The story of one failure (development of the first mobile game) with conclusions and tips

This publication may be of interest to those who are going to take up or are already developing their first mobile game and at the same time expect some kind of financial “exhaust” from it.

Objectives of the article

  1. Caution others against repeating their own mistakes;
  2. Get an outside view of the findings.

About myself

In the recent past, I ran a small web studio for several years. We tried to make non-template sites, corporate web services. Sometimes it turned out pretty successfully. They also released a couple of mobile applications involving freelance programmers. Last fall, it was time for me to change my occupation. In general, I change the scope of work approximately every 3-4 years, this is not an end in itself, just the area in which I achieve any success begins to be a burden.

I decided to try myself in the field of mobile game development. Moreover, in a new quality for himself - at the level of his own startup. Since it was not the first time I had started embossing cones in an area little known to myself, I knew that with a high degree of probability the first project would be:
  1. longer than I expected;
  2. harder than I expected;
  3. more expensive than I expected.

Therefore, as a first game, we needed a simple, but original idea, in order to deal with the pitfalls of the mobile gaming industry at least at the basic level with minimal time and financial losses.

Error # 1. Choosing an idea for the game (the main strategic mistake)

After sorting through the head of the games that I have ever played and which “hooked me”, I chose SeXonix (I think many of the former owners of 286/486 computers can remember this remake with the erotic bias of the world famous Xonix game). The problem was that I didn’t remember the name of the game, and finding its or the original arcade on the net by describing the rules of the game to the search engine turned out to be quite non-trivial and, unfortunately, impossible for me to do.

Not knowing the name of the game, I could not find the Xonix clones in the App Store.

Rubbing his palms, he began to determine the performers.

Error # 2. The decision to make the design yourself

The logic was as follows: the game is primitive, the square moves, a line remains behind it, the circles fly - it is quite possible to make a primitive design for such a game yourself. Download beautiful balls, find a beautiful button in the vector for a player on the network is not a problem. Well then, why on the first project, on which you want to risk money minimally, spend money on a designer?

A mistake, and no less "hard" than the first. A good designer can make any, even the most primitive interface, attractive to the user. The converse is also true - a poor designer can make even the most sophisticated interface unbearable for the eyes. As correctly written in many articles on promoting mobile applications, the first thing a user sees is the game’s icon and its screenshots / video. Therefore, the graphic component of your game should be at a good level.

Error # 3. The decision to make the game cross-platform

The logic was simple again: there are a lot of game frameworks, most are cross-platform, which means that you need to make the game for the two most popular platforms and, thereby, significantly expand the audience. Since the bid in monetization will obviously be on advertising, the large audience of Android phones is very suitable.

In general, this logic holds true for most game ideas, but, as it turned out, not for everyone. I did not suspect the technical aspect of the Xonix “engine”, according to which the size of the playing field in the logical cells along which the main character-square moves should be the same on all devices. Due to the zoo in the screen proportions for Android phones (and because of my desire to also support the iPad), the arcade game field cannot occupy the entire available area of ​​the device’s screen either horizontally or vertically. The attractiveness and convenience of the game on the small size of the phone screen suffered.

Error # 4. The decision to start working with a proven and qualified, but not experienced in the gaming industry programmer

In the course of working in a web studio, I attracted an iOS programmer from Ukraine to work on one of the applications, which was a real pleasure to work with. He took upon himself many aspects of development for iOS that were unknown to me at that time, he patiently explained many things, and in general did his work responsibly and on time.

He had no experience in the gaming industry, but there was more than enough experience in programming in general and for iOS in particular. We agreed that he will begin to understand the framework we have chosen and at the same time begin to develop, in general, a simple game. As a result, after 2.5 months of trouble (yes, I am very patient), he signed that he was not able to quickly and easily figure out a new area for himself and would prefer to move along the beaten path, at least at the current stage of life.

Now I understand that I was lucky that he stopped chewing on me and I was able to find another programmer. Even if at his start in the work on the framework he had a breakthrough, thanks to which he would begin to fully work on my project, this would only significantly aggravate the matter.

