Thinking of developing an iPhone or Android game? Make sure you understand how social gaming works. Gaming is changing, and so are the people that games are targeting.
Stories of people who produce a mobile app and cash in are exciting to listen to, but the reality is somewhat different. There are 700,000 apps in Google's Play Store, and just a little more than that in the iPhone App Store. Getting noticed above the noise is a challenge. It's a little-known fact that Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds, produced tens of games before it finally hit on a that winning series.
There are at least two tricks to producing an effective mobile game. One is to create a game with a social element, so that your players become an effective marketing force. If a game improves as more people play it, then players become evangelical about it, wanting others to play it too. This is at least part of the reason why Farmville developer Zynga became so successful.
Perhaps the most significant tool up a developer's sleeve, however, other than social game structures, is devops. In enterprise application development, devops is a technique to close the gap between development and operations. It takes feedback from the operations team that deploys a system, and uses it to mould the next iteration of the product. Software bugs, or even anomalies in user behaviour, can help development teams to make informed decisions about software structure and interfaces.
Mobile platforms are great for this, because they can be used to collect data about how the games are being used, and what is being done in them. Users may leave the game at certain points, or make in-game purchases at crucial junctures in the game. Broadly, information can be collected about the types of game being purchased on each platform. One games developer told me recently that the winning model for her game on the Android platform was free-to-play (purchasing items in the game, rather than paying to download the game in the first place). iPhone users seemed to prefer a premium-casual model, where they could buy a full version of the game after playing a restricted version.
All of this information can be collected in real time, as games are played, thanks to the connected nature of the platform. This presents some amazing opportunities for developers to refine their games - both at a technical level, and at a business level.
The real trick for developers may be to understand how to interpret this wealth of information, understanding what is important and why, and choosing the most important elements to inform future developments. Game developers used to focus heavily on gameplay, interface design, and graphics programming. Now, analytics may be just as important.
Now, in an age of mobile gaming, the emphasis may shift, and an entirely new set of analytical skill sets may be needed. It is, quite literally, a game-changing development.