Non-casual games - place on the iPhone?

Nibbie
Posts: 2
Joined: 2010.04
Post: #1
Hi there. First post at the community.

So I've started learning iPhone programming, and I had a thought. A lot of the ideas I have in my head for iPhone games are games that are more...how do I put this? Non-casual? As in, I routinely come up with great ideas for video game stories, new game concepts, etc. but I don't know if that type of game has a "place" on the iPhone, or if casual games are the only kind that can really expect to do well.

For example, over the past few weeks I came up with a really great idea for a story and interesting (IMO) gameplay mechanics for a certain game, but it's platform-based with a in-depth story which will probably make the game relatively long. Yeah, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this sort of thing Wink but it's just now that I wondered whether such a game would actually fit in on the iPhone.

Any ideas or insights would be much appreciated. Is the iPhone only really for casual games or can games like this possibly do well on the iPhone, and if so, are there any considerations I should keep track of?

(Note: I DO know my limitations. Though I am technically a beginner, I do have experience with programming including C++. Regardless though, I don't intend to start on a game like this until I actually learn the skills I need to do so. Right now it's more of a long-term goal.)
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Moderator
Posts: 3,572
Joined: 2003.06
Post: #2
From my experience I'd have to say that iPhone (and iPad) are casual-only. Users just don't play games for very long on iPhone. They'll pick it up, fiddle with it a bit, then put it back down. For our latest game, Ace Omicron, users widely prefer the shortest game mode, called Twilight, and overall only play Ace Omicron an average of about 7 minutes per session. It is by its very nature an arcade game, but there is a more strategic, more in-depth game mode we call Classic, and very few players play that mode. Ironically, even though I know Classic is the most fun mode for myself, nowadays I generally only pick it up to play Twilight for a few minutes myself, and then get back to work -- go figure...

If you had a *really* awesome game, you *might* be able to get people to play it for more than a few minutes, but I don't see that as the norm. The way gamers appear to generally use iPhone and iPad are for like games in a video game arcade, where users expect to walk in, drop a few quarters for a few minutes of play, then walk away. If it's a really interesting gameplay with some kind of hook that people really tune into then they'll play for longer. Otherwise, they just walk on to the next game.

There are a few exceptions of course. Larger games with professional quality and more in-depth storylines do exist. Puzzle games tend to hold players for longer as well. But iPhone and iPad simply are not widely used as portable game consoles or traditional PC platforms like many of us developers would like to think. Even when I played NOVA on iPad, I'd only play for maybe ten or fifteen minutes at a time then put it down and come back to continue later on for just a bit at a time. Later on, I went on a marathon stretch just to finish the game. It was a decent game, but I never picked it up again.

Another critical dynamic to consider is what you might expect for revenue. Unless you have a publisher or a wildly viral game you probably won't recover your costs. More in-depth games take a lot of time to develop and thus cost more in the process. A major problem with iPhone is that you have to get noticed or you'll earn nothing in return for your development effort. That means you have to have something catchy that the iPhone masses pick up on. A slow, meticulous/strategic game is likely to get lost in the crowd.
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Nibbie
Posts: 2
Joined: 2010.04
Post: #3
Thanks for the great post.

It seems casual games are taking over everything except consoles these days. It's kind of disappointing, because while I've written some semi-successful freeware casual games for the PC, it the kinds of games with stories and meanings that I really enjoy writing. I suppose I could write a book but for some reason that doesn't interest me as much. Maybe it's the interaction of the player with the story? I dunno.

Anyways, I was also just thinking after readying your post, about ways to implement enveloping stories into casual or otherwise simplistic games. I know of one indie developer (though he writes for PC) who wrote an apparently amazing story (I haven't actually played his game yet) in a tower defense game, which is selling decently well (he's already made $15000...over two years yes, but still not bad especially since it's passive income). One might be able to make the argument that a tower defense game is somewhat casual, depending on the style. So how might one make a casual game immersive based not just on gameplay, but also on story/etc.?

Anyways, anyone with comments/insights about this?
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Moderator
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Post: #4
SoulRed12 Wrote:It's kind of disappointing...

