小成本开发手机游戏的时代已经终结了吗?

问题:

Kristian Segerstrale是Supercell的早期投资人。他最近写道:“在未来,当生产和营销预算低于100万美元,你将很难做出手机/平板游戏。”

Kristian还在文中附上表格。在成功地创立Playfish后,他表示,等到Playfish发展壮大,加入竞争已经太迟了,现在发布一款Facebook游戏太贵了。

Kristian说的对吗?100万美元就是最低准入价?或者说是已经在市场上站稳脚跟的人在劝阻新的竞争者进入这个领域?

小成本开发手机游戏的时代已经终结了吗?

david-goliath(from gamesbrief)

回答:

Eric Hautemont,Days of Wonder的CEO

我很肯定还是会有带着相当少的预算的新人进入市场。人们往往在没可能回本的领域继续砸钱,这不是逻辑能解释的现象。但他们能不能成功完全是另一回事。

很大程度上,我同意Kristian所说的,我甚至还更激进:发布新游戏的绝大部分人/公司,甚至那些拥有的预算在100万美元以上的 开发者,在手机平台都会很难成功甚至只是维持生存。甚至对于那些收益排名在前200的开发者,我猜已经是这么回事,在以后的一两年里,这个趋势只会更加明显。

小预算开发者将更难获得可持续的成功;当然,作为主要工作是出售硬纸板的人,我当然是有偏见的。

Mark Sorrell,免费游戏设计顾问

不会的。

说几个理由。

1、你可以花钱搞开发用户,但你很难买到留存率和赢利能力。所以,就算把世界上所有的钱都给你,也不可能保证你的游戏的留存率和赢利能力。帮助肯定是有的(比如说你可以雇用我),但那些更像是艺术而不是科学,可能会保持上若干年。

2、跨平台仍然是合理的。为什么King的原创游戏能比Zynga更长久地留在市场上,这就是关键原因。所以首先就不能把手机游戏行业当作泡沫。

3、开发成本持续下降。营销成本上升。当然,大工作室在投入预算时有可能拿出100万美元,但那笔钱越来越多地用于市场营销。如果一支没什么钱的小团队制作了一款表现相当不错的游戏,那么他们仍然能够在之后补上营销成本(通过被收购)。

4、获得巨大成功是一个随机事件。那是不能控制的,所以,小赌注仍然可能带来大回报。

所以,是的,不会。

Teut Weidemann,育碧的在线游戏专家

“3、开发成本持续下降”

从什么时候开始的?

我看到还是有许多小团队(我们还是叫他们独立开发者吧)取得巨大成功,但成功的频率会越来越小。独立团队仍然可以赚钱。

为了产生影响力,你需要相当多的钱,而100万美元只能帮你到这里了。想一想,收益排名前10的游戏大多是在线游戏,这种游戏本身、服务器代码、基础设施和运营团队的成本,已经能很快吞掉一大半的钱了。

所以,如果你要挤进前10,100万美元是绝对少不了的。

Mark Sorrell,免费游戏设计顾问

现在制作《Toy Story》的一帧需要多少钱了,例如?

我认为AAA/大制作游戏的理念完全错了。手机/Facebook平台上的巨大成功完全不是那么回事。

《Candy Crush》、《Puzzle& Dragons》、《Clash of Clans》—-它们都没有让我马上联想到AAA。它们看起来当然不错,但程度也就与《Peggle》相当。现在制作《Candy Crush》比当年制作它时要便宜了。《Infinity Blade》当然做得很好,但未必就有光辉灿烂的未来。

我得说,手机和网页游戏带来的很大一部分变化是关于玩家的,比如玩家的品味变了。我确实认为,一直以来我们前进的动力都是角色和循环设计以及更难量化的东西,我觉得这些基础的东西并没有变化。

我们玩的是游戏而不是技术。比如说你喜欢赛车游戏,但你却是在花些没有意义的钱。对于一款打发破碎时间的益智游戏,你愿意花多少钱?

我们往往高估了技术的短期效应,而低估它的长期后果。对于游戏,技术导致了根本不需要和明显不可能使用大量预算的玩法模式。

我愿意在这个观点上双倍下注—-好的想法如果执行的好并不需要特别高的成本,且执行得好的好想法,要成功还得有一定的好运气。

我肯定还有更安全的策略(比如授权改编),但我认为那个太离题了。

Stuart Dredge,《卫报》记者

许多成功的开发商都在尝试自主发行,与小而有才但没有100万美元的独立开发者合作。也许那也是一条出路?Rovio Stars(注,这是Rovio公司旗下的发行公司)就是一个例子。但我应该还没有看到这种方式取得巨大的成功。

Ben Cousins,DeNA欧洲工作室的主管

我很肯定,小开发者靠小投入还是能赚钱的,如果他们能够获得平台所有者的强烈推荐或巨大支持的话。

但我认为Kristian在说的可能是关于更高的收益排行榜排名—-“我们如何制作出能赚钱的手机游戏?”

