stratechery
stratechery

Additional Notes on Casual Games

This series of posts is about enabling sustainable businesses on the App Store. In Part 1, I discuss why Paper and other productivity apps may not be doing as well as you might think. Part 2 explores why casual games, in contrast, are a sustainable business, but not a differentiator for platforms (I added a follow-up here). Part 3 analyzes why Apple in particular seems hesitant to enable sustainable businesses on the app store.

Before I get to Part 3, I wanted to clarify a few points in Part 2

In response to my contention that Casual gaming is a sustainable business, but not a platform differentiator, Matthew Raehl pointed me to this blog post by his relative:

This is our new Ipad 4. Right now, we’re just learning the basics of it, but one day I hope to be fluent in all of the Apple lingo that everyone else seems to know by heart (like what the heck the iCloud is, for example). Up until this point, we’ve been using Apple’s competitors almost exclusively (Android, Palm’s Web OS, etc), so we have a little bit of a learning curve here.

All we know right now is how to get it connected to the Wifi and how to launch Letterpress. Yes, Letterpress factored into our decision to purchase an Apple product.

It’s a fair rebuttal as far as anecdotes go, but I think Letterpress is the exception that proves the rule. Check out this graph from AppAnnie:

Letterpress's grossing ranks - Credit AppAnnie

Letterpress’s grossing ranks – Credit AppAnnie

I’m sure LetterPress has inspired many more people than Matthew’s relative to buy iOS devices, but LetterPress – which has only one in-app purchase – is clearly not a sustainable business. There is no way to earn additional money from existing users.

In contrast, look at the grossing rankings for Candy Crush Saga, which was released at about the same time:

Candy Crush Saga's grossing ranks - Credit AppAnnie

Candy Crush Saga’s grossing ranks – Credit AppAnnie

This is power of repeat purchases by existing customers.

Loren Brichter and Letterpress fit the popular idea of what casual game development is like: brilliant developer creates a new concept, releases it to the world, and gets rich. It’s certainly the image that Apple prefers to cultivate.

The truth is a little more complicated. Most casual game development is done by studios like King, and it’s all about playing the odds. Multiple games are developed, heavily analyzed and tested, with constant tweaking to the monetization forumulas. In this world of playing the odds, building for Android as well as iOS is an obvious choice – if a game breaks out, like Candy Crush Saga, you want the maximum audience possible, especially since casual games monetize on Android as well.

That is why, of the top 25 grossing apps on iOS,1 20 of them are also on Android (and two of them, Zoosk and MLB, aren’t casual games). The business model of casual gaming inevitably pushes publishers to be multi-platform, which is why they are not a platform differentiator.

Part 3 will focus on the types of apps that do differentiate platforms, what sort of business models might work for them, and why Apple may be reluctant to help.

This is a three-part series on enabling sustainable businesses on the app store.

  1. As of June 26, 2013