Main Keys to Creating a Popular Game App

Main Keys to Create a Popular Game App

The amount of apps has exploded since the Apple and the Google Play Store were introduced.  When the Apple Store was introduced in July of 2008 the Apple Store had just over 800 apps. By October 2013 that number had skyrocketed to over 1,000,000 apps (Costello, 2013). We have been swamped with game apps for both platforms, however, one must ask what creates a popular game app? What is the key to get people to download it and play it? There are three main components that make that happen.

First, it needs to have a simple design. The more complicated a game is the more you limit the game’s demographic. For example, a person that plays a first person shooter app like ‘Call of Duty: Strike Team’, available at the Apple store, is pretty much considered a hard core gamer. A person that plays short games like ‘Solitaire’ would be considered more of a casual gamer. The casual gamer tends to not have as much free time to play games as a hardcore gamer. It could be a mother that with all her responsibilities with work and running a household she does not have enough free time to engage in games. When a game is simple in gameplay it allows for children to play it as well as a hardcore gamer. The simpler the gameplay is, the larger your audience. This concept does not necessarily change from platform to platform. Arcade games in the 80’s were just as simple as todays popular game apps. A great example of a simple design successful arcade game is Nintendo’s 1981 arcade machine Donkey Kong. In this game you are the character Mario and you must save Pauline from the evil ape named Donkey Kong. The first level gameplay consists of the player trying to climb up beams and ladders to reach the top and save Pauline while the ape is throwing barrels down the beams. Simple enough? Try playing it. Jeff Ryan (2011) author of the book ‘Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America’ states that, “90% of players will not even pass the first level”. However, Donkey Kong brought in over $180 million in its first year in the United States and over $100 million in its second year (Ryan, 2011). Not to mention the revenue Nintendo still produces from licenses and re-releasing the game on newer platforms.

Second, the game must be engaging. Whenever you are playing a game in which a level takes too long to complete or that it doesn’t need your constant input it becomes boring to most young and casual players. A good example of this is the game Flappy Bird by developer Nguyen Ha Dong. In this game all you have to do is steer a bird to fly through green pipes without touching the pipes. The controls cannot get any simpler: tap the screen and the bird will fly one stroke upwards. That may sound easy but its quite challenging since gravity keeps pulling you down and you have to perfectly take into account the distance of a single flight stroke. According to Griffiths (2014), “Flappy Bird was the most popular free mobile game on the Apple App Store and Google’s Android Play store”. It is estimated to have made $50,000 every day in in-app advertising alone (Griffiths, 2014). It needs to be so simple that one thinks: ‘I can do this’ and keep trying to beat the level. There has to be a sense of accomplishment when you complete a task. This is done by creating levels or a score system, which places you at a certain rank so that you may compare with other players, does this.

Lastly, the gameplay must be addicting to get the player to keep trying. How do you accomplish this? Lets take a look at the game Angry Birds from Rovio Entertainment. This game is simple enough that the gameplay takes less than a minute to comprehend. Mauro (2011) explains, “It is engaging, in fact addictive, due to the carefully scripted expansion of the user’s mental model of the strategy component and incremental increases in problem/solution methodology”. It has simple repetitive controls so that the user has to keep engaged with it. This creates a sense of ‘there is no way as simple as this is that I can not pass this level’ and the player and will keep trying again to pass a level. The fact that the gameplay seems so simple makes it addicting. This combination is the reason why by May 2012 Angry Birds had reached one billion downloads (Kersey, 2012).

In today’s world, most people have smart phones. This gives game designers the opportunity to come up with game apps since every body has some type of platform to play these on. This translates into a huge opportunity to come up with a new exciting popular game. Just this week alone on the iTunes free download apps seven of the top ten were game apps (Apple Inc., 2014). If you are attempting to create the next top ten-downloaded app, make sure it has a simple design, its engaging and addicting.




Apple Inc. (2014, February 17). itunes charts. Retrieved from

Costello, S. (2013). How many apps are in the iphone app store. Retrieved from

Griffiths, S. (2014, February 11). Flappy bird is ‘gone forever’: Game creator pulledapp because it is ‘an addictive product’. Retrieved from     Games-creator-pulled-app-addictive-product.html      

Kersey, B. (2012, May 09). Angry birds reaches one billion downloads. Retrieved from

Mauro, C. (2011, February 6). Why angry birds is so successful and popular: a cognitive teardown of the user experience. Retrieved from

Ryan, J. (2011). Super Mario: How Nintendo conquered America. New York: Penguin Group.

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