App Design 101: Turning just an idea into a great game concept.
You have a rough idea for a game that you think has promise and probably you also have some high level goals for your game. Maybe you want to make money, show a competency or maybe you just want to learn from development.
But before you hire a mobile game development company or spend a lot of time and effort into development, the first step is do a comprehensive research of the market and the products in that space to determine if the concept and opportunity really has the merit.
In this blog I will show you a framework used by professionals when testing the reality or the need of a great app idea:
As a starting point you can spend some time looking at different game stores for insight on the products in the genre you are considering. This would mean places like Steam, the App Store and Google Play, different console stores and any other indie or geographically relevant stores.
You will also want to review industry blogs and content sites like Gamasutra, Polygon or RockPaperShotgun (these are all suggestions). These will provide additional insights on the market and the appeal about competing products.
Now, you have your initial sources ready to give you a brief about how the gaming world responds to ideas that are similar to yours. A good aspect to start is defining the market for your title. Let’s move on and take into consideration some typical questions that you may want to consider when considering the marker for your game:
How big is the market for your title? Is this an appealing market? Here one can try to find sales numbers for existing titles to see how big the opportunity really is and whether it is in line with what you want to accomplish.
What are the characteristics of primary or secondary consumers of this type of game? Are these hardcore or casual gamers? You want to make sure your design vision aligns with the expectations of these users.
What platforms are popular with your game? Do titles similar to these often exist cross-platform? You will want to ensure that you have the skill-set necessary to develop for the required platforms.
Does marketing and promotion appear to have a large impact on sales? Do you have the promotional capabilities or the budget to compete? Many genres are crowded and you will want to know that you can reasonably promote your title if you need to stand out.
Do successful titles in your space have additional release opportunities? Are sequels a common occurrence in your space? Can I also think about an additional DLC? You may want to leave your story design open for sequels if the market allows it.
Who are the typical influencers for these types of games? Where do they hang out online? Is the game genre popular with steamers? You may want to design components of your game to entice these influencers to check it out.
The next step is to take a look at the products in your market and you can start of by comparing similar products and the type of aspects that make those products so popular within your genre. Here are some aspects to look into:
What feature sets do the incumbent products have? What are the must-have features? Can you meet those consumer expectations with the time and budget that you have? Be realistic about what you can achieve and how you can differentiate your product with the rest out there.
Who competes with us in this space? What sized development teams build these types of games? What capabilities do these teams typically have? Knowing this information might inform if you are underestimating the work that is involved.
What are the barriers to market entry? Look at the incumbents. Do the teams that build these games usually enter this market with modest offerings? Does having a custom game engine have value? This process might indicate that it takes multiple releases to build a team and technology to be a strong competitor in this market.
What price point can you charge? Are there freemium or premium titles in this space? Knowing what you can charge and how you plan to make money is a critical part of your plan.
What are the meta critic ranges for titles in your space? How does meta critic ties to sales? Is it reasonable to think you can hit the meta critic rating necessary for success? Knowing the quality expectations of your target consumers should inform your final design plan and feature set.
Where is innovation happening in this space? Can an innovation from another gaming genre be applied here in a way that is meaningful? Use can use these insights to help differentiate your feature set.
Are mods popular in your space? Foresight into how players will interact with your game regarding customization can be hugely valuable. Let’s take the example of a pc game; if you are trying to build a PC game, it is not uncommon that mods for PC games are hailed with absolute respect but not so much when releasing a game for mobile.
Do intellectual property licenses matter? Are there examples in the niche of publishers copying existing games only to put a license on top of the design? Presence of high-end licenses can indicate a very competitive market that might not be appropriate for indie efforts.
This list is by no means exhaustive; you will need to refine your research questions that need answering based on your specific genre and the target market. Once, you have compiled all this data, you will need to review the results in totality and answer the hard questions:
Can you realistically compete in this space?
How can you position your game so that you stand out?
Can you meet your specific goals given what you have learned?