Fishing for Trends on the App Store

by Tom Kinniburgh

Every app would love to be a trendsetter. Launching a unique game that the world has never seen, designers being inspired by your work. Not many of us will do this within our lifetimes. Mostly, developers are looking to piggyback on a mobile gaming trend look at the market, find a niche, an idea, and then build it into something better. Fortnite built off of the Battle Royale trend, Idle Miner built off the Idle trend and Clash of Clans built off Backyard Monsters.

But how do you know if you are picking the right trend? Is there a method to establishing a trend or is it pure luck? Is a trend just beginning, have I missed it, is there still time, is it still worth it?!

Financial analysts calculating the trend in Apple share price in 2009

These are tough questions and there isn’t a single answer, but there certainly are telltale signs that a trend is developing. Most long term human endeavors create trends. The length of time or the number of events needed to establish a trend can vary wildly across industries. Mobile gaming on the app store is no exception — yet unlike other mediums, free to play apps that feature similar mechanics, themes or audiences can all still achieve financial success. While Candy Crush may be the #1 game in match 3, there have been hundreds of games operating outside of it that still provide sustainable financial success to their developers. You don’t need to be the trendsetter or the #1 game to build a successful business.

A particular mobile gaming trend that caught my eye recently is the hyper casual fishing genre. A genre that until 3 months ago didn’t feature in any charts. Then quickly 3 games all show up. Is this a clear trend — if so should we jump in?

What is a Trend?

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Banksy’s self destructing painting

Trends are used to describe a change over time “upward trends in stock markets” or “black leather is the hit style of the season”. These casual comments actually mask the fundamentals of a trend which is an observed statistical change in data over time.  People looking at datasets and making predictions on the future based on the performance in the past.

A trend is not a single remarkable data point.

For example, Banksy’s recent stunt of destroying his own art that had been sold in Sotheby’s received huge worldwide publicity, but it isn’t likely that we’re going to see art destruction as a trend.

Trends are all about data and the underlying data is tracking the actions of a population of people.  For a set of data to form a trend it needs to:

  1. Be more than two points of data
  2. You can’t pick convenient points, it should take all available data
  3. The more data points the more reliable the trend, but margins of error always exist.
  4. A trend is always historic and is not a guarantee of the future.

Pokemon Go hitting the top of the market in 2016 was a single data point. It would be bold to call that a trend looking at its own success. Now with Walking Dead, Jurassic World Alive, and soon Harry Potter being released — this starts to show as more of an underlying mobile gaming trend towards AR gaming.

A trend always needs multiple data points to confirm it is a trend and most people are only interested in strong trends in either direction.

For the purpose of this article, we will be taking the app store download chart as our data source and discuss whether there are any game genres or mechanics that are causing a splash!

A tale of three Fish

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Hooked Inc (Lion Studios), Go Fish! (Kwalee), The Fish Master (Voodoo) from left to right.

Fishing as a game genre has been popular all the way back from SEGA’s Mega Bass Fishing and this mirrors to some extent it’s popularity as a hobby. However, as a casual game, the original arcade fishing mechanic was first executed well in Ridiculous Fishing by Vlambeer released in 2015.

Ridiculous Fishing – Vlambeer

This game performed very well for the time and also won a number of development awards. Yet it wasn’t designed with the free to play business model, so as a paid app it does not get a large install volume anymore.

Similar to what happend with Threes!, within the last four months, 3 of the largest mobile publishers ( Lion Studios, Kwalee, Voodoo) have each brought their own version of ridiculous fishing to market (Hooked Inc, Go Fish! And The Fish Master).  

Each of these companies identified a gaming trend from years ago — a game that performed well within its market & business model (paid, mobile) that could be easily ported over to their model (hyper-casual). Finding trends doesn’t always have to be about what’s popular now, but also what has been popular, but can find new life today!

Fishing Game Design

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Go Fish! Kwalee

Capitalising on a trend still requires differentiation to be successful. Both Go Fish and The Fish Master stay quite faithful to the original Ridiculous Fishing concept where you cast a line deep into the sea and then on the way up you must catch a variety of fish. The larger the fish you catch the more money you earn which allows you to buy upgrades that help you cast deeper, catch more fish or earn more offline currency via an idle mechanic.

This is a very simple, single currency positive feedback loop that doesn’t scale. But it provides ample opportunities to view an ad.  This likely makes it a good mechanic to increase the views per DAU which I wrote about earlier as the primary metric to improve for monetization in free to play.

Fishing for Trends on the App Store - fishing game mechanics hyper casual hypercasual trends 3
Fishing Games Core Loop

Based on the game mechanics we’ve seen in hyper casual, fishing games use a very subtle rising mechanic + a small amount of dexterity in order to achieve the most optimal score.  Score is not as critical as other games and enjoyment is replaced by netting rare fish. This works well as it creates a simple random variable reward for players over the longer period as they never know which fish are swimming deep beneath their feet.

