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A Guide to the Top Grossing Games on the AppStore (Part 3)

Resource Management Multiplayer Strategy – 19% of top 100

The Resource Management Multiplayer Strategy type consists of games where the main gameplay mechanic is the gathering and managing of resources, then using the resources to build a base and participate in PVE and PVP.

There are two main variations of this type, the “Travian” type and the “Crime” type.

The “Travian” type is named after the game Travian, which was one of the first well known games to make use of such gameplay mechanics. This type of game is designed with a fixed number of building sites and building types. The player then builds and upgrades, while generating troops to fight enemies and protect the city. There is a global map available and players are positioned within relative distance to each other. The main monetization strategy in the “Travian” type is shortening build times, making things finish faster. Upgrading takes a long time and the games are designed so there is very little to do in the waiting time.

The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth - isn't it pretty?
The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth – isn’t it pretty?

The “Crime” type consists of games like Arms Cartel and Crime Inc. and have an energy type economy where the player spends energy to participate in PVE and PVP. The player also has to purchase items to complete missions, and there is a looser set of buildings to build and upgrade. The main monetization strategy in the “Crime” type is to refill energy so the player can keep doing missions and fighting other players.

Resource Management Multiplayer Strategy examples:

  • Travian type:  The Hobbit, Kingdoms of Camelot, Arcane Empire, Clash of Clans, Lords & Knights, Spartan Wars, Kings Empire(Deluxe), Galaxy Empire, Empire: Four Kingdoms, BattleNation
  • Crime Type: Arms Cartel Global (Before Modern War), Crime Inc., IMobster, Kingdoms at War, Age of Chaos, Modern War, Crime City, Underworld Empire, Civilization War, Castle Age, Zenia – Age of the dragon king

Pet, Dress Up and House – 8% of top 100

The Pet, Dress Up and House type are games that have borrowed elements from dollhouse play and the tamagotchi games. The gameplay is about getting “dolls”, building places for the “dolls” and playing with them. Looking at the game examples, the dolls could easily be “Dragons” as there are more examples of that than any other type of doll.

This type is very similar to the Social Tap Economy type described below, but the main difference is that the Pet type is centered on the “pets”, while the Social Tap Economy games are centered on the town or base. The difference in focus also affects the optimal monetization strategies, although there are a lot of similarities.

In the mobile world, pink is the new black
In the mobile world, pink is the new black

The main monetization strategy is to unlock new dolls and accessories. As this game type revolves around collecting dolls, it is natural to monetize the acquisition of new dolls.  A secondary strategy is to shorten build times and get currency to build and buy new things.

Pet, Dress Up and House game examples:

Dragonvale, Dragon Story, Dragon City Mobile, Dragon Skies, Campus Life, The Sims™  FreePlay, MinoMonsters, Haypi Monster

Play Around – 3% of top 100

The Play Around type is, as the name suggest, more “play” than “game”. The mobile devices allows for playing around with stuff by tapping, dragging and swiping around a finger on the screen. The “Play Around” type consists of games where the gameplay is about dragging around objects, drawing or otherwise “playing”. This is a very open approach as the player doesn’t necessarily follow a strict set of rules. The monetization strategy for this type is getting more things to play with.

Play Around (with one finger) game examples:

Draw Something 2™, Kick the Buddy: Second Kick, Flow Free

Skill Shooter – 4% of top 100

The Skill Shooter is a game where the main or only gameplay consists of shooting something at a specific target, and the skill of each shot determines the success or score. This type was made famous by Angry Birds, but has existed inside browser games for many years before that. The gameplay is very simple and easily learned, as the games use real world objects and physics to convey gameplay. Like the slingshot from Angry Birds and the sniper scope from Sniper Shooter. Players already knows what these game objects do and how to use them.

There are two main monetization strategies for this type, one is buying power ups and such to make the game easier, the other is to unlock more content. The content approach is the one most uses today. Games of this type are mostly freemium games, so they are a sort of demo of what the game could be like if you spend money on it. There is usually a lot of content visible, but only very little usable.

Skill Shooter game examples:

Angry Birds Star Wars, Mini Golf MatchUp, Super Stickman Golf, Guncrafter, Sniper Shooter by Fun Games for Free

Social Tap Economy – 7% of top 100

The “Social Tap Economy” type is the game type most identified with the tablet platform. The gameplay consists of building and doing tasks and chores in the player build environment. Its called “Social” because the games focus heavily on the players connecting to other players, either through the game or more often through social media platforms. When the players connect through social media they also promote the game, at the same time creating an enormous amount of free publicity.

