M2H founder Mike Hergaarden on promoting mobile games in a world that is full to bursting.
I started out in 2005 with browser based multiplayer games, with Matt joining me on the graphic side soon after. A few years later, in 2009, we officially founded M2H (A summary of our history can be found on our blog: http://www.m2h.nl/happy-5th-birthday-m2h/ ) Right now it’s just the two of us in the company, but we make a lot of use of some very talented freelancers. We started with small minigames, which was a great way to learn all the aspects of game development, allowing us to play with different techniques, platforms, monetisation models and so forth and (if I leave aside the countless mingames we have developed) we have about 13 browser and mobile titles in our portfolio. I would consider many of our titles a success; for instance our web game, Crash Drive, received over 20 million web plays . We have had a good amount of downloads for both our mobile games and our game Verdun is doing very well on Steam. However, the measure of success is often difficult to quantify and the landscape of games is changing the way we make successful games.
Having made a couple of mobile games and with a view to the fast movement players are making to play on mobile devices we were keen to leverage this and look to make some of our more successful web games into mobile titles. We knew that our web game, Crash Drive, received a huge amount of web plays and these numbers made us think it's popularity (coupled with the fact the game mechanics lend themselves to mobile gaming) would really work as a mobile game.
The issue for mobile games is always marketing and promotion - often indie developers do not have the resources or money to make it work for the mobile market. The market is saturated, so to make any impact on traffic to your game the cost of promotion is high. There are so many good games that never get the attention they deserve simply because other games attract more attention - a sad reality of the mobile market.
So, we set about making Crash Drive 2 - a mobile game simply based on the success of the web version of Crash Drive 3D (Crash Drive), except that we wanted to improve it on every front! The success of Crash Drive surprised us because, quite frankly, the graphics weren't that fancy and the car physics were bugged, but apparently none of this mattered to the players as they loved the gameplay. So we took Crash Drive and improved the graphics, added more cars and levels, a car levelling system and a seamless and user friendly multiplayer system.
As with many developers we use Unity for development of our games and now, with the introduction of iPhone and Android as build targets, it is relatively straight forward to have your web game running on a mobile! However, I am slightly playing it down, there are some factors that developers need to consider because, while Unity takes away most of our porting pain, mobile deployment can be an annoyance, not least because of screen resolution(aspect ratio) and differing input methods. Knowing this, we developed Crash Dive 2 with a GUI that can easily scale; to address the screen differences and for the input we kept in mind that mobile has limited input options and thus designed the game accordingly. We, like most developers code in C# and for graphical tools use Photoshop for texturing/GUI and, depending on the artist, it's 3D max, Maya or Blender for modelling.
Then when finally exporting to mobile, although we need to make sure to display some on screen buttons, we had a painless experience.
We knew that our fan base for Crash Drive was there (20 million web plays tells us people like it!) therefore it made sense to us to announce a sequel to this audience. The key for us was not just pointing those players to a web sequel but to promote the mobile version to them as well - in the current mobile market it’s hard to break into a top 100 spot, so we thought we may as well make one big move using all platforms at the same time. Utilizing this existing web traffic and engaged audience seemed like a no brainer.
We worked with a publishing partner, Spil Games, in order to maximise on the audience numbers we could reach (they have a huge reach on the web, a staggering 130 million users) and utilise their power in marketing. This partnership allowed us to do what we do best, which is developing games. A massive issue for developers is thinking that finishing a game is the end of the cycle; it is literally the beginning. Once a game is “finished” there is a huge amount of marketing to be done to get your game to the players. Working with Spil Games allowed us to hand over this task and continue on to develop the next title immediately.
We designed the mobile game first, however, web was always in our mind. Since we use Unity, developing for mobile and web at once is a no brainer; the only major differences are screen sizes, input options and the fact that web basically has no monetization systems available, but like I said, if you plan this with mobile at the front of your plans, it is a simple task.
The multiplatform development issues of the past are really not issues anymore and I would say for all mobile developers using Unity; always provide at least a web demo version of your mobile game right away: the conversion to web is so much easier than vice versa and you will already have yourself marketing tool ready.
Cross promotion of games is allowing us to feel a level of comfort and confidence in the future and for the success of our mobile titles. We are not just making a game and mindlessly hoping for the best - as so many mobile developers, without marketing know-how and budget, are forced to do. The web audiences are there, and they are your absolute target group for marketing, so it really is an obvious tool to use. It is free extra traffic so it makes a lot of sense to do. We even used a web player game of our shooter Verdun to promote it's Steam Greenlight page and later on the full game on Steam. It has worked brilliantly for Verdun; we were Greenlit in only 29 days (when Steam only Greenlit about 10 games a month) and with the web version boasting over 10 million plays it still consistently brings in over 2000 sessions per day on the Steam store.
So, I would say to any mobile developer out there, with a game that *should* have been a success or with an idea that *should* be a success make a plan, make a web version (or more platforms if this works for your game), work out your monetisation model and get a great publishing partner to take the reins on marketing and promotion.