A good and experienced "game" programmer, whom I brought to the project to replace the Ukrainian, not only did a good job, but also helped me with a lot of tips on the gameplay and interface of the game. As a newfound sucker, I wanted to include a bunch of small options that I looked at in other toys: sharing on social networks, some other SMS / email sharing, etc. All these things are necessary, but they can be implemented at the update stage for a game that has already gone to the masses. Well, or at least they can be implemented in a game with good and planned promotion. Thank God that he dissuaded me from them, this would still slow down the work on the project and would result in additional costs.

This same programmer, after developing a prototype, opened my eyes to me that I was developing a wheel - a simple remake of Xonix. I was stunned, but decided not to minimize the project. I decided to bring it to the end, since the main goal was the experience extracted from the project. But if you already make a clone, then do it with high quality. It was supposed to be a real sequel, not another copy.

Various types of enemies were invented (including shooting guns, teleporting balls), different types of obstacles, game bonuses, a three-star level passing assessment system, levelpacks. Of course, from the point of view of graphic attractiveness, my Cool Xonix is ​​far from ideal, but from the point of view of gameplay, I believe that I made the most exciting version of Xonix that I played (and I watched them at least 3-4 dozen).

Error # 5. Perfectionism in the development of content and gameplay

Recently I read an article according to which, according to statistics, about a third of all suicides are rooted in perfectionism. Perfectionism is a good thing, but in moderation. I did not expect my involvement in the development of game levels, the selection of background photos, etc. will be so significant. Yes, I wanted to plunge into the development of the game with my head in order to then “keep my nose down the drain” in subsequent projects, but if we consider development as a streaming process, then your involvement in the development of game content and gameplay should be either minimal (hire a person) or you must cope with your perfectionism (if it is, of course, present). At least at the start of the game. If the game is worth the candle, then later it will be possible to make an excellent update to the game.

Error # 6. Errors with the launch and promotion of the game

Before starting the game, I had the idea to see what traffic a simple launch of applications in the corresponding markets can give. Extremely dumb idea, if it visits you too - drive it away from yourself you know what rags. For many reasons. I will indicate only two main ones:
  1. Google Play (as far as I understand) has no such thing as new games, especially by category. There is the concept of "Best New Games." To date, there are so many publishers and they have such substantial promotion budgets that the tens of thousands of installations have the “weakest” of the “best new games” (500th in the ranking). Thus, if you just publish the game on Google Play, nobody will notice it.
  2. In the App Store, everything is somewhat different, there is a corresponding category, but it can only give an impetus to your game. To appear in the category "Best New ..." (= make money on the game), you need to start promoting the game before its publication.

The next mistake I made was the simultaneous submission of applications to both markets. Google Play moderation is not long (my game appeared on the market in a few hours), which can not be said about the App Store. As a result, all the while the game was in moderation in the App Store, I had the opportunity to scribble letters about the release of the game to the websites specializing exclusively in Android games. In my next project I will make a conditionally simultaneous release.

Also, in the next project, I will contact the "survey" portals not after the release of my game, but at its final stage. I realized that a mobile game requires comprehensive promotion immediately at the launch stage.


To conclude this article, I’ll give a few tips that follow from it for beginner igrodelov:

  1. Play games. Try to play several new games every day. This will not only develop your gaming horizons, but also, perhaps, prompt new ideas for your own games, identify errors in existing ones.
  2. Do not start working with programmers / designers / illustrators / animators if they have no experience participating in the development of mobile games. The option “I have four wagons of experience, along the way we figure out what's what” will fail. Believe me, it is quite enough that on your first project you will not have experience in game-making.
  3. If some ancient game whose name you don’t remember and you’re considering developing it for smartphones has lingered in your memory:
    a. Make every effort to find existing implementations. It is very likely that you are far from the first.
    b. Consult with gamers, most likely, they will quite easily tell you in which direction to dig.
  4. For your first project, choose a very simple game - without the need to generate a bunch of content, develop game levels, levelpacks, artificial intelligence, etc. Let your first “pancake” be small.
  5. If you are not a designer, then do not be tempted to make yourself a primitive design for a primitive game. The weak graphic component will push away users and they will not appreciate the gameplay of your game. As a result, you cannot fully promote the game.
  6. Do not waste time and money on the first project for numerous additional small functions of the application, such as sharinga. Concentrate on the main thing - the gameplay of the game and its graphic appeal.

I would be grateful for the views expressed on my conclusions.

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