After a stagnant 2014, Carter Dotson is hoping for creativity to reign in 2015

Kill the clones

After a stagnant 2014, Carter Dotson is hoping for creativity to reign in 2015

If you were to sum up 2014, the conclusion would have to be that it was a stagnant year for mobile gaming.

Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans ruled the top of the charts again, and while Game of War has started to merit mention after a year in the top 5 grossing and a huge TV ad campaign, it felt like a lot of companies were content to ride on others' coattails.

A few games have managed to do well for themselves, but unseating behemoths by trying to out-do their own games just is not going to happen.

Beating the originals?

Want to get in the top grossing charts? Come up with something that hasn't been done before.

As such, I think 2015 is going to be a year of originality and creativity in mobile gaming: because the more food-centric match-3s and MMO strategy games with screaming avatars that get made, the more developers and publishers will fail.

Want to get in the top grossing charts? Come up with something that hasn't been done before.

Here's the problem with competing with King, Supercell, and Machine Zone: they're so entrenched that it is impossible for a developer to beat them at their own game. Even with the resources to acquire users through TV advertising, anyone hoping to make a match-3 or MMO strategy game is going up against a colossus that pioneered the mobile genre.

Heck, King has the top five top grossing match-3 puzzle games while Supercell has both Clash of Clans and Boom Beach ahead of the most successful clone - IGG's Castle Clash.

In short, if you have a puzzle or strategy game in the works, unless you're *really* sure what you're doing is going to knock people's socks off, *and* you have the resources to compete in user acquisition, you need to reconsider what you're doing unless you have the money or smarts to pull in another Kate Upton or Kim Kardashian to put a sexy celebrity spin on your game.

New and fresh

Still, I'm not sure about how long the success of the current batch of top grossing games will last.

Where can Supercell or King go next? Unless they're running Super Bowl ads, or intend to carve advertisements on the moon, isn't TV advertising their peak?

No, anyone who wants to succeed in 2015 is going to have to do something new and fresh, and provide players with new experiences in order to have a shot at prosperity. I think there are countless genres and experiences that have not yet been adapted to mobile free-to-play successfully.

Heroes Charge - a simpler approach?

There's a lot of room for mid-core games, or at least in adapting core licenses to casual players.

SimCity can be complex on PC, but adapt it to mobile free-to-play, and you have a hit: EA's doing gangbusters with SimCity BuildIt thus far with the game in the top 10 grossing games in the US. They also have licenses like Madden and FIFA doing well, FIFA more so overseas than in the US.

Curse of the MOBA

Switching genres, I bet this is the year that someone finally sorts out how to make the MOBA on mobile succeed.

It might involve making a lot of sacrifices, and making League of Legend and Dota players mad, but it's clear that whatever approaches are currently being taken are not working. Heck, if Vainglory can't get to a notable space in the top grossing charts by way of heavy Apple promotion, then maybe MOBAs don't work on mobile, or someone needs to re-rethink the process of porting this PC genre to touchscreen.

For example, Ucool's Heroes Charge claims to be a MOBA, and is climbing up the charts - thanks to a multi-million-dollar TV ad campaign - but we'll see if it can be successful long-term.

Not even Apple's muscle has been able to push Vainglory up the charts

Anyhow, it really isn't a MOBA, so could the idea of hyper-simplifying the genre's conventions finally work for the lucrative genre? Its TV ad campaign is interesting too because King, Supercell, and Machine Zone have established products. If Heroes Charge can get into the top ten grossing consistently, the airwaves could be full of mobile free-to-play ads.

I also think there are plenty of talented game designers out there who can be combined with F2P experts to make original games that monetize well. As we've seen with Vainglory, promotion without successful monetization is a waste of time and money.

But letting creative people loose with great, original ideas for games that have free-to-play in mind from day one with the monetization strategies that publishers can provide, there's plenty of opportunity for success.

Small and talented

Finally, I hope indies get a jump in on the space too. Crossy Road is an inspiring game, in that it's a game from a core team of three.

We've had enough Clash of Clans clones and match-3 games. It's time for new games.

It may 'just' be an endless take on Frogger, but with an immense amount of polish, a fun game, and a monetization scheme that cleverly uses a lottery system with IAP unlocks (and a $3.99 IAP added in an update that provided a multiplier and exclusive character, and has become the top seller) and incentivized ads, it shows that small teams without huge marketing budgets can be competitive in free-to-play with the right product.

Ultimately, then, I think that the big moves in mobile in 2015 have to come from upstarts, newcomers to mobile, and even established players prepared to try new things in order to succeed in free-to-play.

The battle lines are drawn. We've had enough Clash of Clans clones and match-3 games. It's time for new games.

Without them, the top grossing list on 1st January 2016 will look identical to the one on 1st January 2015. And with mobile providing the potential to be a global space of rapid innovation and disruption, that would just be sad.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!