Moving onto a new mobile game project and a new set of goals

My first mobile game on the iOS apple store, Play the Field, was a great learning experience in many ways, but to be honest the number of downloads was quite below my expectations, especially considering it was free. I knew the mobile game market was dog-eat-dog, but nevertheless I think I was still a bit too naive.

I still feel the game is a lot of fun, and at least one person who tested the game for me (who had experience with RTS games) said he felt it was enjoyable to play. But it’s pretty clear to me neither the gameplay nor the difficulty was the main factor in the small number of downloads. I’m pretty sure the game’s simple, unrefined visuals, was the real culprit. Although I tried to market those as “retro” or “minimalistic”, the actual number of games with visuals that simple that become popular seems pretty small. The game’s unfamiliar genre (“casual” RTS) may also have been a factor in the lack of popularity.

While I have recently done some experimental advertising for PTF, and may continue to do so in the future, I have decided on spending the biggest chunk of my time on a new mobile game. It’s something along the lines of a puzzle game influenced by classic games.

This time around I have a different set of priorities, the most important being to spend a greater amount of effort and time on polishing the visual and UI aspects of the game. In all my game projects up until now I’ve always went the path of least resistance (meaning I spent the most time of my time on other elements such as gameplay, AI, level design, difficulty, etc.), but this time I will shift that balance.

Since my lack of artistic ability isn’t likely to change anytime soon, I’m making the best of what I have – still trying to keep to simple visuals while adding things here and there to please the eye. In particular I’m trying to add more animations to the game, for the background as well as at the start of each level. In between each player’s turn there is also a special animation I’ve spent some time refining.

Besides this emphasis on visuals, I’m hoping my decision to make a more standard puzzle game will give it better chances at popularity, while acknowledging that genre is extremely competitive.

The final thing I’m planning on putting more effort into is making an enticing preview video, since I feel that’s one of the most important things determining whether a user makes the jump to actually download an app or not. Of course the screen shots are also important, and since animations won’t show up in these I’ll have to pick what to showcase wisely.

I’m aiming at the somewhat arbitrary figure of 2x over my previous game’s downloads, though part of me is hoping I can get at least 10x. Even 100x wouldn’t result in a famous game, but if I can see concrete progress in some form it will motivate me more to keep along this route. Otherwise, I may chose to devote my time elsewhere.

Programming is great fun, but there’s nothing quite like the thrill of real users around the world downloading your mobile game, with a great degree of unpredictability around what will be popular and what won’t.

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6 thoughts on “Moving onto a new mobile game project and a new set of goals

  1. My guess is that casual puzzle and arcade games are the most popular genres for mobile, so it’s harder to get high numbers with other genres. I was wondering, have you tried applying app search optimization techniques to your app? I’m not sure how easy and effective it is for indie games, but I think it can help get your app higher in the search results days after your game has been published and has been moved out of the “high-visibility” pages.

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    • No, I definitely could spend more time on marketing and such and probably get some more downloads. Maybe after this new project I’ll go back to spending more time on advertising and such.

      The search optimization techniques sound interesting, can you please give some more details or links? Thanks.

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  2. Oops looks like my first comment wasn’t posted.

    “Yes it would help to allot some time for marketing when you’re done with this new game. Most users find new apps by browsing the app store. App store optimization or ASO makes it easier for the users to discover your app.

    Using keywords in the app description and in the app name is one of the things you can do to get a higher rank. There’s a lot to learn about it and there are a number of companies that offer this as a paid service. As indie devs, we can choose simpler and cost-effective (even free) ASO methods and focus on the development of the game and its visuals.

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