App Store – Buying the Potential

Apple’s App Store continues to fill up with dozens of new games each day. Although Apple has a pretty strict approval process, it doesn’t mean that any of those new games are worth playing. Only a few games are critically acclaimed; if you really want variety, you’ll have to go out on a limb and purchase unfinished games. How can you tell which games will grow in value over time?

One unscrupulous developer, DS Effects, has filled the app store with 50 identical pet sims and worthless adventure games. Thankfully, their shovelware seems easily avoided: Screenshots and one-star ratings tend to expose those games as worthless. Some customers will still purchase the app (the one-star reviews were written by someone who bought the app), but avoiding these games is fairly easy.

Developer Credibility

What do you do when a game seems to have potential, but isn’t completed? Ratings won’t help in these cases, since reviewers are either overly optimistic about the game’s future promises, or overly negative about the game’s present condition. In these cases, you have to look at the developer’s credibility. Do they seem attentive to the needs of their audience? Are they planning on revising their work until it has reached its maximum potential?
I’ve taken three games that have sparked heavy discussion in the Touch Arcade Forums. These should give you an idea of what to look for in a developer.

Automangle is a demolition derby game in the same vein as Twisted Metal. Automangle’s developer (the humorously-named Phart Games) used a discussion in the Touch Arcade forum as a two-way dialogue for testing and feature development. Although the game was not posted with screenshots or a long description, the developer was open for suggestions and had a good initial sense of what needed to be added to the game.
A good developer knows what updates need to be made, and is very vocal about these deficiencies. If you frequent iPhone gaming forums, use developer posts to get a sense for the game’s potential.

Zombie Invasion is a recently released zombie shooter. It has already seen enormous success, even though it is basically the outer shell of a zombie game. There are currently two zombie types, three weapons, and only one action type (tap to shoot). Still, due to an early release notification, Conniption Entertainment generated a huge amount of interest before the release. Release hype won’t help you choose a game, but it does single out developers who are interested in working on their games for the long haul. While Zombie Invasion may have missed the targeted release date by one day (and didn’t follow through on delivering promised screenshots until the release date), the developer displayed an interest in building and listening to their fanbase early on.

Fieldrunners is as polished as potential can get. This tower defense has maintained a 5 star review since its release, and yet it seems to be missing most of the best elements of its genre. There are only four towers to use, only one map to play on, only one play mode, and no sound/music. Yet for what it does, Fieldrunners gets it right. The graphics are amazing, the standard gameplay mode provides hours of fun. And, the developer has outlined the next two updates on the application’s app store page. These updates fill the remaining holes in the content, and seem to be coming soon.

Core Gameplay

When searching through forums for game opinions, keep an eye on the core gameplay. If the game isn’t fun at all, the game will never be fun – no matter how many updates it goes through. Automangle was based on the already-popular Twisted Metal, Zombie Invasion delivered a simple yet addictive shoot-em-up, and Fieldrunners was based on the popular Flash genre of Tower Defense. If you like the genre attached to the game, chances are you’ll like the game.

Some genres have been overdone in the app store. Most puzzle genres have a hundred iterations. If you’re looking for a gem in a flooded genre, you can’t rely entirely on the screenshots. Check the reviews, but more importantly, keep an eye out for credible developers.

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