a game regardless of whether or not they pass or fail. Also, the short interval play makes it easy to find a good spot/level to stop. Mobile game apps are not like console games, and as such, don’t build your mobile game apps to act like console games. Short interval is one of its distinguishing factors. Since time is an essence, include only essential gaming techniques and characteristics in your mobile game apps. Mobile gamers do not want to wait too long (nor the patience to wait) to advance to the next level. It’s all about giving them immediate incentives and quick play that accommodates even the most busiest of people.
- Have music and rhythm game play component. Add music to your app that accurately reflects the gameplay. Do not choose music that either contradicts the stage of the game or put them in an unwanted or unintended trance. Check out a few game apps with great music versus those with awful ones, and discover how to use music to enhance the player’s experience, not hinder it. Also, check out Rio: The Video Game for Nintendo DS and DSi, for example. It brings a pleasing, satisfactory listening experience.
- Make your games available on other platforms. Games on various mobile platforms and game consoles such as Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, DSi, Playstation lead to increased time with your brand. If your mobile game apps have a massive appeal, consider bringing it to other platforms or consoles. Start building games on one or two platforms before investing in other platforms. Perhaps, games for Apple App Store and Android Marketplace will be a good starting point.
- Apps to toys. Give your players and fans the option to indulge their creative sides. For instance, kids love Angry Birds Doodle Books. Imagine the increase in Rovio’s (and Disney’s Cut the Rope) sales when they sell and market physical goods such as plush toys, activity books, and clothes.
If you design, develop, and market your game apps smartly, you too may have a demand to bring your app games into other product lines. You may found yourself with your very own “Angry Birds: Knock on Wood Game”, plush toys, and other merchandises. So, will you be the next Angry Birds and knock Angry Birds off their perch?