Developers

Insider Tips From Lion Studios on Getting Started in Mobile Games

by AppLovin on Sep 20, 2021

Entering the highly competitive mobile game industry can be overwhelming, so it’s important to understand what to expect from an expert’s perspective. Game development pros from Lion Studios discussed important points that new developers should consider before making their first mobile game. Nick Le, President of Lion Studios, and Chris Lefebvre, Senior Director of Publishing, discussed what new developers should understand about the business of hyper-casual games and how to think differently and get noticed in today’s fierce mobile market. 

Is there a formula for making and marketing a successful game? 

“The most important thing for new developers to remember is that no one is getting ‘discovered,’” Chris said.  “You’re not going to be an overnight success. Making games is a serious grind and it requires a lot of failures before you reach success. Game development, at this point, is figuring out individual game concepts. Once you find something that works, you can start stacking that success. This is the goal. It’s to make 10 hit games, not just one.” 

This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation, Nick said. But refining an efficient development process is vital to building great games and being able to repeat your successes.

“Improving development efficiency allows you greater freedom to innovate on your game mechanics later,” he said. “An innovative game has a better chance to create a higher, reliable, and sustainable revenue stream. Create enough of these and they allow you to take bigger risks in the future.

What kind of game should I build?

When it comes to the ideation and creativity process, the one mistake developers make is looking to the charts for inspiration. “This is a good benchmark to use,” Chris said. “But the better approach is to find a way to leapfrog what’s already in the charts. Ask yourself, ‘Is my idea different or better?’ One is objective, one is subjective. Be objectively different.”

Find a way to get excited about what you’re doing, Nick added. “Even if the concept doesn’t necessarily appeal to you, find an angle that gets you enthusiastic, whether it’s to see your game in the charts or simply being competitive. A good place to start is by developing a hyper-casual game, which provides a quicker onramp to development for new developers.”

Why start with hyper-casual games? 

Hyper-casual games got their start as a way to build quick and easy-to-play games. The format is data-driven, and according to Nick, developers can learn faster by developing hyper-casual games because of their shorter development time, which still allows your creative craft to shine. When a hyper-casual game is created, it’s measured every step of the way, even before it launches. Developers test its marketability by creating playable videos that gauge engagement from new players. 

“You can make multiple titles in a portfolio to have more runway to take bigger bets,” he said. “One way to think about it is that it’s more of a business model than a genre. It expanded the pie of the mobile gaming ecosystem and that’s why it dominates the charts. There is a wide range of players. With mobile, you don’t need big production values to have a high impact.”

Chris added that a game like Call of Duty takes a long time to make. “Hyper-casual and core games aren’t mutually exclusive,” he said. “When it comes to core games or the ones you enjoy versus the ones you make, it’s about taking little pieces and finding ways to bring them into hyper-casual.”

What can I expect to see in the hyper-casual genre over the next five years?

With everything that’s happened in 2021, Chris sees the industry leaning more on social impact and social connection within hyper-casual games. Nick believes the lines that define hyper-casual versus core players will continue to blur. 

“Hyper-casual will continue evolving to give players a deeper experience, while core players will get lighter versions of games,” Nick said. “This is where new innovations and sub-genres will continue to open up. We’re already seeing this in things like hyper-casual trivia and hyper-casual word games.”

How can I avoid failure?

Both Nick and Chris believe the process for making mobile games is very much about failure and just accepting that it’s part of the process. You have to keep moving, developing, innovating, and learning, they both agreed. Lion Studios makes the entire process seamless for developers as they rapidly develop and launch games. While the mobile industry continues to grow, there is still plenty of room for new games to enter the market and get noticed. But dreamers won’t last long. 

“There’s no specific formula that will instantly make your game a hit, but there are ways to ensure you can move quickly, iterate, and push the envelope for creativity,” Chris said. “You need to be fully prepared to fail time and again or else you’ll just give up.”

What type of game should I focus on?

“For new developers, it’s probably best to start with relatively simple, well-understood, and common or popular game mechanics,” Nick said. “This allows you to refine your development processes and eventually develop games more rapidly.”

The duo talked about how to build your game mechanics by using runner games as an example. Runner games are a type of hyper-casual game based on endless running and avoiding obstacles, with the goal of surviving as long as possible and earning the highest score. 

Runner games are easy to understand and play almost immediately. The game mechanics are easily replicated in different hyper-casual games, making it an easy formula that allows for developers to rapidly develop stackable processes and build titles quickly.

“If you can get good at a runner game, the ability to duplicate that success is probably less of a gamble than if you were to try to do the same thing in a shooter game,” Chris said.

Why should I work with a publisher?

Publishers can help offload marketing challenges so developers can focus on what they do best: make great games. Working with a publisher can provide a breadth of perspective that can be a positive influence on ideation, design, and production.

Nick added that the importance of teaming up with a partner like Lion Studios can provide solid guidance in both making your game better and helping you stand above the rest. 

“We’re able to help your game improve quickly and explore what the next idea is for the highest rate of success,” he said. “The great thing about working with a publisher is that we have the resources to help games scale very well.”

I’ve launched the game. Now what? 

Once you have a refined, repeatable, and scalable game development process and manage to launch a game, how do you get your game noticed in the ever-crowded and increasing mobile market? You hang in there and continue to do good work, both Nick and Chris agreed. Perseverance is the real key to getting noticed in today’s competitive mobile game industry.

“If I could really drive home one point it would be that nothing happens overnight,” Chris said. “It’s about really loving what you do, loving the industry, and loving the creation of really great games that people will love to play.”