When people take up the phone from their pocket in 2022, in 90% of cases they do it to play a mobile game. People downloaded almost 89 billion of them last year! That tells something: about the pandemics, about the escapism, and about a huge opportunity to create something fun and profit from it.
Step by step process of creating the game
Let’s talk about how to make a mobile game that will become a solid part of these statistics.
1. Come Up With The Stunning Game Idea
There are two ways to approach generating ideas for a game.
The first is to come up with a story you want, build a prototype for it and show it to potential players to figure out if there’s demand for this kind of game.
The second is to look at what’s popular right now first and build an idea on top of it: subvert popular tropes and create new interesting mechanics for well-established genres.
2. Build Up A Story with Game Loops & Ideas for Mechanics
1. Define a core game loop and determine your target audience
When the idea behind the game is clear, it’s time to think of what the game’s core loop would look like. A core loop is the heart of your game, the main sequence of actions players repeat to play and advance through the game and the game story.
All other game mechanics support and enhance the core loop, and the core loop tells the players how to play the game (after they’ve experimented with controls a bit) and allows them to feel immersed in the experience. So: build your core loop in a way that would do that.
Here are a few examples to help you. In the Counter-Strike series, the core loop is to Join the fight -> Find enemies -> Kill them -> Win the match. In Dota 2, the core loop is to Join the team -> Fight enemies -> Destroy enemy's towers while protecting yours -> Win the match. A good core loop must have a clear goal. You don’t have to specifically spell it out, but players have to understand it clearly after playing for a little bit.
Of course, games have a lot of other game loops around the core one. In Dota 2, killing the enemies gives players money, and for money, they can buy items that’ll help them fight/destroy the opposing team's towers more efficiently. That’s one game loop. Another one is based on a skill tree: killing enemies allows players to gain more experience points to advance their level and fight, again, more efficiently. But the core loop of, you know, a tower defense game, stays the same.
RPG and action-driven adventure games are built in the same way. In Dishonored, while the objective of the game is going through all stealth-based quests to reach the end of the story, the way players move through this core loop determines what kind of end it’s going to be. If players are sneaky enough and don't kill people while moving through the narrative, that’s one end of the story. If they’re playing as a bloodthirsty loon — well, that’s a whole other tale.
Now, whatever approach you’ve picked to build the game, after choosing the core loop you think will work fine, test it among potential players.
To find out what they think, go on Reddit, YouTube, or Twitter to read about what they loved in similar works. Or, even better: build a quick prototype with the core mechanics and share it on these social media, though. Then, you’ll get feedback from people who love playing games and be able to build upon it until you've developed game loops and mechanics that are satisfying both for you and future players. (Alternatively, instead of an app, you can release a walkthrough promotional video featuring this prototype.)
These small playtests are a good place to start talking to your potential audience and figure out who they are. Your core loop and story can’t please everyone — so find out who does like it, what other games they like, what's the best way to monetize the game for these people, and so on.
2. Determine the value your features/game elements would bring to the user
When you have a list of features and game mechanics you want to include, prioritize them according to what 100% has to be included and what can wait.
Prioritize features and mechanics a) that help players do what needs to be done within the world, b) that help players feel good, and c) that drive the story forward. Players’ feedback from the core loop tests would be an asset in determining the priorities here.
If that’s a small mobile game that doesn’t have a big narrative component and is mostly achievement-driven (puzzles, riddles, etc.), prioritize features that multiply that feeling of achievement. Fighting games would require focusing on interesting battle mechanics, strategies — on the game's economy. Big games have a more complex list of priorities, of course, but if you don’t want to be stuck in the development loop and start doing player tests ASAP, prioritize what needs to be built to make the first chapter of a first act feel complete.
