Comment & Opinion

What can the mobile games industry learn from Fallout Shelter's success?

What can the mobile games industry learn from Fallout Shelter's success?

Despite not being anything like as deep as the franchise it piggybacks, Fallout Shelter is already leaping into the top 10 grossing charts around the world.

So we asked our Mobile Mavens: 

Do you think this demonstrates the power of Fallout brand, the spending patterns of the sort of people who identify as Fallout players, or the poise of the launch - announced on an E3 stage and available immediately?

More importantly, is this a one-off - a Flappy Bird for monetisation - or what can wider games industry learn from the early success of Fallout Shelter?

 

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

It's surprising that a mobile 'building' game that has almost nothing to do with the Fallout game series has hit #1 on iOS, but it sure speaks to how critical the new 'curated' Apple App Store is.

Apple gave it an Editor's Choice, partly because it's exclusive to iOS (hence the "Only on the App Store" label), and because it resonated with the Apple review team.

Only on the App Store - Apple's promotion saw Fallout Shelter off to a strong start

This shows how powerful brands are in influencing Apple to feature a game. And getting a feature on the main page of the App Store is a key to big success.

Will Luton Executive Producer Rovio

I don't think Editor's Choice has anywhere near that power today.

What's put it in top grossing is a combination of solid monetisation and brand with strong pull and rabid fans.

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

I agree with you on the power of this brand, but checking the dates, it appears this game was featured from the date of its launch. It would be useful to know if it's the case.

Having had games featured I know it matters. With the App Store changes, even more so.

This may be a great game and a brand with a loyal following, but iOS users had to find out about it.

That's where the feature comes in.

And now, Editors Choice is an editorial decision. No more will bursts to the top of the charts get you into a "what's hot" listing.

Now if only Apple would fix the app lists for the Watch :-)

Tony Gowland CEO Ant Workshop

Tony’s career has covered the whole spectrum from AAA console to handheld, mobile and flash titles, working on huge franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and Call of Duty.

In 2015 he founded Ant Workshop to develop his own titles and to offer his experience as a design consultant.

It was indeed Editor's Choice from the moment it launched (so there were two Editor's Choice games that week).

To me it's strong showing is the result of a number of factors;

  • It's a brand with a very loyal fanbase,
  • The timing is just as the Fallout 4 hype machine has started going, and announced and launched minutes after a new gameplay video so it's on the upswing of excitement with no brand fatigue,
  • Its monetisation is clear but not pushy at all and with a low top purchase price so Fallout's core audience don't see it as a "bad" F2P game,
  • It's not a companion app required to unlock parts of Fallout 4, so avoids any stigma that label might have,
  • It's decent quality (not surprising from Behaviour Interactive),
  • It brings to mind the base building parts of another core favourite, X-Com, is also to its benefit,
  • And despite being a departure for the series it feels completely authentic to its world, which is hugely important for Fallout fans.

So it's letting fans get re-immersed in a world they love, at a time they're most hyped, and it doesn't feel like a cynical cash-grab tie-in.

With low value IAP and no multiplayer, can Fallout Shelter sustain its success

What I'll be really interested in seeing is its longevity, and whether a Bethesda, as a boxed product publisher, have a plan in place for running the game live.

Christopher Kassulke CEO / Owner HandyGames

It was a great planned release of Bethesda and Apple. Fallout is a great brand and I am a big fan of the original Fallout titles (yeah I played through all of them even several times).

The release during E3 was a smart move combined with the powerful Apple's Editor Choice
Christopher Kassulke

They have a big community and fan base and that helped a lot from the start. The release during E3 was a smart move combined with the powerful Apple's Editor Choice and several other promotions in iTunes (for sure the exclusivity on iTunes helped them).

The press also did an awesome job pushing the title as well, thanks to the announcement on stage.

I haven't seen any CPI campaigns for the game until now so they aren't currently pushing heavily so let's see when the E3 hype and the promotion from Apple is gone if they can stay up in the charts.

The funny thing was, I downloaded the game as soon I saw it and it's crashing on my device after 2 minute so it does not work on my old iPad 2.

The other big PC and console publishers will come to iTunes soon. I welcome Bethesda to the mobile games world.

Kevin Corti Principal Spidershed Media

I agree with Tony; that the more intriguing question is whether Bethesda can run an effective game as a service offering that delivers both a high quality of service and an evolving entertainment experience for the most engaged players.

$1million a day is nice. Sustaining that for 12-18 months is company changing!

From a marketing standpoint it looks like they 'simply' did everything right;

  • Great-looking and - it appears - enjoyable game,
  • Strong IP,
  • Great timing, and
  • Getting strong Apple support.

We don't know what level of UA spend they have committed to yet so it will also be interesting to see if and to what extent installs fall off after the 'Apple Honeymoon' period comes to an end.

