Why the shelf life of mobile games is so short

The Atlantic Wire takes an interesting look this week at the shrinking half-life of mobile games that tries to answer the question “Why Candy Crush is already boring.” Writer Rebecca Greenfield suggests that our attention span for much modern media and leisure continues to shrink, which may jibe with how our minds seem to be changing in the digital era. And she rightly focuses on the fact that mobile developers have stressed the “pick up and play” aspect of mobile games that stress simplicity and intuitiveness that are at odds with the kind of complex games that encourage long-term play.
Candy Crush Saga is a great example: While it’s basically a version of Bejeweled with an added twist or two, it has amassed an audience of roughly 45 million monthly casual gamers and it generates about $633,000 million per day. But it recently relinquished its month-long ride at the top of Apple’s top free downloaded app, as The Fiscal Times reported this week. Which could mean its best days are behind it.
Greenfield is correct that the mobile games that have been the biggest hits have generally had short runs, and as I’ve written before those successes have been very difficult for publishers to duplicate. But I think focusing on the most popular titles — those that typically are free or can be had for a couple of dollars — may present a skewed view of a market that is deeper than it appears, particularly on tablets like the iPad, where games can be so much more sophisticated. Those games are likely to be substantially more expensive than traditional casual games, which is why they may never top the charts. But they could have a much longer tail than those casual chart-toppers — particularly if they leverage controllers made by third parties for the upcoming iOS 7.