The mobile games space is tricky. Long gone are the days when mobile developers were able to work directly with carriers, get their games placed straight on phone decks and charge upwards of $5 for a game. Things like free-to-play, micro-transactions or ad-support did not exist in those days. Every game was a Premium title and once you managed to land on a carrier’s deck, money was guaranteed. Success was predictable.
As I said, a lot has changed. Today, there’s virtually no money to be made in the mobile market. Less than 1% of all games generate 99% of all revenue in the industry. For every “Angry Birds” or “Clash of Clans” there are—quite literally—a million games that do not even generate $5 per month. It has been disturbing for me to watch the industry implode in a matter of weeks once the iPhone launched in the summer of 2007 and Apple opened the floodgates for hobbyists to publish their own games. Nothing has been the same since and the self-destructive cycle has continued for years, eroding, what little market there had been left. Today, every mobile game is struggling to find an audience. What makes matters worse is that even with an audience, every mobile game is struggling to make money because high download numbers no longer guarantee actual revenues.
And yet, the stream of new games seems endless. Did you know, for example, that currently 1,000 new mobile games appear in the Google Play store EVERY WEEK? With numbers such as these, and the industry essentially being forced to make games available for free, it is hardly surprising that practically no one is making money in mobile games these days. Not with micro-transactions, not with ad-support and certainly not with Premium titles.
This disturbing trend is the reason why I joined Gigataur recently, a Canadian publisher that has developed an exciting new way to monetize mobile games and put money in developers’ hands, where it belongs. As part of my assignment, I have spent the past months looking through hundreds of mobile games—mostly casual titles—evaluating them, and I thought, I’d make a short list of some of the most notable, overlooked gems I’ve discovered on that journey. Please join me and, perhaps, try out one or two of the games for yourself. Speaking of gems, let’s kick the list off with…
1. Battle Gems (AdventureQuest) — Artix Entertainment
While being a general “Puzzle & Dragons” clone on the surface, I found the game has a lot more to offer. Not only does it have an incredibly witty charm and is larded with hilarious comments and names, but it also offers solid gameplay that never gets stale. In fact, the game is so huge, I have yet to see the borders of the game’s world map. Seriously, this game is humongous… and gorgeous, and its user interface makes it possible to start playing without much of a learning curve. You jump in, start matching gems and kicking some monster butt.
2. Throne of Dragons — Rocket Games
Slot games have come a long way and the titles that Rocket Games is dishing out are not only some of the most beautiful ones, but also some of the most balanced ones, making them nothing but fun to play and explore. As a fan of fantasy settings, “Throne of Dragons” instantly appealed to me and kept me coming back with its awesome graphics and its fun slot play. Tall Wilds, oversized slot cards and fun mini-games keep the play interesting while unlocking new slot machines in the process. In the same vein, try their “Riches of Zeus” also, a slot game with tons of features, mini-games and a seemingly endless supply of unlockable machines. Slot games simply don’t get much better than this.
3. 4 Elements — Playrix Games
This is a fascinating game that amalgamates many genres. It combines features of hidden object games, match-3 games, puzzle and trading card features, all in one game. The graphics in this game are top notch, making it look like a million bucks, and the design keeps you coming back to explore and uncover more of the rich features. Sadly, the free demo, which ends after a few short levels, only gives you a hint of the wealth of features and the breadth of diversity that “4 Elements” has under the hood.
4. Quest Run — Phoenix Online Studios
While not strictly a casual game, this RPG-inspired game of tactics is so easily accessible that it would certainly qualify as casual in most aspects where it counts. The game has a few quirks and its difficulty level can be quite infuriating, but neither have really caused me to put the game down. In fact, every level that you defeat will feel like a true achievement, making you thirsty for the next one, always giving it just “one more try.”
5. Earthcore: Shattered Elements — Tequila Games
“Earthcore” is a great example that showcases how collectible card games do not have to be hardcore and do not have to overwhelm the user with options and features. Solid fun and easy to learn, the ultimate challenge of the game is mastering tactics in order to defeat your opponent in player-vs-player battle. The game has great graphics and its overall production value make it a real highlight of the genre—or at least I found myself going back playing it again and again.
6. Creature Quest — VC Mobile Entertainment
From the creator of the classic “Might & Magic” RPG games comes a top tier fantasy collectible card game that will hold you spellbound. I am using the term “collectible card game” loosely here, because, at its core, this is an RPG with collectible aspects to it, centering around PvP battles. Clearly, the game was developed with the highest production values in mind and it shows in every nook and cranny. From the gorgeous art to the lovely animation details and nifty gameplay features, this game is ripe with everything genre fans love. To me, it has been one of the most fascinating discoveries of my recent mobile explorations.
7. Puzzle Trooper — Gumi Inc.
Gumi is a heavyweight in the mobile space, but even in their deck, you can find games that never really became break-out hits, the way some of their blockbusters are. To me, “Puzzle Trooper” was such a game. I love the attitude of this title. It is a “Puzzle & Dragons” clone but what made it stand out for me was the fact that it looks like “Metal Slug.” It has the same awesome art style, the same quirky animations and the same cool sense of humor. While it may not be re-inventing the wheel when it comes to gameplay, it manages to create an experience that is all fun. And then some.
If you love classic Arcade shooters, this is your baby. “Pirates Storm” is a vertical scroller with sailing ships and a modern, clean, casual look. But don’t let it fool you. The action is frenetic, to the point that frequently, the game appears to run out of screen real estate, because there are missiles flying at you from all imaginable directions. The game features everything you could ask for, cool graphics, homing rockets, cool explosions, pick-ups galore, huge explosions, gems, and whatnot. What’s there not to like? But boy, it is hard…
9. Zeus Defense — Alawar Entertainment
This tower defense game gets my thumbs-up, because I love the look of it. Using a mythological Greek setting, it conjures up memories of Disney’s “Hercules” with its colorful art style and atmosphere. It features tons of mythological monsters that try to overrun your settlements and it gets incrementally harder, dishing out some serious boss battles as well, so don’t let the cute look fool you. This is a full-bodied game with plenty of specials and features as you go along.
10. Nords — Plarium
Ever heard of “Nords?” Probably not, but you should have. This is a cool strategy game with the look and feel of “How to Train a Dragon.” Colorful, yet ferocious, the game is actually a massively-multiplayer game in which you have to carve out your place. With cool battles, awesome world building, and beautiful characters, the game offers top-tier production values throughout. And it has depth, I tell you. Factions to choose from, a crafting system, different units and champions to chose from, make “Nords” a real heavyweight that sadly flew under almost everyone’s radar.
This is just a relatively small excerpt of some of the game highlights I stumbled across recently, but I felt that I should share some of the great games I stumble across on my journey. But now it’s your turn. What are some of your favorite mobile games that you feel have been overlooked? Let me know so I can take a look at them as well, and perhaps include them in a future list.
Also, if you are a developer with a cool mobile game, feel free to contact me at ! As I mentioned in the opening, we have exciting opportunities at Gigataur.com that open up additional revenue streams for developers without interfering with their current business. Send me an email and I’ll be happy to tell you more about it.