How to Get Started in Game Development and Succeed
Building a game is one thing, building a successful game is a whole other story. There are hundreds of thousands of mobile games on both the App Store as well as Google Play, but only a handful ever land in the hearts of the people and make it to the top of the charts, allowing them to make billions of dollars and stay relevant for years.
Most games never see that kind of success, so what makes the ones that do, stand out? Games with high revenues and user numbers like PUBG MOBILE, Honor of Kings, Pokemon GO, and Candy Crush are games with different objectives and modes of play, yet they all sit at the top. Surely they all must have some things in common that make them highly successful, especially games like Candy Crush and Honor of Kings, which have been around for years — since 2012 and 2015 respectively.
When looking at these leading games, you can definitely see similarities. Their monetization schemes flow with the UI — making the gaming experience seamless, the community behind the project is supportive, the art used in the games is colorful and unique. We’ll get into the nitty gritty of what truly makes a great mobile game later in the article, but we’re going to start where most of these games started: from the bottom, at the foundation. If you have been around in game dev for some time, you might find some of the theses of this article pretty straightforward, but many of us forget the most trivial things when theory comes to life.
Building A Game From Scratch
When starting out in game development, it’s crucial to get the basics down first so that you can build any kind of game that you would like, and adjust it until it’s perfect. Game development isn’t only coding, it’s a special kind of development. So to get started:
- Keep it Simple
Come up with a simple idea for a game that you want to try developing to start. It can be tempting to try to emulate your favorite complicated mobile game but if you’re new to this, it’s better to stick with a simple idea that you can develop with relative ease to learn the basics. As you get more familiar with programming, you can obviously either add on to the game or create more complicated games. Prepare yourself to the fact you won’t be able to earn much from your first game just because the chances that you are able to do better than the top 30% of the most profitable games are pretty low and that’s absolutely okay.
- Choose a Game Engine
It’s not just code that builds the game — you use a game engine, which is a special environment that allows you to construct games. They are built entirely for this purpose! The game engine allows you to combine all the elements of the game, which obviously includes code, but it also includes artwork, animation, and building the levels to your game. And of course, there are quite a few game engines to choose from. The most popular are Unity and Unreal Engine, but there are many other options out there, you just need to find the right fit for you.
If you already know how to code, you’ll want to choose a framework that uses the coding language you’re already familiar with. If you don’t know how to code yet, that’s alright! Just try to choose an engine that will allow you to focus your attention on developing the game. The biggest piece of advice we have when it comes to choosing a game engine is to find one that you can stick with. Sticking with a framework will allow you to get better at it and eventually master it, opening up a world of possibilities for your game. There are many zero coding solutions, visual libraries, and so on, and so forth, but compiling those pieces into something nice might take even more time than writing a code and having a designer by your side, if you’re doing this for the first time, at least.
- Practice Building Games
You’ve chosen your simple idea, chosen the framework, now the only thing left to do to reach the level master is to practice building games. Start with building 2D games because it’s simpler. In a lot of frameworks, you can easily switch the game over to 3D if you prefer it that way. But 2D will allow you to learn the intricacies of the framework, and once you get a handle on it you can easily make the switch to developing 3D games.
Like we said, we’re building your mobile gaming smash from the ground up, and making sure you understand the engine starting from the simplest level and working your way up will allow you a lot more freedom as you start to design more complicated games. The best teacher is experience, so putting in the hours with the game engine just developing games is, in short, the best way to perfect your skills.
- Add the Details
The last step after getting familiar with your game engine and building your simple game is to add the details that really give a game that extra boost. This includes things like artwork and sounds. You may think these things aren’t that important, as long as the foundation of your game is solid, it’ll be a hit. But don’t overlook how much a good aesthetic, the right sound effects and music can benefit your game. A good foundation is necessary, but compelling details will take your game to the next level.
Once you get the basics down, you can start to build your chart-topping game, no matter how complicated. And because you’re now an expert at the game engine you’ve chosen, you’ll have full confidence to develop the game of your dreams, no matter how complicated. And since we’ve gotten the technical side of game development out of the way, it’s time to circle back to the nitty gritty part that we mentioned earlier. As important as knowing how to actually build the game is, there are quite a few conceptual ideas that will help you in the creation process.
The Recipe For A Successful Game
What is the recipe for mobile game success? Knowing how to build any kind of game is understandably important, but it’s not what is going to keep users returning to your game to spend their hard-earned dollars. Good game, bad game, mid-tier game, building it isn’t the issue. Previously we mentioned what the most successful games have in common, and now’s the time to discuss exactly what those things are.
- A Solid Community
Mobile games are nothing without the users that play them. And while acquiring new users will be the goal when the game releases, the real success comes from getting those users to open your app again and again and again. A new download is a small success, but the real test is whether or not the user keeps your game on their phone, and actually plays it regularly.
Now imagine you build up a loyal community of users who love your game and sing its praises. It’s free marketing for one, but it also gives you a solid user base that keeps coming back to your game and spending money in it. Building a solid community of users is a surefire way to keep your app topping charts and earning revenue.
So how exactly do you catch and keep a user?
- User Experience
This is arguably the most important part of designing a successful game. There are literally hundreds of thousands of games out there, and if your user experience is lacking, users have zero issues with deleting your app and downloading a different game. But thanks to modern psychology and many of the games that have already been released, there are genuine theories you can implement that make the user more likely to continue playing your game and to keep them coming back to it.
There are a lot of elements that make up the entirety of the user experience, so let’s discuss those that have the biggest overall impact.
