Management Sciences Research

Heads up for mobile indie developers

indie developer

What Every Mobile Indie Developer Needs to Know?

While conducting my research and talking to different industry experts (indie developers, video game publishers, etc.) there’s usually a set of comments that have been popping up consistently that are worth to be mentioned in this dedicated post as a heads up.

Cost of user acquisition

One of the main concerns pointed out by many indie developers (and not that indie) is the increasing cost of user acquisition to which some games advertising platforms are contributing. Some of the publishers cited that for mobile gaming the cost is already getting closer around $2 per user (and growing) while for high end titles the cost of user acquisition could range between $8 and $10.
As already known, the cost of user acquisition is one of the key aspects that is taken into account by the publishers in order to engage in commercial partnerships with video game developers and usually depends on the platform a game is targeting. Nevertheless, other important factors that are taken into account are also the potential of the video game for having organic downloads and its long term value (e.g. its potential to generate money on the long run).

Top 3 indicators for indie developers’ game assessment

When asked about what indicators are considered by publishers when assessing whether to support a new initiative or not, most commonly the following were mentioned:

  1. The use of best practices in the game design (e.g. layout, game structure, etc).
  2. The monetization model of the game.
  3. The marketing plan and the users acquisition cost and strategy.

Role of the video game publishers

There’s also a consensus that the role of the video game publishers have gradually moved from just a distributors role to a “teachers” or mentors role. There’s a growing trend in the industry, specially concerning indie developers, that publishers are focusing more and more on proactively helping the video game developers to get the game on the right level of quality to increase its chances to succeed. In such competitive setting such trend makes sense as when looking at the overall picture – video game developers and publishers had always their (at least economic) incentives aligned, so the outcome can be expected to be a “win-win” for both parties.

Leveraging existing intellectual property

Another interesting point highlighted by some of the video game publishers is that the using and leveraging the existing intellectual property for new games in most of the cases directly contributes to more downloads at the moment of releasing the game. Leveraging existing intellectual property lowers the cost of users acquisition and, therefore, ensures faster growth of the video game’s user base. This point seems to be specially relevant given the constant growth of users’ acquisition costs, so it won’t be surprising if at some point paying the royalties for the use of 3rd party intellectual property might offset the cost of regular user acquisition on some of the platforms.

“Paid vs Free” models

Regarding the never ending discussion of “paid vs free” models, most of the interviewees agreed that although for some very specific mobile games the paid model might still be valid, it might barely account for the 5% of the cases. More and more users expect to try a game before buying it and, therefore, the free to play model is becoming the dominant one. There’s a consensus that paid games might build stronger brands but, at the same time, they might also generate higher expectations from the users that need to be fulfilled on a regular basis.

Industry reference indicators

Finally, and as an industry reference of best practices, most of the publishers agreed that they do look more for the top grossing games charts than for the top downloads. Moreover, when talking about users’ retention rates it is worth mentioning that it is expected that after the first day 40% of the players who downloaded the game will still be playing it, after the 7th day 30% of those who got the game will still be playing and after the 30th day at least 10% of players will still be playing it.