I couldn't agree more.

We have some great ideas for more immersive gameplay but we're hesitant to bring them to iPad/iPhone.
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Moderator
Posts: 384
Joined: 2002.08
Post: #5
I wrote this up earlier for an interview, and I think it's applicable here...

The price of a typical game on the iPhone is twenty times cheaper than anything on Sony or Nintendo. Such a radical price shift changes a lot of things.

This cheap price reflects many busy young adult's investment in games. Young adults with an iPhone are balancing their interest in technology with a social life, a job, and school. These adults still want electronic entertainment, but they can only play in short bursts, and thus do not wish to invest so much time and money to get the fun. The popular pricing of games from $0.99 - $2.99 is perfect for this group; little investment could possibly bring great reward, especially for those apps that have somehow made it to the Top 100 list with many positive reviews.

The downside of popular $0.99 games is it hurts the chances of deeper, more epic games succeeding on the iPhone OS platform. Gamer's price expectations are bargain basement, but it takes significant money to produce something like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, or even the next very well-designed Mario game.

Younger people have more time to invest in gaming; however, especially on the iTunes Store where a credit card is necessary, the purchasing power is a little less than someone who can put down cash at a store. iTunes allowances allow kids to buy games, but I don't know how they discover games...

KB Productions, Car Care for iPhone/iPod Touch
@karlbecker_com
All too often, art is simply the loss of practicality.
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Member
Posts: 40
Joined: 2010.03
Post: #6
I've noticed this as well. A lot of the games I see I'm reluctant investigating because there doesn't seem to be too much substance, and would normally be free in a browser on my home computer. I'm actually looking for something with a bit more meat to it! Surely, I can't be alone. I have a feeling if someone can crack that nut and figure out how to distinguish themselves from the .99 sea, make a great game that blows people away and keeps them playing, they'll carve out a market people didn't think was really there.
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Member
Posts: 35
Joined: 2009.10
Post: #7
Replying to a thread's that's a few months old, but it's not like this board is that active anyway.

A lot of the previous posters are worried about the lack of depth in many of these "casual" games (I use quotes because I find the label kind of annoying) which seems to be indicated by their short length. People are worried about these games being shallow. Yes, we all here like lengthy strategies and RPGs, but I wonder if a change in perspective is in order.

Many of the most influential games were arguably "casual." Think about Tetris. All it is is a bunch of falling blocks, and all you do is move and rotate them. There's no mining, no base building, no political intrigue, no weapon customization, and no gravity guns. It also doesn't need to be played for several hours at a time. Tetris fits many of the formal definitions of a "casual" game the Internet has thrown around. Is Tetris shallow?

Another thing about games that only last minutes at a time: is this so bad if a player is able to return to the game over and over again? Take your typical hours-long RPG or adventure game. You spend hours playing and finally completing such a game. How likely are you to play this game a second time? Sure, the best story-based games will have multiple paths and areas you may have missed, but after repeated playthroughs you're going to run out of content. I still have my original Nintendo 64 with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I loved that game, but I haven't felt like touching it for years.

The best minute-long "arcade" games effectively do not get old. Compared to your typical story-based adventure, you can play these games for ever. A game with a minuscule session length may make up for it by its sheer replayability. A game that gets played for only a few minutes is a tragedy...if it's only a few minutes total.

A corollary to my musings on game length and replayability: usually I've found that strategy games that do not depend on premade campaigns or scenarios to have greater replay value (random maps, etc.) while maintaining a lengthy game session length (whether or not a lengthy session length for games is desirable is another issue, of course). To that end, I'd be interested to know how well apps based on traditional board games like Chess or Go are doing. Such games have fairly lengthy sessions but are far more recognizable by the general public than, say, X-COM, making it easier to gauge mainstream appeal.