在每一个游戏平台我们都看到这样的循环。小公司意外成功赚大钱,为了巩固自己的地位,它把这些收益花在营销和产值上,甩开其他竞争者,只有下更大的赌注才能生存下来。

我想,“现在情况不一样了”这样的想法总是错的。

与微型电脑游戏相比,街机把游戏带给更广大的玩家;与街机相比,游戏机对游戏的普及作用又更大;与游戏机相比,手机对游戏的流行又发挥更大的作用。

这种过渡没什么特殊的。毫无疑问,这种过渡增加了目标市场的可入性。

钱往哪里走?《Pong》和《Sega Rally》,钱会选谁?它们都是用来打发破碎时间的简单街机风格多人游戏。

Anthony Pecorella,Kongregate的产品总监

我认为Ben的观点完全正确,因为手机游戏就是越来越接近AAA游戏。我说的“接近”是指品质、制作团队和预算,除了营销,都还没有达到热门PC/游戏机游戏或大制作电影的水平。我很想看看在我们对顶尖游戏的品质和规模的期待持续上升的时候会发生什么事。但那当然不意味着小工作室就没有成功的希望,甚至成功也分成不同的程度。虽然我们确实看到大公司占上风,但我们也将继续看到“独立”成功。独立开发者在Steam上发展得不错,游戏机也开始善待他们了,还有许多小团队的作品被苹果应用商店推荐。更别说《我的世界》让小团队看到了成功的希望。

我想,我们将继续看到伟大的创新和破坏性技术产生于独立工作室,它们当中有些会赚大钱,有少数能维持长期经营,但极少数能“真正的成功”。但是小公司的工资和管理成本都不要求它们日进斗金。

也就是说,随着收购成本上涨,我确实认为iOS上的长期占据收益排名榜前50的游戏需要大量的开发和营销预算。不过,我没说是这些预算是否在100万美元左右,特别是考虑到早期收益可以反向循环到用户开发中。

Oscar Clark,Applifier的营销官

我喜欢Ben引用的Einstein对疯狂的定义:重复某事并希望结果会不同。

每一次发生阶段性变化,我们就看到大工作室变得更大,小工作室变得更小。

那些生存下来的往往是术业专攻的工作室或富有破坏精神的工作室。

我很肯定,大游戏的预算会走高,发行商模式会回归(尽管他们也必须接受“游戏作为服务”的理念)。

我也同意Anthony所说的,并非人人都要争取进入前100名……接近70%的收益是由前100名之外的游戏创造的,这让我想到“游戏作为服务”的力量。

我们一直在分摊开发风险;从最小可行产品开始。我们用那个假设来测试我们的想法和获得一些收益来维持团队运作。那意味着我们不需要那10%的预付……但我们可能会花那些钱,如果我们的最小可行产品成功的话……否则我们就可任意不再浪费钱而转向下一个项目了。

那就是为什么免费模式会这么受欢迎……不是因为额外的钱,而是额外的稳定性和机遇。

Kristian Segerstrale,Supercell的董事

我当然希望进入市场的人越来越少—-毕竟我是一个积极赞助游戏团队的种子投资人。但现在只看低竞争端的东西的数量:

1、团队—-我认为现在的团队最好把规模控制在6-8人,代码、美术、设计和商业/数值分析等都有专人负责。根据人才、项目类型和所需时间,你可以适量增减人数。

2、时间—-显然不存在像用多少人花多少个月这样的东西,但如果有人告诉我他们由4个人组成团队历时6个月完成、测试、发布了一款有潜力的iOS / Android游戏且获得成功,我可能不会相信。如果有人说用了10人18个月,我会觉得对于第一款游戏来说,结果可能有一点儿不乐观,或者说一开始野心就太大。

我认为应该挑个中位数,也就是7个人12个月(9个月开发+2个月测试+1个月营销赚到5千美元/日的净收益或进入排行榜前300名),这样你就能保证赢利且不必为钱发愁。

假设你的情况是,平均每月成本(包括办公室租金、税收、设备、日常开支、法律费等)是1万美元,经营所得约84万美元。再加上测试期间的营销活动费的2-4万美元以及10-12万美元的用户开发活动,你的100万美元已经用得差不多了。这意味着在将要盈利的关头你没钱了,这可不是经营公司的好办法。我更愿意把以上成本缩减20%,再花两个月时间调整/修改项目,这样可能更现实。

我这个假设还是不考虑漫长的概念期、开发过程中无方向变化、测试或发布时没遇到大问题。所以,我想100万美元是相当保守的。显然你可以用股权抵销成本—-创始人不拿工资,办公室改成自家车库,争取地方财政支持,等等。但无论是哪一种情况,你都是在用现金投资代替其他形式的投资。

老实说,我希望自己的假设是错的,毕竟游戏公司的种子融资是很快变成项目融资的,这个过程可不好玩。如果我说错了,请告诉我!

