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How to Come Up With KILLER App Ideas Series - Part 5 - Using Concepts of Existing Games

How to Come Up With KILLER App Ideas Series – Part 5 – Using Concepts of Existing Games

Angry TurdsThis is the last post in the “How to Come Up With KILLER App Ideas Series”.  I hope you enjoyed this series and took a lot away from it!

In Part 2 of this series, we talked about how you don’t necessarily need to come up with a completely unique app idea in order to succeed in the app store.  Instead, we can simply improve on an existing idea.  Today, I want to talk about something similar that you can do when thinking of ideas for games.

To come up with an awesome game idea, you don’t want to just want to take an existing game and add one little feature to it.  While that may work in some cases, you are more likely to be viewed as a “cheap rip off” of the original game.  It may be really tempting to want to “piggy-back” off the success of a popular app such as Words With Friends, add one feature, and call it Words With Buddies, however this isn’t a good business model at all.  Not only will you most likely be viewed as a “cheap rip off” but you also may have legal action taken against you by the developers of the original app if your app is too similar to their app (or at least have them request Apple/Google to remove your app).    My favorite example of a cheap rip off would be Angry Turds.  Can you guess which app they were trying to imitate? 😉  While it certainly is a funny concept of flinging turds instead of birds, Rovio (developer of Angry Birds) had a problem with it and it was taken down off the app store.

Instead of doing what Angry Turds did and just making an imitation of a successful game, you should instead look at the core concepts of these games.  What makes them fun?  What concepts do successful games have in common?

Let’s look at a few popular games and find their core concepts:

  • Angry Birds – physics based, fun characters, throwing/catapulting objects, level based
  • Fruit Ninja – tapping objects before they’re gone, play against yourself for best score
  • Doodle Jump – play against yourself for best height, keep jumping until you fall, one time powers
  • Temple Run – keep running to avoid death, collect points (gold)
  • Racing Penguin, Flying Free – physics based, get from start to finish quickly, compete against yourself, level based, one time powers

Obviously, that’s a pretty short list and if you are serious about game development you should really make a much bigger one for yourself.  However from that short list we can come up with a few core concepts that make these games popular.  Please note that not all these concepts apply to every game, but at least a few on the list must include them.

  1. They are very simple – no or few instruction is needed to play.
  2. Able to play against yourself for high score – can never “beat” the game.
  3. Physics based in some way.
  4. Make use of “one time powers” to make game interesting.

As I mentioned before, this is a very short list.  Once you come up with the core concepts of dozens and dozens of games you will be able to have a longer list of common concepts.

Don’t make an attempt to include all the common concepts in your game idea, but instead focus on only a few.  If you try to include too many concepts, your game will quickly become very complicated and that is the absolute last thing you want!

Lastly, you’re probably wondering how to come up with the crazy characters and names of these games to incorporate into the core concepts.  How the hell do people come up with crazy game names like Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds?  To be honest, this is probably the least important part of your game.  Do you think Fruit Ninja wouldn’t be as popular if it was called Bacon Ninja?  I think it would’ve been just as popular if not a little bit more.  After all, who doesn’t love bacon? 😉

The two most important things to remember when making games is that you want your games to be simple and social.  You don’t want users to have to read a 10 page instruction manual to know how to play the game.  You want them to be able to start playing right away!  Also, people are naturally competitive.  Make sure that there is a way (even for games where you only compete against yourself) that people can share scores with their friends and brag about how great they are at the game!  That’s what gets more people interested and playing your game!

Lastly, I want to stress that I don’t recommend that you develop a game as your first application.  Games are typically the most expensive to create and the hardest to predict success for.  For those reasons alone, I would wait until you at least have a few apps under your belt to pursue creating a game.  However, don’t let the fear of failure stop you from creating a game altogether.  Just make sure that you have the app creation and marketing experience necessary to have a good chance of success with a game!

Remember: The best way to come up with popular game ideas is to play lots of popular games!  More ideas will naturally come to you and you will start to identify the core concepts easier!


If you missed any of the previous posts in this series, here they are:

Part 1 – Solve a Problem

Part 2 – Improve on an Existing Idea

Part 3 – “Niche Down” an Idea

Part 4 – Be Inspired from Real Life Activities


  1. Thomas, Thanks mate for sharing this article. I would love to learn something about creating apps.
    Hope your site will help me to learn this. Thanks.
    BTW Its my first visit on your site.

    • Hey Amit! Welcome to MAT – I definitely think you’ll be able to learn a lot about app development here as I’ll be releasing my first app July 8th and will be 100% transparent about how I created the app, how I’m marketing it, and how much I’m making from it. Thanks for visiting and if you have any specific questions, feel free to shoot me an email through my contact form 🙂

  2. Man, I wish I had the chance to play Angry Turds.

    Out of your list of popular games, Temple Run in itself was also a variation of the popular ‘Endless Runner’ type game that seems to be crazily popular on the App Store. It was just really cool that they made it a 3d version as opposed to a 2d version!

    • Yup I would’ve loved to try out Angry Turds as well 🙂 Yeah, there are TONS of those running games on the app store and all Temple Run really did was take that concept and improve on one thing – taking it from 2D to 3D.

  3. Thomas, thanks for the great series.
    I’m looking at starting outsourcing apps this summer, so I’m definitely looking forward to hearing your experiences. I’ll be blogging about it as well.


    • Hey Will – Glad you enjoyed the series and thanks for commenting! Best of luck with your apps and keep me posted on how you’re making out with them!

  4. Thomas, in no time, I see you becoming the global app tycoon you’ve always wanted to be.

    You see, to become something, you must feel like it, behave like it and work towards it which you are doing here.

    Glad seeing you everywhere commenting online – you always there before me!


    • Thanks for the kind words Sheyi! Using Google Reader to keep track of all the blogs I participate on – keeps me updated on where to comment and when 😉

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