Is Mobile Game Development Worth the Effort?

Flappy Bird

The developers who got into iOS a few months after the App Store was launched had it a lot easier than their brethren today. A few months after the store opened, there were just 10,000 apps available. Today, that many are launched in two weeks. That means more than 1,000 new apps appear each day. That’s a phenomenal figure – and not what anyone with a low marketing budget wants to hear.

Another challenge: Roughly one in five players who try your game will play it only once. Within 24 hours, two thirds of the people who’ve tried it will have given up.

In a nutshell, the problem is that with so many apps out there, getting yours found is a tough proposition. Figures released by Apple show that as of January 2013, there had been 40 billion downloads from the App Store for over 1 million apps. Similar figures have been reported for Android. Combined, app store revenue for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows equaled some $9 billion in 2013. But it’s harder for small, independent developers to get a chunk of that.

Developers who have big budgets can pay for advertisements to push their games. A lucky few get highlighted by Apple, which can dramatically increase their sales.

One game I play a lot is Pocket Trains, where you gain game currency (Tower Bucks) by watching game advertisements. Most of these come from Vungle, which says that 100 million people see one of its ads each month.

So what’s a low-budget indie developer to do?

The first thing is obvious: Try to come up with something that’s at least a little bit original. Flappy Bird wasn’t exactly new, but it was considered addicting. Another tip: Try not to compete in an existing sector, but create your own niche and own it.

Next: Flappy Bird was a simple game, and maybe there’s a lesson in that: Simple is better. There are some incredibly complicated and sophisticated games with beautiful graphics out there, which probably cost a shed load of money to develop. They may make money only because the developers spent several more shed loads of money on marketing them. If like many developers you don’t have a large development or marketing spend, then you need to innovate.

Third, make your game as slick as possible. At the least, it should be easy to learn and have tutorials. But if you give it well-thought-out controls and make it easy to play without lessons, maybe you won’t lose 20 percent of your players after one session. Smartphones allow you to create some sophisticated gesture-based interactions, so experiment and be unconventional.

And take heart. Even if your app isn’t a success, it’s something to put on your resume. It can show off your skills in the best possible way – with a finished app that you shipped out into the real world

I still believe that it’s worthwhile developing for Android and iOS, and maybe Windows as well. Regardless of whether or not you make a pile of money, you’ll gain experience that can open doors for you.

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Image: Flappy Bird

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