Mobile Games · Game development

How Do I Validate A Mobile Game Idea?

Henry Lok

February 11th, 2016

So I have an idea for a Mobile RTS Game and I wanted some advice on how I can go about validating this idea. I am new to the app field with no technical skills or experience in the world of apps. However being an entrepreneur I wanted to learn and do something new. Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Fernando Gouveia Head of Business Development at Xapo

February 12th, 2016

Making a game is more about the mechanics of the game than the art and looks. What you want to be able to test are these mechanics. This includes things like rankings, levels and things that show the player they are making progress (so that if they do want to leave they have to consider the amount of time they spent building up their avatar, castle, etcc....).

I disagree with the rest of our colleagues here saying you can test this idea with a paper version. In order to know for sure you will need someone to create a basic version of the game where you can test a few things:
*  retention levels (typically you want to keep an eye on how many players return after 7, 14, 21, 28 days after installation)
* how much you can expect to make on ads.. ( if it's free-to-play focus on eCPM) 
* how much it will cost you to acquire users (typically on a cost per install basis)

With these you should know within a month if it's something that can scale.

To get to this point you need someone to build an early version of the game for you.. and well that costs money. Trying to learn to build a prototype, when you have 0 game development experience, is a waste of your time. If you do want to focus on something I'd recommend researching what the benchmarks for RTS games are on the bullet points above.

The cheapest way for you to build your game is to hire a small game dev studio. Make a deal with them where you will cover their costs for building an early version of the game and will then give them a revenue share portion of what you make over time. Make sure they dont spent too much time on art. Again, test the mechanics. 

Your game should be ready within 3 months and you should have ~$1-2k to test with paid acquisition so that you have some good sample sizes to see if its successful. Good luck!


Luis Avila Owner/Fullstack Architect at IdeaNerd LLC

February 11th, 2016

Make a board game/paper version of it and see if people enjoy it? Much cheaper than game development.

Andre Lamothe CEO | Founder at Nurve Networks LLC | iC0nstrux.com

February 11th, 2016

Henry, I have written dozens of games myself and developed 100's of them over a span of 3 decades. Additionally, my books trained many 1000's of game developers over the years. That said, you're asking the wrong question... You don't validate a "game idea" -- games are art, they are creative products, simple as that. Either you know the space or you don't. That said, there IS some method to the madness. When I was writing games, as a gamer and a game developer, I would write a game that I wanted to play, but at the same time as a game player, I was playing other games at the same time, so I knew what was "hot" at the time. Therefore, there are two approaches here -- 1. if you are passionate about an idea for a game, don't listen to anyone else, simply do it. 2. If you don't really know what kind of game you want to develop, then you CAN go out and look at the various categories; arcade, shooter, retro, platform, puzzle, etc. and then in each see how well these games are doing and then decide to do something similar to one of them without infringing of course. As a CEO, I couldn't always make what I wanted to, many times I would go out and look at what the hot top 10 games were in the casual space, and then make 10 games similar to them. If Tetris games were hot, I would make a tetris game, if candy crush is hot, I would make that. So, at the end of the day -- game dev is an art and passion and you really have to WANT it -- there's no formula for what people will like. Even if you have $50-100M to throw at a game, there is a graveyard of AAA titles with these kinds of budgets in the last 10 years that were flops. Then you have a game like Flappy Bird that a pro could write in a day for $1000 bucks or 2 that made millions -- its very intractable. And the LAST thing you want to do is get advice and opinions about "creative" things like a game. It makes me laugh when new game developers show their games and ask what people think -- WHO CARES! You think steven spielberg is asking other's what they think? Beta testing is one thing, but games aren't a bureaucracy where we vote for colors, shapes, sounds, etc. games are creative visions of a single person or very few in most cases --the best analogy to a game is you are the writer, director, producer, and actor -- think Clint Eastwood films :) Finally, game developers WRITE CODE -- so if you want to be in the space, you need to start building stuff, go thru the process and see how hard it really is. Watch "Indie Game" for a taste of the craziness of it... -- Sincerely, Andre' LaMothe CEO | Chief Scientist Nurve Networks LLC BA Mathematics, BS Computer Science, BS Electrical Engineering Email: ceo@nurve.net Linkedin: Andre' LaMothe Skype ID: NurveNetworks Ph: 512.266.2399 x2 Cell: 408.835.7584 Web: www.nurve.net | www.iC0nstrux.com Nurve Networks LLC

Lawrence Castro Web Developer, Internet Marketer

February 11th, 2016

Henry, With having no technical skills you may want to consider http://www.buildbox.com It's the best game creation software on the market and all you would need to do is get the artwork done. Every Niche has competition, so don't be afraid of that. Best of luck, Larry

Glenn Song Co-Founder and Lead Engineer at Prisma Wave Studios

February 11th, 2016

Henry, I figured if it was just you, and you wanted to test the game idea quickly. You could do it on paper to see if it was fun. Of course, I don't believe that would work well to simulate everything needed for an actual video game (esp. something as compelx as an RTS), and yeah, if you can find an engineer, then you could built a prototype. 

