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Amazing Alex and the cruelty of the mobile app market

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 8:30PM EST

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18 days after it debuted in the iOS App Store, “Amazing Alex” has dropped to No.10 on Apple’s (AAPL) paid iOS app chart and to No.99 on Apple’s list of top-grossing apps. Rovio’s new franchise launched in a blaze of publicity two weeks ago, hitting the No.1 position a mere eight hours after it became available. The developer’s original mega hit, “Angry Birds,” took more than four months to reach the top of the chart — but once it did, it stayed in the top-10 for more than two years.

Yes, Rovio’s first franchise stayed in the top-10 for two years — and its second will fall out of the top-10 after just a few weeks. This is a pattern repeated by many of the best mobile game developers in the world. The app market is that tough.

The original “Fruit Ninja” game was an instant sensation for Halfbrick Studios in the spring of 2010, and it remains a smash hit, clinging to the No.12 paid App spot even now. But the well-reviewed “Jetpack Joyride” spent little more than two weeks in the top-10 last autumn and then crashed out of top-100 before becoming a free app. It is now chugging along as the No.80 free app.

Lima Sky’s beloved “Doodle Jump” stayed in the top-10 through most of 2010 and remains a top-40 staple. No other Lima game has come close to matching its appeal. Imangi’s “Temple Run” was the hot No.1 paid app of January 2012 and spawned the successful “Brave” spin-off that has racked up massive sales through the summer. But other Imangi games have been highly forgettable, from “Max Adventure” to “High Hippo Dive.”

It’s really, really hard to launch a new app franchise. Strong vendors like Halfbrick and Rovio have the muscle to grab the spotlight for a moment and give a new title a flying start. But even though the mobile app market has granted remarkable longevity for many 2010 hits, it also has the tendency to clip the wings of strongly promoted series that lack the ephemeral essence of instant addiction.

Vendors are increasingly aware of this, and that’s why we are now seeing a plethora of franchise extensions instead of new break-out attempts. Even though Halfbrick Studios stumbled with “Jetpack Joyride,” it had a hit with the movie tie-in spin-off “Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots.” Rovio’s “Angry Birds Seasons,” “Angry Birds Rio” and “Angry Birds Space” defied pundits’ warnings of franchise fatigue and each turned into genuine blockbusters. Months after “Angry Birds Space” had launched, “Angry Birds Rio” returned to No.4 in the U.S. paid app chart following a fairly substantial upgrade. This is a sequel that debuted way back in October 2010 — and is still able to rebound to the top-5 in July 2012.

So the curse of the mobile app market is that leaping from one successful franchise to a new one is exceptionally difficult. The blessing of the industry is that squeezing juice from aging products is far, far easier than in the console video game or movie industries. Unlike movies or traditional console games, the select circle of evergreen apps can stick to the top-20 for years — sequels are able to enjoy a decent individual life spans and they even have a shot at revisiting top-10 on the back of expansion packages. It’s not a bad trade-off.

But the crucial question is still unanswered. How many lives do the legendary franchises like Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja possess? Can they emulate Mario and stick around for decades as real powers, rejuvenating each year in new guises? Or perhaps they will end up more like Centipede, with a few years of massive success and then a fade to nostalgic curiosity status.

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.