3. Formulate User Stories, clearly and concisely
User Stories is a thing of agile software development practices, but it applies to gamedev, too. The approach — and the utility — are a bit different. “As a player, I want to shoot monsters to win the game” template doesn’t work here, so root user stories in the POVs of different entities within the game:
- “As a Tank, I want to be able to do smash attacks to break up a monster’s shields”
- “As a Magician, I want to see the curse indicator on the members of my team to be able to dispel it in time”
These are descriptions of different player characters, and they’ll be useful for your game designers, artists, and developers. They imply a set of things to be done to make them happen. You can also write user stories like “As a magician from the enemy coven, I want to be able to become invisible in the mist” (instructions for your AI developer who programs NPCs' behavior) or “As a 3D artist, I’d like to be able to understand the personality of characters” (instruction for the writers)
4. Create acceptance criteria
Acceptance criteria will grow from user stories, telling you at which stage each feature or game element can be considered complete, e.g. “Tank fighting mechanics work the way they should in 98% of test encounters”.
5. Confirm your team knows the story you’re working towards
Make sure everyone understands what you want to say with your game, what you want your game to be about — and how you’d like to do it.
3. Plan Out How to Convey the Story Within Player Experience
The technical answer to how to create a mobile game question comes from deciding on where, when, and how players will interact with a game — and creating a detailed concept plan for it.
In Disco Elysium, the probability of the protagonist doing something successfully is determined by a dice roll (and skills the player has boosted when building a character are more likely to win.) Sims is famous for its mechanics of characters’ happiness. Choose game mechanics that support the game’s story and the game’s core loop, add an interesting twist to established conventions of mechanics in a chosen genre, and build mechanics that feel neat for the game world.
Is your game a dystopia or are things happening in an idealistic solarpunk future? Is it a dark noir detective or a romantic story? Choose a setting or two. Know their tropes — use them or find ways to break them in an interesting way. Make sure your story shines brighter when told in the chosen settings. Setting your story will play out within will also determine what kind of graphics are more suitable for your project, 3D or 2D. Because the 3D graphic is more difficult and expensive to create, game studios often use it for story-heavy high-investment projects or if they want their single-player idle shooter to feel interesting and distinguishable. Note, that the reverse isn’t true at all: you don’t have to pick 3D if you want to build a story-driven game. A lot of beautiful adventures and RPGs are built in 2D.
When choosing how to translate mechanics into the game’s UI, don’t forget your controls have to be easily usable from mobile devices and optimized for touch screens. Whatever graphic style you’ll choose — 2D or 3D — players should easily see details that are important for the players within mobile resolution. You need to account for that when preparing user acceptance criteria and, later, game design documents (GDDs).
You can add mechanics that are built upon the benefits of the medium and utilize a smartphone's capabilities to improve the player’s experience — for instance, its camera: for AR (Pokemon Go) or VR (Twilight Pioneers) elements.
Consider the mode of your game. Will it be a single-player? Would it be possible to connect with other players? Would it be multiplayer? Would it have open-world elements for playing online or the entire game would be open-world? What kind of interactions do you want different players to have — will they be in the same faction from the beginning or would they be divided? Choose the mode that a) will support your story, b) would be optimal to implement for the first release. You can plan out a multiplayer game, but release single-mode for player tests.
4. Choose a Mobile Platform
The decision for where to ship is connected to your game’s future monetization strategy and your audience characteristics — their age and the country they live in.
As you can see, in 2021, the segment for mobile gaming ranked higher across all audiences, but while older people lean heavily towards puzzles and card games (probably because of commute), young folks appreciate suspense-heavy Among US and strategy games like Last Kingdom.
Most of those are Android-based games, — Android devices hold about 71% market share across other mobile operating systems. China, the USA, and Japan have the largest game markets with the most players, followed by South Korea and the UK.
iOS or Android mobile game development
About 13% of all apps in the App Store and Google Play are games, and, according to data.ai report on 2021 State of Mobile Gaming, there are almost 2x more games in Google Play (2.28M) than in App Store (1.29M).
Fee for in-app purchases
Google Play takes 30% of all in-app purchases of digital products within your game. After a year of being on the market, the commission falls to 15%. Then, when your game makes the first $1 million, the rate goes up to 30% again.
App Store takes the same commission, and it also falls to 15% after a year. You can, though, apply to their program for small businesses to pay reduced fees from the start or if your past year’s revenue fell from that threshold million.
One of the reasons for the discrepancy is the developer's fee. Apple asks for $99 to start a developer's account — and then you can publish as many game apps as you want. Google charges $25 one time. While for large studios the cost difference is no biggie, small indies and young game developers would probably pick Google Play.
