ASO App Store Category Spotlight: Strategy Games

The second piece in our series of ASO categories analyses look at trends in what is unarguably one of the most profitable categories out there: Mobile strategy games

There’s nothing ASO experts enjoy more than seeing which games and apps Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store’s algorithms are surfacing, there’s always a new feature to discuss, metadata to analyze and hypotheses to test. 

Which is how we’re able to offer up our unique analyses of the app store trends, highlight interesting points for discussion and throw in some useful ideas that you can use when you’re creating your own hypotheses, either for App Store tests and Google Play experiments. 

What you can expect from this analysis:

  • To understand the App Store Optimization messaging strategies of the top apps in the Strategy Games category.
  • To generate ideas for experiments that you can run on your app store page. 

Disclaimer: All data and information in this report are based on publicly available information. All assumptions based on the strategy behind app store creatives are based on Storemaven’s expertise, data, and experience. 

Today we’re looking at the Strategy games category and you know what they say, “Sound strategy starts with having the right goal.” So whatever your goal, we’re here to help you get there.

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Source: Mobile Action

What are mobile strategy games?

A mobile strategy game or strategic game is a game (e.g. a board game) in which the players’ uncoerced, and often autonomous decision-making skills have a high significance in determining the outcome. Almost all strategy games require internal decision tree-style thinking, and typically very high situational awareness.

The top 30 strategy games up can be divided into a few sub-genres. One categorization can be to separate games based on the game experience — casual, midcore and hardcore games.  

  • Casual strategy – strategy games that allow for players to quickly jump into the game, play for a short period of time, sometimes only a few minutes and come back whenever they’re looking to kill some free time. 
  • Midcore strategy –  games that have some characteristics of hardcore strategy games, many times a deep story and narrative, but still allow casual players to enjoy the game without spending hours of their time learning it and getting immersed in it. 
  • Hardcore strategy – strategy games that require a significant time investment to learn the game mechanics, dive into the game’s “universe” and allow players to play the game for long periods of time in each session. These games are usually story-rich. 

These are the top 30 free Strategy games in the US App Store as of August 2020. You might recognize a few of them and even have some of them on your devices.

Let’s start breaking down their app store marketing messaging based on their creatives.

Strategy Game App Icons: The importance of characters

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As you can see in the above image, most strategy game icons come under a few icon design strategies: 

  • Game Element – showcasing an item, artifact or landscape from the game itself, quickly conveying to users the main element and gameplay in the game. This can work well for players that are looking for a specific type of strategy game. For example, a sword can convey to users that the game will involve fighting, or food items will appeal to players that are looking for restaurant strategy games. 
  • Character – many strategy games are using a character in the icon. This can hint to users that the strategy games will involve character building, and more depth. If a game is using a known IP (let’s say SpongeBob), using a character will have the added benefit of appealing to fans familiar with that IP. 
  • Hybrid
    • Game Element + Brand  – Using a game element within the icon together with the brand name. For games with known brand names this could create additional appeal. 
    • Character + Game Element – Combining both a character and a game element in the icon could more clearly show to users what type of game it is while still maintaining the power of using a character. 
    • Character + Brand – Combining a character (usually unknown) with the brand name to give the icon more recognizability. For example, players new to PUBG may not know the iconic (no pun intended) PUBG character in the icon, but they’ll recognize the PUBG caption/tag in it. 

If you’re working on ASO for a mobile strategy game, try experimenting with these styles and measure how users respond to it. What’s more powerful for your game, leveraging characters, game elements, or your brand name? 

As the icon is the only element that appears in all user flows, it’ll have an impact both on the tap-through-rates from top/category charts, featuring placements, search results, and even on the performance of ads on channels such as Facebook that include the icon in the ad creative. 

After users are exposed to the full App Store or Google Play store page, the icon can work together with the other elements to tell a cohesive story. For example, the icon conveyed that the game is about a certain IP, and users will now be more willing to explore the screenshot gallery to learn exactly how that IP is incorporated into the game.

Strategy Games app store videos: With or without you

From testing the impact of having a video vs. not having one, we see that mobile strategy games are split right down the middle in using a video. 50% of games leveraged an app store video. We even went to the trouble of creating this chart:

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Our data, based on thousands of tests shows that videos are a great tool for communication and tell the app’s story to users. But unless it’s done right, it can also harm conversion rates. If the messaging within the video isn’t exciting enough for users, they’ll lose interest and drop out of the page. Or if there’s too much information to absorb, it can overload users; you need a perfect balance. According to our data, videos can have an impact of between -20% to +20% on conversion rates, depending on its content. So it’s a balanced risk/reward ratio, but it’s one that can definitely pay off.

Looking at the video content strategy of the games that do leverage one, we see a few common threads:

  • Gameplay as a story canvas — it’s pretty straight forward to convey to users the game through showcasing its gameplay. But given that the category is extremely competitive, is the gameplay in and on itself the most unique thing about the game? Showing the gameplay alone might not be enough to excite potential players enough to try the game. Think about it, you don’t want players to believe this is “just another” strategy game. 

