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The short life of most iPhone games (at least, mine)

It’s always the same story: I come across some freaking good iphone game with a new concept, new kind of controls and new gameplay and I am stunned. I ask myself how can I live without it and I download it. Three days later I end up regretting the impulse purchase.Why?


The iPhone is an excellent game platform: it has a nice screen, multitouch, accelerometer, thousands of games at ridicolous cost. And I always carry it with me, so I can play wherever I am. Sounds like the perfect console.

Problem is, I download a game and quickly become an addicted, but this lasts only a few days and i stop playing it, sometimes I play with it one week or two, but no more. I am pretty young and I was the perfect age when there was the boom of the “first” consoles, the PlayStation 1, for example. I remember I played some games for months, of any kind. I wasn’t an addicted player, but this didn’t stop me from gaming daily

I tried several kind of games: classic arcade, drawing games, FPS, tower defense, strategical, puzzles, music games, and so on. Maybe the one I played more are tower defense, but I no longer play with them because they  bore me now. Games like Minigore, EliminatePro, PocketGod, Rolando, Tap Tap Revenge, JellyCar2 don’t make me anxious to play with them despite being huge App Store hits. Yes, I open them but only when I’m waiting for something and have 5 free minutes.

I know there’s a big difference from the longevity of Playstation games and iPhone ones, but this still scares me. Some strategy (RTS) games have hundreds of maps, and this applies to puzzles too. In theory you can play forever without stopping. In theory, because you’ll (probably) won’t. I am speaking for myself and I don’t know if what I am saying can describe your habits, however I do read similar stories on a daily basis.

One of the reason, probably, is the vastness of the market with huge number of games released each day. They cost only few dollars and they attract me too much.

Yesterday I came across a graph by PinchMedia showing that after only one week most apps (and games) are dropped and never opened again. So I can assume this happens to – most – of the iphone gamers. It’s a bit old (February 2009), but I don’t see many reasons of why the trend should have changed in the last ten months. The graph is below:


My question is – why? I didn’t figure out an acceptable answer. This is a nice question and I wonder why nobody else has found out a solution. This trend is kinda scary.

Did you experienced the same? Maybe my considerations are too much focused on my own game experience, so I’d love to hear more from you. Pro gamers and casual ones.

Continue reading:


  • Josh

    I'm the same way. I have much respect for many impressive iPhone games, but like you, I only open them when I have a few minutes to kill or when I’m on a long subway ride or whatever. The reason for this, for me, is that if I have free time to game, I’m going to game on my XBox 360… my gaming time is limited, so I want to maximize it, and an iPhone game – good as it might be – just can't compete with a decent console game on a television screen.

  • Alex

    I have been playing Civilization for months now. Maybe you just haven't found a game that challenges you.

    • Warfare incorporated made me game for weeks, but it's the only one. (and since i completed the default mission i quitted)

  • 1. The controls on the serious games are mostly awkward (softbuttons), so after the honeymoon period, the app gets ditched because
    2. there is so much new stuff all the time.
    3. The games with tight controls are usually casual games, they don't lend themselves that well to extended play.
    4. Exception: Games with a social factor, e.g. Bejeweld Blitz.

    Another recent exception of that rule is Soosiz, because of it's controls, charm (my gf loves it) and longetivity. Most of the other iPhone games really have not come close to that level of polish and accessability.

  • Josh nailed it for my experiences as well. I love a lot of the iPhone games, but they really are just time killers when I have a limited amount of time to kill or I'm traveling or something keeping me away from the computer. If i have a decent amount of time to devote to a game, I'll hop on the computer for a much better experience. It's not at all that the iPhone games I've played aren't fun. It's just that if I want to spend serious time playing games, I don't want to do it on a cramped screen with somewhat cramped controls.

