Times when the word “viral” has been firmly associated with something within the CDC’s competency are long gone. Today, it is mostly used to describe something that achieves tremendous popularity seemingly of its own accord and not due to the efforts of marketers and advertisers.
Naturally, the gaming apps industry is among those that value virality especially high, for what can be better than an app that not only makes people give you money but spreads among them without any additional intervention? But what exactly makes for a viral game? How are apps such as Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Candy Crush Saga and suchlike different from a gazillion of other, seemingly identical games? Let’s try finding out.
1. “I Almost Did It” Factor
When a player fails, they should immediately understand what went wrong and what has to be done the next time to progress a little bit further. For example, in Angry Birds adjusting the trajectory of a bird by a fraction can lead to wildly different results – the player should constantly be eager to continue and correct the mistake made a second ago before he forgets what exactly is supposed to be done.
A viral game should, by definition, be social in its nature. You should make it as easy as possible for the players to share their achievements with their friends using all imaginable social media. You should ensure there is as little gap as possible for players between deciding to share the game itself or their results and actually doing it.
3. Simplicity Bordering on Primitiveness
People experienced in Android app development usually give the following advice to amateur game devs: “Ask yourself if a five-year old can successfully play it?” Mobile games have a completely different target audience than their complex PC and console counterparts, and are supposed to be played in unpredictable circumstances. They are generally aimed at people who don’t want to learn a lot of rules and bother themselves with complicated control patterns. The fact that they are usually played in short bouts when a user has a couple of minutes of free time and only with one free hand makes for additional simplification. Ideally, a game should be playable even if you are brain-dead and have only one finger – Flappy Bird was like this, and earned its creator more than $50,000 a day.
4. Infinite Progression
The game should either be infinite (Flappy Bird, Temple Run) or have so many levels that it would be all but impossible to clear them all (Angry Birds). The potential for progress should constantly beckon the players and motivate them to go on playing. Even after all the levels are cleared, there may be additional achievements dealing with earlier stages of the game. Even games with a defined end, like 2048, can use this principle by motivating players to compete for higher scores.
5. Small Chunks
Modern mobile games are primarily used to kill a very limited amount of time between some real-life activities. Many developers of free2play games even deliberately limit session length by making it impossible to continue playing longer than a few minutes at a time without paying money. These games are not supposed to be too immersive, as most players simply don’t have that amount of time to spend on them, especially not in a single go. One Candy Crush Saga puzzle, for example, takes about 30-60 seconds to solve, which means that the users always know they will be able to complete a level whenever they decide to start one.
Of course, creating a viral game app cannot be boiled down to these 5 factors only. Yet, if you understand and master them, you will certainly have a better chance than those who go into it blindly.