One look at what’s trending in the app store’s Top Grossing Apps category will tell you that simulation games are extremely popular right now. Construction and management simulation (CMS) is a type of simulation gamein which players build, expand or manage fictional communities or projects with limited resources. The goal in these games is for the player to build something within the context of an ongoing process. Games in this category are sometimes also called “management games.”They have been extremely popular with players since the advent of The Sims and Rollercoaster Tycoon over a decade ago, but I think there are two main reasons why simulation games dominate the Top Grossing charts in the mobile space in 2012. First, the ubiquity of handheld devices in our lives. Simulation gameplay lends itself very well to the simple touch mechanic and the “play on the go” play pattern of the handheld device – making the games popular (and highly addicting) with players. These are the types of games you want to keep in your pocket and play in short spurts throughout the day. Second, these games are ideally suited to the perpetual generation of revenue through in-app purchases because they are fueled by virtual economies.
According to Flurry, a mobile analytics and monetization company, over two-thirds of all in-app purchases in mobile games are spent on consumable goods. These are the virtual items you use in games that are quickly depleted during game play. Consumable goods are key to any simulation game’s virtual economy that creates a perpetual cycle where you always need (and want) more. These tend to be the hooks that keep players coming back. Examples here include virtual currency that speeds up a particular task, fertilizer, food etc. In addition to consumable goods consumers also buy durable goods and personalized items. Durable goods are basically upgrades that improve your abilities in game, such as land upgrades, building upgrades etc. Once you obtain a durable good it’s yours to keep. Personalization items are decorative and give the player status and bragging rights. These are also non-perishable. As in real life, the accumulation, use and replenishment of these goods (consumption) are often half the fun and represent a non-virtual profit center to developers. Growth and capitalization of this aspect of simulation games are limited only by the imagination and innovation of the developer.
Certainly some games are more popular and enduring than others. Several are acknowledged as some of the all-time most popular gaming phenomenons of any category (The Sims, Farmville, Nintendogs). Mobility and portability has uniquely increased the appeal in these games. But what gives a simulation game staying power? For example, how can a game like Backflip Studios DragonVale stay on the top of the Top Grossing charts for so long? This game hasn’t been lower than No. 12 on the top grossing iPhone app chart since Sep. 17, 2011 according to AppData. The answer, of course, is that developers must continually stay on top of their metrics and constantly tweak and update the game. A successful simulation game thrives on frequent game updates that continue to feed the fun and tickle that impulse to engage with the game world. Rolling out fresh updates piques players interests and more importantly keeps them invested. Keeping the most invested players engaged over the long haul is critical. Players who invest the most tend to be the ones who build a community around a game. The best of these games have a strong community that acts as glue holding it all together. DragonVale has a strong community and loads of people sharing information about its game. Check out DragonVale wiki for a taste of their devoted fan following.
This is an exciting time for simulation games. In recent years we’ve seen social media play a huge role in the advancement and popularity of these lifestyle games thanks to titles like Second Life and the phenomenal success of FarmVille on Facebook. Today with the mobile platform, we have an optimal environment for games like these to thrive. Especially given the ability to store game data in the cloud, enabling players to engage with the game world in different ways depending on the device they are logged into. Developers have been revolutionizing the simulation game mechanic since its conception and today is no exception. It’s no wonder these games are so popular right now.
By, Jessica Barnes, Smashing Creative & Account Director