So Your Mobile Game Failed. Now What?

Insights & Best Practices

July 6, 2015


min read

If I had a dime for every time I've been advised that the best response to a failed mobile launch is to keep improving and upgrading the game over time, I might have enough money to offset all my failures.Alas, it's not that simple anymore. In 2014, more than 500 new iOS games were released each day. Many of these games will already look and feel great at launch ? and fail anyway. A dab of extra polish won't necessarily change the equation.With the sheer volume of releases on iOS and Google Play, though, mobile is truly a city of 8 million stories. Since different solutions may work for each developer, I reached out to a few mobile game devs who've stumbled ? and lived to tell the tale.

Turnarounds Do Happen ...

"It drove me insane quite a bit. I still have no idea [how it happened]," reminisces Texas-based mobile game developer Amir Rajan about the eventual rise of his hit iOS game A Dark Room.[caption id="attachment_9162" align="aligncenter" width="900"]


Image via[/caption]For four slow months after ADR was released, it floated in the bottom of the Top Paid charts, on many days falling out of the rankings entirely. And then: a quick rise to the top in the United Kingdom, followed soon after by the United States. The game stayed at the top of the charts for months ? and even garnered a New Yorker profile."Being a developer, it was frustrating for me, because I have to understand and dissect and do root cause analysis on everything," Rajan says.He never figured it out, but thinks his continued efforts at promotion may have helped trigger the landslide. "I think one thing that's helpful is just to find your niche audiences," he says.As a purely text-based game, ADR had little chance of winning an Apple editorial feature, but its peculiarities also gave the game an edge with some users. Rajan found niches in indie game fans on Reddit, as well as some more unusual sources, like AppleVis, a website for visually impaired iOS device owners.[caption id="attachment_9161" align="aligncenter" width="900"]


Image via App Annie[/caption]Several small games later, Rajan hasn't experienced another surprise hit, but he has modified his development process to incorporate learnings from ADR. One game he's currently working on, A Noble Circle, comes with a note that it's still under active development ? and encouragement to provide feedback.

... But Sometimes It?s Best to Cut Your Losses

Another developer, three-person Washington State-based RocketCat Games, has had a string of successful mobile games. But co-founder Kepa Auwae admits that success could have easily passed them by."I know the thing to do is be successful, and then say, 'oh, it's because the game was great, just make a great game.' I've always thought that was bullshit," Auwae says.[caption id="attachment_9163" align="aligncenter" width="900"]


Image via Google Play Store[/caption]RocketCat has flirted with failure. Punch Quest released to enthusiastic fans (even being featured a few times) ? but its in-app purchases made very little money.Besides that bit of optimization, Auwae says he probably wouldn't advise developers to keep pouring work into a failed game."I've always said go for a sequel. The idea of keeping working on it is that it turns around in updates, but I don't think that's very common," he says. "If you're working on a sequel, it takes less time." Now, RocketCat makes games in threes ? Hook Champ, Hook Worlds and Super Quickhook, for instance, are all related. The idea is to minimize risk by taking more bets.[caption id="attachment_9166" align="aligncenter" width="900"]


Image via Rocketcat Games[/caption]Auwae also advises taking advantage of something that wasn't available seven years ago, when RocketCat started: release on multiple platforms. Every additional chance will help a fledgling developer. "It's not a meritocracy, it's more like being an aspiring actor and hoping for a big break," he says.

Either Way: Know Your Weaknesses

Whether you keep working on your failed mobile game or just move on, it's important to analyze your flaws early and figure out what happened. Most companies rarely talk about their failures, but other people are happy to do so for them ? and outside analysis is easy to find. Instructive ex post facto studies can be found on Deconstructor of Fun and Gamasutra's postmortems.But in the end, the best guidance is to listen to all the pointers and analysis, then find your own path. Few stories are exactly the same, and few game development companies can survive following the wrong advice.