Are strong visuals or great reviews better for improving mobile game downloads?

By John Li, co-founder of PickFu

Mobile gamer (sourced: Pexels)

App Annie data shows that consumers downloaded 80 billion mobile game downloads in 2020, accounting for 18% year-over-year growth. Of those, 78% were casual games, core games made up 20%, and the remaining 2% were casino games.

With player spending across the App Store and Google Play projected to reach $138 billion by 2025, developers and publishers old and new are flocking to this booming market, hoping their mobile game becomes the next big thing.

But success doesn’t come easy. Google Play and the App Store are heavily saturated with identical mobile games. Even games with big budgets behind them can quickly get swallowed up.

What can you do to ensure your game doesn’t get lost in the crowd? How can you attract more players to download your game? 

Listen to what your audience has to say

Some games grab players’ attention through app optimization techniques, such as adding trending keywords to the game’s description to favor the store’s algorithm. 

App optimization isn’t an exact science, though. The ever-changing nature of store algorithms means that a tactic that works one week may get you penalized the next.

What many overlook when they’re chasing app optimization techniques or investing in in-store ads for greater visibility is the human element. It sounds blindingly obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many publishers fail to grasp that simple fact.

People like and dislike certain facets when they’re looking for a new game. The more effort you put into discovering your audience’s wants and needs, the more likely your mobile game is to succeed.

At PickFu, we help businesses get qualitative consumer feedback across various industries, including gaming. 

PickFu for Games enables developers to create and launch short-form surveys and get rapid results from key gaming demographics at any stage in the game development life cycle. With PickFu for Games, you can test mobile app icons, Steam store artwork, character art, concepts, game names, and advertising creative to ensure you’re appealing to players.

To better understand the industries and audiences we serve, the PickFu team often runs our own polls. Our recent survey of 200 mobile gamers across the U.S sought to find out which factors are most important when deciding to download a mobile game. We asked respondents the following question: 

When considering a game on the Google Play Store/App Store, which factors do you think are the most important when deciding whether to download the app? Please rank from 1 (most important) to 5 (least important).

  • Option A – Icon
  • Option B – Screenshots
  • Option C – Rating/reviews
  • Option D – Number of downloads
  • Option E – Description

What drives downloads on mobile gaming stores?

Over half of survey respondents said reviews are the most important aspect when considering whether or not to download the game or give it a pass.

“I am drawn most to the reviews. I spend the most time looking at them, and if I see a lot of bad ones, I don’t even bother looking at anything else,” wrote one survey respondent.

Another said, “I always look at what the reviews say to get me excited. Also, the screenshots are important but not first.” Knowing the thorough reviews is also important for TikTok. You can see buy TikTok followers reviews here.

The significance of a good review is perhaps best summed up by this respondent: “Number of downloads and reviews are by far the most important factor when looking at apps. That tells you quickly how generally good or bad the application is.

“The description is also important, but I generally feel like when I am searching for apps, I already know what I am mostly looking for, so the description is just to confirm you found the right thing.”

Fighting fake news and fraudulent reviews

As mentioned earlier, some developers and publishers try ASO to gain attention. Sadly, in some cases, they actively set out to deceive both store algorithms and users using black-hat techniques. Reviews are a key area where this happens.

Great reviews can give a game a real algorithm boost across different app stores. It’s a vital part of any app optimization strategy and gives gamers an impression that an app has been highly rated through honest means.

It’s the same with app descriptions, names, screenshots, and even icons. Any game with great-looking graphics and sharp character design is bound to generate interest in a gamer’s mind.

Unfortunately, fake reviews are slipping through the net, as are fake imagery, graphics, and game descriptions. Not only are these deceitful, but they could also mislead people into downloading potentially harmful software.

The Google Play Store recently announced policy changes designed to crack down on this behavior. Apple’s App Store is in a similar battle against fake reviews that some say are plaguing the platform.

Respondents in our survey let us know how important the fake review issue is to them. Given that reviews are the most important factor for them when choosing to download a game, it’s essential they’re honest.

“I always look at the ratings first,” one respondent wrote. “Anyone can put an app up, make a nice picture and make nice claims about the product. The big question is: what do other people who have downloaded it and used it think of the app?

“It might just be a badly designed app, and you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t tried it. Others would have already done what you would do and could give insights into problems they had with the app.”

A successful game needs to look the part

You may have seen articles and memes over the years lampooning how a lot of mobile game icons look the same. Remember the “screaming man” trend in 2015?

There is some method to the madness. Some competitors will see a successful game on the app store and mimic its icon style to piggyback off its rival’s popularity.

Games only have a second or two to grab a gamer’s attention and entice them to find out more. First impressions count, and the better the icon and supporting artwork look; the more people will be willing to give it a try.

“The icon and screenshots first capture my visual attention. I next read the description of what it’s about. I then read what others have to say,” said one respondent.

But as our survey data also shows, attractive visuals aren’t good enough on their own to encourage a download. Nearly a quarter of respondents said a game’s description, not its icon or screenshots, is the most significant factor that drives them to download a game.

No matter how appealing your icon and artwork look, they need to be supported by other information to seal the download deal.

Conclusion: The best campaigns are the sum of their parts

No one thing will make a game stand out on mobile app stores or generate thousands of overnight downloads. Our survey underscores that the most successful campaigns are the sum of their parts. 

Keep in mind that gamers will dissect each and every individual element before putting their trust in you. They are likely to pass on a game with brilliant reviews but a weak description and poor iconography. Similarly, screenshots showing incredible artwork will get overlooked in the face of a bad review average or honest negative feedback.

Honesty, in fact, is a key theme throughout our survey responses. Mobile gamers want to be able to trust companies who are asking them for their time. 

The more open and transparent you are with players, the more they will appreciate that dialogue and the efforts you’re making to incorporate their feedback into the way you operate. 

You’ll make better games as a result, ones they’ll want to download, play, and recommend to others.