Horror games have long captured the imagination of players by offering a mix of suspense, fear, and adrenaline-pumping moments. Mobile platforms are no exception. But what distinguishes the top horror games from the rest?
This article aims to provide an overview of the horror games market, spotlight some of the leading titles, and dissect the features that make them resonate with players. Stay tuned as we unravel the key elements that make these games spine-tingling successes.
Horror Games Market
The allure of horror games is universal — they attract a wide range of players. This fascination isn’t limited to just games; it extends to horror movies and books, indicating a large and eager audience ready to be tapped into.
The financial potential in this market is nothing short of impressive. Take Identity V, for example. This top-grossing horror game has amassed over $500 million in all-time revenue solely from player spending.
While the horror games market has experienced some ups and downs in the last couple of years, player spending is still fairly high, as well as the downloads. (Data source: AppMagic)
However, breaking into this market is no walk in the park.
It’s largely monopolized by a handful of games and publishers, like NetEase and Clickteam, making it challenging for newcomers to penetrate the market.
Top Horror Games of 2023 So Far
For further insight into the horror games market, check out which horror games earned the most from player spending in 2023 so far. Note that some games are on this list twice because they have separate releases for the Asian market and rest of the world.
- Identity V by NetEase
- 第五人格 by LongE Corporation
- Dead by Daylight Mobile by NetEase
- Dead by Night Mobile by Behavior Interactive
- Five Nights at Freddy’s by Clickteam
- Hello Neighbor by tinyBuild
- Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 by Clickteam
- Five Nights at Freddy’s AR by Clickteam
- Ultimate Custom Night by Clickteam
- Poppy Playtime Chapter 1 by Mob Entertainment
Most Common Genres Among Horror Games
The horror gaming landscape is far from being uniform; it offers diverse experiences, from casual to core. The top horror games can be categorized into various genres, namely adventure, RPG, casual, and hyper-casual. These successful titles often adopt specific formats like survival games, escape games, and quest games to deliver their thrills.
This diversity presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Game developers have a variety of templates to consider, but choosing the right mix of elements is crucial for resonating with players.
What Makes Top Horror Games Successful?
Whether you’re developing a horror game or simply curious about what makes these games tick, this section will unravel the key components that contribute to their success.
Polished Look & Unique Art
The first thing players notice about a game is its appearance, and that’s especially true for horror games. A polished look not only grabs attention but also invites downloads. The options for art styles are numerous, whether you prefer a gritty, realistic look or opt for something more stylized and abstract.
What’s crucial is that your game’s visuals are captivating and unique.
Given the genre, the art must set the appropriate tone — think dim lighting, a dark color palette, and elements that induce unease.
For instance, the top-grossing horror game Identity V employs a captivating art style that echoes dark storybook illustrations, with a Burton-esque vibe. Interestingly, this aesthetic shares similarities with another NetEase title, Harry Potter: Magic Awakened, crafted by Game Lead Artist Qingfeng Zeng.
Another potent strategy for capturing attention in the horror games market is leveraging popular IPs. These intellectual properties can be sourced from a range of media — shows, movies, video games, or even books. Incorporating a well-known horror IP does more than just attract fans; it lends instant credibility and intrigue to your game.
Take the IP-based game Five Nights at Freddy’s as a case in point. Originating as a 2014 point-and-click survival horror game developed and published by Scott Cawthon, its IP has drawn a massive following and has even expanded into various media formats.
But it’s not always necessary to base the entire game on a specific IP.
Often, the inclusion of characters or elements from popular horror IPs can be enough to create a buzz and attract a wider player base.
When it comes to holding players’ attention, the storyline plays a pivotal role. In the realm of horror games, there’s a spectrum of approaches to consider.
Some top horror games, like Granny by DVloper, opt for a simple but compelling premise — “Granny keeps you locked in her house. Now you have to try to get out of her house, but be careful and quiet. She hears everything.”
Another example is Nextbots from Backrooms, where the storyline is succinct yet intriguing — “Nextbot is what will haunt you. Run from the trends in the worst place in the Backrooms.”
On the opposite end, there are games that invest heavily in intricate storylines and elaborate world-building. These games often feature dozens of characters, each fleshed out with their own backstories and a comprehensive narrative that unfolds as players progress.
