In this specially contributed piece, AppMagic CEO and Founder Max Samorukov shares the results of a statistical deconstruction of the relationship between game setting, genre, and how that relates to success.
When looking to understand a game’s success or potential, many of us choose to focus on monetisation models, retention frameworks, and other such factors. And rightly so. All of that is highly important.
At the same time, too often as individuals we can forget to give due attention to more fundamental elements of a given game – entities that can equally dictate a game’s accomplishments, and be analysed and understood through a methodical process. And it is setting in particular that offers an opportunity to optimise a game for success.
So in this piece we’ll take a considered look at understanding the themes applied to game, from broad categories such as ‘Military’ and ‘Fantasy’, to very specific subject matters and aesthetics like ‘Dragons’ or ‘Cartoon’. Beyond being a fundamental of a game’s design and appeal, picking the right setting can be inherently linked with potential success – particularly when you consider the relationship between setting and theme.
With that in mind, AppMagic has made a deep statistics-based analysis of the relationship between setting, genre and success.
In this research, we’ll figure out what mobile game settings are the most common across top performing titles, also taking into consideration genres of mobile games. This study is based on our unique manual classification of apps, with over 50,000 top performing titles tagged as of today.
Our goal is to help game developers get wiser about selecting settings for their future products. After all, this choice heavily affects the size of one’s target audience and the CPI (cost per install).
Data And Methodology
To produce this piece of research, we’ve studied 1,000 most downloaded games and 1,000 highest-grossing games based on their performance in May 2020. That is 1,535 games altogether (given that many titles are present in both top charts). This approach allows us to focus on games with explicit success.
We’ll explore how market shares have been changing across game settings between January 1, 2015 and June 1, 2020.
In sections that refer to game revenues, we only analyse revenues from in-app purchases. Ad revenue is not considered.
To better understand what each particular game setting implies, check out AppMAgic’s framework for game setting classifications. Our game genre classification breakdown may also be a useful reference tool here.
If you want to have a look at the topmost examples of any market segment to make sure you clearly understand the usage of the genre and setting terms, just open the top charts on the AppMagic website and specify the country and the genre in the tag selector. Here is an example for the USA with ‘Real Life’ for setting and Match-3 for genre.
Tier-1 West Market
Here we’ll start with the analysis of top-grossing games in the Tier-1 West market. In the graph, you can see cumulative monthly revenues of top 1,000 mobile games within the region, grouped by their settings.
It is important to understand which settings are good for what genres. For a statistics-based answer to this question, it’s useful to break down the games of each setting by genre.
Here you can see how revenue shares of different settings are distributed across each genre. To build this graph, we chose top 10 settings according to the cumulative revenue of the games that use it, and then chose top 20 game genres following the same logic.
The black line shows the cumulative revenue of games of each genre in the Tier-1 West countries that we have picked for our analysis.
In this graph you see the quantitative shares: the percentage of games of each setting for each genre. The methodology is the same: we chose top-10 settings according to the cumulative number of the games that use it, and then chose top-20 game genres following the same logic.
The black line shows the number of games of each genre in Tier-1 West countries.
You may have noticed that the sets of genres differ across these two graphs. That’s exactly because of the methodology we used to build these graphs (the choice of top-10 settings significantly affects the range of the top-20 genres).
A Note On Settings
Many games have no apparent setting. While that seems counter-intuitive, the existence of ‘No Setting’ titles comes from games that don’t have any game world (such as Poker games or 2048), or that have highly eclectic sets of characters and game objects (such as most Slots).
Some genres in the graphs have the ‘Other’ post-fix in their titles. Such genres include large groups of games that either belong to an underrepresented sub-genre or simply have no distinctive features that could help us specify the sub-genre.
Now let’s change the perspective and check how market shares of different settings are distributed in terms of cumulative downloads.
What we see here differs significantly compared to the graphs based on revenue shares. The reason is the monetisation model. Vast majority of the top 1,000 games in terms of downloads use ad monetisation or some hybrid model. This factor results in a different set of game genres.
