6 mobile games you should have played in 2015

Best of the year

6 mobile games you should have played in 2015

Every year is the best year ever for games.

That's a truism, but one that is conceptually correct, at least in the sense that all games are inspired by the games of the past.

In that respect, then, 2015 was the best year for games.

Best ever

But in a deeper sense, 2015 was the best year ever for F2P mobile games.

2015 was the year when some developers finally understood how to make F2P games that didn't crudely demand their players' money.

Instead, they focused on retention, bringing players back on a daily basis - often many times during a day - to engage with short and long-term goals.

Of course, the point of this is monetisation, and in 2015, F2P monetisation became much more sophisticated, better integrated, and enjoyable.

Here are six games that in very different ways encapsulated these trends.

Click here to view the list »
  • Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes

    In a year set up in a 11-month-two-week countdown for the seventh Star Wars film, many readers will not be surprised that EA/Capital Games' card-collection title Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is our most significant game of 2015.

    Yet, we are anything other than a team of Star Wars fans.

    Matt has never seen any of the franchise, while neither Jon or Ric have been in the queues for The Force Awakens.

    Ironically, then, the game's choice of IP is less an advantage, more an obstacle to Galaxy of Heroes' position in our end of year round up.

    Heroes stand tall

    Instead, the reason is the game's solid foundation - inspired by Asian-developed CCG hybrids such as Dota Legends and Heroes Charges - combined with a western twist in terms of UX and, yes, good integration of the core IP too.

    Hence, not only does Galaxy of Heroes have a strong character update and unlocking system, but fast and slow ways of playing, a well formed Daily Activities system, and multiple play modes, ranging from PVP arenas to more puzzle oriented challenges.

    The result is not only enjoyable and accessible but sticky and highly engaging; something demonstrated in its success.

    A top 50 grossing game in most major western countries, EA will no doubt be highlighting Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes during its next financials.

  • Mobile Strike

    Although not formally labelled as such, Mobile Strike is effectively a refresh of Machine Zone's massively successful Game of War.

    The game mechanics - heavily resource and menu-based; also relying on Alliances for retention and monetisation - are broadly the same.

    The use of a celebrity figure - in this case Arnie Schwarzenegger mirroring the role of Kate Upton in Game of War - to figurehead a brute force marketing campaign is also similar.

    And Mobile Strike is also highly successful; just like Game of War.

    Another front

    In fact, the main difference is the theme, which in this case is contemporary military compared to the fantasy setting of Game of War.

    Perhaps the only uncertainly is why Mobile Strike has been released by Epic War (100% owned by Machine Zone), rather than Machine Zone itself.

    Some have speculated this is to get around the issue that many other developers have blacklisted UA ads from Machine Zone within their game, although why developers would want to block such a lucrative spender is unclear.

    Of course, Machine Zone's games are not for most players - something our IAP Inspector pointed out.

    Nevertheless, the developer remains a multi-billion-dollar niche behemoth and one of the most sophisticated western operators of free-to-play games: games that developers who are looking for success in the hard and midcore genres would do well to study.

  • Farm Story

    It says a lot about how mobile advertising changed in 2015 that one of the most significant games of the year was an ad-focused farming game.

    Set up by ex-Rovio developers, Helsinki-based Futureplay Games came up with a new label - view-to-play - to describe the type of experiences it planned to release.

    Farm Away! was the first of these; a lightweight game (since bulked up with a big update) that encourages players to dip in and out multiple times during the day, viewing a couple of rewarded videos each time.

    Right loops

    The reason it works - as pointed out by our IAP Inspector - is the combination of quick sessions and the deep integration of the rewarded videos into the harvesting gameplay; something Futureplay's CEO Jami Laes labels opt-in additive experiences.

    "Ads are not a replacement for IAP. You need to find different core loops for ads to integrate with. It's not ads or IAPs. It's ads and IAPs," he said, revealing the game was generating $0.082 ARPDAU.

  • The Walking Dead: No Man's Land

    Much anticipated, Next Games' The Walking Dead: No Man's Land is the official game of the AMC TV show, which launched with the start of Series 6. 

    In design, the game offers a broadly standard design, mixing base-building and resource management, with RPG-lite elements as you build up and level up a squad of survivors, collecting more resources, armour and weapons as you work through the single player missions.

    As with Next Game's debut Compass Point: West, the game neatly integrates incentivised video ads into the session flow, and is already seeing good top grossing performance on the Apple App Store. 

    Our IAP Inspector looked at the balance between gameplay and monetisation

    While the Charticle revealed its early top grossing success, we also considered the game's monetisation with a Monetizer video. 

  • Fallout Shelter

    Announced and released unexpectedly during Bethesda's E3 2015 press conference, Fallout Shelter was one of 2015's surprise successes.

    Maybe even to Bethesda.

    Certainly it provided a rich battlefield for debate over the value of triple-A premium console brands in F2P mobile games, as well as the understanding of triple-A premium console game companies of games-as-a-service.

    Yet, despite all this, there's little argument that the game captured the imagination of a large number of players; players who probably hadn't previously connected with F2P mobile games.

  • DomiNations

    Given the heritage of PC strategy developers, many have suggested that the success of relatively simple mobile strategy games such as Clash of Clans provides an opportunity for something more complex.

    Of course, balancing the required level of complexity with mobile play patterns is harder than it sounds, but Big Huge Games has managed the transition.

    Mind the gap

    Best known for PC RTS series Rise of Nations, the US developer hooked up with Nexon M - the western publishing arm of the Japanese/Korea PC publisher - to release DomiNations in 2015 to great success.

    Indeed, not only has the game, which draws on historic eras to provide narrative depth and retention, been successful in the west.

    The Nexon link has also resulted in solid results in Asia, including more than one million downloads across Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

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.