Idle Mechanics for retention

Hooked Inc, changes the mechanic and put’s the focus into a more fishing tycoon/management style approach where the focus is placed more on upgrading both your rod and your boat than the fishing itself.  Players have reduced importance on dexterity and more important on upgrade efficiency. tracing your finger across the screen. The aim with Hooked Inc, is to slowly increase the size and strength of your boat to lead yourself to the more lucrative waters. The core loop remains the same as above but there is a deeper idle mechanic and a larger number of upgrade choices.

In each case, the primary monetization is video ads, but Go Fish! And Hooked Inc contains more premium currency upgrades to increase the rate at which you can earn more soft currency.  If I had to rank them in terms of game design depth:

 The Fishmaster  < Go Fish! < Hooked Inc 

    (least depth) ———————- (most depth)

Beginning the Trend

What’s most interesting about this particular genre is that it has been dead since Ridiculous Fishing, a premium game that was barely doing 100 downloads a day. There has been no other top performing fishing titles since 2015. Then, in the space of 3 months, 3 casual games appeared and together they have amassed 10,000,000 downloads. The question is, why?

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The mechanic itself lends itself to the hyper casual business model due to it’s short rounds, simple progression and one finger click and drag mechanics. This could have been the reason Voodoo attempted to grow The Fish Master originally. During that period the market itself was responding to the idea of a simple fishing game, but as we noted earlier one data point is not a trend.

Fast Follow

Due to the size of the 3 companies that each entered the market, it’s safe to assume that each of them is aware of one another. In the Hyper Casual space, this means keeping tabs, being fast to market, iterating on success or killing failures quickly. Fish Master (Kwalee) quickly built upon the game feel, improving the speed, transitions, casting feeling and the complexity of finding rare fish. However,  they didn’t stray too far out of bounds of the simple game mechanic – dropping a hook to catch some fish. Kwalee also made smart decisions, to focus on the hook drag, adding a small amount of skill and luck for the user so that they would reach their maximum load more quickly, but through skill you could catch bigger fish if you focus on where to drag.

This subtle change made the game feel more challenging. This seems to be just the right balance as quite quickly they rose faster and higher in the charts.  

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Hooked Inc (Lion Studios) is a fundamentally different game as it’s idle compared to dexterity, but one that’s attacking the same audience.  Idle mechanics, which rely on upgrading large numbers of stats in order to earn more revenue quickly have less general appeal but still appeal to a gaming audience.  Based on the download figures it was harder to sustain and grow the installs, most likely due to CPI. You would hope that a higher LTV from the idle mechanics would allow for longer marketing growth, but again the charts points to a down trend. Exact LTVs for Hyper Casual are very hard to tell due to Ad Revenues being obscured from Sensor Tower Analysis.  

For the mobile gaming trend to be more significant and longer lasting, we would look for 3 major signs. Firstly the longer a single app can sustain larger install numbers. If a second data point then showed a higher but flatter drop in installs after it’s peak and then if the third data point could maintain a new and similar peak so that the install rate of all the apps together was much higher.

Sustaining the Trend

As fast as the trend appears the data shows it’s already reducing in volume. Fishing games have fallen out of the top 100 in general, and none of the 3 games covered has been a clear winner. Go Fish! By Kwalee was the most successful in terms of downloads, but the mechanic and depth of the gameplay has not led to sustained chart position.

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There is also a large unknown in how much each of these companies was spending on marketing. Sustaining on the app store now requires large amounts of cash to push users into apps to get them up the store.  In each case, it looks like the profitability of the campaigns wasn’t high enough to maintain strong organic growth, leaving the apps to flounder. For a mobile gaming trend to really sustain it must usually lead to actions that are natural (no marketing), viral (increasing K-Factor) and adopted by the majority.

The most interesting trend at the moment is that of Fortnite which has truly captured the imagination of the youth and can often be seen where people are referencing things from the game in real life. Take for instance the real-life dance challenges that are also run digitally too.  A trend like this sustains itself with user-generated content, but Epic is doing a great job of sustaining momentum through their Season based approach and ever developing storyline and character plots.

When to jump on a trend and when not?

As we’ve seen in the Fishing trend, most of the pointers are already pointing down. Within 3 short months, a huge number of people had begun to play a fishing game, but the sustain wasn’t there. It would, therefore, be naive to believe that you can buck the global trend with a new fishing game.

However, the simplicity of the gameplay and the clear appetite for downloads initially means that with just enough of a twist or blend from Ridiculous, Hooked, Go Fish or Fish Master an audience awaits. Assessing how much revenue potential there is behind that audience is another blog post all. Happy Trendsetting!