I’m a gamer who is also a game developer. Working on several console games before making my first smartphone game didn’t help me to avoid a basic mistake: I considered smartphone gamers to have the same expectations than console gamers.
After few years now, seeing some gamers becoming game developers made me realized that this mistake is indeed very common.
Due to the very nature of their gaming platforms, the way they play are different, as well as the way they enjoy games1. There are few things to know before trying to make games on a specific platform if you hope to get some money out of them.
The first thing to realize is how gamers play on different platforms. Usually, smartphone gamers enjoy short and efficient game sessions. The biggest success on smartphone are all about simple games easy to understand and easy to play. They are the perfect subject for a 5 seconds gut test where only 5 seconds of gameplay are enough to know if you like the game or not. Even enough to know if you will uninstall the game or keep it forever2.
I don’t say it’s not possible to make games that imply “long” game sessions on smartphones. My friend Michael Peiffert made a very successful story driven game called Out There. But it’s still (unfortunatelly) considered as a niche game on this platform.
If you come from the console / PC game world you may want to put tons of content in your game: hundreds of levels, dozens of characters, and even parallel worlds. Your game size will probably become big. Often too big.
For a reason I don’t completly grasp, games smaller than 15 Mb are more downloaded than other games. It’s probably because of cell phone providers pricings on data bandwidth, or smartphones hard drive capacity often limited but always overcrowded by pictures of cats… Gamers, even teased by your game screenshots or videos, won’t give it a try when they will see its size of 150 Mb.
Pricing & downloadable content strategy
You don’t sell a console game the same price you sell a smartphone game. Smartphone gamers are used to play for free or for $.99. We have all met someone who said “I love playing games on my phone but I won’t spend a penny to play!”. These people should try to make a living out of game development… but it’s not the subject today. The thing here is people on smartphone often think games have to be cheap to be worth a try.
As usual, exceptions exist, like Ridiculous Fishing from Vlambeer. However it’s worth noting that the communication Vlambeer made was long and clear to explain why the game was “expensive”3.
It’s not a perfect and ultimate rule but the main idea behind selling smartphone game is: make it free or price it high. If your game is free it will be easily discoverable. If it’s expensive it will strangely be seen as a seal of quality.
On the other hand, even if gaming cultures are changing, free games making money only using “in app purchases” on console or PC are still not mainstream. On these platforms if you like or want a game it seems normal to spend few dollars to buy it.
In the end
Knowing the differences between platforms audience can help you know if a game idea is worth to be developed for a platform or not. Don’t forget that if every gamers enjoy games, they, strangely, don’t enjoy the same kind of games.