Now, about the original question about how to put a "non-casual" game (I really, really don't want to say "hardcore"). Would it be possible to remove the need for extensive time investments with a good save-and-restore system? This would depend on the gameplay, but if you make it easy for the player to start a game, play for a bit, save and quit, then effortlessly resume the game later, I'd think you'd be able to capture the essence of a in-depth game without burdening the player with lengthy time commitments. How does this sound?
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Apprentice
Posts: 17
Joined: 2011.10
Post: #8
At one glance, most games on iPhone are considered "casual", which is easy to pick up and play. They also have cute and bright graphics. However, if you observe closely, especially under the Action/Adventure categories, you will notice that the casual games are not really that casual after all.

When developing for iPhone games, it would be good to think of the cost of development vs. the revenue generated. iPhone market is saturated and the game needs to stand out in order to attract the audience.
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Member
Posts: 338
Joined: 2004.07
Post: #9
Hardcore games CAN and DO exist on iOS. It's not that the platform itself isn't meant for non-casual games. It's that the main method that apps rely on for marketing (the top 200 lists) ARE skewed towards successful casual games.

You're looking at download counts over a window, or downloads * price over a window for top grossing. Either way, the apps that end up on top are the ones that have the largest possible audience that reach the biggest chunk of that audience. If you're a niche game, you might hit your entire intended audience and STILL not get the numbers you need to kick off that positive feedback loop.

Does this mean that surviving as a non-casual game on iOS is impossible? No, not at all. But it DOES mean you need to rely less on the top lists and more on traditional means of marketing and getting your game out there. If you're aiming for niche/hardcore games, it's something you want to be doing anyway.

In terms of designing hardcore games for iOS, you need to break your gameplay down into chunks of like 2-3 minutes or so, after any of which you can quit and resume at some point later. I don't mean an entire game needs to happen in 2-3 minutes, but there should be some natural break in the action, like a wave complete screen, subscreen, shop, or some other method of pausing that I can quickly put the phone down and rush back to real life.

Justin Ficarrotta
http://www.justinfic.com
"It is better to be The Man than to work for The Man." - Alexander Seropian
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Apprentice
Posts: 15
Joined: 2011.11
Post: #10
(Apr 29, 2010 06:22 PM)AnotherJake Wrote:  From my experience I'd have to say that iPhone (and iPad) are casual-only. Users just don't play games for very long on iPhone. They'll pick it up, fiddle with it a bit, then put it back down. For our latest game, Ace Omicron, users widely prefer the shortest game mode, called Twilight, and overall only play Ace Omicron an average of about 7 minutes per session. It is by its very nature an arcade game, but there is a more strategic, more in-depth game mode we call Classic, and very few players play that mode. Ironically, even though I know Classic is the most fun mode for myself, nowadays I generally only pick it up to play Twilight for a few minutes myself, and then get back to work -- go figure...

If you had a *really* awesome game, you *might* be able to get people to play it for more than a few minutes, but I don't see that as the norm. The way gamers appear to generally use iPhone and iPad are for like games in a video game arcade, where users expect to walk in, drop a few quarters for a few minutes of play, then walk away. If it's a really interesting gameplay with some kind of hook that people really tune into then they'll play for longer. Otherwise, they just walk on to the next game.

There are a few exceptions of course. Larger games with professional quality and more in-depth storylines do exist. Puzzle games tend to hold players for longer as well. But iPhone and iPad simply are not widely used as portable game consoles or traditional PC platforms like many of us developers would like to think. Even when I played NOVA on iPad, I'd only play for maybe ten or fifteen minutes at a time then put it down and come back to continue later on for just a bit at a time. Later on, I went on a marathon stretch just to finish the game. It was a decent game, but I never picked it up again.

Another critical dynamic to consider is what you might expect for revenue. Unless you have a publisher or a wildly viral game you probably won't recover your costs. More in-depth games take a lot of time to develop and thus cost more in the process. A major problem with iPhone is that you have to get noticed or you'll earn nothing in return for your development effort. That means you have to have something catchy that the iPhone masses pick up on. A slow, meticulous/strategic game is likely to get lost in the crowd.

that's true. But social games on the iOS are increasing stealing users' attention. DragonVale from Backflip Studios (originally a casual game dev company) is topping the charts like crazy. It got me hooked too Grin

About me
I experiment with game analytics. Read about it here
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