Eric Seufert,Gamefounders的顾问

我认为Kristian的数字很合理,但我认为正式发布活动应该需要更多钱。我用电子表格计算了一下,发现从启动项目到正式发布的第一个月底大约需要150万美元,我还做了保守的假设:

1、4名创始人花头3个月免费做项目原型(利用下班时间/周末时间等)。正式开发到特征完成历时9个月或者到正式发布历时12个月。

2、到全球发布之时,工作室应该有7名全职雇员(2名客户端,2名后端,1名美工,1名CEO,1名客服)(每名员工的平均成本为1万美元/月)。

3、只做iOS版/只在美国发布

4、在加拿大做3个月的软发布,成本为2.5万美元/月,然后在正式发布(30万美元)和之后的“稳定期”营销(3万美元)中投一些成本,根据Distimo的统计,这样就能够把游戏推上免费版的约前50名。

5、在美国,稳定期的每用户开发成本为1.5美元,这样才能保证收支平衡、正式发布后产品保持强大的病毒传播力和赢利能力。

Charles Chapman,First Touch Games Ltd.的老板和总监

看标题的题目,答案肯定是否。在手机领域,小工作室仍然有很大的生存空间。

所有这些数字都是围绕进入收益排行榜前10名转,小开发者的梦想大概就是那样吧,好像赢利就是伴随排名而来—-而事实上他们并不需要前10名。

如果你的游戏排名是15或20,你的赢利情况是5000美元/天,如果这样的游戏你有两三款,再加上广告收入,那么你就不需要进入甚至收益排行榜前100名了,甚至前200名都不需要。有才能但没钱的小团队花一两年就能达到这种成功。

这当然没有计算用户开发成本,但我认识的小开发者也都没有支付过这种成本—-他们做了一点实验,但结果发现没有什么回报。

无论如何,只要排行榜前列之外仍然有赢利空间,就总会有不靠用户开发而获得成功的机会。

但从投资者的角度看,想获得Supercell那样的成功,你必须下很大的赌注,但我认为只要有好创意、人才和辛苦工作再加一点资金,赢利是没有问题的。

Andy Payne,Mastertronic的总经理

我同意Charlie所说的。我们可以压缩游戏开发成本且我们也确实那么做了。我们正在学习如何制作免费游戏,我们相信自己可以做出一款能赚一些钱的免费游戏。算上用户开发,总成本大约是25万英镑。我喜欢不必天天听上司训斥的工作,有一定的灵活性。我们的准则是,赢利和维持。确实很简单。

Alice Taylor,MakieLab的创始人

严重同意Kristian和Eric的观点。

Andy Payne,我猜你的例子是有经验、运作正常、合作多年的团队的产品,如Rovio、King和Supercell:它们的团队大多来自其他公司的团队。

所以,假设你有上述那样的团队,你想进入排行榜前10名,且你的游戏不错,那么Kristian和Eric的观点绝对适用。除非你的游戏非常奇特的故事或内容等,意味着它能靠口碑推广。那是相当罕见的,显然,甚至一开始靠口口相传走红的游戏(《使命召唤》,《愤怒的小鸟》),后期仍需要大量营销成本才能守住排名。

玩家的注意力是很难抓住的,且越来越难,特别是当平台变得如此拥挤的时候。

Andy Payne,Mastertronic的总经理

Alice,我们的团队是经历了磨练的,他们现在更适应战场了。新兵训练营是不存在的。他们付出了很大的代价才学习到教训……他们进入战场时是几乎没有经验和基本训练的。

时间自有答案!我们还没有获得真正的成功。但我们每天都在进步。

Alice Taylor,MakieLab的创始人

是的,我的意思差不多就是那样。所有团队都是这样的,必须的。你不可能把8个互不认识的人组成一个团队,就希望他们马上开始工作。

一旦团队动作良好,假设你的资金足够你维持一段时间,我敢打赌你在成功的某时会赚大钱的。有很多类型的游戏还没被尝试过,当然还有很多小众市场等着开发。但这是一个K点:运作良好的团队需要12个月和100美元才能仅仅做好一款游戏。

