Slow And Steady Wins The Race, Too: Mobile Gaming Study Looks At Earning Potential In Under-Hyped Games

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App store analytics firm App Annie released a report on mobile gaming this week, which focused on the earnings potential of what it defined as “long-term” versus “short-term” games. That is to say, it found that mobile app superstars with media buzz were not necessarily outperforming the slow and steady games that flew under the radar  - meaning, those that never cracked the top 25 grossing ranking, for example. Long-term games earned an average of $920,000 versus $549,000 for short-term games, App Annie says. And the top-earning long-term game earned $3.9 million versus $1.4 million for short-term.

For starters, App Annie classified a “long-term” game as one in the U.S. Apple App Store that spent 12 months or more in the Top 26-125 Grossing ranking by revenue. A “short-term” game, meanwhile is one that spent three months or less in the Top 25 Grossing ranking.

But this study doesn’t quite work for me. And here’s why: to begin with, the sample size was amazingly small. 14 of highest-grossing apps were analyzed under both long and short-term. So 28, altogether. Some examples of long-term games included “Cartoon Wars 2 Heroes,” “The Sims 3,” “Cut the Rope,” “Gun Bros.,” and some of the short-term games were “Global War,” “Need for Speed Hot Pursuit,” “Spider-Man Total Mayhem,” and “Stick Stunt Biker.” To be fair, App Annie contents that, at face value, 28 apps out of 125 doesn’t seem to imply a comprehensive sample, but the qualifiers regarding time spent in both the second tier and first tier (without any crossover) eliminates a good portion of the eligible apps for analysis. So App Annie says the sample is “representative,” if not comprehensive.

In this study, 8 of the 14 games in each category were free. Long-term games had an average selling price of $3.99 and short-term games had an average price of $4.08. The most expensive long-term game was $9.99 versus $6.99 for short-term. The long-term category was also dominated by strategy games, while action dominated the short-term game category. Simulation games were popular in both categories.

App Annie then concludes there’s a viable success strategy in creating a solid game that people play over and over, and that remains popular for a long period of time, even if lower in the charts. This, as opposed to being briefly popular and going out in a flash. Citing data from mobiThinking, App Annie noted that 1 in 4 mobile apps are downloaded, used once, and then deleted. Mobile games, like apps, often get played with, then removed when the fun and/or buzz wears off.

Frankly, though, the conclusion regarding financial success is a bit obvious. If you take a game that’s been #50 for a year, compare it with a game that’s been #10 for 3 months, for example, YEAH, IT CAN EARN MORE. But maybe some people need charts and graphs to get that?

Ouriel Ohayon of Appsfire notes that short-term hits are often due to big marketing pushes that didn’t translate into stickiness and revenues. However, he adds, some hits are meant to be short-term hits. They are designed with a short-term life cycle in mind – like a seasonal version of Angry Birds, for example. This study doesn’t seem to consider that, he says after taking a look. That’s the same sort of feedback we heard all around from others, too.

Another problem with study’s conclusion, is that it’s not as simple as saying that action games are good for a quick buck. There may just be specific mobile game genres where the industry has figured out the game mechanics of engagement better than others.

There’s more that can be analyzed here, in terms of what works, but this particular study falls a bit short. App Annie has a ton of great data at its fingertips, but it would have been nice to see a deeper study, large sample size, and more analysis about not what types of games fell into each category, but rather what strategies made the long-lasting, slow burning games successful. After all, what developers really want to know is how to keep their app from getting “X”ed.