Whatever happens, it is refreshing to see a change at the top of the charts! My Mac was in danger of getting Clash of Clans and Game of War screen burn.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Ideas Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

I don't see how Bethesda have launched this game as anything out of the ordinary; in fact, working hand-in-hand with a platform holder ahead of launch, and using a broad marketing spend and multi-platform launch to get preferential placement is bread and butter.

In fact, this was exactly the approach we took with the telcos whenever we were launching branded games; the mere fact of the game being from a known brand was enough to get it onto the deck.

I'd love to know who's downloading this, and how long it will keep the usual suspects off the top of the charts.
John Ozimek

I'd love to know who's downloading this, and how long it will keep the usual suspects off the top of the charts.

The feeling from E3 was that mobile is still an afterthought platform (we know it's not), and the feedback from console and PC gamers still seems to be that freemium is a model they vocally dislike.

So if Bethesda has managed to convert hardcore Fallout fans into mobile gamers with a game that seems to be freemium-lite in its approach, there could be some really interesting lessons for us all - especially if it can remain near the top of the charts without a crushingly-huge spend on UA.

What's not really clear is whether reaching #1 is more due to the Apple support or tapping in to Fallout fans. I suspect that's what we'd all really like to know.

I'm not sure what the big lessons are though - as we all know the power of established brands when launching new products.

Yes, Bethesda is to be applauded for taking mobile seriously (I think the PIP-boy companion mobile app is a brilliant idea), but really, shouldn't a proper mobile strategy be part of the mix by now?

Fallout Shelter could be described as freemium-lite

Maybe what this will achieve is to encourage a bit more creativity from well-loved console and PC franchises when it comes to the mobile tie-ins.

Marcelo Careaga Head of Production Miniclip

Following what John mentions, the big lessons for me have more to do with how this game is designed than with how it was marketed.

Bethesda is far from the first triple company to come out with a "companion app" that goes hand-in-hand with a new title on their home turf. It is, though, arguably the most successful one to date.

I think there are lessons here both for other studios trying to do companion apps and for those that are trying to translate their big triple-A franchises into mobile.

  • Porting is not the best option: It's notoriously difficult to take a game "as-is" in the console or PC world and put it into mobile. The fans of the traditional game will complain about monetization, the mobile players will complain about the confusing mechanics, everybody will complain about the controls.
  • "Mobile first" as a design philosophy is better. Fallout Shelter is based on existing, proven mechanics for mobile, not on adapting existing non-mobile gameplay. Recently the Far Cry 4 companion apps also tried this approach, for example, and I think they fared reasonably well.
  • Be careful about setting expectations to your audience: I think the fast announcement to launch cycle was very important here. Announcing Fallout 4 and immediately jumping to say "by the way, we know you have to wait for this game to be available but in the meantime, here you have this cool thing on your phone" and from there to people actually getting the game was truly clever. The fans could not create false expectations in their minds about what a Fallout in mobile could be. Hype built for the PC/console game went directly into the mobile title. A great move.

There are other open questions, though.

I'm not sure how long can the game stay in the top grossing charts on its own, and I'm even less sure that Bethesda will consider putting the resources it will need to put on it to sustain the revenue.

The monetization design itself is very clever: quite light but quite based on chance (gacha-lite?), but unless there's a lot more content than what I've seen, it may be difficult for it to have a long shelf life.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Ideas Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

Marcelo, you made a point that I meant to include myself: whether Bethesda are even interested in investing UA to the degree that its rivals at the top of the free chart regularly do.

Will Fallout Shelter's success sell more copies of Fallout 4

With its focus on shipping Fallout 4, it could be that making a mobile app that happens to make millions of dollars is the cherry on the cake of a franchise that is likely to touch a billion dollars...

Brian Baglow Executive Producer Team Rock Games

Wait, what? If a proper big grown-up games company that makes, you know, REAL games stops sneering and actually approaches the platform with an open-mind and a willingness to design something which uses the strengths of the device and isn't designed solely to exploit users, or just tick the mobile box, then you can build a game which is appealing to gamers...?

My word. Maybe now the rest of them will pay attention and take mobile seriously as a channel which can actually add entirely new and valuable experiences to their larger projects.

Oscar Clark Author, Consultant and Independent Developer Rocket Lolly Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

John asked whose buying it… I am… already spent 3 lots of £7.99 ($9.99) myself & suspect I'll do that again before I'm done.

Oscar's got a big vault

As to why it's a hit - lots of the reasons already said.

  • Great co-ordination between an existing community, massive and timely announcement targeted at motivating their core fanbase instantly.
  • Getting the attention of the platform holders
  • Creating a great game for mobile/tablet that lives in the world they created, but which also stands alone with a delicious tongue-in-cheek twist
  • Perfectly formed gameplay designed to build engagement
  • Perfect unboxing experience where paid-for items make continuing playing the best way to get the utility from purchase
  • The game plays even when I don't have a connection!!!

