Where the Mobile Gaming Industry Stands Today
Over the last few years, the gaming industry has experienced nothing short of a living, breathing revolution. Thanks to tools like Unity, there are practically no entry barriers; if you have a bit of skill and a few hundred bucks to spare, you can put your game up on Google Play or the App Store.
It wasn’t like this a few years back though. Games were hot on PC and consoles alone and budgets often rivaled or exceeded those of the highest grossing Hollywood movies. Having even an indie gaming house meant hiring a seasoned and dedicated team, plenty of capital to boot, and a good year or more to release your goods in the market. And God forbid, if a platform owner or publisher turned down your game, you had literally no way of getting it out.
Steam, along with a couple of digital channels, were actually the first to upset this business model, however, the true revolution arrived when games started going mobile. This is a great thing in many ways – aspiring mobile developers have sprung out by the dozens with brilliant ideas and fresh outlooks. There are no longer ‘gatekeepers’ who decide what percentage of developers penetrate the market.
Never in the history of gaming have gamers had access to this much game variety. And the real kicker is, nearly all of them are absolutely free. Now, here’s the not so good part: there are evidently, downsides as well that could mean bad business for the mobile gaming industry in general. Let’s shed some light on those.
Discoverability – Why It’s an Issue
The App Store sees thousands of apps being released each day. Unfortunately, your game largely goes unnoticed to the everyday user, unless you bag an Editor’s Choice award, win the Best New Games category or a recognition of similar capacity.
The simple and unfortunate reality is users can only find your game if they’ve come across previous works. Often acting on instinct, game devs are quick to turn to gaming websites to have their mobile game reviewed. Sadly, this traditional form of media just doesn’t cut it anymore. You see, most users are under 20, and cannot be reached through traditional gaming sites. While these sites, including print media such as magazines, work well for reaching out to the older PC and console audiences, they’re just not effective at all when it comes to targeting the younger mobile gaming audiences.
Take home lesson: a great review on even the most sought-after sites won’t cut it, it just won’t.
Where It’s At
The under 20 gamers get all their juicy info from Youtube, or Youtubers as they like to call each other. That’s where the meat and potatoes are, as far as exposure goes. As an experiment, if you happen to be married, just observe your teenage kids and their friends, how they pick which mobile games to play. It’s always: “Oh but I saw Youtuber (insert nick name) playing it, let’s get that one”, or: “My friend’s playing that one; look at the amount of views and likes it’s gotten”. THIS is where your game should be.
Bear in mind Youtubers are going to want to get paid for giving your game the glitz and glamour it needs, so be prepared to dish out the required amount from your marketing budget.
There are two highly effective ways to maximize your downloads. One requires a hefty cost, while the other’s free.
Through paid user acquisition, you can get the maximum number of users to have your stuff downloaded, as per the end-goal. However, it will cost you an arm and a leg. This is why start-ups need to grab a hold of generous investors. Companies which are constantly topping the charts with millions in profit, feed a good chunk of their earnings right back into the business modus operandi, by featuring ads in other games, for instance.
Paid User Acquisition
The cost of paid user acquisition has been largely unregulated for quite a while now. Back in the day, the mobile space was the ultimate slice of heaven where humble indie devs could in some cases, even surpass major publishers – as long as they had a great mobile game on their hands.
This has changed – on one hand, the initial barrier of developing a game and putting it up on the store is still relatively low, on the other, a very real multi-layered barrier exists which involves the cost of user acquisition, and that is a stubborn one to push through. Because of this alone, staying afloat in the mobile gaming space is a far more difficult proposition relative to console or PC games.
Free downloads can be ‘stimulated’ by way of organic growth – word of mouth, players showing your game to others or telling them the things that really stand out and how badly they want to play it with other mobile gamers. This can initially prove to be cumbersome, however, you can certainly design your game around organic growth optimization.
Does Flappy Bird ring a bell? Of course it does! Who hasn’t played that? It took off like it was practically powered by rocket fuel. This is not to say you should just follow in the footsteps of other devs who’ve had it made. Flappy’s notorious difficulty made it really special, but that doesn’t mean making your game that difficult will make it an overnight success.
Designing a game that actively integrates social interaction is easier to work on. Another major reason is this: getting players to send challenges, exchange goods or invite them to join the hoopla, means your game gets a major boost in terms of both retention and organic growth.
If you’ve played Tiny Troopers: Alliance, you know the player needs to forge alliances and get other players to join the war effort. Active players “gear up” to get ready for battle, telling their fellow gamers to try out the game, while coaxing them to join forces.
You see, it’s about people collectively moving forward to achieve their goals as a team; they know they can do it far better when more hands are on the battlefield. THIS sells big time.
Publishers Out of the Mix?
Publishers are a crucial part of the equation: publishing vets sport a games portfolio that has millions of active users. This dense user-base is used to cross-promote games of companies hiring these publishers. Choose the right publisher, and you’ll be worth millions. Here’s the proverbial pebble in your shoe: the publisher is going to walk away with at least 30-40% of your revenue.
Is losing a portion of your revenue acceptable, in the name of increased downloads? Small publishers do not have the horsepower to drive huge downloads to justify the royalty share. And either way, the deal works out great for them – they continue to get revenue from the multiple games present in their respective portfolio. However, there may be several developers on the same portfolio going bankrupt.
Choose a publisher with enough muscle and dominance to get you in the same line as the top tier game developers.
F2P is where the Money is
Free-to-play games are all the rage these days, and users much prefer this as you can imagine. The best you can do is adapt. Even though you can get handsome returns on a paid game, F2P is potentially much more rewarding.
Check out the US charts – even the most popular and downloaded paid app will be floating somewhere between 70 and 100. If your paid app happens to be the most downloaded one, you are still way behind the curve in contrast to F2P games.
Look at the chart positions closely and you’ll notice the F2P and paid games gap is even wider than what one might be led to believe. For example, a game sitting at the top grossing chart’s 100th position may be making just around 2 or 3% of what the no.1 game is making. What we need to understand is that revenue distribution is heavily polarized – inside the top 10 as well, the revenue difference is reasonably skewed, even more so in the top 3.
A few indie developers might tell you money is not an issue, that they’re in it just for the user experience. The fact of the matter is when you’re trying to get a business up on its feet, you need to have staying power and that involves making profit.
You can build your business’s backbone with a paid game, though investors are simply not interested in companies who are ‘barely getting by’. So in your bid to raise funds, make sure you are also a high-ranking company, not just a company known for making paid games, while trying to get the ‘humble beginnings train’ moving.
How it All Sums Up
A lot of game developers end up with a flat tire even before they make it to the finish line. This is unfortunately, the bitter truth and one tends to overlook it when reading fantasy stories about some companies reeling in investment money by the millions and making revenues that might make even the top Hollywood actors green with envy. The sooner you come to terms with this truth, the better.
Try not to rush forward at full speed ahead – this is one way of improving the odds. Keep digging, precious gold lies ahead, but you have to be willing to put in the back-breaking labor. You can’t just pick the nuggets off the ground one by one, those days are long gone.
Talk to us to have your game developed and marketed just right. We’d also love to know what you have to say about where mobile gaming is headed. Comment away!