My worry is that an RTS is a complex thing. I don't know other mobile RTSes, but if you are talking C&C or Starcraft, then there's level building, unit AI, pathfinding, a whole host of UI related gameplay stuff (tech trees, maps, waypoints, etc.), other UX and then of course, doing all of this on a mobile device where my attention span is that of a goldfish. If you can do it digitally, and want to build it fast, prototype the core gameplay mechanic you are going for and learn whether or not that is fun as a first milestone. Check out Unity 5 since it does a lot of heavy lifting tech-wise and it's cross platform -- you can get your app on Droid or iPhone (you don't need the $99 sub to test on a local device, so I've heard from Apple's press conference last year). Make some simple 3D assets in Blender for testing purposes, script up the core game loop and iterate over it until you get something you like. Do all of that before you invest your money and someone else's time and energy in making intricate art assets and whatever. Uniqueness counts, but also craftsmanship too. Build a game that feels fun and runs decently, or why would I come back to play? 

You may also want to get your hands into Unity, if you're running with 1 or 2 other people -- so that's something to learn (via Youtube). There's other things to do rather than code. While your engineering guy is doing that heavy lifting you could be figuring out tuning, or making temp assets, world building, etc. Don't just rely on the design doc; it's not the ten commandants. Nobody reads that doc anyway and it'll probably be obsolete a week into the project. If there's an idea worth it's salt it's in the game prototype.

I don't want to say, "don't do this," not because RTSes are niche, but because this is the first time you're going to try and make a game at all. Every guy who has an idea for a game always wants to do an RTS, or RPG, or open-world MMO Minecraft blah-blah thing. Yeah, Notch built Minecraft himself up until alpha, but there are plenty of cases where folks are over-ambitious and have no idea what they're getting themselves into and lose all their money (look up the Kotaku article on the Yogscast guys and their "minecraft" clone, it's worth a read on a failed Kickstarter project). If you're going to do this, spend some time prototyping with a small team till you get something that works, scope to have a minimal feature set, and don't feature-creep/add shit to it unless you absolutely have too. Get time estimates in days on features when you're ready for production and multiple them by 2 or 3 because everything will go sideways, and that's how much time you'll probably need to finish the game. Don't forget to add time for beta testing and bug fixes.

Good luck, man. Game dev is hard and time consuming, but it can be fun to create something from nothing.

Ranko Trifkovic CEO at Harper & Earl

February 11th, 2016

With all respect to enterpreneurship spirit, Gaming is one part art, one part techology and one part business. Business part of the gaming can be researched and you will see that market is oversaturated. There are 95.000+ games being made for mobile alone and RTS is hot genre at this moment. Also market for it is rigged, since both Apple and Google don't really care about their app stores since they profit very little from it. Meaning that only those with huge budgets to purchase customers rise to top 10 and rest earn next to nothing. So mobile gaming is illusion, only huge companies and solo programmers can thrive. First because they can pour money (btw their positions are also shakey, King.com has scored one hit and didnt make decent game ever since), second becuase they can survive on what little trickles from their games. If you don't know the market, you can's succeed and if you knew market you wouldn't be dreaming about mobile RTS game... Technology part of it is also very tricky. In order to profit from your game you need to make it quick. I've seen such games developed by enterpreneurs who poured money and didn't get product by second or third year investing hundreds of thousands. Simply put, game development costs a lot. And oddly, money also deosnt mean much because game ideas are not worth anything. Every idea needs to be tested, researched, prototyped and rejected, changed, etc. Basicallly every team that made it in the industry did so after 50-70 failed games. So your idea is worthless. Unless put to serious development. You are trying to create product that has to be 'smarter' than your creators. Tough challenge. Not impossible, but requires really skilled team to work at it for very long time (say, 50-70 prototypes at least). Art part is crucial, yet not easy to explain. Even the silly mobile game like Candy Crush Saga had gotten this part right, its combination of well produced graphics, well chosen style, well written story combined with gameplay in good way, message that game is sending etc. I won't even try to explain this bit. So what you have is an idea, which is worth nothing in game development. What you need is same as in any other business... good plan, good team, knowledge of market, budget and cutting costs... So forgive me if I am realistic, but you will fail... R

Ranko Trifkovic CEO at Harper & Earl

February 11th, 2016

Mobile RTS isnt a niche and be very afraid because gaming industry is not promised land. If you want to have any chance of success, hire people who know what they are doing and who have visited hell of game development...

Ranko Trifkovic CEO at Harper & Earl

February 12th, 2016

Dear Mr. Lock I can advise you how to enter ther game development waters, but I warn you it is quite different approach from taking the industry giants heads on with Clash of Clans clone which market is oversaturated with. Kind regarda Ranko Trifkovic

Ranko Trifkovic CEO at Harper & Earl

February 11th, 2016

Here is an advice... Don't do it! Mobile RTS games are not viable product as competition is well entrenched, playing dirty and appstore is rigged market.

Glenn Song Co-Founder and Lead Engineer at Prisma Wave Studios

February 11th, 2016

Your best bet might be to make a paper prototype and play it with other people to work the kinks out. It would be the cheapest way to vet your idea without any technical expertise.