Meet 3 Indie Devs Who?ve Found Repeated Mobile Game Success

Developer Stories


August 5, 2015


min read

Mobile game development is a long-odds race for anyone, whether you're an established publisher or an industry newcomer.A common estimate of development success is that just 1 out of every 10 games are actually profitable. On mobile, the ratio of success-to-failure could easily be much lower. iOS alone sees 500 new releases per day, while the top charts barely budge over weeks, even months. Needless to say, tales of failure abound.But does everyone live under the same law of averages? I asked three developers who have had an unusually high success rate to weigh in ? and to share the factors that they felt contributed most to their wins.

Tyson Ibele: Apple's Darling

Solo developer Tyson Ibele has 100 percent success across all three of his mobile games. His first project, Jungle Moose, received about half a million downloads; Bean Boy followed up with 1.5 million; and his most recent, Quest Keeper, netted over 2 million.[caption id="attachment_9679" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Image via Youtube

Image via Youtube[/caption]Ibele probably wouldn't approve of my bragging on his behalf, however. His caution extends so far that he still has a day job doing 3D animation (which he's been doing for over a decade and has no doubt translated to his cute and relatable game characters) despite sometimes earning thousands of dollars per day from ads and IAP in his games.One thing that's helped his success: All of Ibele's games were given editorial features by Apple, appearing on the front page of the App Store. Not surprisingly, iOS is responsible for over 3.5 million of his games' downloads. As for how he got Apple's attention, he says getting some public recognition helped. Ibele points to the TouchArcade forums as a great place to post about your game ? a busy thread is likely to catch the attention of editors. "The other apps that got featured the week I got featured, were apps with popular TouchArcade threads and a lot of developer feedback," says Ibele.[caption id="attachment_9680" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Image via the App Store

Image via the App Store[/caption]Of course there's no certain formula for impressing an editorial team that is, at the end of the day, still comprised of fallible and opinionated individuals. However, trends are easy to spot, he says."If you look on the App Store, you'll see there are a ton of games that get featured almost purely because they've come up with unique gameplay in an extremely minimalistic design," says Ibele, drawing attention to the French publisher Ketchapp as one consistent source to watch. "Look at the weekly features, take what you see there and distill it down to the building blocks of what a successful game is."Ibele's Takeaway Tip: I've got 4.5 million downloads, and my analytics say my average session length is 3.5 minutes. So if your gameplay isn't fun in 3-5 minutes, you probably won't do well on mobile.

Dennis Gufstafsson and Henrik Johansson: Champions of Quality

Mediocre AB, a partnership between programmer Dennis Gufstafsson and artist Henrik Johansson, has also topped the iOS charts with several games ? most recently Smash Hit and Does Not Commute. Both were also prominently featured by Apple. "We do depend on features and are aware of that," says Johansson.[caption id="attachment_9681" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Image via Mediocre

Image via Mediocre[/caption]Player-focused developers might shy away from prioritizing anyone other than ... well, players. But planning to impress Apple or Google's editorial team helps satisfy an interlocking set of needs.Consider this list of factors that either store's editorial team will surely find important:

  • A concept that can be instantly understood by anyone
  • An easy-to-comprehend user interface (UI)
  • Consistency between gameplay and UI style
  • Some level of innovation
  • The app icon (a tiny piece of art often called the difference between success and failure)

Close attention to the points above, from the conceptual phase onward, have been important success factors for Mediocre (and other winning developers I've spoken to). Disaster awaits those who defer planning until near the end of production.[caption id="attachment_9682" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Image via Mediocre

Image via Mediocre[/caption]"There sure are a lot of mobile games out there, but I think that if you look at the vast majority of them the average quality is quite low and focusing on high-quality, polished games is a good way to stand out in that crowd," says Johansson.Johansson's Takeaway Tip: Try to do something original, yet not too strange. Focus on quality, but with a reasonable time schedule and make rational decisions, not just what you feel like doing.

Dave Kerr: The Minimalist

Dave Kerr, the producer who created Burn the Rope and My Singing Monsters for Big Blue Bubble, favors simplicity in all aspects."It's not just about Apple," he says. "If you're in free-to-play, people will take about three seconds and if they don't understand what's going on, they'll just quit. Look at it from a marketing perspective: How are people going to talk about this?"[caption id="attachment_9683" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Image via

Image via[/caption]One important note is that traditional signals of success don't mean a lot on mobile: "We found that reviews didn't do much, winning awards didn't do much," says Kerr.Kerr draws from his background as a musician, which inspired both My Singing Monsters and his style of teamwork at Big Blue Bubble. Kerr also loves to review his past efforts for a glimpse at what he can change moving forward."Every game I've done, I talk about what I learned, what I've done wrong," he says. "I think a lot of people blame things that they have no control over. They say they had bad timing or that they didn't get a feature. So why didn't you get a feature?"Kerr's Takeaway Tip: Do the research ? I'll sit there and watch games go up and down on App Annie. You'll see trends watching those things. Really plan and come up with an art style before hand so you don't have a mish mash. Make a style guide, make sure your documentation is good. Be as honest with yourself as possible.