In terms of downloads, mobile games have raced ahead of other app categories over the last few quarters. With more and more app developers turning to make games, we have shared a few tips for game development in what follows. They would come in handy for interested developers.
Mobile games have come a long way from the days of ‘Snake’ and ‘Bantumi’. The download stats for the first two weeks of January 2015 at the Apple App Store clearly indicate that gaming apps are by far the most popular category of mobile applications at present. During this period, 21.14% of all downloaded apps were iOS games – while educational apps came in a distant second, with a shade over 10% downloads. Not surprisingly, app development companies are increasingly starting to turn their attentions towards creating gamers. We will here discuss a few pointers for efficient mobile game development for professional developers:
- Start off with a 2D game – Yes, 3D games are more popular, but they are trickier to create as well. As a beginner, you should start out with a relatively simple 2D game. For creating the game elements and assets, you will need to have in-depth knowledge of working with Photoshop. There are several 2D game engine tools available as well (e.g., GameSalad), which you can refer to – in case your programming expertise is on the lower side. With time, start learning 3ds Max, Maya and similar applications, which would help you graduate to 3D games.
- Select the iOS or Android platform – Blackberry App World is not going to recover anytime soon, Tizen is still iffy, and Windows has a lot of catching up to do. To ensure high visibility of your game, choose between the Apple iOS and the Google Android platforms. Getting a new app approved on the latter is easier, but app and game developers typically make more money from Apple App Store.
- Keep things familiar – The interaction time of users with gaming apps is low – generally, a few minutes at a stretch. If you put in a host of never-seen-before features in your game, do not expect people to actually spend time to ‘learn’ how it works. Keep the gameplay options simple – so that users from any age group can try their hands on it, without having to refer to the instruction manual. The moment your mobile game is perceived to be ‘difficult’, its download figures will plummet.
- For games, content is the king – Most new indie app developers as well as mobile game development companies make the mistake of focusing too much on the graphic designs of games – while the actual game content takes a backseat. This should never be the case. The layout, display, controls and UI/UX of a game should complement a strong, engaging, unique content. No one downloads games to check out how beautiful it looks – it’s all about whether the central theme of the game appeals to them.
- Go with the flow – Selecting the genre for a new game need not be as difficult as it is often made out to be. Any good Android/iPhone game developer would agree that the best idea is to do a research on which genre(s) are the most popular at present, and make your game belong to it. For instance, the immense popularity of Candy Crush Saga confirms that Arcade games are in vogue now. Action-based games, like treasure hunts, have plenty of takers too. Avoid making a game in a genre that is not generally liked. To put it differently, don’t try to be a ‘game-changer’!
- Keep learning all the time – As you gradually move your mobile game from the concept to the development/designing stage, avail of all the available online tutorials and resources. From sources like Lynda, Cartoon Smart and Digital Tutors (to name a few), you will find a lot of helpful pointers for making your very first gaming app. Network with other mobile app and game developers, and find out what other resources/references/game samples they use as reference. The more you know about making a game, the better it will turn out to be. Remember, you should never be in a tearing hurry to launch your game.
- Don’t get bogged down by mistakes – Coding, even during your college days, wasn’t easy – and things will (let’s face it) get tougher when you start developing your own game app. Be prepared to make coding errors, design mistakes and other follies – even the best mobile app developers make them. What you need to do is learn from your mistakes, and make sure that they do not happen again. In case your first mobile game flops (and there is a fair chance of that), try to find what exactly went wrong. You will be able to make a better, more successful game later, with the help of this knowledge.
- Be familiar with the IDEs – If you are planning to go for cross-platform mobile game development, you will have to simultaneously learn how to work with Xcode (for iOS) and Eclipse (for Android). Ideally though, you should select one platform, and get familiar with its integrated development environment (IDE). For designing purposes, you will have to learn (in case you have a separate team of mobile app designers, train them) the workings of free tools like Inkscape and Gimp first. Later on, you can move on to more complex tools like Adobe Creative Suite. Take one step at a time, and get your feet gradually wet in this domain. There is no need to learn everything at once.
- Keep the user motivated – There are two basic thumb-rules that any mobile game development expert must follow: Firstly, the game should never ‘end’, and there should be many levels which the users can gradually progress too. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there needs to be missions/objectives of the gameplay. A user should feel that the entire game has a goal (maybe collecting coins, getting reward points, unlocking secret treasures, etc.). A purposeless mobile game would soon bore people.
- Consider your target audience – Are you making a mobile game for small kids? Will your game mostly be played by adults on the go (think about those people furiously tapping away at their smartphones while traveling!)? What would be the income bracket of the people who are most likely to download your game? These basic queries need to be resolved, before you get down to make an Android or iPhone game. Features like in-app purchases, inclusion of violence in the gameplay (for combat games) should be decided on the basis of the profile of your target audience. In a fun game for kids, you will need to include child-friendly controls too.
- Have a USP for your game – While it is not advisable to not make a totally out-of-the-box app, it is vital to differentiate your game from the thousands of others already present at the online app stores. Pick a feature of your game that, while not necessarily unique, can serve as its main USP (for instance, one-shot death, star system, online/offline modes, multiplayer options, etc.). Make sure that all your hard work does not lead to the creation of ‘just another game with nothing special about it’.
- Test your game – The last thing any new game developer wants to hear is that bugs and crashes have been reported in his/her recently launched mobile game. Prior to submitting at the App Store/Play Store, get your game tested on devices – by relatives, colleagues, friends and other reliable acquaintances in your circle. Ask for honest, detailed feedback. If any of the features of the game is found to be problematic, work on it (redesigning and tweaking with the app codes are part and parcel of mobile game development). Only when your focus group of testers are satisfied with your game, plan its release.
- How long should you spend on developing a game? – A tricky question – but one you need to address at the very outset. While it is not possible to make a proper mobile gaming app in a couple of weeks flat – do not spend more than 12-14 weeks on a single project. The development process can get delayed due to a host of reasons – and if most of those reasons are technical, you would be better off moving on to another mobile game project.
- Give your game as much exposure as possible – Making a great game no longer cuts the ice, if you do not promote it properly. The World Wide Web is as good a platform as you can hope to get, to publicize your game. Use social networking channels like Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus to share screenshots and trivia about your game. Share reviews of your games (provided, of course, they are positive!) on these sites as well. Do not publish fake testimonials and reviews, however – as many mobile app companies do. Ask for opinions and suggestions from people who have already downloaded your game. Ideally, you should start building up curiosity about your game from a few weeks before its release.
There are certain app categories, in which new apps start off slowly, and then gradually pick up. Unfortunately, mobile games are not one of them. If the download figures remain low over the first 2-3 weeks after its launch, you will have to accept that it has not worked (for whatever reasons), learn from the experience, and proceed towards making a better game. Making mobile games can be a lot of fun – all that you need to have are the necessary coding skills, an imaginative streak, eagerness to learn, and…the most difficult part for many…lots of patience.