With over 10.4% share in total downloads, business apps were the second-most popular category (in terms of downloads) at the Apple App Store in September. Mobile educational apps for kids came in a close third. And which category occupied the top spot? You guessed it…mobile games, and that too with a 22.2% share of the total downloads. App companies are increasingly taking up 2D/3D game development projects, in their bid to cash in on this trend (the collective revenue from mobile gaming apps is set to overtake that from consoles by the end of this year). Here are a few handy guidelines that app developers need to follow, while conceptualizing and creating games:
- Start off with a definite idea – You need to have a proper layout of the type of mobile game you wish to create, before actually getting down to the coding part. Prepare a flowchart – starting off with the nature of the game (action, sports, arcade, etc.), the gameplay involved, and the way in which you wish users to interact with your app. For new developers, it is advisable to kickstart things with a game that is similar to the ones they are familiar with (not an identical clone, of course!). That will provide a good starting point.
- Build for one platform, port later – The iOS or Android debate is one that you need to tackle at the very outset. Provided that your game is indeed a success, the Google platform offers greater reach – while the potential earning capacity of iOS apps is higher. Also consider the fact that, if you start off with an Android game – you’ll have to customize your software for a much larger set of devices (the fragmentation in the rollout of Android versions can be an issue as well). Ideally, start building an iOS game (iPhone and iPad). There are many tools for porting the game to the Android and/or Windows platform later.
- Get familiar with the tools and IDEs – Half-baked knowledge of the available game development engines and tools is a recipe for disaster for any developer. If you are an iPhone app developer – learn your way about Xcode and Swift/Objective-C thoroughly first. For Android developers, Java is the language and Android Studio/Eclipse are the IDEs to become proficient in. You will also need to take an early call on whether to make a 2D or a 3D game (the former is, obviously, the correct choice for new developers). Depending on your choice, you will have to learn how to work with popular game engines like Unity and Unreal Development Kit (UDK). There are plenty of resources available for adding polish to your game – make sure you use them well.
- Consider how most people play games – Any mobile game development agency would emphasize the importance of monitoring in-game analytics. The reason for this is simple – user-experience is the defining factor for the success or failure of any game. Keep in mind that most people play games on their smartphones to pass the time – and the interaction time is generally small. That, in turn, makes it almost mandatory for game developers to provide users with easy options to pause and restart the game (without any of the game data/progress/status being lost). Make sure that your game can be played offline as well. Online multiplayer modes are fun and all that – but you need to cater to the huge audience who play games while commuting in subways and other places, where there is weak or no wifi connectivity.
- Content trumps over style…everytime – Yes, making a good-looking mobile game is important. But stay away from the pitfall of obsessing too much over the graphic features of your gaming app, and pushing the actual game content to the back-burner. A flashy game can spark off handsome initial download figures – but it is the content of an app that ensure high user-retention levels. In particular, if you are developing a role-playing game, prepare a good back-story first (for other types of games too, you need to specify the goals/targets clearly). Proper content is instrumental in engaging users to any game. Neglect this at your own peril.
- Have a minimum viable product – This is more important for Android game developers, although those working in the iOS ecosystem might as well take note. The competition level in the international mobile gaming industry is increasing every quarter, and you need to have your application out there at the store as soon as possible. The best way to do this is launch a minimum viable product (MVP) version of your game first, and release updates later. For instance, to ensure that people can play your game in both portrait and landscape mode without a glitch – have a square layout that would fit the screens of most devices. Further customization can be done later.
- Pay attention to the creatives – At leading mobile app and game development engines, there are separate teams in charge of development and graphic designing. Depending on the level of graphic features and design finesse (and of course the animations) that have to be deployed in a game, in-depth working knowledge of tools like Maya, Photoshop, Spine, SpriteKit (for iOS developers) and Gimp is required. Create assets/characters that users would be able to relate to. Remember Odus the Owl in Candy Crush Saga Dreamworld or the little running guy in Subway Surfers?
- Never distract users with ads – You can create a couple of games just for the love of it – but at the end of the day, every mobile game developer wishes to earn revenue from their software. In-app advertisements is one of the best ways to do this. If you do implement this app monetization strategy (you probably will have to), do it in a way so that the advertisements do not hamper the actual gameplay. Avoid displaying animated ads on the top or bottom of the main game screen (that would be a disturbance as well as a waste of screen real estate). Consider including video ads that users can see while taking a break from playing (like the way ‘Threes!Free’ does). You can also dedicate one corner of the start screen to ‘ads’ – which, when tapped, will display the ads (again, just like how King does with Candy Crush Saga). If disruptive ads pop up after every few seconds, most people will uninstall your app from your device…soon!
