First of all as disclaimer: I just talk about my experience with the two games I have released. Nevertheless I spend quite a lot time and effort in these two games and I think my situation is suitable for a lot of other indie developers too. Of course there are success stories and there are exceptional cases, but for me mobile not paid out yet. I invested a lot of time lately into social features, user engagement and retention, but nothing showed great results yet.
So let us start and just judge this as a general advice from an indie developer, who made some first hand experience.
Motivation and Vision
Let me talk a bit about my vision and my both games I came up with first. I founded Rainware two years ago and I decided to stick to libGDX for game development. Distribution should happen on cross platforms, this includes Android, iOS, Amazon and Desktop (osx, windows, linux). My idea is to develop cross platform games to reach more players on different platforms. Today I am certain that focusing on a niche is much more rewarding as an indie, than trying to get the biggest audience possible. It is nearly impossible to create a game which fits mobile and pc, since both audiences are so different in behavior.
A fun fact: I focused with Flat Fat Cat Bounce on mobile devices and optimized it for mobile controls. I sold a lot more copies on steam than I had in app purchases on mobile. In the end I could say that my mobile version completely sucked and I wasted a lot of money and earned a lot less money than on steam, where I did not invest anything except the initial fee.
My mobile games
But first things first. My first game was Timbertales a turn based strategy game in a nature setting. Timbertales was planned as a pc game, but within the capabilities of libGDX to support mobile I switched during the development to make it work on mobile too and focused a lot on mobile controls. Afterwards I know that this was a crucial misstep, because I lost my focus on pc gamers, so they had less interest in the game at all. The game wasn’t initial designed for mobile so it lacks of an audience there. By that I mean it is more a core game than a casual game.
My second game was Flat Fat Cat Bounce it was planned as a much smaller project and it had a really strong mobile focus. I wanted to create a small game for mobile devices, which should be very addictive and generate some money. As you all know as an indie developer money is always a big issue. After the development of Timbertales I spent all my budget and I had to earn money somehow. In my foolishness I thought it would be an easy task to create a simple mobile game and earn from it. Today I know I shouldn’t have spend a single minute on any mobile related game at first.
So what is the problem with mobile stores?
I read a lot about the mobile market before I developed Flat Fat Cat Bounce, but of course I thought I could do better than others. In the end I wasted a lot of time and money. I earned maybe around 40$ in half a year with in app purchases and spend months to develop the game and invested around 5.000$ into marketing without any success. Let me tell you why – The mobile market or better said the Google Play Store is such a hard business, where a very few earn money and a lot of devs invest money. In first place Google benefits the most of course. They earn from every ad you pay. They receive their percentage for every in app purchase and they don’t care about any of the games. I had a direct contact with Google Germany and they created a marketing plan with budget for me. I paid more money in 10 days than I would spend for living for 2-3 months and meanwhile all installs I received are gone. Of course a part of the problem is that my game isn’t good enough, but the point is Google doesn’t care about that they already have my money.
Another big problem on mobile is to generate a fan base or community. Mobile players differ a lot from pc gamers. They don’t care about you or your indie studio. If you do a match 3 game you have to compete with Candy Crush for example and the player don’t care if you work alone or have a big studio and a lot of budget. They just want to play games for free and if they are not funny enough after some minutes of gameplay they will delete it and play the next one. There are so much games to choose from, why should your game become the next hit? They don’t care about your time you invested into development nor your story you want to tell. The search rankings in Play Store or Apple Store is my next point. There are thousands of games in these stores. I don’t think I tell you something new here. You have to compete with all of those games, because as an indie without any marketing budget your only way to get seen is by being searched in the stores. That your game will have a good ranking is nearly impossible, because it depends on your ASO, which is hardly related to the success of your game. In the end this means if you have only a few downloads / reviews you can ASO your heart out – Nobody will find your game!
Exceptional cases and conclusion
So in my opinion you could have good reasons to enter the mobile market or just think what does he know about me, but you should think a lot about it. If you have a brand, a huge fan base / community or an already running pc game which is quite successful – it could be a good decision! Of course another exception would be if you have publisher and you are not publishing by yourself.
In mostly all other scenarios I would not try again to release something for mobile market and I will stick to pc / console market in future. PC gamers care a lot more about you as a person and the game. I think the biggest advantage of being indie is to sell yourself as a person. I talked a lot to other game developers or players and all of them where quite impressed that I did everything myself. Publishing, Development, Marketing etc. and with this story I have the possibility to build up a community on platforms like steam and they maybe become fans of my products.
Do you have any similar experience, comments or question? Please don’t hesitate to share your opinion