Conquer Games | Tips & Strategies for Indie App Developers

The player’s the boss; it’s your duty to entertain – John Carmack

The most socially awkward moment I have ever experienced was witnessing someone playing my game for the first time.
It is an eerie feeling.  I wanted to talk to the guy, but what do you say?  “Hey I made that.  What do you think?  Wanna hangout and talk about your gameplay experience?”
I don’t think so.
In my work, there are a lot of positives.  But there is no greater reward than seeing someone enjoy your work.  It’s a feeling of appreciation, pride, and acceptance.  To me, that’s what game development is all about.
I’m a gamer at heart. When I was a kid, I remember playing Tecmo Bowl with my brother on NES.  Blowing on cartridges and slapping on my Game-Genie were daily rituals.  Nothing topped running one back with Deion Sanders, or going yard with a Hail Mary from Joe Montana.
We are well into our 30s now, and my brother and I still stay up late gaming.
Since my early NES days, I have moved on to downloading and developing hundreds of mobile games while my old gaming system collects dust in the garage.  The scariest thing about being a mobile developer is keeping up with the times, the latest technologies, and of course the competition.
Ever have a bad revenue week and asked yourself: “Is this it?  Are my apps done?  How can I compete in this crowded market?”
I have.  Lots of times.
At least once a month I ask myself why I’m even still in this biz.  Are my games going to last?  Is the market going to crash?  The unknown is a scary thing.
The bottom line is this:  I develop games because I love it.  I have the lifestyle I want, I have an income that allows me to travel the world, and reports are showing an exponential projected growth well past 2017.  In fact, there is supposed to be over 6 billion smartphones in the hands of gamers by then.  Insane!
To be a successful game developer, you need an appreciation for games and other people’s work.  I get emails monthly asking development estimates for games like Minecraft.
Yes the foundation looks simple enough, but there are tons of coding, analytics, and marketing efforts that go into whales like Minecraft.  That’s why Microsoft purchased it for 2.5 billion dollars.  Did you know there are over 350 splash images in Minecraft?  In the real world, nothing is pure luck or comes easy.
So what’s up with games?  Who are the new hotshots?  What revolutionary technologies do you have to be mindful of?
You’ll be shocked when you hear what game makers are working on, as well as the classic development strategies that are still bringing in tons of cash.

a look into The future of games

virtual reality
Virtual Reality is here.  It might be unlikely that you or I will create virtual reality games anytime soon, but new technology Samsung Galaxy Virtual Realityis a plus in any market.   The concept of VR has been perceived as bogus in the past, but people had a strong liking to it at this years GDC in San Francisco.  Game developers are using VR for its 360° video environments and mega-screen like feel.
You’ve probably already seen Samsung’s VR mobile products in stores like Best Buy.  That stuff is no joke.  It is incredibly affordable and has 5 star reviews.
Apple Watch is projected to be the leading smartwatch vendor in 2015.  Games are going to take off on the Apple Watch with its straightforward UX that can be easily played on small screens and in short segments.  People are going to make a killing with the Apple Watch.  Games are easier to develop than any other Apple product to date.
iarm apple watch gameI plan to focus on how game developers successfully monetize their Apple Watch apps.  We don’t have a lot of research yet, but geo-locator ad networks like Tapsense are no doubt going to crush it.  Starbucks, Macys, Target…  These are companies that are taking full-advantage by displaying their promotions right in front of the customer’s eyes.
I’m pumped for the Apple Watch.  Creative development ideas like iArm Wrestle Champs are going to be no-brainers that cash in.
Facebook is beefing up its game recommendations.  With App Events we can collect data on events like level completions and purchases.    Now Facebook is using our data and their own historical data to target what games and ads to focus on.
Not interested?
Imagine an App Store that targets what you like, and analyzes what is already on your device.  Thats what Facebook is – a second App Store that matches what games you’ll play and spend money on!
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Using Google to dominate

Besides Google’s new killer Player Analytic tool which is pinpointing user demographics and traits, I’m personally more interested in their heavy AdMob update.  AdMob is now sending out tailored messages to users.  Even better is AdMob’s AI that is predicting when a user will spend money on items like In App Purchases.
People are surprised when they see how often Bluecloud still includes AdMob in our games.  Although AdMob and banner ads feel outdated, they’re a solid source of revenue that don’t affect the user’s play.  Read more about AdMob and Google Play Analytic here.
Google paid over $7 billion to developers last year.  This year they’ll pay out even more.  Get on it!

