Inspiration, not Duplication, Creates Innovation.

Let’s talk about mobile game business models for a moment. Many small studios and independent game developers get really excited when they hear of the success of games such as Flappy Bird and 2048. This flash of excitement and subsequent desire to enter the mobile game industry got me thinking about these recent success stories. I would like to take a brief look into these two games specifically and determine what made them so successful and give some advice for those who are serious about beginning a career in mobile gaming.

Time is Money

I think we should start with the time investment it took to create these two hugely popular mobile micro games. If you do a quick search and read a few articles you’ll see the hype that Flappy Bird and 2048 were created in just a couple of days. The articles make it seem as if these games were simply created over a weekend, released into the wild then fame and fortune quickly followed. What usually isn’t talked about though is that Flappy Bird was not the first game released by Dong Nguyen, neither was 2048 Gabriele Cirulli’s first app. This is a huge detail that is typically skimmed over but it is so incredibly important. It boils down to this, there was much failure before there was success.

I would say the first key here is persistence. Make a fun game, release it, then begin work on something else. Watch the fruits of your labor take root and see how they grow. Base your next project on the successes of your first, discard the aspects that did not work out so well. See what happens but don’t put all of your hope into one product. The previous work that these developers did gave them extremely valuable knowledge that they could put into effect in their next game.

Eggs & Baskets

The next point is a tricky one to explain and even harder to put into practice. Hope for success and do not expect it. One thing I found very interesting that was stated from both of these creators is that neither one of them had any inkling that their new app would be near as successful as it turned out to be. Financial success wasn’t really on their minds during the creation process. Sure they hoped they could make a living doing what they loved, but the financial aspect was not the driving force.

As a designer this is especially fascinating to me. I can attest to the fact that creative individuals do better work when they are not motivated by money. Don’t misunderstand, game designers enjoy monetary compensation just as much as the next guy, but that typically is not our primary focus. Yes, the business side of things should stay in the back of our minds at all times, but it should be laid aside momentarily when it comes time to brainstorm creatively about the next big thing.

Now, I am not suggesting that you should forget about market research and do everything you can to make your mobile game financially successful. I am simply trying to say that these two games were a financial fluke. If success in the mobile game industry was really that easy, believe me, everyone would be doing it. Seriously, nearly everyone is trying.

Fun First

More often than not people see these two success stories and use that to fuel a dream of entering the mobile game scene and making a killing. This leads into my next point which is, that money is the motivation for these would be game developers. However for Nguyen and Cirulli they just wanted to make a fun game. This is the third key, fun comes first.

Making your game fun to play should always be the primary focus. If you game is only decent you will be sinking money into an average app. As quickly as apps are entering the mobile game markets releasing a game that is only average will land you flat on your back every time. It doesn’t matter how many analytics you have, or how much you spend on marketing. If your product isn’t worth talking about, no one will talk about it.

Imitation is Flattering

I would like to briefly touch on the role that cloning played in this story with both of these games. Inspiration, not duplication leads to innovation. Making a direct copy of someone else’s previous work will get you a tiny portion of the success the original found. A better option, obviously, is to create something new. This is definitely more time consuming and a bit more expensive but consider the following point.

Do some quick research, clones of popular mobile games rocket up the charts, sure, just as quickly though they plummet and are never seen again. From a business stand point this should be a no brainer. These are one time shot deals and fizzle quickly. Cloning requires more and more work each time a new popular app is released.

On the other hand if what you are looking to create is a tried and true business model that is sustainable I would recommend looking to the big players, Supercell and King and take notes. Their development times are very often much longer than one weekend, but it seems to be paying off in a big way and for a long time. Now what this doesn’t mean is that you need to put a level map with social icons in your game in order to be successful, each game needs it own set of tools to become profitable. Supercell and King found two very different formulas that work for their specific genres.

There is nothing magical about level maps and Facebook friend icons. Those are helpful tools, but that point is for another article.

The key here is, be inspired by tried and true concepts and put your own twist on it. You don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel, take what makes the wheel successful and make it better. Remember, there are no new ideas only new combinations of old ideas.

Elbow Grease

One final thought I have on this subject is the idea that the success of these games came easily, fast and without risk. This is a business model that is not founded in reality. The published hype surrounding these games is only perpetuating these beliefs. I have a feeling that if you were to ask any business minded man or woman who has found even a moderate amount of financial success they will tell you some of the things it took to get there. I can pretty much guarantee that ‘quick’ and ‘easy’ won’t be on their list. It has held true for generations that hard work, learning from failure, time and the proper investments and informed risk are what lead to true success.

Be persistent. Don’t expect your game to be an overnight sensation. Be inspired by previous successes don’t simply duplicate them, it won’t last. Work hard, take informed risks. Be persistent and be persistent.

Gamers are a smart crowd of people and they are getting smarter all the time. These people are able to quickly discern between a good game and a gimmick that is simply trying to get their hard earned buck. You have to earn their loyalty, do that honestly and they will gladly and repeatedly remind you of why you got into this business in the first place.

~ Jeff Dehut

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