Competition among games is fierce. Hundreds of new mobile games are listed on the Google Play store and the App Store every day, and this is not counting the games released exclusively for PCs or gaming consoles. To reign at the top of the list, game developers need to conduct rigorous competitor research to not only look at the kind of gameplay that resonates with people but also whether it would work for their chosen theme.
For example, let’s consider the stark difference between two location-based games based on a similar underlying concept and made by the same company – Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
Pokémon Go was launched in July 2016 and achieved instant success. In fact, it made $ 1.1 billion in revenue in 2021 alone. Emboldened by their success, the makers decided to launch another game with the same concept, based on one of the most popular franchises in the world: Harry Potter. However, it didn’t even have a fraction of the success that Pokémon Go did, only making around $ 40 million since its launch in 2019. It was finally shut down in January 2022.
This goes on to show that it’s not about taking a successful game and replicating it blindly. Unless you conduct game concept testing and assess its marketability, you will not know if it will actually resonate with your players.
What is ‘marketability’ of a game?
To put it simply, marketability of a game is a measure of how well it is received by the audience and how interested they might be in its purchase before you invest money, effort and time to develop and launch it.
It’s measured through eCPM (or the effective cost per thousand impressions), which itself is made of two factors: CPI (cost per click) and IPM (installs per millie, or the number of installs per 1000 impressions). To have a great game, you should ideally have a low CPI and a high IPM score.
Now while the CPI is based on advertisers, the IPM is purely based on the market response to your game. The better or more nuanced your characters, story and visuals are, the more people are likely to install it, which will lead to a higher IPM and marketability score.
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So how can you have a high IPM score?
Simple – just create a great game! At the heart of any great game is a strong story and a theme that speaks to the players and keeps them riveted. While that may seem ‘easier said than done’ don’t let that daunt you. Bouncing off your gaming concepts with your target audience at critical stage of the game’s development can help crystalize every important aspect of your game’s story, characters, visuals etc.
Using in-house DIY user research platforms, you can test your game during the initial days to understand whether the story or theme you are planning for resonates with your target audience. Game concept testing is also a great way to reveal plot holes before you end up investing time, effort and money into developing it.
The secret sauce to building a successful game
However, building a successful game is not about finding the ‘next best thing’ or the most unique concept. It’s often about taking simple, existing ideas and tweaking the gameplay to engage players in new ways. Many successful games have become so not because they were the first to come up with a certain gameplay, but because they were the best at executing it. Regularly collecting feedback from your users can help you find ways to tweak an existing concept to appeal better to the players and improve its marketability.
A case in point is Candy Crush. You’ve probably heard of and played Candy Crush at some point in your life – it’s one of the best-selling games in the world and belongs to a set of games known as the ‘match-three’ games. However, it was actually ‘inspired’ by another popular game in the 2000s – Bejeweled – which itself was based on one of the earliest match-three games available, a 1994 Russian game named Shariki.
“Let’s optimize for player experience rather than what we think will make more money.”
– Ron Carmel
How can you do game concept testing?
Conducting game concept testing can help validate your game before you start developing it. There are two ways you can do this – through agencies or in-house. While agencies will take care of the entire process from start to finish, conducting it in-house on research platforms will mean that you can leverage your expertise to conduct the sessions the way you want. Moreover, it’s actually incredibly simple. Here’s how you can conduct game concept testing in-house:
Step 1: Finalize your game concept
Once you research your competitors and the market to get an idea of the type of game your audience would enjoy, you need to create multiple prototypes to test. If you have an idea of the theme and visuals of your game (including any central characters you might want to add as part of your game), create a few screenshots of how it could look within the game to give your users a better idea.
Avoid adding elements that you do not plan to add to your gameplay for the sake of embellishment as this will only serve to distract your users from the actual game concept. You can also create a few mock-ups of how the game would look on the App Store or Play Store to understand if it looks appealing enough for people to click on it.
Step 2: Define your target audience to test your game
Understanding your target audience is paramount to the success of your game because you need to know whom to market it to. This is not just about finding the right age group – it’s also about finding the right mix of people who enjoy the type of game you are developing.
For example, a person who likes to play casual games (think Candy Crush) might not enjoy more rigorous games such as RPGs or adventure games.
When you’re picking the users you want to test your game on, it’s important to choose those who enjoy that particular genre so that they can give you specific feedback on the gameplay. Since you will probably need a certain persona of participants to conduct your study, make sure you choose a platform that provides a diverse panel of participants.
Step 3: Define your questions
When you’re defining the set of questions to ask your audience, you’re obviously trying to understand if your users like the concept of the game or the storyline and any feedback they might have about it. However, your questions need to go deeper than that. Remember that the marketability of the game hinges on the IPM score, which in turn, depends on the number of people who download the game. This means that you need to ask questions that pinpoint exactly what would prompt your target set of players to download the game and help you arrive at this score.
In this context, it is important to remember to keep your questions and tone neutral while asking questions to avoid bias. For example, asking a user “Doesn’t this game look exciting to play?” might seem innocent enough, but is actually leading as it assumes that the player did like the game. Instead, asking “Would you like to play this game?” allows the user to answer without making assumptions. Avoiding leading questions can help you get unbiased insights from users.
Step 4: Conduct your test and analyze your findings
After conducting game concept testing, make sure you analyze the quantitative and qualitative data for insights. While the quant data will give you insights such as how many people liked/disliked the game and how much they liked/disliked it, the qual data will give you granular feedback on the game themes, characters, and design that can help you narrow down on a winning concept to send to production.
Affect UX is a DIY user research platform that can help you test your game concepts to validate them. However, it’s not just another user research platform. Our unique Facial Coding and Eye Tracking technologies can help you gather nuanced insights as to what is working and what is not with minimal bias, so you know exactly how they respond to all the various elements of the game. Contact us and we’ll tell you how!