Be Like Matt

Matt Hall is an indie game developer who struggled to provide for his wife and daughter while living on his parents farm in Australia.  After a tough stretch, Matt developed an app by the name of Crossy RoadsCrossy Roads is based off the cult-classic Frogger arcade game, and can probably be developed by a majority of freelancers on elance.
Matt started with a simple game that people already like.  Then he introduced a basic monetization system from similar successful apps like Flappy Birds, and developed a kickass app without breaking the bank.
This is the same equation Bluecloud Solutions uses to develop dozens of apps that have hit the Top Charts.  And it’s incredibly easy.

Everyone’s playing with that one. We’re going to go over here. We think that might work. Matt’s research on emulating games like Frogger

Be like Matt.  Simplify things.  Figure out a system that works, and capitalize on it.  At GDC Matt reported that Crossy Roads generated $10 million with over 50 million downloads in just the first 3 months of release.  This just happened, and the cool thing is another indie developer with a similar story will do it this year.
Crossy Roads has reached #1 in multiple Top Charts categories.  Matt is single-handedly battling juggernauts like Supercell who are spending buckets of money to promote apps like Clash of Clans.
Blogger Dave Tach said it best, “It’s about lessons learned in hard times. To make art, you need to do some mixing. ” 
Don’t ever quit.  Take a deep breath and recognize what’s working and use stories like Matt’s for inspiration.

Reboot your old games

My mentor Chad Mureta taught me a valuable lesson early in my development career.  Emulating is not skinning.  Emulating is taking something that already exists and making it better through additional features, new technology, and rapid iterations.
However, emulating and skinning do go hand in hand.  By emulating, we can reboot an old project to feel like new.  Then we can skin it to test different themes, metadata, and monetization strategies to cast a wider net and find out what works best.  Checkout Carter’s new skinning course to learn how he systematizes Bluecloud’s hundreds of skins.  Get the details here.
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Developers feel like its impossible to rejuvenate an app once its fallen off the charts.  Ramine Darabiha rebooted his 4-year-old game Age of Zombies back to the Top Charts.  He stated the reason he dove back into his game was because…
“It’s Free Money!”
Surprisingly, one of the biggest focuses Age of Zombies updated was its resources. Ramine’s powerful update was developed to be worthy of being featured, along with a marketing strategy targeting the Paid Top Charts.  He has become a huge story, and inspired thousands of developers to go back to older projects to see what can be tweaked.
temple run disney endless runner
Emulating and skinning are still dominating.  Even the biggest companies like Disney are releasing more duplicates of past successes.  Disney’s latest hit Temple Run: Oz (one of many Endless Runners Disney has released), is a knockoff of an Imangi Studios classic.  Same code, another app on the charts.  With Disney’s new release of Temple Run: Oz, Endless Runner classics are still king.

Quick Game Facts

Here’s some findings you should keep in mind when developing games.

92% of mobile revenue comes from IAPs

Games account for 16% of the total time spent on mobile apps

59% of Americans are gamers

US smartphone owners aged 18 and over use video, audio, and gaming apps for an average of 10 hours 34 minutes per month.  Up 70% since 2012.

The average mobile gamer spends $4-$6 a month in apps

71% of the mobile gamers who spend more than $10 a month are males

The #1 reason gamers stop playing is because the game gets too difficult without having to spend money

The last one really hits home.  Is the freemium model declining?  Did Matt Hall see this coming?  I think so.  The user has picked up on the freemium model and shifted to other schemes.  Lets face it, when they’ve done a Southpark episode on it, it’s probably over.
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What apps like Crossy Roads do show us, is that we’ll always have the classics.  Simplicity is king, and you can make big bucks with traditional monetization strategies.  Read more about monetization strategies and other development tips with Bluecloud’s free Mobile Development Guide.

In closing

Games do more than help pass the time.  They challenge, inspire, and bring us together.  Whether your game is getting 1 download a day or 1,000, its a special thing.  Someone searched, scrolled, clicked, and downloaded your app in a market with over a million others to choose from.
People love the challenge of creating something, adding their own twist, and seeing how the market consumes it.  Thats why Bluecloud is made up of mostly repeat-customers.  Most importantly it makes them money.
Analyze new and trending apps to help you think outside the box.  Games like Lastronaut, Blockwick 2, and Build Fly Retry are simple codes that people have taken to the next level and cashed in on.
Remember to always be improving your existing projects and codes.  Nothing is finished.  Take your apps to higher levels,  and different platforms while experimenting with themes, metadata and monetization strategies that work best.
Keep it simple.  Follow development strategies like Matt Hall’s that work for you.  If you are interested in developing a whale, make sure you know what you’re getting into.  Take a look inside this simple game that cost $800k+, but made over 5 million.
Looking back, I can’t imagine having any other job.  App Development is what I was meant to do and I’m excited for what’s next.
Ever seen someone playing your game?  Tell me about it and discuss what new app strategies and technologies you’re excited about.  Add a comment below.


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