Regardless of the approach you choose, having a storyline is non-negotiable. Whether it’s a simple premise or a complex narrative, the story serves to engage players and keep them hooked, offering yet another layer to the gaming experience.
Character Collection Monetization
A unique cast of characters often serves as the lifeblood of top horror games.
In some instances, these characters might even be borrowed from familiar horror IPs to lend an added layer of intrigue. For example, Dead By Daylight Mobile boasts a roster that includes iconic figures like Freddie Krueger, as well as mythical beings like The Baba Yaga and Krampus.
Each character group is assigned a rarity level, which encourages players to expand their collection. While some characters can be acquired for free, the rarer ones come with a price tag.
Identity V follows a similar monetization strategy, featuring a wide array of characters available for purchase.
So, why does this character collection model work so well for monetization?
It taps into players’ desire to collect things and invest in their gaming experience, creating a cycle where they’re motivated to acquire new characters, and by extension, invest more time and resources into the game.
This monetization tactic doesn’t end with character acquisition. There’s also the potential for players to purchase cosmetic items and outfits for their characters, adding another layer to revenue generation — but we’ll delve into cosmetic monetization in the following section.
Customization adds a personal touch to gaming, allowing players to express their individuality within a virtual world. It’s a great feature to have as players enjoy it, but it can also provide a basis for cosmetic monetization, offering a win-win situation for both developers and players.
The appeal of personalization often encourages players to spend on cosmetic items, driving a significant source of revenue for developers.
For instance, Identity V offers an exhaustive list of cosmetic options — from costumes and accessories to pets, behavior modifiers, portraits, custom lobbies, and even music. It’s rare for a game to offer such extensive customization options. While some of these items can be earned through gameplay, others are available for purchase.
Because players relish the opportunity to tweak various game elements, they’re more inclined to invest in these cosmetic items. Whether it’s outfits, furniture, or pets, this form of monetization proves effective because it directly appeals to a player’s desire for self-expression and customization.
Liveops, or live operations, is the pulse that keeps a mobile game thriving long after its initial launch.
For horror games, this is no different.
The primary goal of liveops is to continually feed new content to players, ensuring they remain engaged with the game. Whether it’s introducing new characters, story chapters, maps, cosmetic items, or events, fresh updates can significantly boost both player retention and monetization.
But how do you build anticipation for new content?
It’s all about strategic timing and communication. Teasers, sneak peeks, and countdowns can create a sense of urgency and excitement among players.
Platforms like social media channels, in-game announcements, and community forums are excellent mediums for disseminating this information.
The trick is to strike a balance — you want to give enough information to stir interest but not so much that you eliminate the mystery. By keeping your players on their toes with regular updates and strategically teasing with new content, you’re not just maintaining interest — you’re amplifying it.
Multiple Game Modes
Variety in terms of content and game modes is a must for mobile horror games. Most top performers in this genre offer more than one game mode, which significantly amplifies player engagement. For instance, many games allow players to step into the shoes of either the hunter or the prey, or the killer or survivor.
Why does this matter?
Offering multiple game modes provides diverse gaming experiences that keep players hooked. It allows them to choose a gameplay style that resonates with their preferences — whether they’re into the thrill of the chase or the tension of survival.
This flexibility not only enriches the player’s experience but also adds layers of replayability to the game, making it a win-win for everyone involved.
Sometimes it’s the subtle extras that elevate a game from good to great. That’s where meta-layers come in.
While not integral to the core gameplay, these additional features add depth and offer players more avenues for engagement. Implementing meta-layers can significantly boost both player engagement and retention, as they introduce new facets to explore and master within the game.
Take Identity V, for instance.
Beyond its core horror elements, it incorporates a home design system, allowing players to design their dream houses.
So, why are design and décor meta-layers such a hit with players?
Simple — they provide a creative outlet that offers a break from the primary game focus, whether that’s surviving a haunted house or outwitting a relentless killer. This extra layer of personalization and creativity feeds into the overall player satisfaction, making them more likely to stick around for the long haul.
Top Horror Games: Final Thoughts
From eye-catching art styles and effective monetization strategies to the crucial role of liveops, top horror games on mobile utilize a variety of techniques to capture and keep players engaged.
With the horror games market showing no signs of slowing down, understanding these key success factors can offer invaluable insights.