On the other hand, on the App Store, you can publish a lot of games during a year. Apple offers more security features, and people are less hesitant to spend money using iOS devices (partially because their credit card data is already in the system; though that advantage might have been diminished by Google Pay.)
Only 20% of mobile games are available from both stores (though for America that percentage is higher — publishers try to cover a bigger market share there), but if you have resources to publish on both, use a cross-platform engine, and have a team who’ll be able to build for both platforms smoothly, go for it.
In conclusion, we’re going to say that with Google Store asking for a one-time $25 payment for publishing a game, it’s a good idea to upload your title on Android, do tests and several first releases on it, and then expand to iOS if people like the game.
To successfully enter a highly competitive market (with a hyper casual game in the United States, for instance), try to focus your resources on development and communication with potential players. You can always expand from Google Play — but with a version of the game that's already refined and polished.
5. Choose a Mobile Game Engine
The most popular game engines
Game engines are frameworks for coding that make the game development process easier. Engines usually do 2D and 3D game rendering, help write through the game’s physics, animation, visual effects and soundscapes, and more.
Before we list various game engines you can choose from, some advice. Pick an engine that will have a toolkit capable of bringing your game idea to life and solving all the issues you need to solve. GameMaker Studio 2 engine, for instance, is a good choice for 2d graphics and a simple, small game, but is in no way capable of handling heavy rendering of light and shades or extensive texture-mapping like Unity does.
Similarly, account for how much you want (or can afford to) code during the development. Construct 3 and BuildBox frameworks require close-to-zero coding efforts, Unity offers a lot of tools to reduce them, and so on — and engines like Cocos2d-x are built specifically for people who know and love to write on C++.
Remember that you can switch engines in the process, too. No-code frameworks can be used for building wireframes and video tests to show to potential players, and, when the idea is validated, a team can switch towards Unity or UE.
Top 10 Platforms For Mobile Game Development
While the exact choice of platform will depend on your needs, some of the most popular platforms among development experts, in no particular order, are:
- Unreal Engine
- Solar 2D
- Construct 3
- Fusion 2.5
- Amazon Lumberyard
Various Language Options
6. Create Game Design Document
Game Design Document (GDD) comprises everything that’ll be included in the game — from an explanation of the game mechanics, goals, and rewards, to character bios, graphic design, concept art, etc. This document will become a point of reference for everyone in your team, and it’s very good if you have user stories — writing GDD with them is easier.
7. Design the Structure of the Game and Create Art Assets
That’s the stage to start development! Remember: focus on the first few levels, first chapters, and first NPCs that players will meet at the beginning. The first story or level you design must help players to grasp your game’s core loop: what it’s supposed to do and what it’s about. The User Stories/Acceptance Criteria you developed and prioritized at the beginning? It’s time to embody them in the game.
At this point, your team is also drawing and animating art assets — designs for characters, locations, backgrounds, and in-game items. UI designers help with navigation and controls.
8. Create Game Wireframes and a Prototype
A wireframe is like a blueprint, depicting various elements of a game, like game mechanics, interactions, and visual effects. It’s needed to establish a shared understanding of what these elements are supposed to look like and behave.
Using wireframes and GDD, your team would be able to create a prototype you can show potential publishers, investors, and players. To create a playable prototype, developers must transfer pre-developed assets — art assets and sounds — into the project, write code to control the game’s logic, its objects, characters, scenes, and behaviors, and run tests within the engine. The same goes with preparing an alpha release — but on a bigger scale.
9. Select The Right Monetization Strategy
Now that we’ve talked about how to develop a mobile game, time to discuss monetization. There are four ways to monetize a mobile game app:
- One-time purchase
- In-app purchases
- Freemium model
Some of them are combinable: e.g. players can purchase the game and it can still offer digital items in-app; you can show ads to freemium users, only; etc. Two main rules: a) monetization method shouldn’t be severely annoying, and b) paid things must be giving players what they want (which is why simple removal of ads doesn’t offer enough value to start paying for premium.)