比如《Dungeon Keeper》或者《Startopia》就是这样的。

Tim Wicksteed,Twice Circled的总监

我不同意。作为一名手机游戏独立开发者,我可以凭直觉说,大小跟赢利能力没有关系。就像Eric之前说的,即使你有100万美元做游戏,仍然不能保证你能收支相抵。

如果你做好设计,控制好预算,那么你不需要挤进收益排行榜前100名也能保证回本,这也是有待论证的。

然而,从另一方面来说,规模大了,更有利于用户开发和提高知名度。所有应用商店的排行榜仍然是“越大越好”的世界。更多下载量,更多评论都有助于你的游戏进入主要排行榜,且收益排行榜显然偏爱“大家伙”。收购也偏好大预算的游戏。如果你可以达到那种程度,一旦K因素纳入考虑,你的玩家的用户终身价值(LTV)超过开发成本,那么你就可以把钱用于冲排行榜,然后利用排行榜带来的自然开发。说到这里,考虑以下情况:

每次开发平均成本为1.5美元

游戏1–成本10万美元–平均LTV1美元

游戏2–成本100万美元–平均LTV1.5美元

游戏2的赢利比游戏1多了50%,但成本高了900%。然而,在支付开发成本时利用这种断崖效应,可能更有助于赢利。

Paul Taylor,Mode 7的经理

手机/平板也为我们这些在小独立公司主要制作PC游戏的人们描绘了一个很大的二级市场的图景。

如果靠花几个月移植一款高品质贩手机游戏,一年就赚了约15-20万英镑,那么我会非常高兴的,似乎甚至相当传统的、鼠标点击游戏也能这么做。

我确实目睹一些大手机公司经常说“对于你们这样的小开发者来说当然不错但我现在说的是真钱”,有道理,但我们当中有些人非常喜欢小规模的团队工作,自己开拓手机市场。我认为,这种现象以后会更多,因为消费者想得到更有深度的体验。

Andrew Smith,Spilt Milk Studios的创始人

Paul,PC版要达到什么程度的成功你才能保证手机移植版在两年内得到15-20万英镑的收入?我认为你似乎必须有非常成功的PC版才能获得大量下载/消费者/粉丝,但我可能说得不对。

说到本次论题,我认为手机市场正在变成我们更熟悉的另一个市场,我记得《翼飞冲天》这样的游戏在各个手机平台取得突然成功,距今已经有好一段时间了。这并不意味着这种事绝对不可能再发生,只是说越来越不可能。

我还认为,很容易把大家伙当作收入丰厚的开发者而不是资源丰富的开发者。《Puzzle and Dragons》现在非常火……这款很赚钱的游戏动用了多少人?这才是关键。任何小团队都可能靠已被证明可行的模式突然壮大—-如果你能以比回报更低的成本买入用户,那么谁要筹钱都不难了,但问题仍是,你融资的速度赶得上大竞争对手抄走你的创意并打败你吗?

这是在市场上保持团队小规模、低成本和把游戏带进市场的挑战,如果设计已经花光你的钱的话。

Paul Taylor,Mode 7的经理

《Frozen Synapse》现在大约卖了50万份PC版,显然你要靠已存在的社区达到峰值,但我确实认为更适合手机一点的东西也许可以靠更少的PC基础达到这个数字。

Tadhg Kelly,开发者

这是一个非常有趣的问题。

我认为许多手机开发者要做一般的游戏越来越困难了。我听到越来越多关于投资环境恶化,合同条款苛刻的消息,甚至对于能显示强大的赢利能力的成功开发者也不例外。我还一直听到人们哀叹用户获取成本上升,被苹果推荐的希望越来越渺茫。我认为平板的处境还没这么糟,但它会经历相同压力的。

大家都知道是因为供过于求。有成千上万的开发者都在竞争同样的眼球—-就像其他媒体一样—-曲线图就形成了。一些人利用自己的技术、运气、时间或资金占据优势地位,而更多人成为失败者。所有人都知道这是因为新奇效应的消退。这种现象一直发生。一旦什么鲜玩意变得人人都能获得,那个东西就变得枯燥无味了。

人们很少意识到的是,那也是一种类型思维的效应。在大部分平台,当开发者/发行商看到一款某种类型的游戏成功了,他们往往就会复制它然后形成同类竞争—-这是一种传统思维。这种思绪的逻辑就是,因为这是同类的东西,消费者喜欢同类的东西,所以他们就会成为同类东西的买家。

然而,很少人意识到这一点,因为消费者并没有太多地考虑他们喜欢什么类型的游戏。没有人会想“我真的想要更多无尽奔跑类的游戏。”他们只是喜欢《Temple Run》或《Jetpack Joyride》。当然有例外,但基本上,在供过于求和新奇效应消退的情况下,追求已经泛滥的类型通常是徒劳无功的。因为唯一的真相就是,我的宾戈游戏比你的好,或者我的无尽奔跑游戏比你的好。