The games simulate some kind of economy through buildings generating some kind of output, either money or resources, and the player has to manage this and make more resources. Its called “Tap Economy” because even though things take time to build, they are only finished when the player taps them. That means that the economy is only functioning if the player returns to tap things several times a day. This is to keep the player invested and motivated to do things all day long.

The main monetization strategy is to shorten build and production times and to expand the cap of the player possibilities. The Social Tap Economy type games have a restricted area for the player to use. If the player wants more, the only two options are to grind or to pay. Most make it possible to grind in the beginning but then the price of expansion rises exponentially, raising the grinding time from hours to weeks. This is to encourage the use of in game currency instead of grinding.

Social tap economy examples:

Hayday, Metropolis, Tiny Towers, Pixel People, The Tribez, Simpsons Tapped Out, Castle Story™, Smurfs’ Village

Tabletop Games – 5% of top 100

The “Tabletop Game” type consists of games that look like and are based on real world board games and party games. They copy or emulate real world board games into mobile games. The games in this type are easy to understand and play, as they are already commonly known. The games gives the player the possibility to play well known board games with friends over the internet instead of face to face.

The main monetization strategy for this type is showing commercials, with the option to use real money to make them go away. There are also a content unlocking strategies, but that is secondary. It is a challenge to monetize games that most people have a copy of in the closet, so most developers use old school commercials and ads to monetize this type of games.

Tabletop Games examples:

Scramble With Friends, 4 Pics 1 Word, Scramble With Friends Free, Dice With Buddies, Emoji Pop, Heads Up

Tower Defence – 1% of top 100

The “Tower Defence” type is also a well established one. The gameplay consists of building “towers” that damage attackers as they try to reach something. The attackers either travel in predetermined lanes or in random patterns, either top down or side view, and the player places automated defences to keep the enemy from reaching a specific spot. There is also a variation where the player actively controls something that shoots at the attackers, but the automatic fire defence towers are more common.

The main monetization strategy of this type is power ups and content unlocking. The “Tower Defence” type usually has levels with increasing difficulty, so the games can monetize by selling items to make the player more powerful and the game easier.

Tower Defence game examples:

Bloons TD 5, Kingdoms Rush Frontier

The rules of the top

Some of these types are already well established while others are new, but they are much suitable for describing the games on The Top 100 Grossing list that any definitions the App Store currently uses.

 The sheer mass of games being developed have outrun current item templates in the App Store, its vocabulary and terminology. They have been left behind like an old woman walking 100 dogs in the park. It is the dogs that have the power of movement, while the old woman is unable to control all of them. The way the App Store works now can be approximated by the following metaphor: it is the old woman that controls the dogs by not feeding the ones that don’t behave, and the old woman has monopoly on food.

By taking a closer look at what is there, rather than what was, developers can get a much more nuanced understanding of the App Store market . By understanding the different types and how they work and monetize, it is possible to get a leg up on competitors that use old concepts and terminology. The App Store market moves with lightning speed. From the time this type study on the top 100 grossing in United States was made to the time this blog article was fully published, the list has changed significantly and might even merit a new type study. By knowing the types and their topography, developers can identify new avenues of design or copy the most successful types and methods.

Powerful IPs are powerful shortcuts

When looking at The Top 100 grossing chart for a while, it becomes clear that an quick and easy way to get to the top is by using IPs. Games like “Iron Man 3” and “Spongebob Moves In” skyrocketed to the Top Grossing in only one day from launch. The IP alone ensures millions of downloads, so if a developer teams up with a strong or hot IP, success seems certain, at least for a while. But IPs are mostly only available to the big studios with millions to spend, so using IPs is not even an option for most developers.

The key to good monetization

The different game types work better with specific monetization strategies. The games that perform best on the Top 100 Grossing chart are all games that use the best possible monetization strategy for their specific type. Some developers copy other monetization strategies and apply them inside their games, but that never gives good results. Gameplay and monetization has to be tied into each other. Many small and medium game developers focus on the game and only afterwards on the monetization. That reduces their chances to earn money. Monetization has to be involved in the very early stages of game development, if the goal is a top grosser.

The future

The future of aggressive monetization stands on a precipice as there are several countries that are looking into legislating in-game purchases. The UK might be the first to rule on in game purchases, based on their own children marketing laws. If legal requirements are created on in games purchases, the App Store and mobile game developers might be forced to reinvent themselves, as aggressive marketing and monetization is more the rule than the exception on App Store. But for now, it seems that aggressive monetization is absolutely necessary to get to the top of the Grossing charts.