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To make a mobile game succeed, there are a number of factors, but it’s actually quite simple.

Find a Niche You Love

There are millions of games now on every app store. You are competing with a ridiculous number of other games. The most important thing you can do is find a niche, preferably an uncrowded one, or one where you see major flaws with all the direct competitors. Ideally, it’s a niche that you yourself love and understand inside and out. Whether that’s a new take on Endless Runner games, or a bizarro zombie Sim RPG.

It’s a Business?

If you’re just in this for money, though, forget about it. Seriously, do not clutter the app store with your contrived cloned stuff—we don’t want it, no one wants to play it, and no matter how you might abuse the system to squirt out a few sheckles from the populace, I can guarantee you the advertising costs to get past the other clones is more than you have right now unless you already have more dollars than sense, in which case just go buy some property in the Caiman Islands or Tesla stock.

User Experience Is Everything

If your app crashes on start for 50% of users, don’t release. If it takes more than three taps to get into the core functionality of your app, you screwed up the UI and need to simplify it. Don’t release. If your app has abusive monetization or pushes ads in a way that is perceived as unfair, you screwed up the monetization. Don’t release. There’s about a novel’s worth of ways to screw up the user experience, but it depends on the specifics of your game. I suggest you hire a strong user experience designer, or a game designer with a strong user experience background (oh, hi…) if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Marketing Is Everything Else

You have to get your app’s name out there. People need to see it, play it, and love it. That’s it, that’s the key to the kingdom. If you can do that, and your monetization or advertising to revenue system is decent, you can steadily gather an organic audience and be on your way to a healthy revenue stream. The bare minimum is running Google  ads and Facebook  ads (depending on your core audience age group). That said, know your target audience and aim for it. Otherwise you’ll be blowing cash on people who do not care.

What Numbers Do I Need to Succeed?

What is your measure of success? If you want to make $1000 a day, for example, you need approximately 20,000 daily active users watching approximately 3+ full length video ads per day. Alternately, you can monetize 5% of the 20,000 and get $1.00 from each of them. Potentially you can do both, and get $2000 a day … I’ve done this with a small three-man team (and a boatload of old content). Sadly I was not the owner of the company, and as is often the case, I didn’t work out a percentage bonus of the profits (as is typically the case when you’re not your own boss). If you want to make a million dollars a day like Supercell, though …

Reach for the Stars

Here is the formula for monumental success beyond finding a niche and having a good user experience (which you still have to do). Do something no one else has thought of. Take an old, seemingly complicated genre and completely re-imagine it for a touch interface. Examples?

Versus Tower Defense – Clash of Clans

Real Time Strategy – Clash Royale

Collectible Card Game – Hearthstone

Rhythm Music Game – Piano Tiles

Platformers – Jetback Joyride (or pick your favorite Endless Runner)

But I Did All That!

If you think you’ve done all of the above and are not seeing success, you probably f’d up somewhere but can’t recognize it due to the Dunning-Kruger effect [1]. In which case you can always hire an experienced mobile game designer to point out the problems. I happen to know one.

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