The main objective of this post is to know the secrets that every gaming company should know behind insanely successful Mobile Games.


"The three companies responsible for the the mobile app (Pokemon Go) are probably having a difficult time counting all of their money."

- Jeff Grubb on Venturebeat


Was Grubb exaggerating?

Not the slightest.

Apple alone is expected to rake in $3 billion - $3,000,000,000 - yeah, that’s a single 3 followed by nine 0’s - in the next 2 years from Pokemon alone. That’s nearly 0.5$ per person on the entire earth. From one game. And Apple didn’t even make the game.

What do Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, Crossy Road remind you of?

Insanely popular games. (No, I will resist from mentioning the ubiquitous Pokemon Go in this post! :)

Some games turn out popular like crazy, often beyond the wildest dreams of most people. Some built a fancy fan following before release, but didn’t quite live upto the hype (Remember the console game No Man’s Sky?). And a lot others are pushed into oblivion, never to be heard of again.

So what do you think, why do some games become so insanely popular?

What goes into making of a game that is a runaway success?

In other words, what things will help your game make tons of money?


Not one but several elements combine into making of an awesome game. However, let’s start with two key parameters of a supremely successful game:

  1. The Player should want to come back again and again to play the game.
  2. The Player should want to share this game with everyone he knows.

Let’s discuss each of the two:

The first point can be summarized in a single word - stickiness; the game should be sticky. After every session of gameplay, the gamer should want to come back again. If you look at Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram, Apple, Google, Pinterest and the likes, a pattern emerges.

One, they are extremely popular and a two, they have formed a habit in us. We check Facebook multiple times a day, look at tweets often, interact with Instagram, Today. The next day. And the next. Ad infinitum. (Actually they are popular because they formed in us a habit of using their product!).

Get better idea from from Hook Cycle:

hook cycle

So great companies go to a deeper level: they are not simply obsessed with building a technically perfect product. They change something fundamental in us: our habits.

So to summarize:

  • All great companies build a habit in us. And why is habit-forming so important?

That’s because habits get so much settled in your routines, you do those actions without any analysis. That way the gaming company won’t have to use any further reminders to poke you to play the game daily; you’ll do it yourself.



Human minds use habits to simplify a lot of tasks. For instance, every time you stand under a shower, you reach out for your shampoo or your shower gel. It’s kind of a reflex action. You don’t spend time or mental energy in deciding whether to use a shower gel. You simply carry out the action.

"Habits are effortless actions that often save you needless analysis."

Habits can be good, neutral or bad.

  1. Like hitting the gym no matter what or eating only healthy food are good habits. They keep you fit and free from illness.
  2. Starting to read a magazine from the back pages is a neutral habit. It’s got nothing to do with good or bad. During lunch, one of my friend always places his decaf coffee on the left of the apple. It’s a habit.
  3. And then there are bad habits that we call vices or addiction. For instance, substance dependency can be bad for one’s health, career and life in general.

Habits, as you can now see, are forms of honoring a promise you never realized you made. Everyday you do a certain set of same things as if you had given out a solemn promise.


When you play Clash of Clans, you know a certain building will be up in, say, 3 hours. Your mind takes a note.

clash of clans building

Candy Crush allows you a new life after, say, 30 minutes. Your mind takes a note.

new life of candy crush

Now you have been infused with the appointment. Gradually, your mind develops a habit of setting aside time for checking out developments after the scheduled period of time. And it’s not just games.

"Your mind has a made of note of checking out the FB status or finding out how’s your neighbour doing on Farmville."

And even if you don’t consciously remember the promise, your hands will suddenly pull out your smartphone and before you realize, you’re keying in smilies or watering the turnips.

Once the game-maker is successful in making his game your habit, he’s safe. Now your mind takes over. FB or Farmville don’t have to send a notification to you to come back; you’ll do it on your own.

That is the power of habits.

If the gaming company can make playing their game your habit, their worries end.


So the gaming company has ensured you will keep playing.

But what about other gamers?

For games, numbers are vital. So all gaming companies want to keep pushing the number of their active gamers higher. Bigger numbers mean better business.

Rather than promoting the game themselves, gaming companies want you to promote their game.

Basically, the idea is get the game go viral.

Left to yourselves, it’s unlikely you’ll promote their game - or for that matter, promote anything. I mean, why would you want to promote their game?

"Each game will try to pack in a number of irresistible reasons for which you’ll share and promote their game."

Some games will use a simple method. For every time you shared the game, you get something of value. Like getting a coin, a badge, a life and so on. The first time your friend plays a game, you will get something of value.

So you keep inviting friends, in the quest of collecting more and more of lives and badges and suits and Sharing should make the gameplay more enriching. Different games will do it differently.



However, there are more subtle and more sophisticated methods to make you spread the game. The gaming company cares about you and genuinely wants to improve your gameplay. :)

For instance, Farmville (and similar games) wants your game to be enjoyable. One way of making your game enjoyable is to have - you guessed it - neighbours.

And one of the best of ways of getting neighbours is to invite friends over. In essence, you tell a friend, “Hey friend! Why not be my neighbour? Then we can both enjoy being farmers and live happily ever after!”

"And the friend comes over and plays. And then she invites her friends. And they in turn invite their friends. You see the pattern."

Clash of Clans permits you to donate or share troops. The recipient gets troops while the donor gets experience points. Both stand to gain from it.

donate share troops in clash of clans

In Farmville, your neighbour can help you revive crops. May be there’s a resource he’ll happily offer for temporary use or rent out or whatever.

revive crops farmville

Candy Crush doesn’t seem to have a visible benefit of the Sharing = Caring theme, but it apparently works on some goodwill idea that if I have helped Tom, one day, who know, Tom might help me!

In yet some other games, sharing the game will help you join forces, build guilds or form teams. That team or guilds will improve your overall performance, help you score more, crack more levels you shared and so you benefitted.


Notice how wonderfully the gaming company puts your benefits ahead of its own - more friends means you enjoy more. They don’t insist you do it, but you know if you share the game, your own experience will be that much better.

In Candy Crush, you can donate life

So sharing becomes rewarding for you.

And you keep doing it.

And the game goes viral.

And you keep playing.

And the gaming company lives happily ever after.

But how does that result into monetization?

How does a company expect to make money when it makes a game sticky and makes it go viral?

When there are a large number of people playing (viral), a game that isn’t easy to stop playing (sticky), without paying for it (freeloaders), you have "A social context within which (other) people would choose to spend money" as Nicolas Lovell says.

In the coming posts I will discuss further engagement, hooks and monetization of Free To Play (F2P) games. Don’t forget to let me know what you think of this post.


This post borrows generously from Nicolas Lovell’s book The Curve: Turning Followers into Superfans and Nir Eyal’s book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and their websites and videos. I personally found them amazing and would strongly recommend them to anyone who’d like to understand gaming in detail.

An entrepreneur who has founded 2 flourishing software firms in 7 years, Tejas is keen to understand everything about gaming - from the business dynamics to awesome designs to gamer psychology. As the founder-CEO of a company that has released some very successful games, he knows a thing or two about gaming. He shares his knowledge through blogs and talks that he gets invited to.

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