How to Make Data-Driven Decisions About Mobile Game Prototypes

Insights & Best Practices

March 31, 2015


min read

For a mobile game developer, the decision to "go big," or globally launch a mobile app, can seriously drain a development budget. Which is why, of course, it should be based on performance metrics.But sometimes that's easier said than done. For one thing, the long lead times from the start of production to soft launch pose problems: Consumer tastes in mobile gaming change fairly quickly, and it?s difficult for a developer to know what will be popular in 12 to 18 months. And small shops may not have the time (or resources) to conduct a meticulously measured soft launch.The question for developers without a suite of titles under their belts, then, is what kind of data can help determine which projects to pursue in the first place? And how can game ideas be evaluated relative to each other to surface those with the most potential for commercial success?Luckily, it's possible to evaluate whether or not prototypes have potential without waiting for a full soft launch:

1. Play testing and in-person demos

Services like and allow developers to put their games onto the phones and tablets of paid testers and receive videos of user interaction. These services are mostly used to spot user experience problems ? buttons in unintuitive locations, device compatibility, etc. ? but they can be great sources of information about whether real players find a certain game prototype fun and engaging.While the purpose of a soft launch is to establish statistically significant metrics that can be expected to reflect performance in a global launch, the purpose of using a play testing service to evaluate a prototype is to gather a reasonable amount of anecdotal feedback on the entertainment value of a certain type of game. Here the goal should be to look for fundamental flaws in the game concept that would justify canceling the project (the core mechanic of the game is boring, or players don?t understand it, etc.)One important caveat: Feedback from players around the aesthetic elements of the game, such as its theme, general look and feel, or main characters, shouldn?t be considered in the decision to continue or cancel the project at this point. These elements can be optimized later based on larger amounts of data if you do decide to move from prototype to soft launch.

2. App store data services

When developing new titles, mobile game developers often seek to achieve some balance between proven, instantly recognizable game mechanics and innovative new features. Relying too heavily on recreating existing successful titles creates situations like the rash of Clash of Clans clones in 2013 (of which most failed without much fanfare). But relying too heavily on innovative new features presents its own set of problems: Players aren?t able to understand how the game works from ads and it is unable to gain initial traction through marketing.App store data providers provide developers with the tools to estimate revenue and download numbers for apps, which provides a reasonable starting point for understanding which game mechanics and core loops best resonate with gamers.This is valuable insight when considering which innovations to bring to an existing game format, especially when looking to borrow specific mechanics from Asia for Western audiences. For example, Puzzle & Dragons? success in Japan after being released in 2012 inspired a wave of card-based RPG hybrid games in Western markets in 2013 and 2014. App store data services can be used to evaluate the best-monetizing mechanics from any market and introduce those to new core loop designs.

The million dollar question: Can this game work?

Ultimately, the data gleaned from these services must be used to answer the question: Will current market trends result in an opportunity opening for this type of game? Here a developer should put aside the current state of the mobile gaming landscape and think about how it might change over the course of the 12 to 18 months during which its game is being developed.Data from the aforementioned services can help in making this determination. For instance, consumer fatigue for a certain game type ? for example, saga-style puzzle games ? will be indicated by decreasing download numbers for flagship games in that genre, whereas an overall decrease in dollars-per-download for a genre might indicate saturation. If play testers are quick to compare a prototype to an existing game, it might signal that the genre is no longer "green" but could be ripe for innovation (through the introduction of a new mechanic).Taking for granted the ever-increasing stakes for global launches, developers have to test assumptions around players? appetites for their games as early in the development cycle as possible. App store data and play testing services allow developers to gain confidence in projects before they get to the point of a soft launch without having to rely solely on intuition.---------------This post is from guest author Eric Seufert. Eric is currently the?VP of User Acquisition and Engagement at Rovio and?is a quantitative marketer with years of experience in mobile marketing for games. In 2014, Eric released the book Freemium Economics through Elsevier, and he maintains the website Mobile Dev Memo.