10. Test Stage Of Your Mobile Game Development Process
Proper testing is crucial to ensure high quality and engagement — and to minimize risks. First, test the functionality and performance of the app. Then its compatibility with different versions of the Android/iOS versions.
Also, make sure to study your platform compliance requirements — your game has to be able to pass them. Here are App Store Review Guidelines and Google’s Developer Programme Policies.
Then, give it away for beta tests. You can’t notice all the bugs and exhaustive testing is impossible, but players still would be a huge help — especially in spotting usability issues! We’ve talked extensively about the importance of user tests through this article, so it wouldn’t hurt to add that even if you’re sure your game is going to be fine, it’s still better to confirm it by releasing it among a small audience. Especially if you have a big launch ahead, and especially if you’ve promoted the game heavily. The more efficient marketing you do, the more backlash you’re going to have if the game will be buggy (see: Cyberpunk 2077).
11. Release The Game App
When everything is ready, publish your apps in the stores. Don’t forget to read the guidelines for app developers to pass the review process.
Gather feedback and react to it with changes and fixes.
So How Much Does It Cost To Develop A Mobile Game Application
Depending on its complexity, it can cost somewhere between $40k and $200k.
When choosing a game studio for outsourcing or a freelance developer, you can ask for a more accurate estimate of the cost per hour. Small mobile games can be developed for up to $10k, while big titles with complex storylines and many mechanics easily reach up to $400k.
Mobile Game Development Budget Breakdown
Most of the costs (about 60%) go to development and quality assurance. That includes character design, the work of narrative writers, engineers, the DevOps team, etc. UI/UX, marketing, and advertising can be about 15% each, with another 10% going to business analytics.
How to Choose a Mobile Game Development Company?
Big publishers outsource their game development, and small studios ask for help in covering roles they don't have and partner with others for sound- and art production. So, how to figure out if the game development company you've come upon is going to be a good partner?
- Check their portfolio and play games within it. It's super easy for mobile games since a lot of them are free-to-play, so: see what your potential partners are capable of and figure out if their expertise suits you. (While we're at it, you can check ours.)
- Talk to their previous clients and read through their social media. Often, a lot of game projects are under NDA, so companies cannot disclose the details of their collaborations. If cases in the portfolio aren't enough, contact their clients in cases that are displayed. Social media check is necessary to see how they interact with people they don't know.
If you went through one or both of those and were satisfied with the results, start talking with them! Tell them about your idea and see if they're excited about the gameplay, setting, genre, story, and so on. You want partners who are interested in creating your mobile game and have the expertise to match. Then, your collaboration will result in something awesome.
Summary Of Mobile Game Development Process
Game development is a complex process, but an extremely rewarding one. When hiring developers (or choosing a third-party partner), check their portfolio and talk to the people who came to them to develop mobile games before you.
“Stunning” doesn’t always mean completely new, though.
Hades, a roguelike from 2020, become award-winning because it built on what players usually enjoy in the genre (fights, achievements, getting better at learning opponent’s patterns, getting closer to the victory) and added a twist, removing the source of the player’s usual annoyance (needing to start everything all over again with no saved “boons”). Building up skills that didn’t burn when you died removed the annoyance. Wonderfully written characters who supported you as you’ve died again and again, enticing story and side quests, and an amazing soundtrack added depth to the game — and everyone enjoyed it.
Your mobile game idea doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel; you just have to add something new to what’s being moved on it. If you are looking to hire mobile game developers, feel free to drop us a line!
How Hard Is It To Make A Mobile Game?
It’s easy if you know what you want to build, have resources for it, and collaborate with reliable tech partners. It’s also super hard.
How Long Does It Take To Create A Mobile Game?
From two months to several years, depending on the game.
What Is The First Step In Developing A Mobile Game?
The first step is to conceptualize the idea for the mobile game app. After this, you can start finding your target audience, researching similar options, and thinking about what to do to make the game enjoyable & unique.
What Does The Mobile Game Development Process Look Like?
In general, it includes several steps - the conceptualization of the idea; building up the story of the game; determining the details (including mechanics, settings, player mode, etc.); choosing a platform and a game engine; developing GDD; development itself; tests; release.