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5 Ways Indie Devs Can Build a Hit Mobile Game in an Emerging Market

build indie dev mobile game

There’s a big opportunity coming to the forefront of the mobile gaming industry: millions of people are picking up their first smartphone. With growth mainly in developing countries, some estimates say as many as 6.1 billion people will have a phone by 2020—double the current number. Countries with recent smartphone penetration like India, Brazil and Indonesia are beginning to look like the next hot spots for game devs.

This emerging market of new users creates an interesting divergence in the mobile game industry, though. For the most part, large mobile game developers don’t take much interest in the developing world—where these smartphones are headed—mostly because they don’t think there’s money there. As such, these countries offer an opportunity for small and medium sized developers to thrive without as much competition.

Here’s how indie devs can get in front of the developing world to create a lucrative mobile gaming business:

1. Keep download sizes small

Budget smartphones have limited storage space (especially when they’re a user’s primary computing device) and free internet bandwidth is more scarce in developing countries. The combination of these factors can create resistance when it comes to adding another app—and sometimes difficulty completing downloads.

Download difficulty data has been well studied in China. Publisher SkyMobi has tracked nearly a 50 percent failure rate in downloads of games at just 50 MB in China—considered a small build size for countries like Japan or the U.S. For game devs focusing on countries like India, aim to create titles under 25 MB for success.

success rate chart skymobi

2. Allow offline play

Connectivity issues take their toll on game features. In the Philippines, for example, the issue is only too visible: games requiring a strong internet connection are often unplayable, even with a 4G plan.

The reality is that most users aren’t springing for what passes locally as 4G—and many have no data service attached to their smartphone at all. A game that requires internet to receive offline earnings may irritate users to the point of churning.image00

One way around this is to tie internet connections only to bonus earnings. A common tactic can be seen in games like Fishing Break, in which offline earnings can be collected anytime but doubled in case of internet connection by watching a mobile ad.

3. Localize for multiple languages and areas

In developing countries, users are often accustomed to getting less attention from game devs—everything from marketing to in-game content may not be available in their native language. Even a small effort like acknowledging an important local holiday will be appreciated.

Tinybop's Human Body

Tinybop’s Human Body

For example, Tinybop, an educational game developer, uses a full translation strategy to gain downloads in countries like India. “If we present our apps in the local language and they feel native, especially with high quality content, we know that we have a much better chance of acquiring a customer,” says CEO Raul Gutierrez.

4. Localize prices and use ads

There’s the fundamental reason that the developing world market is wide open, beyond just lower smartphone penetration: most users don’t pay. For example, the entire region of Southeast Asia is worth about $753 million per year according to SuperData Research—a bit less than Germany alone. It’s easy to see why a developer would prioritize countries like Germany, with its high ARPU and unified culture, over a sprawling region with a dozen countries and as many languages.

Still, the diverse, non-paying players of the developing world have value in large numbers, if devs implement mobile game ads. Google Play also allows for lower minimum in-app-purchase prices in a range of developing countries so devs can implement realistic prices for these players.

5. Break the rules in top markets

There is, too, an emerging class of spenders in developing countries. Even though Android holds massive market advantages in most of these areas, there exists a subset of paying players on iOS. The obvious reason: iOS devices are expensive, costing more than a typical monthly salary in some areas. iOS players are people who download large games, have high-speed cellular connections and perhaps even play in English.

Octro's Rummy

Octro’s Rummy

For example, Octro is growing in India with local card games that nevertheless require online connectivity. For our examination of the social casino market in Latin America we spoke with Murka, which found a subset of valuable users in Mexico and elsewhere.

Despite the obvious economic gap, all users in developing countries are both eager for content and mostly bereft of local content. With the app stores mostly ruled by a few high-end, big-budget games, aiming for the newest and least served consumers may be one of the best bets a small studio can make.