Kevin raises a hugely important question though. Are Bethesda all in? Will they treat this as a service and continue to invest in it ?

I'd like them to consider making something about what happens in this game contribute in some way to my full game - perhaps making it possible for me to explore my own Vault?

Not necessary - but would be sweet…

Oscar Clark Author, Consultant and Independent Developer Rocket Lolly Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Seems there is a snag to the game.

I've reached 103 inhabitants and unlocked my Nukacola Bottling plant...

Mmm... What next?

Still my Shelter is now pretty awesome.

Tony Gowland CEO Ant Workshop

Tony’s career has covered the whole spectrum from AAA console to handheld, mobile and flash titles, working on huge franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and Call of Duty.

In 2015 he founded Ant Workshop to develop his own titles and to offer his experience as a design consultant.

This is what Kevin & myself were saying.

There's no real elder game/end game so unless Bethesda have a live ops plan to get new features out there to fill this need, all of those lovely spending players are going to churn within a week as they run out of content more quickly.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Ideas Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

I did mean who from the general population is paying - not avowed F2P apologists and Fallout 3 fanboys.

As with many things Oscar, you are the exception that proves the rule ;-)

Oscar Clark Author, Consultant and Independent Developer Rocket Lolly Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Perhaps but I make a general rule not to claim my F2P spending... because if I'm not prepared to do it myself then it's not a real test of the value of the game.

Jas Purewal Lawyer & Partner Purewal & Partners

Leaving aside debate about whether this is just appealing to F2P fans and/or Fallout fans or the wider population, the game is in part interesting to me because of things it does really well:

  • no wait timers;
  • no energy/mana limitations;
  • no resource-refills-for-real-money (from the iOS review so far, people seem to like this).

I care about my people in Fallout Shelter

The AI is cleverer and the world more persistent than any F2P game I can think of so far. In most mobile games, the world is essentially stupid and dependent on the player.

All of these factors make me smile and keep me motivated to check in several times a day. Whether that lasts, of course, that's an unknown which depends on Bethesda's commitment…

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Ideas Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

Whilst I agree, there has still been some comment online (and from the non-mobile games media) that Bethesda has chosen a 'safe' route with this game, and come up with something that doesn't share the same vision and technical ambition as they would do on PC or console.

I haven't played it myself, so can see the validity from both sides of the argument - as Jas just said, any F2P game that does a great job is to be applauded, but equally I've played enough games of this style to not want to try this one out - even though I was a big fan of Fallout 3.

Going back to my earlier point, if this has had such a positive response from people who would self-identify as console gamers, I would be interested to see if the IAP spend profile is different to what is typically seen in a successful F2P game.

Oscar - would you say your £24 is high or normal engagement for a 'superman' or similar? You probably know more of the spend rates than I do...

Oscar Clark Author, Consultant and Independent Developer Rocket Lolly Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Lol - hardly 'superman'...

That's actually quite high for me. I rarely go about £3.99 price points and rarer still to have repeat purchased at all (few games are that good).

I've never been a whale myself... although many might think otherwise if they saw me swimming :0)

I tend to flit between lots of games, rarely landing at all.

Brian Baglow Executive Producer Team Rock Games

My son (20yo, massive console gamer, huge Fallout fan) has three vaults and is playing the game simultaneously on his iPhone and his mum's iPad.

He's spent £50+ on the latest Steam sale, but will NOT pay for anything in the game because 'mobile games are a rip off'.

This is despite me showing him Luca Simms, wasteland explorer extraordinaire and the guided fatbay with which I am protecting my vault, which I paid a whopping £2.99 ($4.99) for...

We've got a long way to go..

Christoph Safferling Head of Game Analytics Ubisoft Blue Byte

Brian, it might also be a mindset.

I see a lot of players who want to play F2P games without paying money. It's part of the "challenge" to not pay anything and "beat" the game this way.

A Steam sale game is still a "proper" game. I'm sure your son would also have not bought 99% of those games he bought in the sale at full price, because "PC games are a ripoff".

Alexey Sazonov CEO Panzerdog

Given the success Fallout Shelter already has, I bet there are dozens of developers planning their own games in 'shelter management genre'.

On PC/Steam, I enjoyed State of Decay mainly because of base management aspect. Dead State took it even deeper (let alone decent TBS core of the game).

And most recently I played small, nice game Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville, which has interesting Risk-inspired area control mechanics and nice progression in survivor skills development and available buildings.

How come we had nothing like that on mobile? Maybe I missed something. Any suggestions?

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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Darin
Its an instant success because anybody who plays games was watching #e32015 including live streams. I didn't even see it on the appstore even though blogs were reporting it's success.
jon jordan
You ain't wrong Darin... It was a perfect storm
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