Note: You can also make your game a freemium mobile application (i.e., free to download, but with in-app purchase options). Provide users the option to upgrade to the ad-free version of your app, where only these in-app purchases will drive your monetization strategy.
- Gather feedback and do the rework – The more you iterate this, the better. Put together a beta version of your game, and ask people whom you know and can rely upon to test it on their devices. Listen to their feedback very carefully, jot down the suggestions they make, and redesign your game. There is nothing wrong in being told that the beta version of your gaming app has certain flaws (these feedback would stand you in good stead later on). What’s more – you would prefer to hear an honest review of your game from people you know rather than scathing criticisms from final users, right?
- Release regular updates – Major upgrades can be launched at relatively long intervals (say, six months) – but experts from the domain of iOS and Android game development advise releasing small updates on a more frequent basis. If your game involves levels and challenges – add a few new levels every week. In strategy-based fighting games, add new weapons and characters, or tweak the existing ones. The ‘newness’ about your game should never get lost.
- Optimize your game for every type of user – Some gamers have all the time in the world, some are really skillful at certain games, while there is a section who are more than willing to spend money for in-game purchases. Your game needs to cater…and cater well…to all of them. For the power-users (who are likely to play for long stretches of time), battery-drain and device overheating are major concerns. Make sure that the your app does not cause any such problems. The high-on-skill users would love having increasingly complicated new challenges and goals in the game. Finally, for the ones who can and will spend should be able to access and purchase every item you decide to include under in-app purchase option.
Note: If you are making a mobile game app for kids, make sure that the children cannot purchase anything on their own. Their parents should be the ones doing such purchases.
- Monitor the analytics – By this time, it should be pretty much clear why mobile app analytics is so important. Find out how, where and for how long people are interacting with your app, the age-group of users among whom your game has found the most favour in, and whether there is any device/OS version on which gamers are facing problems (you need to address such problems immediately). If you see that the downloads are tapering off, release a new update and spread the news. The average shelf-life of gaming applications is on the shorter side – and if the downloads of your game remain low for months, it’s time to move on to making a new mobile game.
- Promote your game. And then promote some more – All your game ideas, time and resources will go to waste – if people are not ‘aware’ of the existence of your game. Look around online social media channels like Facebook and Google Plus – where mobile app developers regularly post about their games and other applications. In addition to these, you can tweet regularly about the features of your game as well. Make a list of online mobile game review sites, and submit your app at those places (a good review from a creditworthy third-party source can work wonders). Actively seek feedback and recommendations from users. Mobile game developer agencies have their PR departments working overtime at the time of new game releases. The sole purpose of this is building interest about the game among targeted users.
- Develop games for the love of it – Right from coming up with viable iOS or Android app ideas, to coding, designing and testing a new game – everything seems a drag if you fall out of love with the overall process. You need to be motivated enough to be able to churn out a game that people will actually like playing. Indie developers often create games as a hobby, and mostly work on other app development projects. The same goes for the top mobile app companies. A mobile game is supposed to be fun – and you should be excited…and not bored…about making it.
- Think future – Apple Watch is out in the wild, and rapidly gaining in popularity. The recent release of watchOS 2 has made it easier than ever for WatchKit app developers to create custom games for the wearable device. Virtual Reality is yet another component that has hardly been used so far in mobile games – but it has the potential to become a key feature of gaming applications in future. Even for the revamped Apple TV, games can be developed for tvOS. Keep yourself updated at all times with the latest mobile technology. That’s the only way a developer can retain his/her success over time.
Bonus Tip → Never ever try to cut down on the time required for testing your mobile game, on simulators, devices, and over the cloud. The last thing you want is releasing a buggy app (which will get rejected at the App Store and will generate a negative word-of-mouth publicity among Android users). The final users are not the ones to ‘test’ your device – it’s your responsibility to make your app glitch-free before release.
For those only just starting out in the field of mobile game development, here’s a piece of advice: your very first app will probably not be a huge success. There is no reason to be feel too down about such initial hiccups. Find out where and why you went wrong in your first venture, do not repeat the same mistakes, and soon enough…you can come up with a better game application.
Creating games for smart devices can be an exciting, and with a bit of luck, financially rewarding profession. Follow the pointers above, and you can be well on your way towards becoming a top game developer!