那种思维更典型地反映在某个游戏类型从一个平台跳到另一个平台但没有获得成功(我的农场游戏先获得新平台的受众的关注,那么我就赢了)。我们很擅长在用户定位或消费者意图上说服自己,沿着我们自以为存在的市场的寻找边缘案例。我们沉迷于风险消减,但那正是让我们这些人判断平台是否“饱和”的根据,这有点像认为某种书的市场已经“饱和”了,因为该有的类型都有了,且每一类型都有代表作。

有人利用类型思维劝说自己,他们的无尽奔跑加宾戈游戏迎合了两类消费者的需求,这样他们就保证能成功!按那种说法,是的,你可以看到“大家伙”是如何主宰市场的。

问题是,是否仍会出现杂交、怪异、或我没有听说过的游戏?我想答案是肯定的。

爪游控

[Gamesbriefers] Is mobile over for the little guy?

By Gamesbriefers

Question:

Kristian Segerstrale was an early investor in Supercell (hey, Kristian). He recently wrote that “Few mobile / tablet games will be made with combined production and marketing budgets below $1M in the future.”

Kristian has form on this topic. After successfully launching Playfish, he said, once Playfish got big, that the competition was too late and it was now very expensive to launch a Facebook game.

Is Kristian right? Is $1 million the minimum entry price? Or is that someone who is successful trying to dissuade new competitors from entering the field?

Answers:

Eric Hautemont CEO of Days of Wonder

I am sure there will continue to be new entrants with considerably smaller budgets. People often continue to pour money in a field with no hope of ever recouping their costs, for a lot longer than logic would dictate, usually 8-/ Whether they can succeed is a totally different story however!

By and large, I agree with Kristian and would go even further: the vast majority of people/companies who launch new titles, even those with a budget well above $ 1M, will have a hard time breaking even / having a better than mediocre business going forward, on mobile platforms; even for those in the top 200 grossing games, I suspect this already is the case, and will just be increasingly more so in the next 18-24 months.

Sustainable success will get increasingly harder to get; Then again, as a guy who’s primarily selling cardboard, I am certainly biased.

Mark Sorrell Freemium game design consultant
No.

Few reasons.

1: You can buy acquisition, but it’s much harder to buy retention and monetisation. So all the money in the world won’t get you a game that retains and monetises at a world-class level. It will help, for sure (you can hire me!) but those bits remain more art than science, and will likely remain that way for several years.

2: Cross-platform still makes sense. That’s the crux of why King seem a better bet than Zynga did when it comes to a successful IPO and stay on the market. So Mobile can’t be viewed in a bubble in the first place.

3: Development costs drop over time. Marketing costs rise. So sure, $1million might be the figure a large studio might conjure up when making a bet, but more and more of that will be on marketing. And if a small team with no money makes a game that retains and monetises brilliantly, then they will still be able to access marketing spend (acquisition) at a later date.

4: Having a huge hit takes, above all, random chance working in your favour. That is not controllable, so small bets can still result in huge returns.

So yeah. No.

Teut Weidemann Online Specialist at Ubisoft

“3: Development costs drop over time”

Since when?

I see smaller teams (lets call them Indie) still making hits here and there, but the frequency of those will be less. Still smaller teams can be profitable.

In order to make a difference you need to pull in considerable money and $1 million gets you only so far. Considering most of the top 10 grossing games are online games then the costs of the game, server code, infrastructure and operations team alone can eat half of that million fast.

So 1 million isn’t really going to cut it if you are in for the top 10.

Mark Sorrell Freemium game design consultant
Development costs per X drop. We just add lots more X. How long/how much would it cost to make a single frame of Toy Story now, for example?

And I think the idea of AAA/Blockbuster is just plain wrong. The huge hits on mobile/Facebook aren’t like that *at all*.

Candy Crush, Puzzle& Dragons, Clash of Clans none of them would make me think AAA for even an instant. They’re nice to look at, sure, but they are no nicer to look at than say, Peggle. And it would be cheaper to make even Candy Crush today than it was when it was made. Infinity Blade has done pretty well, for sure, but it’s not exactly carving out a glorious future.

I’d say a big part of the change that mobile and browser have brought is in demographics, and as such, tastes are different. I genuinely believe that character and loop design and far less quantifiable matters are what has powered us along so far, into our once blue ocean, and I don’t see that fundamental point changing.

We play games, not tech. Race if you like, but you’re spending pointless money. [...] How much can you spend on a puzzle game designed to be played in tiny chunks?

I’m always an Amara’s Law kind of guy. We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. In this case, the technology has brought demographics and play patterns that just don’t need and, indeed, broadly can’t use huge budgets.

