The Pocket Minefield: Things to consider before you go mobile

Last week, I was fortunate to speak on a panel of Ottawa mobile game industry professionals for the city’s regular meet-up of the IGDA. Joined by Magmic’s Joshua Ostrowalker, Jeff Bacon of Bitheads, and Matthew Strentse from Iversoft, I offered my perspective on some of the ins and outs of developing for phones and tablets. Perhaps the biggest theme that popped up during the night was the hard truth: there is no surefire strategy for success in mobile.

But that doesn’t make a very good blog post, does it? So instead, I have some warnings. This industry isn’t for everyone, and before you dive in with both feet, these are some things you should consider.

Markets are never wrong but opinions are

Jesse Livermore’s now iconic quote may be well-trod, but that doesn’t make it wrong. We were asked during the panel if we “believed in the freemium model.” Sort of baffled, Joshua said something that spoke succinctly for all of us.

“It doesn’t matter if I believe in it or not, it’s here.”

Call it a “race to the base,” decry it as evil, or preach about its psychological manipulation, but facts are facts. Approximately 72% of revenue generated across app marketplaces today comes from in-app purchases made in freemium (and paymium) games. If you want to be in the business of mobile, it’s more likely than not that you’ll want to work with this market, not against it.

For better or worse, players have come to expect basic, high quality content with no entry fee, making it the most effective way to get people in the gate. This isn’t to say you can give something away, pack it with micro-transactions, and wait for the cash to flow in. But gone are the days when you can just tack a price tag on something – even if it’s a dollar – and hope for the kind of download rush of two or three years ago. The times, they are-a changin’, and your premium protests won’t stop that.

It’s not enough to make a good game

Recently, Ustwo Studios’ Mills, of Whale Trail fame, tweeted:

“Make something awesome and you now have around a 0.056% of smashing it… The world is not pure.”

While seemingly pessimistic, he could not have hit the nail harder. A large part of what we discussed had to with the “crowdedness” of the mobile space. Almost unanimously, the consensus is mixed. It’s short-sighted to look at the half-billion apps out there and throw in the towel; we’re on a natural growth curve towards a world of mobile games and services; crowded is the new status quo.

For this reason, it’s more important than ever to go into publishing with a clear head, and no illusions: it isn’t enough to make a great game. You could have the next Angry Birds.The next Fruit Ninja.But put things in perspective. The former was Rovio’s 52nd game, and the latter came only after years spent by Halfbrick getting by on contract work.

Start promoting when you start coding. Use social media to develop relationships with bloggers, developers, fans of your genre, and roadmap a press strategy before the week prior to launch. Research release windows and really dive into places like the TouchArcade forums to see about conflicting launches, and to get valuable developer feedback on design. Test until it’s perfect, and then test some more to find out where it’s fun. How to keep players interested, and sharing with others.

I said at the beginning there was no surefire strategy, but propelling your genius one-touch wonder to the top of the crowded charts is about having a plan as much as it is talent.

Don’t listen to me

Despite all of this, however, there was one adage that we all kept circling:

“Find whatever works for you.”

Much more than in the console market, mobile has created variety. A baffling variety of content. And along with it, almost as many variations and theories about how to price, promote, and sustain your app. The key is not finding the magical method, but using the tools at your disposal to try a method, watch it closely, and iterate. Listen to spikes in user engagement, not “industry advice.” Place the highest value on your players’ purchasing stats, not “expert plays.” And most importantly, play the hell out of your games. Make sure they’re fun. Don’t just write blog posts.

That reminds me! I should probably be playing some games right now.

Josh Garellek is the CEO of Arctic Empire. Having studied Marketing at Yeshiva University, he brings with him five years of online marketing, advertising, and sales experience, a background in product and project management, as well as experience with working with some of the largest video sites on the Internet. His entrepreneurial mind grounds the fervent imagination of the founders and keeps projects on track and headed in the right direction. This article was originally published at, and has been reprinted here with permission.

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