Here you can see how downloads’ shares of different settings are distributed across each genre. The methodology is similar to what we used earlier: top-10 settings according to the cumulative downloads of the games that use it and then top-20 game genres following the same logic.
The black line shows the cumulative downloads of games of each genre in the Tier-1 West countries that we have picked for our analysis.
A similar method is used here to visualise the quantitative shares of games of each genre in the Tier-1 West countries.
One of the most noteworthy settings is Real Life. The total number of games tagged as ‘Real Life’ is 474, making up 31% of all the games in this research. They account for 42% of cumulative downloads and 16% of cumulative revenue out of all the games in our research in the Tier-1 West region. This setting has always been considered as the most popular and inclusive (in terms of target audience).
This type of setting implies that characters and objects in the game look and act as those we are used to in real life. Characters are easy to empathise with (such as people or domestic animals); we have natural emotions regarding them. Transport, weapons, resources, physics – everything is easy to recognise. All interactive behaviours in the game are easy to predict. And that is the reason why this setting is so popular: one needs zero special knowledge and close to zero tutoring to figure out the laws that the game world follows. Ultimately, to achieve better retention, it’s very important for a game to be easy to understand – and generally we understand reality.
The main downside of this setting is its limitations: the real world doesn’t allow for supernatural abilities, magical animals and other design choices that may help you achieve better flexibility in game design and make it more ‘wow’.
As a result, we see that this setting is highly popular across successful casual and hypercasual games. Meanwhile,it’s actually not that popular across top-grossing genres, such as Turn-Based RPG, Action RPG, or 4X Strategy. The latter tend to employ more sophisticated settings, such as ‘Fantasy’.
Another setting that is highly popular across casual games is ‘Fairy’. We define it as the one where‘imaginary worlds with made-up characters from human to animal and supernatural’. This setting is great if you want your game to be cute.
Note the scarcity of otherwise common settings as ‘Sci-Fi’, ‘Cyberpunk’ and ‘Steampunk’. You don’t see them in our graphs. It means that the cumulative performance of games with these settings is low. In other words, these settings occupy very narrow niches, even though they may be very mainstream in the realms of film, television and novels. What does it tell you? That you will find it very hard to get a lot of traffic if you pick one of them (or any other genre that didn’t make it to our graphs), even if your game is designed brilliantly. That’s even the case no matter how much you pay for the CPI. If people don’t like the setting, you can’t convince them to play your game, regardless of how many times they see your ads.
Another problem with non-realistic settings is that it’s harder to find artists who are really good at them. To create quality art for such genres as Sci-fi or Steampunk, an artist needs to have a lot of relevant experience and erudition. You can’t just switch from drawing cats or cars to star ships; you need to have investigated a lot of canonical titles of the setting, and have gained a lot of practice and experience before you are any good.
If you are currently working on the concept of your future game, take a timeout, and spend some time checking out the graphs above. Can you find the setting of your choice in the graphs? Do you see many games of the genre of your choice using the setting of your choice? Is your team skilled enough to go for the setting you picked? If you’ve answered ‘no’ to a few of these, you may need to think your game over for a bit longer.
Tier-1 East Market
Now let’s have a look at similar graphs, this time for those Tier-1 East countries.
We haven’t focused on the Eastern market as much here, but some facts are noteworthy. The Fantasy and ‘Fantasy Oriental’ settings are dominating across top-grossing games. They are used by the same genres as we saw in the Western market: RPGs and Battlers. The difference is the very high level of success of these genres in the Eastern region.
The Real Life setting in the region is growing fast among top-downloaded games, mostly thanks to hypercasual games.
An interesting fact is that Sci-Fi made it to the top settings in the Eastern region and yet didn’t really make it in the Western region, despite the conventional wisdom about the East generally not sharing the West’s broad passion for Sci-Fi.
Remember that choosing a setting is a very important decision. It should match the game genre of your choice. The genre and the setting combined define the size of your target audience, with huge implications for your game’s user acquisition opportunities, too.
For more insight from AppMagic – and to check out their mobile market intelligence tool – head over to the AppMagic website.