I’m going to double down on the belief that good ideas, well-realised aren’t going to get particularly more expensive, and that it’s good ideas, well realised, plus a lucky roll of the dice that will make it big.

I’m sure there are safer, money based strategies (licensing for example) but I don’t think that’s quite what we’re talking about here.

Stuart Dredge Journalist at The Guardian
A lot of those successful players are trying to get third-party publishing schemes rolling, to work with the small-but-talented indie developers who don’t have $1m to spend. Maybe that’s one way forward? Rovio Stars etc. Not sure I’ve seen any huge hits come out of those yet, mind.

Ben Cousins Head of European Game Studios at DeNA
I’m sure small shops will continue to make profits on small investments, if they can get a feature or a groundswell of support.

But I think Kristian is probably talking about the higher reaches of the charts i.e. ‘how do we make a mobile game of consequence?’

We see the cycle on every other games platform. Small company has unexpected hit with massive margins, in order to defend its position, it spends those profits on marketing and production values that few competitors can match, consumers respond, demand that level of polish from everything, only the bigger bets survive.

I think it’s always a mistake to think ‘things will be different this time’ [...]

Arcades introduced gaming to a much broader audience than minicomputer games.
Consoles introduced gaming to a much broader audience than arcade games.
Mobile introduced gaming to a much broader audience than console games.

This transition is not unique. There is nothing remotely special about the fact that this transition has increase accessibility and therefore addressable market.

Where is the money going to go? Where did the money go between Pong and Sega Rally? They are both simple arcade multiplayer games designed to be played in tiny chunks.

Anthony Pecorella Director of production for virtual goods games at Kongregate
I think Ben’s point is spot on as we are getting closer to a concept of AAA games on mobile. I say “closer” because the quality, production teams, and budgets of mobile, outside of marketing, haven’t yet hit that of top games on PC/console or top blockbuster movies. I’m quite interested to see what happens as we continue to build expectations of quality and scale in top games. But that certainly doesn’t mean that smaller studios have no hope of success, even if success is measured at a different scale. While we do see consolidation at the top, we can also see continued “indie” success. Indie developers are having a great time on Steam, consoles are starting to court them better, and there are plenty of small teams getting features on Apple’s store. Not to mention the lightning in a bottle hits like Minecraft.

I expect that we’ll continue to see the greatest innovation and disruptive technologies coming out of indie studios, some of whom will make great money, quite a few will make enough to keep developing full time. Few will truly “make it big”, but smaller companies don’t need to be pulling in six or seven figures per day to pay their employees and have everyone be happy with their jobs.

That said, with soaring acquisition costs, I do expect that the persistent top 50 grossing games on iOS will have substantial development and marketing budgets with very few exceptions. I’m not convinced that it’s anywhere near $1M yet though, especially if early revenue can be recycled back into user acquisition.

Oscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier
I like Ben’s echo of Einstein’s definition of insanity being about repeating things and expecting things to be different.

Every time we have a step change we see big studios getting bigger and small studios being swallowed up.

Those who survive tend to either specialise or disrupt…

I’m sure that Budgets will go up for the bigger games and we will see a return of the publisher model (although they also have to adapt to cope with the Curve/Games As A Service)

I also agree with Anthony that not everyone needs to hit the top 100… just under 70% of revenue comes from outside the top 100 and that reminds me of the real power of Games As A Service.

We spread the development risk over time; starting with an lean MVP. We use that hypothesis to test our ideas and to gain some revenue to keep the team working. That’s means we don’t need the 10 upfront… but we will probably spend that if our MVP works… If it doesn’t then we stop wasting money and move the the next project.

That’s why the F2P model is so exciting… Not the extra money… but the extra stability and chance to disrupt

Kristian Segerstrale On the Board of Directors for Supercell

So to be clear I wish the number was smaller I’m a passionate, active seed stage backer of exciting game teams after all. But just run the numbers for something at the low end of competitive scope today :

1. Team I think a good size today to go is prob around 6-8 ppl with some mix of coding, art, design and business / quant / ua. You can prob be a bit smaller or a bit bigger depending on talent and type of title which has an impact on timing.

2. Timing there is no such thing as a man month clearly, but if someone pitches to me they will have a competitive, delightful game done, beta tested, launched and successful on iOS / Android in 6 months after starting with a team of 4 I prob won’t believe them. Someone pitching the same for 10 ppl and 18 months, I think is probably a little pessimistic or overly ambitious for a first title.

Pick the median scenario you are at 7ppl for 12 months (9 months dev + 2 month canada beta + 1 month live to get to a $5k gross / day or top-300 chart position that makes you profitable and no longer in the need of cash.

