When working on a mobile game, I typically try to stay away from playing other games. This is partially to maximize my available development time, but also to minimize introduction of elements from other games. (Though in all honesty, there is nothing really wrong with this.) However, I do try to view the apps on the Apple App Store for iPhone/iPad at least once a week to see what types of apps are popular and try to think about what made them popular.
One app I keep running across is Move The Walls (which is in this week’s “Best New Apps” in the App Store), so I thought I would write up some thoughts on it.
This app is a casual game whose gameplay is extremely simple. It’s a vertical scroller where your character moves through a narrow lane that contains walls blocking it’s path. Your goal is to swipe (or ‘flick’) left or right to remove these barriers and allow your character to proceed forward. The visuals are quite simple as well, with each level’s character, background, and walls changing according to the theme of the level. There is a driving theme with a car driving on a road, an outerspace theme with a UFO going through a mysterious place, and a boat trying to avoid what looks like sticks of frozen ice.
The app is free, but contains in-app purchases for certain levels. Even though it just came out, there is already over 600 reviews, with an average of 4.5 stars.
Herein lies the reason for my curiosity. How did a game this simple get to Apple’s “Best New App” list, and manage to get so many reviews (and surely a huge number of downloads)?
I tried playing the game myself but got bored quickly, so I decided to read some of the reviews. Interestingly, many of the 4 or 5 star reviews complain about the lack of variation in the music, insufficient difficulty, and the fact they beat the game’s free levels in an hour or two. If so, why did they give so many stars?
The reason for this amazing success starts to become more clear when I found out it was made by BeaverTap Games, who produced the 4-game series Mikey Shorts as well as another game (Radical) which had critical acclaim. Briefly looking at the screenshots of Mikey Shorts (currently $1.99), it looks like a simple Mario clone, though has the potential to be a lot of fun. This game is quoted as being listed under “App Store Best of 2012”, and also has a total of close to 1500 reviews.
Putting this all together, it seems clear that Move The Walls had alot of help from BeaverTap Games’s large fan base it built up over several years. I don’t know what level of advertising they have done, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they spent a good chunk of money on it, knowing (from experience) that it will pay off in the long run.
I have a hard time believing even if I were to write a game exactly like this, or even if I added major new features, that it would be as popular. Some might feel that being listed once on “Best New Games” doesn’t necessarily mean they are raking in the cash with in-app purchases, and we don’t actually know how many downloads they are getting, but to an indie developer, getting listed on such a high visibility place is a dream. Even if the game falls from popularity after a few weeks, being in this position gives it a great chance to be profitable at the present point in time.
I found this review of the game, which gives it 3.5 stars as a “decently fun distraction”. More interesting than the review text, however, was an embedded video of the game’s official trailer. Over half of the 30 second trailer contains live-action footage, which while clearly low budget definitely took time and money to film, edit together. It’s interesting to speculate how much this trailer contributed to the game’s success.