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Going, Going, Gone Viral: How Mobile Games Catch Fire

Flashback to last summer-yes, way back to 2016, and it seemed that everyone everywhere was playing Pokemon Go.  It was impossible to stroll through a park, shopping mall, or city street without bumping into both kids and adults scurrying feverishly in their augmented reality in search of Charmanders and Clefairies.

Take a step back, and it’s amazing to consider how fast Pokemon Go mania caught fire and how widespread it became.  The same can be said for other mobile blockbusters like Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, and Mobile Strike.

With thousands of game titles released every year for iOS and Android, what is it that makes the few games we know and love leap ahead of the rest of the pack? It doesn’t matter if it’s a fantasy genre game or one that places real-world entertainment experiences in the palm of your hand, the secret sauce to popularity is a viral campaign.

As simple as it sounds, the most important factor to going viral is to create a truly fantastic game.  The games that rule the roost offer excitement and engagement while contributing something unique to the marketplace.  Pokemon Go featured many players’ first experience with augmented reality.  Flappy Bird and its string of copycats demonstrated just how addictive repeated screen tapping can be.  And who can deny the interactive fun of squaring off against those you personally know in games like Words with Friends?

Trends in mobile game popularity indicate that ease-of-play is crucial to capturing a significant user base.  If the game is easy enough for a five-year-old to play, there’s an increased chance it will go viral.  Think Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds style games that require only swiping motions to play.  Flappy Bird is once again a shining example with its tap play environment.  Today’s kids develop touch mastery of mobile devices at such a young age that they’re literally born gamers!

The impression of endless game play does wonders to attract new users to a game.  Players spend vast amounts of time invested in their mobile games, and they never want the action to end.  Given how often we take out our phones to play, it’s easy to understand why a game like Angry Birds has 500 levels.  The developers certainly know how to keep the customer satisfied.

From a technical standpoint of advertising and converting consumers, it’s all about driving traffic to the app store for downloads.  Game publishers like Ketchapp and Fortafy work closely with developers to create robust social media campaigns that push new releases.  These publishers have extensive networks of loyal followers on social who are leveraged when a hot new title hits the street.

All the advertising and planned social media influence in the world can’t account for those viral games that happen to be in the right place at the right time.  Since the mobile gaming space is still a young and developing field, there is plenty of room for genre pioneers and games featuring new modes of play to disrupt simply by coming into existence.  No one could’ve predicted the pop culture weight of Angry Birds when the game debuted.  The franchise has gone on to yield a movie and millions in merchandise sales.

Finally, a featured mention from industry giants like Apple or Twitter can create irresistible buzz for a mobile game.  Players are always eager to be among the first-to-know about new games gaining traction on social media, and creators often ride the wave to attractive profits.  Just ask the developer behind Flappy Bird; he raked in $50,000 a day in ad revenue at the height of the game’s viral run.

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