Back at PGC Helsinki 2019 in October, we had the pleasure of seeing quite a few interesting talks. But among all the sessions we attended, there was one that particularly stood out – where Priyank Badkul from Huuuge Games shared the five key mistakes mobile game developers should avoid after deciding to pursue their F2P game idea.
Priyank is a Product Owner of Coffee Break Games at Huuuge Games – a division that focuses on Classic Games such as Chess, Checkers, Dominoes and many more. He has been making games for the last 14 years. He produced the first official Formula One mobile game and Bingo Bash – the all-time highest-grossing bingo game.
If you weren’t there in Helsinki for the conference, here’s Priyank to bring you up to speed:
I’ve worked on some very successful mobile games. But I’ve also worked on games that started out as an awesome idea and ended up as a failed product. From these experiences, I looked back on the mistakes I made and learned to avoid them.
I still see plenty of developers making these mistakes today. So I want to share with you the best ways to identify and sidestep these flaws in development, so you can make sure they don’t derail the projects you’re most excited about.
Let’s sort out some definitions first.
When I talk about having an awesome idea, this is what I mean: You’ve come up with some good ideas, you’ve done your market research, and you’ve settled on one idea that really stands out, really excites you, and you can’t wait to start developing it.
By failed product, I mean one of these two things:
- You couldn’t finish developing the game and so it never entered the market
- You launched the game, but its performance in the first few days, weeks or months was so low that you had to shut it down
When you start out with such optimism and end up with a failed product, it’s a crushing feeling as a developer. Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Mistake 1: Not having a difficult but crucial conversation about innovation at the start
Innovation is exciting. Innovation is what makes for hugely successful games. But innovation comes with a cost. It’s a big investment of time, money and risk.
If you have a huge budget, you can afford to explore wildly innovative ideas and take the hits when they fail. But if you’re working to a tight budget, you need to start out by having a very honest conversation about the risks you’re taking.
My advice is to focus your innovation on one part of your game. Decide on the strongest aspect of your idea and make that the part where you do something new and radical. For the other (roughly) 80%, go with the tried and tested methods you know are successful.
Here’s a good example: In 2014, Huuuge Games decided to take on the massive casino chains by entering the casino games market. With some clever innovation, we made a very successful game – Huuuge Casino. The mechanics, visuals, and monetization of this game were no different from what was already popular. But we added social features. This one innovation alone was enough to bring us success in a crowded market.
Balancing innovation and risk is a difficult conversation to have because it can feel like a buzz-kill. It’s not very motivating to talk about scaling back your ambition. But if you don’t have that conversation, your development process will be fraught with risks and unknowns.
Mistake 2: Trying to satisfy everyone
Smartphone users cover all age groups, genders, and cultures. It’s impossible to make a game that’ll appeal to every demographic at once.
Quantic Foundry, the analytics company, asked over 250,000 people what kinds of game features appeal to them most. They found that male gamers were most interested in ‘competition’ and ‘destruction’, while female gamers were most interested in ‘completion’ and ‘design’. When they looked at age groups, they found that young gamers of both genders had interests quite similar to the males – whereas the older gamers’ preferences were more similar to the females.
The lesson here is that you can’t increase your game’s appeal to one demographic without lessening its appeal to another.
So my advice is to pick your audience carefully and make your game appeal as much as possible to that audience. If you try to appeal to everyone equally, the most likely outcome is that your game will appeal to no one.
Mistake 3: Waiting until you’ve released the game to test user acquisition (UA) cost
Your UA cost is integral to your game’s business model. So if the cost per install (CPI) is too high to make your game commercially viable, you need to know this information as soon as possible.
If you wait until you’ve released your game to find out the key numbers that’ll decide on its success or failure, you could find out you’ve wasted a lot of time and money.
I recommend creating a minimum viable product and getting users to test it as soon as you can. In today’s market, you’ll probably need to spend some money to get the initial player base to test your game, but it’s money well spent.
Let’s say you design a simple puzzle game with an ad-based monetization model. You develop a basic playable version of the game and put it out for testing. You think you’ll need a CPI of under $4 to make your business model work. But from testing, you learn that your CPI is likely to be $8 or more. What are your options?
You can make small changes to the game and re-test it. You can redo the game from scratch with fundamental changes. Or you can shut down the project entirely. At this early stage of development, you can probably go down any of these routes without having lost too much time and money.
This early testing will give you plenty of other good information too:
- Is your game appealing to your target audience?
- Are all the mechanics working as they should?
- Does the visual style work well in its current form?
This whole process is about making sure your business model and UA cost complement each other. If you wait until you’ve already released your game, having poured all the necessary time and money into it, only to find out these two things aren’t compatible, your game will probably end up a failed product. And it could be for reasons you easily could’ve identified and fixed early on.
Mistake 4: Giving up or getting excited based on short term results
Short term results can be misleading, so it’s best to avoid jumping to conclusions.
The key to this is setting sustainable, long term key performance indicators (KPIs).
I tend to adjust my KPIs every couple of years, as the market evolves. At the moment, these are the trends I recommend looking for as a sign of a game having healthy long term prospects:
If your D1 retention rate is lower or higher than 30%, don’t get too worried or too excited. Your D1 can be as low as 20% without being any cause for alarm.
I recommend looking closest at your ratio between D1-D7 and D7-D30 retention rates. If these are around 40% or higher, you’re in good shape for player retention in the long term.
If you have to spend some money to get users, you’ll want to look at your return on advertising spend (ROAS). But your benchmarks should differ greatly depending on what kind of game you’re releasing.
For a casual game, recouping 10% to 20% of your investment within seven days would be a good sign for your long term business model. For more serious games, 5% to 10% is more realistic. But if you fall below these numbers, you might want to do some redesigning.
If you get these numbers early on in the development process and watch them closely, you’ll have a much better idea of your game’s long term sustainability.
Mistake 5: Not thinking about long term scaling plans
Even if your game’s long term potential looks good, based on your KPIs, it can still fall flat if you don’t have a plan for scaling it.
So your game’s scalability should be an integral part of its design – not just an afterthought. You need to know exactly how your content, mechanics, and economy will evolve in the long term.
Most F2P games are built for a life cycle of five years or longer. And most of the monetization comes from the small percentage of the user base who play the game regularly (and spend money on the game regularly) for many years.
The question I recommend asking early on is: does my game have the scalability to keep players engaged, year after year?
There’s no shortcut to answering this question. You’ll need to look closely at the flexibility of your features, mechanics, and economy. Can you introduce variations and expansions to keep them feeling fresh and rewarding?
Avoiding these mistakes won’t guarantee you success, but it’ll make your development problems more fixable.
It’s always disappointing when your game fails. But it’s even more disappointing when you realize that its fatal flaw was fixable – if only you’d planned for it from the outset, or spotted the issue earlier on in the development cycle.
Hopefully, my advice will help you avoid that eventuality and make sure your most exciting ideas become as successful as possible.
If you think we can help, please reach out to us at Huuuge Games. We have a publishing unit where we help small developers who have great ideas but little marketing and product management experience.
Together, we can make your game a hit.