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The Fast Follow in Mobile Gaming Is Obsolete
by Kevin Oke on 07/02/14 08:39:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Originally published June 18th, 2014 on the CMF Trendscape Blog. Republished with permission.

 

The “fast follow” in mobile gaming has lead to an explosion of titles on both Android and iOS platforms in the last few years. The strategy is relatively self-explanatory: hit games are cloned ASAP in an attempt to steal away players (and profits).

Given the tremendous speed at which mobile platforms are evolving (in nearly all aspects), does fast follow remain a legitimate strategy for the average developer? Let’s investigate into the reasons why it’s in trouble.

SKYROCKETING CPA

Cost per user acquisition (CPA) continues to rise, alienating smaller developers. A relatively undifferentiated game will drown in the sea of competition on the app store unless it has marketing spend to make it stand out. This is especially grievous for social games, which require healthy user bases in order to leverage network effects and create engaging experiences that retain players.

APP STORE SURFACING

The openness of Apple’s and Google’s app stores helped contribute to fast follow basically by allowing any app into their stores—regardless of quality or similarity with pre-existing apps. Somewhat paradoxically, this policy is also responsible for weakening the effectiveness of fast follow and the situation gets worse and worse as more apps are being released.

Stores are now filled with games that are more or less reskinned clones of one another, and finding new apps is further complicated by major surfacing and searchability issues. Even high-quality games need either major marketing spend, a very strong grassroots campaign and community, a coveted feature spot from Apple or Google or a Flappy Birds-style viral explosion. However, no developer should base their business plan on the occurrence of the latter two.

Unless app stores greatly improve their surfacing and general usability (unlikely to happen anytime soon because the upside for Google and Apple is so low), developers need to find alternate high-volume channels to give greater visibility to their games. Content isn’t king — platforms are.

OTT CHAT APPS AS PLATFORMS, FACEBOOK’S MOBILE PUSH

Recently, OTT (Over the Top) chat apps such as WhatsApp have experienced a boom in popularity. These apps allow users to send messages via Wi-Fi, going “over the top” of cellular data—thereby avoiding SMS charges. These apps are now blossoming into full-fledged social networks and e-commerce platforms (mainly in Asia for the time being) which curate partnered games.

When discussing new mobile platforms for app discovery, the mobile resurgence of Facebook comes instantly to mind; Mark Zuckerberg and co. seem to have finally gotten mobile, as they’ve redesigned the Facebook mobile app, purchased WhatsApp and began unbundling their services to generate high-quality, laser-focused standalone apps among other initiatives. Could developers flock back into Facebook’s arms if they offer better discoverability as part of a new compelling suite of apps and developer services?

As the gatekeepers of new avenues of curation, it doesn’t serve Facebook or chat apps such as LINE or WeChat any purpose to curate a glut of clones and second-rate content—doing so will lead to the app store issues all over again. These stricter quality controls (and individual platforms’ needs and goals) naturally weaken the fast follow.

MAJOR PUBLISHERS AS GATEKEEPERS

As it stands now, fast follow isn’t a viable strategy—except for a few companies—given the CPAs and low returns for most app releases.

That brings us to the major publishers and developers that share the current mobile gaming landscape: Supercell, King, Kabam and others. Their partnerships and cross-promotions give them tremendous reach. However, why would Supercell partner up with a developer to market a second-rate space marine re-skin of Clash of Clans? These companies have no interest in diluting their brands with cookie cutter cash-ins (especially clones of their own hits) in the hope of making a quick buck.

THE FALL OF FAST FOLLOW

Given the aforementioned rise of CPAs, app store surfacing issues and gatekeepers of new discovery channels, fast follow is rapidly becoming a strategy off-limits to all but those with the deepest pockets for acquiring players.

When setting the course for a new project, developers in search of marketing support should look at these “gatekeeper companies” in terms of their demographics, how partner games fit into their strategy, and what holes there are in their libraries.

For players, a positive side effect of the shrinking effectiveness of fast follow may be a resurgence of innovative mobile gaming; developers simply need to find a way for players to find them. In either scenario, the past years’ opportunist gold rush days of mobile gaming are gone, and observing future trends will be very interesting indeed.


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Comments


Kris G
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good riddance.

Jane Castle
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Clash of the Flappy MineCraft Angry Bird Clans 2048.....

Keith Burgun
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I like that the first example of a game with a lot of clones here is 2048, which is ITSELF a clone of Threes.

Robert Green
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But surely that makes it a bad example, because it was a successful fast follow?

Perhaps the more specific point is that trying to copy an already popular and free game isn't a great idea for a professional dev team.
If the game is relatively simple and paid, like Threes, then it still seems like it can work for some. If the game is simple and free, like flappy bird, then it can still work for hobbyists who have no expectations of being able to live off the revenue.

edwin zeng
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Not only has fast follow gotten obsolete, the incentivised advertisements strategy is also obsolete. In fact, you won't get an app approved by Apple if you try to incentivise ads for premium currency. Apple's ruling is very broad, and in the near future, I suspect if an app shows an advertisement for another app, it may also be rejected outright.

And top100 free charts are now largely composed of utility, productivity, social media, non-gaming entertainment apps.

Andrew Pellerano
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The discussion about how viable fast following can be is really just a discussion about the benefits of being first to market.

With respect to being first to market there isn't much difference between mobile platforms and any other platform, so I will argue that fast following is NOT dead on mobile or anywhere else. In fact it's alive and growing into new morally gray neighborhoods.

Here's some examples of how being first to market does not confer special protection even on mobile.

1. Clones and re-skins (specific forms of fast follows) still receive prominent featuring from Apple. I use re-skin to make the distinction between a competitive clone and a company re-skinning one of their own properties. Feature slots can be worth tens of thousands of dollars in free UA. Right now the following games are featured:
* Kim Kardashian Hollywood, re-skin of Stardom: Hollywood
* Dungeon Gems, clone of Puzzles & Dragons
* Bingo: World Games, bingo is a commodity genre

2. Developers who understand a platform's k-factor (virality) will always be incentivized to fast follow. Specifically on mobile, releasing a commodity design like Threes as a paid download will create market opportunity for a developer who understands that free apps have better k-factor to become more prominent. This is what happened with 2048.

3. Another successful k-factor strategy is to marry a proven design with a strong IP. Apple loves to feature well-known IPs and the games are rarely ever first to market concepts. Strong IP helps gather installs. These can either be unsanctioned where the original developer doesn't get a cut, or a partnership where they do:
* Frozen Free Fall, unsanctioned clone of Candy Crush with Frozen IP; featured by Apple
* Star Wars: Tiny Death Star, partnership re-skin of Tiny Tower
* Star Wars: Force Collection, collectible battle game clone
* Marvel Puzzle Quest, partnership re-skin of Puzzle Quest; featured by Apple

Fast following is not going to go away until it is as morally repulsive to the average consumer as it is to many developers inside the industry. There are no strong first to market benefits and fast following a validated design removes a large portion of the risk associated with game development. For that reason it will always be attractive as long as there is an audience.

In the meantime, developers need to accept that this is the environment they are living in and take precautions. For example do not develop games without appropriate switching barriers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switching_barriers).

Edgar Talamantes
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I personally agree with you.
On the other hand, what would be a good example of switching barriers in video games?

Bob Johnson
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There will always be clones. People are born to copy what works. And a certain percentage of people are the "tourist trap" type.

The only real change here is the easy clone market is now saturated.


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