Assume that you have modest fully loaded average monthly costs (incl office rent, taxes, equipment, expenses, legal fees etc) of $10k per person. You land at approx $840k for operations. Set aside $20-40k for two burst marketing campaigns during beta to tune things and $100-120k for your main burst UA campaigns and you’re at $1M. And that leaves you at zero cash when you are supposed to turn profitable which is not a great way to run a company. I would rather try and get all the above costs down by 20% and buy me 2 extra months instead to tweak / fix things which is prob more realistic.

And still this assumes a home run in the sense of no lengthy concepting phase, no hitches or changes of direction during development, no major issues found during beta or launch. So I tend to think that $1M is conservative. To be clear you can for sure substitute some of that cost with equity founders take no salaries, you can work from your garage, do an FB publishing deal for revenue share etc. But in each case you’re substituting cash investment to some other form of investment.

I would honestly love to be wrong about this as games company seed funding is quickly turning into project financing which is far less fun. Let me know where you think I’m off!

Eric Seufert Mentor at Gamefounders
$1MM seems low to me.

I think Kristian’s numbers are fair but I’d add more for the initial global launch campaign. I put together this rough google spreadsheet and came up with about $1.5 million in total expenditure through the end of the first month of global launch, with a few conservative assumptions:

4 founders spend the first 3 months of development prototyping for free (after work / on weekends / etc.). Post-prototype development last 9 months through to feature complete, 12 months through to global launch 7 FT employees (2 client, 2 backend, 1 art, 1 CEO, 1 UA) by the point of global launch (avg per-employee expense of $10k/month) iOS only / US only 3 months of soft launch in Canada at $25k/month, large burst on global launch ($300k) and “steady state” marketing after that for about 30k DNU (25% of DNU is paid), which would put the game in Top ~50 Free Downloaded according to Distimo $1.5 CPI at the steady state volume in the US, so break-even marketing on a per-user basis with strong virality producing the post-global launch profits

Charles Chapman Director and Owner at First Touch Games Ltd.

Looking at the headline question here, it’s a definite no. There’s still plenty of scope for the smaller studios to have viable businesses in mobile.

All these numbers being thrown around look to be targeting the top 10 grossing, and as much as smaller devs might dream of that, and the revenue that comes with it they don’t exactly need it.
If you’ve only got 15 or 20 then chances are you can be profitable on $5k / day, and if that’s spread around two or three games with some ad revenue in the mix too, then you don’t need to be touching even the top 100s of the top grossing, and probably not even the top 200s. A small talented team with a bit of cash could bootstrap to this in a year or two.
This doesn’t account for UA of course, but smaller devs I talk to don’t really do paid UA anyway they’ll experiment a bit, but then conclude that they’re not seeing a return.
Anyway, as long as there’s a viable business to be had here outside the top end of the charts, there’s always a chance of a breakout hit, without any UA spend.

From an investors point of view though, sure, for a supercell type return you’re going to have to gamble big, but to create a profitable business I believe you can still do it with a good idea, talent, hard work and a bit of cash.

Andy Payne MD at Mastertronic

+1 on what Charlie says. We can make games for less, and we do. We are learning how to make F2P games and we believe we have one which will make us some money. Total costs are around £250k with UA.  I love being in a job where I don’t get shouted at daily by overlords and have some flexibility in my life and i get to do things I love. Our maxim is to make a profit and make it sustainable. Simple as that really.

Alice Taylor Founder of MakieLab

Coming down firmly on the side of Kristian & Eric here.

AndyP: your example is, I would guess, the product of an experienced team who are well-oiled, working together nicely for a few years now. Same at Rovio, same at King. Same at Supercell: most of the team came from previous teams under another company name.

So, assuming you have said well-oiled team, and you want into the Top 10, and your game is good, (and it’s not the runup to Xmas), then K & E’s stories definitely apply IMO. Unless your game has such a weird story or content or something that means it travels by WOM. That’s a massive rarity, obviously, and even initial WOM games (CoC being one, Angry Birds another) then require massive marketing budgets to stay anywhere near the top 10, amirite?

Attention is hard, and only gets harder when a platform gets more populated.

Andy Payne MD of Mastertronic

Hey Alice our team are battered, bruised and half cut  but they are now sort of fit for battle. Boot camp did not exist. They have learned their trade in the trenches at great cost….so they went into battle with little experience or even basic training.

Time will be our judge! We haven’t had a real success yet. But everyday we get better.

Alice Taylor Founder of MakieLab

Yep, that’s kinda what I mean. All teams do that, they have to do that. You can’t put 8 people together who don’t know each other and expect it to work off the bat.