In short: don’t only show the gameplay, convey what is unique about the game. 

  • Cooperation several top apps – like Eve Echoes in the example below, are using the video to convey to users that the game will allow them to cooperate with other players and their friends in teams/clans/tribes/etc. 
  • Competition – appealing to users with a slight competitive streak, other games convey the sense of competition. They’ll be able to play competitively and win over other players on their way to master the game, like in the example below.
  • Rewards and progression – another option is conveying in the video a sense of progression, breadth of levels, and rewards they can win. Like what Clash of Clans did here:  
  • Live events some games, especially those that have been live for years, are communicating that there’s new content in the game. This messaging can be extremely effective in drawing in lapsed users by convincing them that they’re missing out on new content. 

One mistake that is apparent with some app store videos is “spending” (in the sense of time and money) the first few seconds of a video on a splash screen with a brand name or logo. As users usually watch a video for 6-8 seconds, your time with them is limited. Spending even a few seconds on a brand logo is wasting a valuable opportunity to tell these users what’s unique about the game and why they should download it.

Mobile Strategy Games’ Screenshots: A picture paints a thousand words 

App Store Messaging Strategies 

After analyzing the messaging strategy in the top mobile strategy games in the app store, we discovered three main messaging strategies:

1. Progression

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One of the most common messaging strategies, used by about 50% of games, revolves around progression. In other words, conveying to potential players that the game will allow them to progress over time and they have plenty of options to grow as a player. 

This is especially powerful for audiences that look for games that will provide them with enough hours of entertainment and won’t run their course after only a few hours of play.

2. New game content

Another strategy that is being used by top strategy games (34% of them) is to depict that the game has new content being released on a regular basis. This is important for players that are looking for games with enough depth to get them entertained over a long period of time. 

It’s also important to re-engage lapsed users and show them there’s something new to experience within the game.

3. Characters

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Finally, for games that have strong character-oriented gameplay, we see the usage of characters in the screenshot gallery to show:

  • Strong and recognizable characters they’ll encounter in the game. For example, the successful mobile game AFK Arena has a new character from Assassin’s Creed, which they showcase in the first screenshot. This helps get the attention of IP fans and gets them interested in the game. 
  • Character-building and development mechanics. Catering to players that are driven by the sense of taking a character and building it over time. 

Screenshot design styles

After analyzing the screenshots from a design perspective, we see that although there are several common messaging strategies mobile marketers use, there are several ways of conveying these messages in a visual way. 

The design style itself can help, or hurt, the deliverability of the marketing message. 

In the mobile strategy game category, we see three main design styles that are dominant across top games.

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  1. Art (used by 15% of top games) – using art to convey the theme of the game, not necessarily limited by the actual gameplay. This style can support a message by showing the game experience in the most immersive way. 
  2. Gameplay with captions (used by 65% of top games) – a simple design strategy that focuses on the gameplay itself with supporting captions to deliver an additional message. 
  3. Gameplay + captions hybrid, including a character (used by 20% of top games) – this style is the combination of both “gameplay with captions” and the “art” style which includes a game character at the forefront of the screenshot, on top of the gameplay screenshot.

Conclusion: ASO Strategy for Strategy games

After all that game talk I bet you want to open your phone to play a level or two of your favorite game, don’t you? You can in a minute after we arm you with ideas for tests to improve your own game’s app store conversion rate.

  1. Experiment with app icon style

    Test what drives most of your users to explore your app store page. Measure and understand the potential an icon with a character, game element, or your brand has on the percent of users who install your app. Just think, the icon has the potential to encourage users to explore your page further, so measure different icons’ abilities to influence the mix of decisive users and explorative users. 

    According to our data based on app store tests run by top developers, an icon has a conversion rate lift potential of 8%-10%. 
  1. Experiment with a video presence

    As the category is split squarely between games that use app store videos and those who don’t, the reality is that a video can improve/hurt conversion rates based on the audience, the GEO, and the quality of the video. 

    Learn how your audience is responding to a video by testing a variation of your app store page that includes a video vs. a variation that doesn’t. Then continue to optimize the content of the video to maximize its effectiveness.
  1. Experiment with screenshot messaging 

    Perhaps one of the more effective areas to drive conversion rate improvements is the screenshot gallery. Especially the first 1-2 screenshots as they are visible by 100% of the users landing on your page before they decide to drop or to explore the page further.

    By analyzing the competition, test how your audience responds to different messaging. Are they more likely to explore your page and install if you start your story with a message around progression? Characters? Brand? New/Live game content?

How to test your app store page?

If you want to start testing your app store page and get insights into what works best for your mobile strategy game, book a demo with Storemaven.

We’ll be happy to guide you through building a strong testing roadmap that’ll be aimed at increasing your conversion and install growth rates.

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Jonathan Fishman
About Jonathan Fishman
Jonathan is Storemaven's Director of Marketing. Before joining Storemaven he spent ten years commanding tanks, working on Wall St., consulting high-growth companies, and exploring Black Rock City. In his spare time, he likes building things from wood, writing, and listening to Frank Zappa.