It’s been a crazy year for apps. From the breakthrough of Glu Mobile’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood to top-chart newcomers like Crossy Road, the diversity of this year’s viral apps continues to make people wonder what it takes to publish a popular mobile app. Though I wish I knew the answer to this, I’ve picked out a couple of mobile apps that stood out to me this year based on features I thought were really unique and had that special “virality factor” quality. Let’s begin…
I was addicted to Hay Day for one summer and I’ve played my share of Simpsons: Tapped Out. Despite all of the F2P, management-based games I’ve played, Family Guy: The Quest For Stuff, published by TinyCo in partnership with Fox, is hands-down the funniest and best maintained game I’ve ever played since I’ve had an iPhone. No, I’m not being paid by anyone to say this – I really do mean it, so let me count the ways. First, character development. It’s not something you would usually think of for a mobile game (an AAA console game, yes). Most people tend to tap past speech bubbles because they don’t really do much for the game. But in this case, dialogue is integral because it keeps the game fresh. The humor is, as expected, a little raunchy at times (mostly due to Quagmire), but it’s still hilarious.
The TinyCo team also has an exceptional Live Operations team. Most games of this genre usually don’t survive because they start getting stale: Pick your crops, plant them, wait for them to grow and pick them again. But for Family Guy, their live ops go above and beyond the usual (and oftentimes obligatory) holiday or Halloween themes. Think attacking Christmas Yetis, hypnotizing mall santas and throwing snowballs at Christmas shoppers. It’s pretty fun.
I think the final feature I wanted to address for this game actually goes beyond the app itself. Like most management-based games, there’s a heavy push towards social media. Supercell, for example, maintains very active social media pages for its games in order to give out extra prizes or help connect players. TinyCo, through its Family Guy page, does a great job of staying in character when responding to users and, as far as I’ve seen, responds to nearly ever single person who has a question or suggestion for the game. Nicely done, TinyCo and Fox.
I discovered Crossy Roads about a month ago after seeing it on the front page of the App Store. It wasn’t published by a Storm8 or DeNA type of mobile company – instead, it’s published by Hipster Whale, a three-person team of indie developers. Every time I show my friends or colleagues the game, they almost always bring up Frogger but add “except its infinite.” And it’s true – the obstacles (i.e. logs, cars) are undoubtedly inspired by the classic 80’s game. But the big difference? Characters. Instead of just one plain Jane frog, Crossy Roads gives players a chance to play with up to 53 (and counting) characters, including Pew Die Pug, Floppy Fish, Rusty Robot and Poopy Pigeon, my personal favorite.
Even though you can easily buy characters you want for 99 cents, like most F2P games there’s usually a workaround. In this case, once you collect 100 coins, you can use these coins to win a prize (aka a new character) – a gacha element that I think Hipster Whale did a great job of localizing. The only thing I would suggest to tweak would be load the game quicker. Right now, it takes about 10 seconds for the splash screen to transition to the actual game. It isn’t too much of an issue, but it would be definitely appreciated if it were improved.
Monument Valley is by far one of the loveliest games I’ve ever played on an iPhone. Developed by none other than ustwo, which also developed and published kid-friendly Whale Trail and Blip Blup, the company already has a record of creating great products. But Monument Valley is definitely ustwo’s best work yet. The soundtrack is delicate and mysterious. The art is good enough to frame and hang up (which you can, if you’re interested). And the mazes are often compared to M.C. Escher’s drawings – you are forced to think out of the box in order to complete each maze.
Going beyond the game, Monument Valley has also been able to show how, unfortunately, the gaming landscape (though particularly mobile gaming) has changed for the worst. When ustwo released its expansion pack in mid-November, some people were appalled because the additional pack was not free.
As someone who has worked in the F2P industry, I am aware of the downsides. In this case, because so many games out there are free, people are expecting everything to be free these days. But let’s get this straight: The people who were part of the Monument Valley team worked extremely hard on this game – it was their job. If they gave these games out to everyone for free, how would these hard-working people get paid? Though the expansion pack hasn’t done as well as the original game, there are still many exciting projects in store for ustwo… like their gorgeous new VR game, Land’s End.
Let’s take a break from mobile games and focus on a social networking app that really grew on me. Weave is the Tinder for networking, where you can swipe right to show that you’re interested in meeting someone for coffee or just getting some advice. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how open the people in Weave’s community are and have learned a number of great things from people I’ve been talking to. From my experience with the app and the community, everyone is enthusiastic to share their ideas and share what they are working on. The UI is simple, so tutorials aren’t necessary. I can definitely see myself using this app more often post-college.
Remember Dots, the adorable game where you connected matching dots in under 60 seconds? This year, Playdots really beefed up on its monetization model to create TwoDots. Though this game still has the same underlying rules, different elements like icy dots (takes three times to break the ice) and fiery dots (that burn up normal dots) are used as well as a Candy Crush-like path that winds through different worlds and boasts more than 200 levels. What I love about TwoDots is that it still has its original Dots-like charm. No ads and no pushy “Buy this power-up now!” pop-ups. The game boasts cute, minimal illustrations and a soundtrack that The New York Times quickly took notice of.
As a segue into 2015, another year of many more apps to come, I wanted to add Kabam’s Marvel Contest of Champions to this list. Though this app has been out for barely one month, I got some sneak peeks of it while I interned at Kabam this summer, so I’ve been anticipating the arrival of this app for a while now. And let me tell you, this game is unlike any Kabam game I’ve seen yet. Like the majority of its games, it is AAA quality, and the game play and UX are so smooth and easy to pick up on. This game sets Kabam’s standards even higher, and I’m really excited to see what else Kabam has in store for the new year.
… And that wraps up my picks for this year! There are of course thousands of other apps that came out this year, so if I skipped over any of your favorites, make sure to leave a comment. Happy new year!