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How Much does It Cost to Develop a Mobile Game?

January 21, 2016 Written by Andrei Klubnikin, Senior Content Manager
By the end of 2018, the global mobile gaming market will generate over $50 billion in revenue, which — alongside high user engagement rate and resistance to ads — makes mobile games one of the most lucrative app store segments. This article identifies the key factors behind mobile game development and design costs and will prove useful to indie studios and aspiring appreneurs looking to bring their mobile game ideas to life.

Developing a Mobile Game: Cost-by-Type Correlation

The cost of mobile game development is largely determined by the type of an application you intend to build:

  • Casual. A casual game is a simple solitary game that doesn’t require particular skills to play. A user can pick it up at any time and doesn’t have to save the score at the end of a session. According to James Portnow, the founder of Zero Games, the common features of casual mobile apps include repetitiveness and an endless gameplay. Some of the most popular casual game subgenres include puzzles, hidden object games, adventure, trivia, cards, arcade and strategy. Thus, the majority of top-grossing freemium games like Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans are casual. They usually incorporate 2D graphics — i.e., playing fields, animated controls and artifacts — and a basic soundtrack. Additional features including extra lives, levels and character upgrades are often available to paid users only. A relatively simple Match 3 title like Candy Crush costs $90-110 thousand to make. Clash of Clans, a multiplayer game that artfully blends the elements of trivial, strategy and Tower Defense games, has a well-thought-out story and built-in social engagement mechanisms, costs approximately $400 thousand to develop. Another example comes from Rovio Entertainment, a Finnish game development studio that reportedly invested $140 thousand to launch Angry Birds – a project that eventually brought over $ 200 million in revenues in 2012 and has been trending ever since. In most cases, casual apps’ commercial success is driven by clever marketing.
As an appreneur looking to develop a commercially successful mobile game, you should definitely do a thorough market research to choose the right game genre
  • Social. Such games are simultaneously played by multiple users on social networking websites like Facebook. They are similar to browser games which access limited user data via oAuth protocols and platforms like OpenFeint. In terms of infrastructure, a social app incorporates payment tools and stats display mechanisms to foster a competitive spirit and encourage user spending. Such games are usually built with social network development kits (like Facebook SDK), although post-development Facebook API’s integration is also possible. A social game application like Farmville costs $100-300 thousand.
  • Simulation. Designed to simulate real-world activities like construction, management, playing sports and social interactions, mobile simulation titles often rely on advanced engines capable of evaluating the aftermaths of a single in-game event and modelling appropriate scenarios, which makes it virtually impossible to assess the development cost of elaborate city-building (SimCity), dating (Choices) and pandemic (Plague Inc.) games. However, we estimate the price of developing a simpler city-building application similar to The Tribez at $400-450 thousand. The budget covers 2D design and animations, actual coding, performance optimization and story development.
Mobile game development is a complex process which requires professional assistance
Have any questions? Ask our team!

Other Cost Factors Affecting Mobile Game Development & Launch Process

  • Mobile game development company. Choosing the right vendor is probably the most important business decision you have to make. The stages of game production include marketing research, prototyping, coding, UX/UI design, editing and, finally, testing; each of these tasks should be carried out by a game development professional with the relevant expertise. The US/EU bids for mobile development services can be estimated at $60-100 thousand a month (or $ 60-150 per man-hour). Thus, an indie shooter like Tower of Guns that took over 3800 man-hours to develop may cost $230-570 thousand. In order to reduce development expenses, many appreneurs outsource game development to Eastern Europe. Countries like Belarus, Poland and Ukraine offer high-profile specialists with great expertise in coding and visual design. Their hourly rates range from $25 to $50, while the quality of app development meets the high US/EU standards. If you consider outsourcing game development, we recommend that you hire a dedicated team and opt for the Time & Material pricing model: the scope of your project is bound to evolve, and the T&M approach will allow you to pay only for the actual hours spent on the tasks.
  • Design. The notion doesn’t refer to visuals alone. Mobile game design, as well as development, is a multilayer process which requires assistance of such specialists as a game artist, lever editor, UX and UI designers. A game artist sketches ideas and characters, draws scenery and applies textures. A lever editor creates architecture for various segments of an application, including objects and landscapes, and maintains the desired level of complexity. UX and UI professionals improve the general feel and layout of a game, respectively. If your app contains two-dimensional images and doesn’t switch levels, you can do without level editing and 3D-modelling (these specialists charge $50-150 per hour). However, you cannot save on UX, UI and game graphics: every dollar invested in user experience brings $ 100 in return.
  • Marketing. Last but not least, here comes the marketing part which is often overlooked by game development newbies. As a result, 90% of indie game developers fail to achieve commercial success. There are many cost-effective ways to market a new gaming app: you could build a small fanbase on social media prior to the game’s release, create a five-star game trailer and mail it to prominent game bloggers to get some media coverage, do guest blogging on reliable resources like Gamasutra and Touch Arcade, attend game development conferences and use paid advertising services to trigger organic downloads. However, $30 thousand is a bare-bones marketing budget to get a mobile game like Candy Crush noticed.
Game development is a fascinating process which starts with a great idea and evolves into your personal universe. In most cases, its success depends on proper execution, that’s why you should entrust the task to a reliable custom mobile app development company.

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