Making good games is hard. Making games that yield a profit is even harder.
In the mobile F2P industry, we hear about KPIs ad nauseam. The mobile industry has refined the art of game making by embracing its love with data.
Data analysis is an inherent part of mobile F2P in 2019. Otherwise, how can you justify an upfront investment of months of highly skilled labor to produce a product that you’re going to give away for free and expect players to be interested in paying in order to augment their experience? How can you justify paying for users to install and interact with your game?
Studying the market, looking at game data are intrinsic parts of the creation and refinement of these products. But what if the pursue of blind data-driven optimization can also hurt the games?
KPIs: a measure not the strategy
KPIs are the bread and butter of F2P. These metrics will tell you insightful things about your game. For example, how well it monetizes, how long players keep playing, etc. Metrics like Retention, ARPDAU, MAU, DAU, and WAU become part of our vocabulary. And we start gaining intuition about the state of a product at a certain time.
These metrics are proxies, and they won’t tell you how good a game is, or whether it is fun. We can talk about engagement. Nowadays, engagement is confused with attention. We can shoot fireworks to keep people interested and occupied for a while. However, if they’re not feeling that what they’re doing is worthwhile they will eventually leave.
The traditional KPIs might make you keep you pulling white rabbits out of hats distracting your player base. Although, sometimes a deeper dive into the psyche of the player might enable us to build what that player needs.
Before committing the resources, we need to understand why/what/how/when the game is going to be made.
Taking the time to prototype and explore at the beginning of a project might look like a waste of resources. However, insights learned early are cheaper in terms of project cost.
When the team can identify budget issues early in the design process, cost estimates are more thorough, eliminating threats from potential, costly surprises.Risk Mitigation Strategies in Innovative Projects
Due diligence is the process where all the disciplines involved with the production take a step back and highlight risks. Research on how to mitigate those risks.
This might mean creating a tech demo of how the server technology is going to work, and how to scale it to fulfill the game requirements.
For the art team, this might mean to align with marketing and understand the impact of the art style, genre, characters on the marketability of the game. Are there any opportunities in the market?
Pausing the development at certain stages (and having the patience needed to let an idea mature), might be a good option.
Patience and timing should be mentioned more often. However, game development is a marathon, not a sprint and fortune favors those who mitigate the risk.
Just make game
If there would be an infallible formula for making a great game we would all be following it. It’s ironic that an industry that is so data-driven has to take these leaps of faith. It’s even more ironic the amount of faith that we put on teams with a track record (think Kojima, Warren Spector).
Understanding why we’re making what we set out to do and invest early on mitigating risks is my preferred approach.
But in the end, when push comes to shove, it all comes down to just make game. Make it the best you can while at it, please.