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AFtalks: The Evolution of Game Development with Amir Rajan

Welcome to our #AFtalks recap!

Are you curious about what goes into making a game? This week we had a chance to catch up with an industry veteran and look at how far game development has come over the years, platforms, monetization, marketing, and more.

Our guest this week was Amir Rajan, creator and founder of RubyMotion. We asked Amir to share his insights and advice on this topic with the questions below. Included are his answers:

Q1: As an industry veteran, how have you seen games change over time as consumption has shifted to mobile?

A: It’s actually pretty great! There is simply more gaming (as opposed to a shift). The older you get, the less time you have to dedicated gaming sessions in front of the TV/computer screen. Mobile allowed me to recapture gaming from when I was younger. It’s an amazing world we live in where can play a game while standing in line or driving (just kidding, don’t play and drive).

Q2: How do you decide which games to build for multiple platforms and which to keep on just one?

A: This is a loaded question with many anecdotal responses (mine included). In my experience, you build for iOS first. It has the best revenue potential. If the game does well, then invest in distributing to Android. There are many that will say that it’s easy to simply develop and deploy cross-platform… the biggest issues come with Android device and OS fragmentation. That simply doesn’t exist on iOS (you only have to test the current OS version, on iPad Pro, iPhone SE, iPhone Plus, and iPhone X). One general caveat to this rule: if you are targeting Korea, it may be better to build for Android first (lots of high-end Android devices and people willing to pay for premium content).

Aside: I put console in a different category all together. Most of the time, a game built for console will not translate well to mobile (and vice versa). If yours does, it may be worth going with cross-platform right off the bat.

Follow up: are there any particular advantages for the latter?

A: Deploying to multiple platforms will give you more revenue (albeit marginal). But it really depends on how much time and money you can invest in a quality cross-platform experience.

Q3: Is there a monetization strategy you find most suitable for today’s games, or does one size not fit all?

A: The landscape is continually changing, unfortunately. Generally speaking, if you’re a new face in town, you’ll want to go with “free to start”. Provide a trial experience and then find a good place to request a conversion to a paying customer. Games like OPUS, Kung Fury, and Inside do a fantastic of this. Super Mario Run does a horrible job (but they still do well because of brand).

This takes me to the second part. If you have a well-established brand, you can get away with doing a premium/pay upfront experience. This has worked out well for RocketCat Games, Bossa Studios, Square, and Super Giant Games. If you take the premium route, be sure to release a “Prologue” version of your game for free and have a good interstitial to your paid version. The best parts of being a premium game are that your rank is much “stickier”, and there is less competition (which all together means more long-term exposure and revenue).

I generally despise ad-supported/micro-transaction supported games. But there are a few games that do a fantastic job of it, take a look at Quest Keeper, Threes Free!, and Almost Heroes.

Follow up: What sort of experiments have you run to find the most appropriate one?

A: No experiments really. It’s generally a good idea to release both a free and a paid version. If you don’t mind breaking the “fourth wall” in your immersive experiences, “free to start” can be executed well. For A Dark Room and The Ensign, I didn’t want to break the immersion. For A Noble Circle, I went with a free “prologue” plus an interstitial to the full game. For Mildly Interesting RTS, I did “free to start”.

Q4: When monetizing with ads, how do you go about selecting the ad network(s) you use to monetize free games with?

A: AdMob is king. Google knows how to do ads well. I don’t have any experience with Unity Ads, but I’ve heard good things about it. Again, if you’re going to have ads in your game, make them tasteful (look at Crossy Road, Thumb Drift, Quest Keeper, Threes Free! and Almost Heroes).

Q5: How has your marketing plan evolved over time?

A: The best way to advertise is to those that have already bought your games. All my games have interstitials to each other. App Store Search Optimization is the next best way. You’ll want your search terms to be extremely niche to get the right people. By extension, the games you create should be extremely niche too. I image there are enough people out there that are desperate for a game about underwater basket weaving… so build that instead of yet another clone of Flappy Bird or Crossy Road.

Follow up: What kind of unique challenges do you see when marketing across the different platforms?

A: None really. Just be genuine and people will notice.

Follow up: Is getting featured by the store still a major source of downloads?

A: Yes. There are still some kinks with regards to how the new App Store is laid out. At a minimum the new App Store helps discovery of your other titles by people that have already downloaded at least one of your games.

Q6: With a big and evolving portfolio, which metrics do you use to measure and define success?

A: The number one measure of success is five start reviews with a good review length. Revenue is nice, but a gushing five-star review means I have a fan for life who will support my future works.

Bonus: How do you fight piracy?

A: Don’t worry too much about it. If you’re getting cloned, then means you are wildly successful. I lost too many nights of sleep and wasted too much time chasing after clones. It’s just not worth it. Use Apple’s and Google’s Copyright Infringement forms, fill them out online, and move on.

Bonus: How do you plan to take advantage of the latest App Store redesign to increase exposure to your games?

A: It is still very new, so it’s hard to say how I’ll take full advantage of it. I’ve definitely added preview videos to all my games (the “autoplay video while you scroll through the App Store” works well). Aside from that, I’m putting my trust in Apple’s recommendation and ranking algorithms to bubble me to the top. Same comment with regards to piracy: don’t lose sleep over things you can’t control.

Final Thoughts:

Tell us about your experience with game development in the comments section below.

Check out the rest of the insights we heard today on the #AFtalks hashtag.

Huge thanks to Amir and to all those that were part of today’s discussion! Join us for our weekly Twitter chat every Tuesday at 2pm ET (bring your friends!). See you all next week!