Why mobile games suck?

TL;DR: I think both gamers and developers would benefit if web games would regain some popularity. Gamers can play more original games instantly and developers with smaller teams and shorter development cycles could make a profit without the need to over monetizing their games and following current trends.

Before the rise of smartphones, there was a favorite online pastime – Playing Flash games. You know, those small underdogs of gaming which you could spin up in your browser in a matter of seconds and play for free.

There were thousands of flash game portals, each of them usually operated by a small company or even just a single individual. Portal owners could publish almost every game and developers were happy if they did – as long as they did not modify the game or blocked outgoing links. Every portal published a bit different games, so even very niche games could get their audience.

There are many mobile games that were inspired by Flash games such as Crush The Castle (Angry Birds anyone?) and a lot of developers made their first game in Flash.

Since it was so easy to try a new game (no need to tediously install/uninstall games), gamers were willing to try much more games in one session.

The first release of the iPhone with full internet access was about to change the market – the smartphones started to take off.

Flash was working on iOS, but that changed in 2010 when Apple banned Flash on iOS. If it was for the “greater good” or not is for you to decide. I personally do not think that Flash would still be dominant web technology. But one thing is for certain – it forced people to use native apps instead. (with 30% service fee)

Paying 30% “service fee” is currently a standard for the mobile app stores, but is it justifiable? There is certainly some upkeep cost, but most of it is profit.

Compare it to the remaining 70% for which the game needs to generate enough revenue to pay for:

  • tools and services
  • marketing (which is often another income for Google / Apple)
  • the actual development of the game

Sure, on desktop Steam takes 30% as well, but you have plenty of other options, including self-publishing. Imagine that every application you run on Windows would have to be installed via the app store and Microsoft would take 30% from it…

Epic self-published Fortnite, but unless you have millions of active players already and a good reputation, no one will bother to check your potentially unsafe android app they found online.

The truth is, if you want to make mobile games, you need to please the audience and algorithms of Google Play and/or Apple App Store. Two out of four categories are Top Selling Games and Top Grossing Games. For a casual observer, it might seem that the most profitable games are pushed to the front page.

It almost sounds like if you can maximize the ARPU (average revenue per player), the algorithms will reward you with exposure…

And how do you achieve the highest ARPU? With some psychology 101 tricks and some “whales”! Check out video Let’s go whaling.

Big spenders are somewhat defamatory called “whales”, and they are “something” to “catch” since they account for 50% of the overall revenue.

Targeting app stores also means to strictly follow their (sometimes vague) rules or risk getting a ban which could ruin your business.

Overall it seems that the developers are incentivized to heavily monetize their games and follow proven patterns.

Mobile games are not all bad of course. There are thousands of high-quality mobile games. And app stores are not the bad guys. But they are monopolized. It takes an extra effort to find a game that you can truly enjoy without taking a second mortgage.

I hope that the current web technologies could offer a new generation of browser games and that decentralized web gaming will return.

Web game portal owners which compete against each other are incentivized to prefer high-quality games (or games that fit their niche) over games with the highest ARPU. Especially since they do not necessarily get a share from every microtransaction.

By default, game developers receive 100% of what their game makes. They can make a deal with the publishers or sell them a license. Even without additional agreement with the developer, it is still a great deal for the portal owner, since they get content for free…

With that said, even in the golden era of Flash games, web games basically had a cap of what they could earn – if you are a team of 4+ people and you produce one game per year, there is probably not enough money in the web game market alone and app stores should be your main target.

It might be worth to release a web version to drive some free traffic to your game though.

For smaller teams with shorter development cycles, web games could be a viable alternative to the oversaturated mobile market.

If you would like to create a game which can be played in the browser, check out these engines: