Hidden Galaxies is a 12-level hidden objects game with a twist: each level features an artistic backdrop that users can explore by panning and zooming around items in an interactive world called Eeps.
The game itself is a work of art, Mr. Chan says.
Adding an artistic element to an app or game is one way to differentiate it within an oversaturated market, but what else does it take to create an appealing app?
THE APP TO BEAT
Think of the simple, easily recognizable characters from the popular Angry Birds app. The game is very basic and doesn’t take much time to play, but with more than one billion downloads, its developer Rovio is doing something right.
Part of it is the appeal to a broad demographic that transcends gender, age and cultural lines.
Nearly half a billion smartphones were sold in 2011 alone, according to International Data Corp., and almost half of them are owned by women. Many are used by children.
The key to attracting those using mobile games or apps is to create something memorable, recognizable and different, says Magmic’s chief technology officer Joshua Ostrowalker. Hidden Galaxies does just that.
“The goal was to take the game experience, marry it with an art experience and provide a whole new kind of adventure,” he says.
GETTING IN CHARACTER
An enormous part of developing a successful mobile game is creating easily identifiable characters and images.
Mr. Chan has a thick stack of sketches of the game’s main character, Eep.
“If you look at my art, the characters are simple but they have some quirkiness to it,” he says. “There’s some expression, but you don’t need to overdo it.”
Another local gaming company, Snowed In Studios, has two artists in charge of creating the characters within its games.
Monster Chase, a board game that Snowed In converted into a mobile app, consists of lovable monsters that adhere to certain design rules to make them appealing to users. Curvy lines are given to good guys; sharp angular ones are for villains.
“It all comes down to the silhouette,” says Snowed In artist Tara Phillips. “If you can black them out and still know who it is, you have a good, recognizable character you can work with.”
Her colleague, artist Ryan Harasym, says that taking a minimalist approach is always best, making sure the design is clean, the colours easily recognizable and that everything on the screen is there because it needs to be.
Colours are often chosen based on demographic and every detail is purposeful. Tablets and smartphones have much smaller screens than televisions or computers, so every inch counts.
The nature of mobile gaming is that it’s meant for short periods of time; done while waiting in the doctor’s office or on the bus. There is less time to convey information, which means you can attract users based on the ridiculousness or novelty of a game, rather than the storyline.
“The gameplay is really important, but the visuals are probably the most important part about what is going to make your game attractive to your audience,” Ms. Phillips says.
AIMING TO PLEASE
While Hidden Galaxies aims to attract all demographics, Snowed In prefers to remain targeted. Its Monster Chase game is geared towards children only.
“You can make a game you want everybody to like, but nobody might end up liking it as much as a small group of people that really like it,” says Ms. Phillips.
Canadian smartphone use:
- 48% of Canadians aged 18 to 34 own a smartphone
- 73% of them browse the Internet on their device
- 58% have downloaded apps
- The average user has downloaded 12 apps, 25% of which were paid for
- 71% of smartphones are in mobile-only households (no landline)
Source: 2011 Cell Phone Consumer Attitudes Study by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association