In 2011, I wrote an opus for Adobe’s online Inspire magazine called “How To Make Money With Online Games“. Reading that is really at the crux of this blog article. I recommend reading that before proceeding below.
I am considering my strategy for my next game. I would like to self-finance a game. My goals are to learn more about the business and marketing side of things. I have the technical know-how to develop for computer desktop, computer browser, iOS (iPads, iTouches, iPhones), Android, and Blackberry tablet. I want to assume more risk and ‘own’ more of the profits (or ‘eeek’…, the losses too). Here I complete some research on mobile gaming and plot some strategies.
Where’s The Money? (Click To Enlarge)
Fig 1. (Thanks to TechCrunch)
I read many articles online and chatted with (just a few) game developers who have proven experience (positive and negative) with game development for mobile. Here are some provoking articles.
MOBILE GAME CASE STUDIES
Base Costs & Sharing
A solo worker who creates his own game can expect these base costs.
- Laptop Computer – 2k
- Software – 0.5k to 2k
- Revenue Share – The major marketplaces (Apple, Android, Blackberry) each take 30% of your game’s price tag. So you take home 0.70$ per download of a 1$ app.
For a solo worker, this really is… it. However its possible to get much more complicated and spend much more on subcontractors, outsourcing, and marketing.
My Next Philosophy
I am an expert at game design and development. However worrying about the profitability has historically been my clients concern. I’m learning how to monetize my own internal projects, to take higher risks, in the pursuit of professional challenge and higher profits.
Game players will respond to a really well polished (loosely speaking) game. However knowing exactly what response is significant, knowing how the game will respond in the marketplace, and how word of mouth will help, are not possible to calculate with certainty.
As of today I think that success with a mobile game takes a lot of luck. Larger game companies can use existing resources to facilitate success (big marketing budgets and cross promotion). Just like a critically horrible, predictable, boring, movie can make 300% profit because of big-name directors and 50% marketing budget, so can a game. The idea of a game that is created by one guy ‘over a weekend’ that makes hundreds of thousands of dollars too.
However the blockbuster game model and the indie crap shoot are not viable for me. No one indie developer sits down with the vision to make such returns. But his success must be compared to the myriad developers who work for a weekend, launch crap, and DO NOT make any profit. The blockbuster game model takes large resources to succeed and the indie crap shoot takes dumb luck or tons of trial and error.
My Dream Team
For ‘a typical iPhone game’ (whatever that is), the team size and set of skills will vary. I’d say at least you need these roles (some can be the same person); game concept designer, artist, animator, lead programmer / integrator, programmer, marketer, project manager, business developer / accountant.Â With a BA in art, my own software consulting company, and 12 years experience as a game developer, I can wear all these hats myself. However, subcontracting some things will play off my strengths, downplay my weaknesses, decrease time-to-market, and hopefully yield a better product.
Each mobile platform works on certain devices (such as iPhone), a development path of programming language and tools to create the game, and has a marketplace where the developer showcases the game (for free but with a share of revenue going to the marketplace).Â Traditionally a game must be created INDIVIDUALLY for each platform – for instance created first for iPhone, the recreated at additional time/cost for Android. I am expertly familiar with the Adobe Flash Platform. With these tools I can deploy to both iOS and Android from the same development path. This saves some development expenses, but offers the additional challenge of making a game work on a variety of screen sizes and devices.
I do not have one game concept in mind. I have several and must choose. I will lead every aspect of concept, design, development, launch, marketing. I can self-fund, but am open to investors. I will subcontract and pay a fair wage to all. I’ll hire at least one artist. Depending on the concept I may hire more artists, more programmers, play testers, and a marketing consultant.
My Next Game
After preliminary research and reflection, I have several possible strategies to creating my next game. It really depends on the outcome I want. These strategies are NOT a wishlist. I don’t say ‘make a cheap game that is really popular and makes tons of money forever’ and I don’t say ‘make a blockbuster like Angry Birds’.
STRATEGY #1 – Minimized Financial Risk
- Reduce production costs – Shoot for a simple, fast, predictably appealing, & addictive game mechanic. Perhaps that means each user enjoys it then abandons it forever – that’s ok.
- Monetize with in-game ads – Sell the game for 0$ and integrate a 3rd party ad-network. There are no licensors to impress with flashygraphics/gameplay and no marketing budget to overcome the barrier to entry of a $1 or 5$ price tag.
- Target high volume of game-plays – Short repetitive gameplay will increase ad viewing. Deploy to both Android and iPhone to capture a wide market. The game’s marketplace profile (icon, screenshots, title, description, reviews) are very important as is a 0$ price tag to drive high volume of downloads.
- Ideal for – learning the ropes, controlling our losses, setting ourselves up for a follow-up title.
STRATEGY #2 – Build a (Game Development Company) Brand
Here, if we want to make many games under the same label, and potentially offer 1st party ads in one game to ‘sell’ our other titles, we want to emphasize a quality product.
- Moderate production costs – Keep the idea simple to moderate in scope, but use a more expensive process to shape it. Start with several ideas. Develop each conceptual and keep the winning idea. Use iterative development (develop, play, revise, repeat) to put your best game forward.
- Monetization is a longer term goal – Our goal here is not to have a game that makes money. Its to build a brand.
- Target critical acclaim – Our goal is to have a portfolio that LOOKS good and receives GOOD REVIEWS.Â Ideal critique could be “This game is incredible fun and polished, however the appeal is too niche for mass popularity.
- Ideal for – Shopping for licensees with a follow-up title. A follow-up that looks sexy, seems massively popular (perhaps unoriginal), coupled with a good brand behind us will attract licensors or sponsors.
What other strategies can we think of?
My Bottom Line
There is much more analysis to be done. Most importantly will be the game concept and target devices. Those factors predicate the costs. Assuming strategy #1 above, a non-scientific estimation would be;
- 3 Months from initial concept, through development, to submission to marketplace. Assuming the game concept lends itself to this calendar. Its very possible.
- 5k to 20k per month in total costs. This includes the amount of and opportunity cost of my own time (vs doing paid client work) and depends largely on exactly what staff is needed.
- We’ll go with an ad-based revenue on a game with a 0$ price tag.
- Does anyone know how to calculate # of ads viewed = # of dollars made for an iOS / Android game? Pleaes leave a comment if you do.