Game apps – fad or future?

I ended up playing Jewels last night till 4am. Even though my eyes were almost shutting down, I was trying to line up gems in a row faster and reach the next level. Isn’t this a gaming moment that you have felt with a game that your mind gets obsessed with? Statistics across app stores and mobile platforms reveal that gaming apps are the most popular apps. They by far outnumber other categories of apps like productivity apps. Whether it is free apps or paid apps, gaming apps are the most popular. The next most popular apps are the weather apps, followed by maps/ search, social networking, music and news. (Source: Nielsen Survey)

It makes me think that there are so many of them, that’s why they are popular or is it the other way around? They are popular and that’s why there are so many of them. This is a classic chicken and egg trap hole. I am of the latter opinion. This begs the question why are they more popular?

Games beautifully cater to psychologically the need of self esteem and self actualization which have been proven to be more important than basic needs. Other apps like maps and navigation cater more to basic needs.  In this fast paced world where everyone looks for instant gratification and recognition, games quietly and aptly fill this need. As you beat your previous score or defeat a buddy’s, you feel satisfaction and pride even if it is momentary.

Games bring out the competitive nature in you. It can induce behavioral changes unlike other passive apps. News apps simply provide information and sometimes overwhelm you with data you cannot and don’t want to grasp. Once you find a game engaging, you usually come back again and again to improve your score, go to the next higher level or beat your friends. Games like Zynga’s Farmville have shown the viral and addictive aspect where gamers change their everyday activities to meet those required by the game.

Even if you have a little bit of nerd in you, games easily talk to that feeling. The high quality touch screen, powerful processors, accelerometers, sensors and now even augmented reality tools on smart phones and mobile devices enable a cool gaming experience. Features like gesture, motion, and pressure do their part to excite the nerd in you. This ability of gaming apps lends it advantages over say a weather app. How many ways can you show the weather and how interactive can you make a weather app?

Is this craze for game apps sustaining and will it be able to defend its place in the app store?

As data bandwidth gets more expensive and carriers in US and Europe are going for tiered pricing. Apps which are light on the network will continue to grow. Games are light on network usage from the carrier’s point, as they use the data resident on the device such as a locally stored game. Apps which require a user to send data real time over the bandwidth like streaming video apps and other social networking apps will get limited if data gets pricier.

Another critical differential is that the size doesn’t matter, when it comes to game developers. Individual creativity competes at par with that of the larger guys and can enrich the ecosystem. Small developers stand an equal chance like the big players for the success of the app. This is not like other apps like multimedia sharing ones, (Netflix, Hulu, Youtube) which have complex issues like privacy agreements and content rights requiring strong negotiation power and size.

Will this be a similar trend in India? In all likelihood. The factors which make game apps so popular are human behavioral elements and are universal.

[Anubha Jayaswal, the author, is a Wharton MBA and works for a leading technology company. She eagerly follows and comments on the telecommunications world.]