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Want to make a mobile game? Do it now.

Think of an independent, artisanal small business.

What did you picture?

A baker removing freshly-baked bread from a hot oven? Perhaps a carpenter wearing dungarees covered in sawdust?

You probably didn’t picture a part-time coder, in a bedroom, typing away at a keyboard. But maybe you should have. That coder is an indie (independent) mobile game creator. One of the artisanal small businesses making up the booming mobile gaming industry. Find out why the mobile gaming industry is big business for small businesses and how you can get involved:

As mentioned, the mobile gaming business is big business. In 2015 it made £20 billion worldwide. If that’s hard to believe just think about the ubiquity of games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds. Even though these games are available as free apps, with billions of plays a month, the advertising revenue and money from in-game purchases can be staggering.

While the above games are both made by large gaming companies, there is also room for indie game makers in this market. At its peak, the phenomenon that was Flappy Bird, was making its independent creator £35,000 a day in advertising revenue.

Of course, all those numbers are very impressive, but making a mobile game is not a guaranteed formula for success. To make a dent in the market you’ll need to catch the eye and feature in the Top 100 lists on app stores. There’s lots of ways to help your cause here like creating a striking app icon and featuring in the trade press.

So, while we’re being practical, here’s some advice from Alasdair Beckett-King, creator of indie mobile game Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet.


The beginning 

When I started developing Nelly Cootalot I was a hobbyist coder. By day I was working as an animator/VFX artist and by night I was performing stand-up comedy.

I started working on the game back in 2013, writing, animating and programming it all myself (which was insane, by the way). I’ve never had an office. I like to describe my South-London working environment as a study/living room/kitchen/corridor. It’s very glamorous.

Skills

I learned most of the skills I used for making the game while making the game, which is the most painful and frustrating way to do it! I’ll freely acknowledge that it took me a long time from concept to completion, and this was part of the reason. For example: having begun working at an awkward low resolution, I had to go back and remake ALL the art assets in High Definition. That was very hard work, and a valuable lesson about planning ahead.

The mobile gaming industry

Mobile gaming, and online distribution in particular have had a hugely pluralising effect on video games. In some ways we’ve returned to the 80s when anyone with access to a computer could conceivably write and sell software. Mobile gaming is both a booming business and (for some people) a cottage industry. It’s small businesses making quirky offbeat games that really interest me.

If you have a game you want to make then there’s very little to stop you cobbling together a prototype and seeing if people get behind you. Most of us won’t come up with a worldwide hit like Candy Crush, Minecraft, or Flappy Bird. I think that’s OK. There are audiences out there looking for charming hand-made games. (If you meet any of them, point them my way.)

Investment

In 2013 I ran a successful Kickstarter to fund my work on the game. The scale of the project was quite a bit smaller back then, but the success of the campaign had two really positive consequences. Firstly, I caught the eye of Application Systems and with them on board the budget grew from my modest Kickstarter haul to a six-figure sum. And secondly, the Kickstarter backers became really vocal cheerleaders for the project, and have continued in their enthusiastic support of the project right up to the release.

The Kickstarter form of crowdfunding varies from investment, because the backers are promised rewards upon the completion of the project. These rewards might be a copy of the game, a T-shirt a fridge-magnet etc. Backers donate to the project rather than investing in it, sidestepping the legal complexities of investment and return. Kickstarter is perfect for funding indie games because it has a large and supportive community who are looking for something that differs from the mainstream. And the system depends to a great extent on good will. If you can generate good will and enthusiasm for a project then you’re on the right track.

Best device for gaming

We released the desktop edition of Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet last month and at the moment we are gearing up for the mobile release. A staggered release like this is quite common among indie games of this sort – to prevent the lower-priced mobile games undercutting the desktop release. But we’ve always had mobile devices in mind and Nelly plays really well on both tablets and smartphones. If I had to choose I’d say the game’s narrative focus, richly detailed environments and immersive audio really benefit from a tablet and headphones combo.


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