The iSuccess Formula – How to Make a Huge Hit from a Simple Game

Categories Articles, iPhone

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Today’s smartphones are every bit as powerful as most hand-held gaming devices, however what is really driving mobile gaming forward is not just the hardware capability, it is the creativity of developers. What I mean is, developers who are not just looking at the iOS or Android devices as traditional gaming platforms, but rather also looking at who they might expect to play the games. The proliferation of smartphones and other non-gaming mobile devices (tablets, MP3 players, etc.) is opening up a huge new market for smart game developers, I’m going to profile 4 games which have figured out how to do this right.

I would not consider myself to be a gamer, and for the most part, the majority of smartphone owners would likely not categorize themselves as such either. I didn’t own a gameboy, nor have I owned any of the more recent mobile gaming platforms, but I do remember playing Tetris on a friend’s gameboy. What was (or is it) about Tetris that made this game so compelling? It’s simple, Tetris is an uncomplicated game, it presents a challenge no matter how good you are, and you don’t need hours at a time to play a game. When I look at the mobile games that are achieving huge success today, the same factors are present. Add in good design and you have the formula for success in the world of mobile gaming.

Angry Birds

If you haven’t heard of Angry Birds, you’ve likely been hiding under a rock. The game has had over 6 million downloads in the iTunes store, and the recent release to the Android platform resulted in over 1 million downloads on the first day.

The premise is simple, knock over the structures, eliminate the pigs and move on to the next level. Now when I say that anyone can play this game, there is no doubt in my mind that it’s true. My 4 year old daughter plays it, so does my wife, and just about everyone else I know with an iPhone. This is not a gamer’s game (although I’m sure a hardcore gamer could have fun with it too). Angry birds provides a solid challenge, and if you get into all of the achievements and seeking out the Golden eggs, it can become quite involved, but it’s also very easy to load the app, complete a level and get back to work or whatever else you should be doing.

Doodle Jump

Perhaps the first major gaming success, at least when it comes to previously unknown developers, Doodle jump is an example of not only a great game concept, but good integration of sharing features. There was a period of time when much of my Twitter feed was messages like “I just got up to 2,000,000 on Doodle Jump. Beat that!”.

Again, extremely simple, all you have to do is tilt your phone from side to side. Of course when you talk about it like this, it seems much to simple, but somehow this game provides enough challenge to get you addicted. Over and over again you start from zero and try to beat that most recent high score. When you get bored of one background or design view, switch it up to something new.

Fruit Ninja

Another game that my 4 year old and I both enjoy. When you can create something that is entertaining for children and for 30 somethings, you’ve got to think you’re on to something. Slicing and Dicing fruit has never been this much fun, and the best part, you don’t have to do it alone.

Fruit Ninja was the first game that I encountered which had Game Center enabled. I’d played Open Feint games before, but had never stepped out and tried multiplayer, partly because the whole idea is rather intimidating, but not with Fruit Ninja. You only need a couple minutes and a WIFI connection to play against a friend or a total stranger. Brilliantly simple, superbly enjoyable.

Cut The Rope

This is a new game, just released in the last couple of weeks, but it already has achieved over 1 million downloads. It’s a beautifully designed app, provides a good challenge, but isn’t difficult to learn.

Cut The Rope, like the other games above, offers a single screen of activity at a time. There isn’t a complex world to navigate, simply sit down for a few minutes, play a few levels and then turn it off again. Each level becomes progressively more challenging as new elements are added to the mix, but it’s still just as simple as getting the candy in the monster’s mouth.

As smartphones continue to increase in popularity, the market for mobile gaming continues to grow, but this is not the traditional gaming market. It is a market that includes moms and dads (and their kids who need entertaining), it is business people with a few minutes to kill, it’s teenagers who aren’t necessarily into full-on gaming. There is of course still a market for hardcore gamers in the mobile space, but as the examples above illustrate, the games that are achieving the greatest success in this emerging space are simple, can be played for minutes at a time (not hours), and appeal to a diverse group of people.

Thorren is Director of Operations at Appboy, the premier social network for mobile app users and developers.

  • Cool article! It’s crazy how well the very simple games always end up being the ones that sell millions and millions. (I actually own all three games, and love each of them).

    I did a recent post (which has two of these games in it) about apps for new iPhone/Touch owners –


  • Petpatrolkitty

    I love Angry Birds and thanks so much for telling me about the others that I will definitely check out. I love your recommendations!!

  • @Petpatrolkitty – glad you’re enjoying the apps. If you’re looking for more, check out – the apps that make the home page are all handpicked. We do our best to select apps that are high quality.

  • Lee, great list. I can’t say that I’ve tried all of those apps, but there are definitely some great ones in there that I’m a big fan of.

    When it comes to iPhone / iOS gaming, simplicity definitely sells. The same is true of other app categories, make an app that is easy to use and your chances of success increase.

  • I love cut the rope! I like simple games like these.