The success of Apple’s iOS platform and the app marketplace that fuels it has left many technical entrepreneurs wondering how to turn it into a business. Some of the most popular apps are games which can be played anywhere and are typically far more simple than their counterparts on consoles or computers. Although games sell for only a few dollars or nothing at all, the millions of potential customers provide an astonishing potential for profit. Creating a game is not as difficult as it might seem, but it takes a specific skill-set and plan to turn a guaranteed flop into a probable hit.
Coming Up With a Concept First, a game should have a clearly defined genre, rules and a story-line if applicable. A shooter is going to look and feel very different from an RPG or a simulation game. Study the prospective game’s category and come up with a unique spin to draw interest. A well-made, classical homage to a genre can be successful, but creative games that bring something new to the table are more exciting. Most importantly, a game should give users a reason to play. Take a look at the scary maze game. It’s received millions of plays and it’s a free game. What is the goal they are working toward?
Programming a Game for iOS Most game programming for iOS is done in a language called Objective-C, which is a modified form of C. Even those without much programming experience can learn Objective-C with only a few weeks’ study, but there are other options available. Apple offers a UIKit, which provides a basic framework for interactive media, and other companies have also released similar programs. Some developers outsource their coding to experts to save time and create more sophisticated games, but it also adds to the budget substantially. Every app developer should have at least a rudimentary knowledge of programming.
Graphics and Animation A sleek code base keeps things functioning, but if it is powering an ugly game no one will care enough to test it out. Most iOS games are 2D, but there are also realistic and 3D games. The appropriate graphical style largely depends upon the game itself. Mobile gamers are not extremely picky, though they do expect quality for their money. Vector illustration programs such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape are preferred, while Adobe Flash is perhaps simpler. Animated objects are divided into layers and then manipulated like puppets. A game needs characters, a background and props relevant to the game-play.
Designing Strong Game-play Once the bones and flesh of the game have been assembled, it is time to put them together into a coherent whole. It is at this stage that the rules are implemented and the user is given the chance to start interacting with graphics and programming. Every player action should be met with a reaction. This is often the most time-consuming step, as every eventuality must be accounted for, the difficulty must be tuned and game-play mechanics made simple enough for every player. On the other hand, it is also rewarding to see all of the prior work finally taking shape.
Testing and Polishing Nothing earns one-star reviews faster than a bug-filled game. Players expect quality, especially from games they have invested money in, and will lose all loyalty if a sudden crash deletes all of their progress. A game that has not been extensively tested is not complete. During this time, developers find as many people as possible to play the game both regularly and with the express intention of breaking it. Each new bug is then noted and fixed before release. There is, however, a fine line between polishing and waiting too long. Once the game is fully functional and has no outstanding issues, any new situations can be handled through updates.
Monetizing a Game Most developers are in it to make a profit, and there is nothing wrong with that. There are two main ways to monetize an iOS game. The first is to simply set a price for it and divide the profits with Apple. The second is to offer the game for free and then sell bonuses and additional content within the game itself. The latter strategy can bring in more income by drawing users in for free, engaging them and then tempting them with small purchases. Instead of a single sum, these games generate frequent, incremental buys from each user. The most popular games or financially viable games may also be picked up by larger studios for substantial prices.
Marketing At last, when the game is finished and ready to go live, it’s time to consider advertising. Before the release, start making announcements to drum up interest and establish a social media presence. Many games offer referral incentives over common platforms such as Facebook to make every player a potential testimonial to his or her friends. Apple should not be relied upon to carry the marketing for any app. In a marketplace overflowing with competitive games, word of mouth, dedication and a superior product can mean all the difference between five downloads and 5 million.
Ken Savage is a geek in all sense of the word. iPhone game designer and marketer by day. Dad and xbox player at night. He currently has 3 games in the Apple app store and is planning his world domination.