- User Interface
We have all encountered games and just apps in general that are confusing and sometimes downright infuriating to use. Your UI should be intuitive and easy for users to navigate with little-to-no prior usage of the app. If your game has the user clicking too many times just to get to the start of the game or level, the user will just delete the app. Take your time designing your UI so that it fits well with your game’s functionality and also allows the user to seamlessly navigate the game.
Flow may sound like UI, but it’s not. Flow is more so the storytelling of the game and how it sucks you in. Your goal is to get users to not only return to your game but to spend their precious time and money on it, and the way you do that is by building the game so that the levels challenge the user, and reward them at the right moment.
Where is the ad placement (if that’s your monetization scheme)? Does it pop up at an inordinate time or does it flow effortlessly with the game? If you choose in-app purchases to be your monetization scheme, strategically placing an offer to buy something in the game in order to progress can affect how long users play your game and how much they spend.
A small hint: the most successful games have monetization seamlessly built into the flow of the game. Each in-app purchase is offered at the most opportune time, when the user is most likely to complete the purchase. Likewise, games with ads don’t play them in the middle of a level, breaking the user’s concentration, they’ll play the ad when the user is likely to continue playing after watching.
Keeping the attention of the user is the main goal, so don’t ignore how important flow is to the overall attractiveness of your game!
- Positive Reinforcement
Good old classic conditioning, it works every time. There’s no better way to get your user to return time and time again than rewarding them. You can easily increase retention and engagement by offering bonuses in your game based on the amount of time played or for watching an advertisement. To tie this in with the last point, when you offer your reward is important too. Offering a reward that will help the user against the final boss they’re about the face, if only they watch an ad, allows you to bring together good game flow, positive reinforcement, as well as monetization.
Another facet of positive reinforcement is simply creating and releasing new levels as the game develops. Users will eventually reach the end of the game and then what? Maybe they’ll play it again but that’s not really likely. You can keep them coming back for more by releasing new levels periodically, or by having them unlock new levels as they play.
Unlike console or PC, when it comes to mobile games, you’re competing with every other app on that user’s phone. Which means that any overly complicated game tutorials or super in-depth plotlines could easily bore your user and make them exit the game.
Don’t crowd your screen with too much stimulus and if you need to provide a tutorial for your game, try to do so that you only give the information needed, exactly when it’s needed. You don’t need to put a long-winded tutorial that overloads the user with information at the beginning of the game. Sprinkle smaller tutorials throughout the levels to keep users engaged.
- Monetization Scheme
The thing is, no game is successful with monetizing, but making money should not be the main goal of the game — users can tell immediately when the game is just meant to make money and not actually provide them with a quality experience. Put simply, your monetization scheme should compliment your game and flow well with it.
If you offer in-app purchases, they need to actually be necessary to progress in the game, otherwise users won’t purchase anything. Everyone is used to advertisements in mobile games, but if you place your ads at the strangest times during your game, users will get annoyed with them popping up at the worst times and just not play your game.
And don’t be afraid to adjust your in-app purchase prices or the placement of your ads once you gather more data and can tell what your users would be more receptive to! You may find that being flexible allows you to make more money in the end.
If you would like to learn more about the different kinds of monetization schemes, our friend and colleagues have an article with a brief overview of them here.
You can have the best mobile game in the world, but if nobody knows about it, nobody is going to play it. You’ve presumably spent all this time learning how to use a game engine and developing your game and it’s likely you’ve spent a lot of money too. Don’t waste your investment by skimping on marketing. You need to get your app’s name out there, and you need to get it installed on phones, opened, and loved by users. The key to effective marketing is to know your target audience, otherwise, you’re just throwing your money into the void. You want the people who are actually likely to download and play the game to see your ads.
When designing the ads for your game, consider your visuals. What best showcases your game? Consider if playable ads are an option. There are so many ways you can make your marketing budget work for you.
If your marketing skills are far from perfect or you cannot fit that kind of activities in your tight developer’s schedule, consider finding a publisher with both budgets, time and expertise to do that for you;)
- Uniqueness – the most important part.
Almost all top grossing games, and broadly, all successful apps have one thing in common: they are either the best of the kind, or unique, or the first to meet the audience’s demand. You might spend a fortune to build a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) that is as good as any in the top 3. But players wouldn’t bother to migrate to your game since they have “a life” somewhere else, saved progress and hours spent to reach the in-game goals. Why choose something that is just slightly better? To win that kind of audience, you need your product to be an absolute bombshell, a revolution in MOBAs. Or, think of match 3 games. What on Earth can you contribute to the genre that hasn’t been done before? Maybe you can (we believe in you!), but you’ll need really big money to make everyone understand that (see pt. 3).
We’ve given you a lot to consider when starting out in game development. Much of the time, if your game is not successful, even in the mildest sense, it’s because it’s missing one or more of the things we’ve listed above. But not to worry, as long as you have a solid idea for a game design, you can include everything we’ve mentioned. And you can always tweak and adjust your game as you get more users and they give more feedback. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were the most successful mobile games.
In conclusion, keep the user in mind as you develop your game. You can never go wrong keeping your customer in consideration. The goal is to earn revenue from your app, but you can’t do that unless people actually download and play the game regularly.
But perhaps becoming a master game developer is not what you had in mind, despite having a solid idea for a game that could become the next top earner. On the other hand, maybe the marketing side is the knowledge you lack. You have a solid game but the struggle now is to get it out to people. Either way, we at Playcore have got you covered. Whether you need help developing your game or making sure everyone knows about it, we can offer our expertise and help bring your app to the top of the app and revenue charts. Just contact us to discuss your game development and marketing options.