Our guide to mobile game development

Creating a successful mobile game and turning it into a successful business is no easy feat. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide that outlines the steps you should consider when developing a mobile game. 

How to develop a mobile game

Step 1: Do your research

Before you write a line of code or start the design process, it’s imperative to do your research. Look at the games that made it to the top of the charts and trends in the industry, and determine who your audience is. If you already have an idea for a game, doing research will help determine if there’s a market for your game. And, if you don’t already have an idea, this step ensures that you’re making informed decisions. 

Step 2: Tell your story … sometimes

Stories are a great way to engage your player base and boost  retention. Start off by answering the following questions: 

  1. Who is the hero?
  2. Who is the villain? 
  3. What are their strengths and weaknesses? 
  4. How will they achieve victory?

Keep in mind that not all genres require a story, such as, hyper-casual and puzzle games. 

Step 3: Create a plan 

Your plan should consist of the following three components: 

  1. Development (coding)  
  2. Art (graphics)
  3. Game design (gameplay) 

If you’re a one-person show then this plan will be all on you, or if you have a bigger team then your developer will code the game, the artist will create the graphics, and someone else will work on gameplay. Having a plan will make sure you have a starting off point for game creation. It’s where you put your ideas into words, think of it like a blueprint of your game. 

There is no rule as to which component deserves the most attention, or which component you should start with. Game development is agile and these three components are always working in tandem with one another. If something in the art changes, then chances are the development and game design will need to be changed too. 

Step 4: Get started on development

Once you’ve created a detailed plan, the next phase is development. There are a few ways to develop games and the one you choose should depend on how much experience you have in the industry. Remember that nothing remains static and throughout the entire development phase, things will change, and this will require tweaks to the code, the art, and the game design. 

For example, let’s say you’re developing a sword fighting game and the game designer draws a character that is wearing a hat. If the character were to fall down, their hat would most likely fall off, right? Well, now the development and game design components need to consider this and adjust accordingly. 

If you don’t have much experience with development, there are solutions on the market that have completely automated the process like mobile game development kits that create cross-platform mobile games without any coding. These tools will speed up your development process and ensure that you’re able to develop your game in a cost-effective way and fast. One way to go is Buildbox, a free solution that enables anyone to create a game without having to write one line of code. 

If you prefer coding, now’s the time to pick which platform you want to work with. Unity tends to be the more popular choice, with 50% of all games being developed there. Do research into what you need from a platform and make sure that the one you choose has the capabilities you need. 

Step 5: Monetize your game 

Chances are you’ll want to make some money off the game you’ve developed. The first decision you need to make is whether you’ll monetize users through IAPs, ads, or both. 

Your monetization strategy will likely depend on the game genre that you go with, but more often than not, games that monetize users using a mix of ads and IAPs tend to generate maximum revenue.  For example, hardcore games tend to monetize through IAPs and rewarded video, whereas casual games - especially hyper-casual - monetize through interstitials. Sometimes, even the most casual of games allow users to even pay to have ads removed. 

There is one rule of thumb that games of all genres should follow: your monetization strategy should be designed when you’re in the earliest phases of game development. This will ensure that there is nothing holding you back from launching your game and making money from day one. Working with an ad network is a sure way to have everything you need for your game’s growth.

Looking for more insights into ad monetization? Download the definitive guide to ad monetization here. 

Step 6: Acquire users 

Marketing is a crucial step when it comes to launching your game. In such a saturated app market, even the biggest studios run user acquisition campaigns to grow their player base. Investing in marketing at the onset will ensure that you’re generating revenue from the get go and acquiring high-valued users that are in it for the long run. 

Start with ASO, or app store optimization, a process of optimizing the names and descriptions of games to maximize their visibility in the app stores. Doing so increases traffic to your game’s page and improves conversion rates to maximize the volume of organic downloads. Simply put, ASO brings free high-quality users to your app - reducing the costs of paid UA. 

Interested in learning more about ASO? Check out our guide. 

If you have some extra cash, try running paid user acquisition campaigns, which is the process of advertising your game on other games with the goal of attracting users that are likely to play your game as well. There are many tools out there to automate and optimize the user acquisition process like the ROAS optimizer. This means that everyone - not only big studios with a lot of money - can successfully acquire users without a full marketing team behind them. 

ASO and paid UA aren’t the only options out there. Consider pitching your game to gaming publications, promote it in relevant forums, and explore alternative app stores. Here’s a handy guide that discusses other marketing tactics for game growth.  

Working with a mobile game publisher 

Game publishers are experts in all aspects of mobile games so they’ll be able to assist along every step of the way so you can focus solely on game development. They’ll help you with the monetization and marketing sides of your game in exchange for a percentage of your profits. 

5 mobile game development tools that will help you develop a great game 

  1. GameMaker: Studio - A cross-platform solution that uses a custom drag-and-drop visual programming language. 
  2. Unity - The game engine supports over 25 platforms and can be used to create 3D, 2D, virtual reality, and augmented reality games. 
  3. Twine - A free and open-source tool used mainly for creating web-based games 
  4. Construct 2 - Designed for non-programmers, this tool can be used to build HTML5-based 2D games
  5. AppGameKit - An easy-to-use cross-platform mobile game creation engine

These are just a few of the options available, but make sure to do your homework and determine which tool is the right one for your game. 

How much does it cost to develop an app?

Pricing the development of a game depends on the complexities involved, and those complexities are almost always based on genre. According to New Gen Apps, a hyper-casual game can cost anywhere from $1000 - $3000 to develop, whereas a harcore game can cost hundreds of thousands, if not one million dollars. But, remember though that this capital will always reinvest in itself, and as a game makes more money, that money is used to buy more users, and so the cycle continues. 

Developing an app or a game can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. There are many factors that will influence the cost of game development including genre, design, development, monetization, marketing, and more. 

Top 10 mobile game development companies and developers in 2020

According to App Annie, these are the top 10 game developers in 2019. But, with such a fast-paced and saturated app market, we’re excited to see if these developers will make it to the top in 2020. 

  1. Voodoo
  2. Good Job Games
  3. Say Games 
  4. Lion Studios
  5. Playgendary 
  6. Kwalee
  7. Crazy Labs
  8. Ketchapp
  9. EA
  10. Nintendo

Wrapping up

Today, there are many solutions and tools available to game developers that help automate the process. From software like Unity that allows you to code your game and then release it across multiple platforms, to other tools that help you build games without writing a single line of code. Today, even someone with zero game development experience can create a game that is enjoyed by millions of users every day. 

Let's put these tips to good use

Grow your app business with ironSource