If you're a typical independent game developer, you will have a large number of game ideas floating around your head. If you're smart you'll have them recorded in a notebook somewhere for future reference. The question then is which one of these ideas is it worth spending your resources on to develop further?
Our best tool when choosing which game idea to focus on is the search engine of the store that we're targeting. As Exobyte's games are developed on Android first, we use the Google Play store for this purpose, but the same strategy will work for the IOS app store or Steam on the desktop. Decide upon some search terms that would be used by people to discover your game and use the store's search engine to see how many results are returned and how relevant those results are. Use search phrases that range from quite broad to very specific.
As an example, for the slot machine games that we've developed, the primary search phrases that we were interested in leveraging were the very generic "slot machine" and the more UK regionally specific phrase "fruit machine". A search for "slot machine" produces thousands of results for this type of game which suggests that market is saturated and it would be very hard to get any organic exposure through search. Searching for "fruit machine" on the other hand gives much fewer results suggesting that a game targeted at that search term has a better chance of getting exposure.
Because we were quite early to the market with our slot machine games we were able to successfully target the more generic phrase. That's why our slots games have the words "slot machine" in the title and we did not need to be more specific than that. Our more specific search terms were referenced in the description of the app to ensure that our game was exposed when those terms were used in the search engine.
Stores are now much more saturated, so it's usually better to target a more specific search term and use that exposure to give your app a boost in the more generic category search. This is what we've done successfully with our latest game "Pish Posh Penny Pusher". The generic search term we'd like exposure in is "coin pusher", but that search is saturated with hundreds of game results. By targeting the regionally specific term "penny pusher" we were able to quickly become the best ranked result for that search.
At this point you're probably wondering if opportunities still exist in the stores for games to be successful through primarily taking advantage of free organic search exposure? The answer is yes, there are a lot of opportunities, if you're willing to be flexible with your game ideas.
Here's a very simple example; Railroad simulators are a large and lucrative sector of the gaming market. There is a wide range of potential for new games in this sector ranging from fully 3D sims to top down strategy games. Let's say our game idea is a simple 2D top down game for smartphones that allows the player to make a small railroad using tiled pieces. The game then gives the player little tasks to accomplish such as transporting passengers from one station to another or moving wagons between sidings.
Our target search terms for this game, ranging from broad to specific are: "railroad sim", "model railroad", "railway sim" and "model railway". The majority of games target the US market, so the keyword "railroad" is far more saturated than the regional keyword "railway". That makes "railway" a better word to use in our app title, unless our content is going to be US specific. Likewise "sim" is a very broad term with a wide range of results, in the context of railroads "model" is much more specific and will produce better results.
So is there a gap in the market for a game targeting the search terms "model railway"? As of October 2017 it certainly seems to be the case. With this information under our belt we could be quite confident that a well designed game that targets this market sector would be commercially viable using an organic search strategy for marketing. That's just one example, there are many others out there and hopefully one or two that match an idea you have in your note book.