    That said, the games I do like on the phone do still get played. I just don't play them daily. Sometimes not even every week. Curious how exactly those numbers were determined by Pinch. I still play TapTap Revenge once every couple weeks. I play Lexic, Word Scramble, reMovem, Hanoi, and other 'quick' games once or twice a week. I wonder if, since I'm not playing regularly like I did when I first got them, that's considered somebody that doesn't play them anymore. Games that definitely fit that mold for me are games like Eliminate, Doom, Ravensword, etc. Games that were really cool to be able to play on the phone, but it comes down to the phone and controls just being too limiting to take those types of games too seriously. A FPS is darn cool to be able to play on a phone, but every half decent gamer knows you need a good mouse and keyboard to actually 'compete'. (I'll probably anger some console fanbois with that comment. Sorry in advance!)

    Companies need to start pumping out the Bluetooth accessories. If they do, I foresee a whole new game (pun intended).

  • Jeremy

    I find that the games I play the most are those that start quick and get straight into the action. I probably play Cannabalt more than any other game. I can start it right up, it has simple controls, and games rarely last more than 2 minutes. If someone calls me or if whatever I’m waiting for comes to pass, I don’t mind bailing on the game. With other games, either I get frustrated with the controls, the screen is too busy, or its just too intensive to pick up and play for a few minutes at a time. Thus, they get deleted and the simple ones stay.

  • I have a few games that don't get played after a while but gain second life as sales tools for the iPhone.

    Steve Jobs, where is my commission? 🙂

  • I think it's just part of the 'too much choice syndrome' When I was a kid you would save up your money and buy a 7" single and play it until it wore out because it was all you could afford. I knew every word and can still remember most of them. Hearing that single evokes a certain set of memories because they are all stored together in a little time capsule in my brain. Now my daughter can copy 40 gigs of music from her friend which has almost no 'value' atal. I don't generally download games but it must be a similar kind of thing, we think we are doing so well because we have so much but if it's beyond human limits to appreciate so much we might be better going deeper rather than wider. Perhaps you should pretend you are on the desert island with your 7 apps and really get into them? Give up the i tunes store for lent?

    • I definitely see your point, however I respectfully disagree. I grew up before the 'digital revolution', so I completely understand what you're saying about how you listened to the same songs over and over and many memories are built up around them. I do have nostalgia for such times, but I don't need to listen to the same song over and over to appreciate it. There are still songs that I listen to many many times even though I have unlimited access to new music through streaming radio stations, MP3s, and more.

      Although you have many memories built around listening to certain albums and sharing those times with friends or family, do you not have many memories showing off to friends some new apps or some new band you randomly found through Pandora? I'm in no way saying your point is completely invalid, I just believe you're putting too much emphasis of your memories on a soundtrack consisting of a single album. Although I may listen to the same songs less often now, they still gain a hard link to many good memories. The soundtrack (or app-track?) of my life is simply more varied now.

      • As we say in Italy: "Truth is in middle" It means that both arguments are valid, but no one is entirely true, they are the two sides of the same coin, kinda.

        It's best to use another metaphor here. Think yourself like a young boy who has lived for his entire life in a small village. Surely he can tell exactly the name of each place, or has memory of it.
        However, he decides to move into the town. Now he discovers a whole new world of possibilities. At first he'll explore every area without going deeper than the main street, but soon he'll find out a nice indian restaurant in a tiny unlighted street and he'll love it. A niche restaurant.

        Same happened to me. Until i was 12-13 i had no broadband connection and i couldn't download mp3. I bought a few CDs, maybe three or four. Yes, I remember every single word of those CDs, but that's because i hadn't any other music to listen. Now i discover new genres and bands every day and i couldn't be happier.

        Although i started to listen at Coldplay at 15, in the mp3 era, i have tons of memories with their songs. I could never have listened to them without the "infinite" choice internet gives you.

        To sum up, probably the problem in the appstore is not in its thousands of apps. It's elsewhere and we'll find it, sooner or later.

  • I've found that many of the games that rely upon the accelerometer are appealing at first blush, but then end up being so twitchy or hyper-responsive that I can't control them well enough to enjoy the experience. None of the driving games I've tried get past this sticking point.

    One of the best games I've tried – and come back to often – that uses accelerometer for "steering" is Boost. And its simple, effective graphics are very immersive too! I'd certainly like to hear about others that pull off accelerometer control this well.

    I also come back to word puzzle game Jumbeline very, very often. I especially like the fluid feel of shifting the letter tiles around.