By 2018, less than 0.01% of mobile apps will generate enough revenue to cover development and marketing expenses. The growing adoption of smartphones drives competition among vendors, and very few companies will eventually succeed. However, 2016 is going to be a turning point for indie developers – provided they bring their bright app ideas to life. What factors impact mobile game development and design cost?
Developing a mobile game: cost-by-type correlation
The cost of game dev is largely determined by the type of application:
- Casual. A simple solitary game that fits any genre and doesn’t require particular skills to play. A user can pick it up at any time and doesn’t have to save the score at the end of a session. According to James Portnow, the founder of Zero Games, the common features of casual mobile apps include repetitiveness and lack of finality. Most high-grossing freemium games like Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans are casual by nature. They employ 2D graphics and possess limited functionality. However, users can access additional features (like rich visuals, high-quality sound, extra lives and special currency) through in-app purchases and upgrades. A typical casual game costs around $ 50 thousand to make. Rovio invested $ 140 million in the Angry Birds app – a project that eventually brought over $ 200 million in revenues in 2012 and has been trending ever since. In most cases, casual apps’ commercial success is driven by clever marketing and easy distribution;
- Social. Such games are simultaneously played by multiple users on social networks like Facebook. They are similar to browser games, accessing limited amount of user data through oAuth protocols and mobile networks like OpenFeint. In terms of infrastructure, a social app incorporates payment tools and stats display mechanisms (to encourage users play & spend more). These apps are usually built with social networks’ development kits (like Facebook SDK), although post-development Facebook API’s integration is also possible. A social game application like Farmville costs $ 100-300 thousand;
- Cross-platform. The games can be played through social networks, mobile apps and web browsers. IT companies release applications for multiple screens in order to reach out to their target audience and expand market presence. Such successful games as Slotomania, Bubble Island and Diamond Dash originally became instant hits on Facebook and moved to iOS and Android later. Cross-platform custom application development requires great expertize in coding and software integration. Thus, a comprehensive gaming solution may cost up to $ 300 thousand;
- Games with complex graphics. Puzzles, shooters and adventure games with elaborate graphics are usually the mobile extensions of popular desktop franchises like Mortal Kombat and Need for Speed. However, there are some console-quality applications designed for mobile devices only – for example, the Badland app for Android, which employs detailed 2D visuals and an inspiring soundtrack. Developing a complex, visually rich mobile game is a time-consuming and expensive process. Thus, a game like Real Racing 2 apparently costs $ 2 million.
We’ve briefly mentioned browser games which are played over the Internet. Since mobile devices possess limited processing power, vendors do not develop games for mobile browsers specifically. However, there are desktop versions of popular mobile apps like Angry Birds.
Other cost factors behind mobile game development process
- Vendor. Choosing the right developer is the most important business decision you have to make. The stages of game production include marketing research, prototyping, coding, UX/UI design, editing and, finally, testing. The US/EU bids for dev services can be estimated at $ 60-100 thousand a month (or $ 60-150 per man-hour). Thus, an indie shooter like Tower of Guns (3D engine, high-quality images) that took over 3800 man-hours to develop may cost $230-570 thousand. In order to cut dev expenses, many companies outsource game development to Asia,Europe. Countries like India, Ukraine offer high-profile specialists with great expertise in coding and visual design. Their prices range from $ 25 to $ 50 per man-hour, while the quality of app development meets the high US/EU standards. If you consider outsourcing game dev, it is better to hire a dedicated team and choose the “time-and-material” pricing model. Since most game app projects are subject to changes, the TM approach will allow you to pay only for the actual hours spent on the task;
- Design. The notion doesn’t refer to visuals alone. Mobile game design, as well as development, is a multilayer process which requires assistance of such specialists as game artist, lever editor, UX and UI designers. A game artist sketches ideas and characters, draws scenery and applies textures. A lever editor creates architecture for various segments of an application, including objects and landscapes, and maintains the desired level of complexity. UX and UI designers improve the general feel and layout of a game, respectively. If your app contains two-dimensional images and doesn’t switch levels, you can do without level editing and 3D-modelling (these specialists charge $ 50-150 per man-hour). However, you cannot save on UX, UI and visuals. Every dollar invested in user experience brings $ 100 in return;
- OS. The choice of a platform naturally influences game design and dev costs. The integration of third-party APIs, payment systems and administration features for Android applications is usually 10-20% cheaper (in comparison with iOS). However, it’s not the main point. We strongly recommend that you conduct a comprehensive marketing survey to define your target audience and OS destination. Many successful applications like SongPop initially entered one platform and expanded its OS presence later. Despite the fact that SongPop is now available for both iOS and Android, Facebook still generates 65% of the app’s users.
Game development is a fascinating process which starts with a great idea and evolves into your personal universe. And it’s the vendor who can revive your project or destroy every hope of success. Make the right choice!
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