404 Modern Day Solitaire

Modern Day Solitaire

My first tech industry job was at Cypress Semiconductor. I held a few roles there but my first was to be on the team that drew diagrams of the chips Cypress made as a reference for other engineers. This is where my love of semiconductors began. After a few months there word got out in my department and the ones around us that I was fairly technical and could troubleshoot and diagnose Windows PCs with the best of them. IT requests often take a while to respond to so before long I became the default tech support for my half of the building.

As I walked around from one request to the next I remember always noticing a familiar game on people’s screens as I walked by–Solitaire. It was as if Solitaire was the universal “I’m bored and need something to pass the time” game at work. I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb to proclaim solitaire the most popular PC game of all time. The many hours logged playing this single game on PCs tells us something about regular folk. They like simple games that help them pass the time.

This is why it should come as no surprise that a game like Angry Birds or Candy Crush is so popular with the masses. Or why a game like Flappy Bird could become an overnight success. Most humans want a game they can quickly start playing and be done with in a few minutes. These games are the modern day Solitaire. Ultimately these are the types of games that can be the most successful but are also the hardest to predict and duplicate the success of.

Mobile game play dynamics are essential to the business model and the stickiness of a particular game. We know that free games with IAP (in app purchases) are the overwhelming majority of apps in each marketplace. A game like Clash of Clans is built on this model that combines the reality of being competitive and winning with the necessity to spend money in a game. A game like Clash of Clans is a fantastic business model but it is also one that will not appeal to every type of consumer.

What made Solitaire successful was that it was purely a time killer. There was some strategy involved but the end user could literally start playing and stop at will. This is also the beauty of Angry Birds and Flappy Bird. An entire game can be started and finished in just a few minutes.

While these games are likely to be the most successful they are also the hardest to monetize. They don’t require much engagement and in fact thrive on what I call micro-engagement. Meaning small amounts of engagement. How does one monetize micro-attention minded consumers? Are ads the best way to do this? What if no one clicks on the ads because engagement is so minimal and shallow? Are in app purchases the best model for someone just looking to do some video game snacking? Solitaire became what it was because it was free and pre-installed on every Windows PC. Which makes spending money on these types of apps a long shot.

These apps will be the most popular and gain the most traction but they will also be the hardest to monetize. Lightening in a bottle is hard to predict and duplicate. Yet that is exactly what these apps are.