Timely Games: Profitable or Ill-Advised?

Insights & Best Practices

August 16, 2016


min read

The competitive environment of mobile gaming today means developers are always looking for fresh user acquisition tactics. A trending topic makes for a great hook to draw new players. The already contentious 2016 U.S. election, the Summer Olympics in Rio, or even the British exit vote are just a few events of global significance in 2016 that developers could build games around.Still, there?s a danger in creating games based solely on timely events, because the longevity of that game is dependent on that event's relevance. A game about the 2016 election, for example, will likely lose player interest as soon as the final ballot is processed.So how are devs able to make games like election-based trivia game Political Run worthwhile? Successful studios employ development and promotion strategies specific to timely games so the result is a moneymaker and not a flash in the pan.[caption id="attachment_20514" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Marvel Contest of Champions mobile game IP

Image via Kabam[/caption]

Choose tie-ins with the future in mind

Stephan Yoon, director of user acquisition at mobile game publisher Tilting Point, says that building a mobile game around a current event is like making a movie tie-in mobile game."When people see the trailer for an upcoming movie that has a tie-in mobile game?like Marvel Contest of Champions?it imprints the image on the consumer's mind," Yoon says.Contest of Championsgenerated $100 million in the first year after release, bolstered by movie tie-ins such as Ant-Man. Knowing the Marvel franchise will continue to produce content, game devs can also continue to produce relevant updates timed around movie or TV show releases.[caption id="attachment_20515" align="aligncenter" width="930"]

Photo Finish mobile game

Image via Tilting Point[/caption]

Bolster UA during relevant events

Yoon sees a similar opportunity around popular sporting events, and looked for ways to take advantage when planning advertising for Tilting Point's horse racing game Photo Finish.Lots of promotional activity takes place around horse racing: television and radio commercials, billboards and print ads. During the U.S.'s Triple Crown, Photo Finish capitalized on the increased visibility during each race and targeted user acquisition efforts in regions where the races occurred. During those times, Photo Finish saw a 65 percent revenue increase in the U.S.[caption id="attachment_20516" align="aligncenter" width="1280"]

Trump Punch mobile game

Image via Jared Downing[/caption]

Don't rely on a single gimmick

Jared Downing's first mobile game, Trump Punch, started out as a simple game that lets players punch Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. After disappointing sales and feedback from his players, Downing realized he had to go bigger."I added in more things to hit [Trump] with and more people to hit," Downing says. He expanded his game to include up to 48 celebrities and political figures, and considers the updated game a success."20,000 downloads without any marketing isn't too bad," he says.Downing says the game is downloaded around 200 to 300 times per day and has netted about $1,000 via in-app purchases (for extra characters to hit and things to hit them with) and mobile game ads.[caption id="attachment_20517" align="aligncenter" width="1136"]

Battleground The Election Game mobile game

Image via SecretBuilders[/caption]

Build and iterate quickly

Building a game that can be created and launched quickly will allow developers to maximize their efforts without expending too many resources. Devs can also consider finding ways to update or re-skin the game to keep it timely and give it a longer shelf life.Ali Khan, marketing director at SecretBuilders (a casual gaming studio that focuses on hidden object and educational games), says that development time can be significantly lowered by having a game that can be re-skinned, and he did just that with election-based title Battleground?The Election Game.In the game, players plan out a campaign for their chosen candidate and try to make their way to victory. It's a game that the team built out for the 2012 election, but was able to re-skin with the current 2016 candidates relatively quickly. The number of users and installs jumped when they repurposed the 2012 version of the app last October, when campaigning for 2016 began. Re-skinning the game instead of reinventing it helped SecretBuilders drastically shorten development time and take advantage of the entire campaign process.Timely events like the election pose an exciting opportunity to make a mobile game attractive to users. But before rushing to development, devs must assess a game's potential beyond the initial download to decide whether creating a timely game is a worthy investment.