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This post originally appeared in Chartboost's quarterly Power Up Report which, this quarter, focused on growing a mobile strategy game business.
Looking at the app stores, youâd think screaming dudes were going out of fashion.
The app icons for strategy games such as Clash of Clans, Game of War: Fire Age, Clash of Lords 2, Battle Nations and This Means War! are all strikingly similar: a full-face portrait of an angry guy yelling at something just out of frame. With discovery such a big issue in mobile gaming â where around 500 iOS and 250 Android gamesÂ launch dailyÂ â itâs curious that so many games present the same first impression to potential players.
Whatâs the deal? We asked designers why this sullen image is so prevalent in mobile gaming, and their thoughts were pretty revealing.
The Amazing Power of Faces
Faces are powerful, and designers take full advantage of that fact.
As a species, weâve evolved to recognize faces and emotions to help us breed and survive. Even 7-month-old infantsÂ respond stronglyÂ to images of angry human faces. Using a face in an icon is a great way of generating instant impact and memorability, according to Andrew Smith, producer at creative studioÂ Sugarway. He says the trend links back to some of the age-old secrets of magazine cover design.
Imprinting your app store icon in someoneâs memory is much easier to do with a human-like character than an inanimate object. And while a face looking directly at you is the most powerful image type â particularly one with dilated pupils (or âbedroom eyesâ) â using an angled and expression-filled face helps convey the ideas of action and emotion to potential players.
Image via Dominations
Youâve Got One ShotâMake It Count
Artist and writerÂ Stephen KlecknerÂ says itâs important to realize how limited the tiny app store icon canvas is for designers. They have âone sideways glance to compel your brain to stop and notice their image,â and they have to make it count. Going with a human face maximizes the designerâs chance to make this instant impact.
As for what Kleckner calls the âRAAAR!â face, he says itâs a widely overused trope but itâs also a âcheap and easyâ way to convey action and emotion. The fact that these characters are yelling at something out of frame also invites us to investigate the mystery of what lies beyond: âTo figure out what the hell theyâre looking at.â
Copying a trend in a crowded market isnât always the smartest move, but the human face is such an âeyeball magnetâ that trying something new is risky, Kleckner says. Itâs also likely that game studios want to ape established big hitters such as Clash of Clans. Mimicking Clash of Clansâ angry-faced logo is one small way of trying to emulate its success.
Image via the App Store
âIâll eat my imaginary hat if a good chunk of the people in the app store saw that a successful game used a certain type of face and didnât say, âYou see their sales numbers? See their retention rate? Do what theyâre doing!ââ Kleckner says. ââTake our main character, open his mouth, and make an icon out of that!'â