Sure, devs are tireless innovators, but mobile game publishers have their work cut out for them too. With large investments and a mandate to find success over and over again in a market of two million apps, any publisher that hopes to survive must ruthlessly throw out all but the most promising mobile games.
For devs, getting noticed by the busy pubs means thinking like one. Don’t worry, thinking like a publisher doesn’t require large teams analyzing monetization and market appeal for days on end. Instead, it means asking the right questions—the same questions publishers ask when presented with a new title.
Question 1: Can this mobile game make money?
For a developer, thinking money first is often considered gauche. Yet, nobody blinks if a publisher rejects a game that seems to have low earning potential. Developers could benefit from doing the same with their prototypes.
Paid games are often easier to asses: one only needs to know the price and estimated number of sales to make a guess at the game’s potential. Most publishers, however, work with free-to-play games, which involve many more assumptions about conversion, average spend and player lifetime value. To eliminate as much of the guesswork as possible, publishers look to the monetization models of existing games instead of trusting unique or untested models.
“We believed the monetization model of Rising Warriors would work because it is similar to how other highly successful top grossing games apply in-app purchases,” says PlayPlayFun‘s Paxel Davis, speaking of their recently released battle strategy game that made it to the App Store’s front page.
Question 2: Will the game find a place in the market?
Publishers expect developers to have an understanding of their target audience. While there’s no empirical way of knowing how a game’s players will behave post-launch, there are two effective positioning exercises that can help devs make an educated guess.
First, compare the game against similar titles. Look at three to five games in the same genre and assess how their players behave: What other games do they download? What do they complain about? Second, using the information from that initial comparison, create a positioning statement, which will outline the game’s unique selling proposition, and can usually be written as:
[Company] is a [category] that helps [primary audience] reach[primary benefits]. Unlike other[category, company (or product or person)], [primary difference].
When applied to a game, say MZ’s Game of War, it might look like this:
Game of War is an MMO strategy mobile game that helps midcore-hardcore strategy players reach high levels of achievement. Unlike other MMO strategy mobile games, Game of War can host all players on a single server, thus specializing for large-scale guilds and PvP.
Though Game of War‘s actual positioning statement may be entirely different, the goal of this rendition—and any other positioning statement—is to make it clear for developers and publishers alike where the game is located in the market.
Question 3: Is it fun?
Although they may care a lot about money and marketing, most publishers are former game developers: they care about fun. Still, a publisher may be more specific about what “fun” means than the typical developer. For example, many publishers measure fun by a game’s stickiness.
“[Fun] is that achievement of handing me a game I can’t—however hard I try—put down after picking up for the first time,” says Flaregames‘ Development Relations Manager, Miikka Luotio.
Mobile game publishers also look for games that appeal to a niche but can capture the attention of a wider set of players. “This is partly the magic of Nonstop Knight,” says Luotio of Flaregames’ most recent hit, which blends incremental game mechanics—the niche—with a broadly appealing RPG look and feel. “It resonates with a specific target group of action RPG enthusiasts, but has such a wide appeal at the same time.”
PlayPlayFun found the same draw in Rising Warriors, which also has a cheery, broadly appealing look but mixes in heavy strategic elements. “Even without an established community, we knew the game would attract gamers. There is plenty of appeal for both casual and hardcore strategy players,” Davis says.
Question 4: Is it an overall fit?
Fit can also mean a lot of things, but in the publisher’s case, fit applies to the platform and the publisher itself.
Platform fit can have a huge impact on a player’s experience. A game’s end design should fit perfectly with how users will interact with it on their devices. For instance, if the game heavily relies on accurate, real-time responses and timing, then research suggests touchscreens are too inexact with their lack of control feedback.
In the same vein, the platform should fit the publisher. Devs can save time for themselves and publishers by doing a little research. “We get tons of submissions for games we’d never take on and for platforms that are our third priority,” says Luke Burtis, the co-founder of multi-platform publisher TinyBuild.
These seem like simple steps, but the surprising truth is that many developers never consider their games through a commercial lens. It takes both creativity and good business sense to succeed in the mobile game arena. Learning to think like a publisher could go a long way toward saving time and money, months (or years) before a game makes it to market.