And once the team is working well, assuming you have enough cash to live for a while, I would bet a lot of money that you can find a hit at some point. There are a ton of genres that haven’t even been tried yet, and certainly underserved audiences and all sorts of nice niches to jump into. But this is K’s point: the well-working team will need 12 months and a million bucks to Just Get The Job Done on one game.

Come on Dungeon Keeper. Someone make Dungeon Keeper (yes I know it’s been announced). Or Startopia.

Tim Wicksteed Director of Twice Circled

I’m torn on this one. Speaking from the perspective of a lone mobile indie developer, my somewhat biased gut-instinct says there is no relationship between size and profitability. Like Eric suggested earlier, even if you have $1M to spend on a game there’s still no guarantee you’ll break even. There’s also the argument that if you design smart and keep your budget on a leash then you don’t need to break into that top 100 grossing list to make your money back.

However, there are also persuasive arguments on the other side of the story. For one, being bigger is good for acquisition and visibility. The charts in all the app stores are still dominated by a “bigger is better” mentality. More downloads, more reviews and more plus ones/likes all help push your title up the main charts and the top grossing chart is unashamedly skewed to favour the big boys. There’s also a cliff-edge effect when it comes to paying for acquisitions that favours the big budget games. If you can get to the point where, once k-factors are taken into account, your average LTV of a player is above the cost of an acquisition then you can just pour money into the system to get yourself up the charts and then take advantage of the organic acquisitions this will lead to. Given this, consider the following scenario:

Average cost per acquisition $1.50
Game 1 Cost $100K Average LTV $1.00
Game 2 Cost $1M Average LTV $1.50

Game 2 monetises only 50% better than Game 1 but costs 900% more. However by taking advantage of this cliff edge when it comes to paid acquisitions, it will probably be more profitable.

Paul Taylor Managing Director of Mode 7

Mobile / tablets also represent a great secondary market for those of us in smaller indie companies making primarily PC games.

If I can bring in around £150 200k over the course of a year from a quality mobile port that takes a few months then I’m extremely happy, and it seems that even fairly mouse-driven, traditional PC games can work in that context.

I definitely see a lot of “oh that’s fine for you smaller guys but I’m talking about REAL money” rhetoric from some of the bigger mobile companies and that’s fair enough, but some of us are working very happily on a smaller scale and carving out our own market on mobile. I think, if anything, that’ll grow in future as customers want experiences with a bit more depth.

Andrew Smith Founder of Spilt Milk Studios

This part to Paul what kind of success on PC do you need to ensure that a mobile port will see £150-200k over two years? It feels like you’d need some serious success on PC to guarantee that, in the order of tens to hundreds of thousands of downloads/customers/fans on PC, but I might be way off there.

As for the main discussion, I think the mobile market is changing to one much more like the other markets we all know, and it’s been a while since I can remember seeing a truly ‘out of nowhere’ success like tiny Wings happening on any mobile platform. Doesn’t mean it can’t, just that it’s apparently increasingly unlikely.

For what it’s worth I also think it’s easy to confuse the big boys as people with tons of income versus tons of resources. Puzzle and Dragons is the hot shit right now… how many people were on that project when it tipped over to being profitable? That’s the crux. Any small team can suddenly become huge with a provable model in mobile if you can buy users in at a lower cost than they return, then it’s not hard for anyone to raise the cash (and then suddenly become a big fish) all of a sudden, but the issue remains can you do it more quickly than it’d take a bigger competitor to copy the game and beat you to it?

That’s a potential downside of being small in this market, as well as the relatively low cost and challenge of bringing a game to market if the design is already laid out for you.

Paul Taylor Managing Director of Mode 7

Well, Frozen Synapse has done around 500k units on PC now and obviously you get a spike from the existing community, but I do feel like something perhaps a bit more suitable for mobile could manage those numbers with a smaller PC base.

Tadhg Kelly Developer relations, Ouya

This is a very interesting question…

I think it has become difficult for many mobile developers making normal games. I’m increasingly hearing stories of an investment climate gone distinctly cold and of terrible terms being offered even in cases where a successful developer can show substantial revenue. I also keep hearing everyone bemoaning the cost of user acquisition, and the increasingly forlorn hopes of those who’d like to be featured by Apple, but think they never will be no matter what they do. I also tend to think of tablet as somewhat behind on that curve, but it will experience the same sorts of pressures (as I wrote last year on TechCrunch in fact).

Everybody knows that it’s because of oversupply. There are tens of thousands of developers all competing for the same eyeballs and just like any other kind of medium a curve has formed. A few powers have gotten to their position by skill, luck, timing or financing, and there are many also-rans. Everybody also knows that it’s because of the decline of the novelty effect. That always happens. Where once it was neat to be able to tip your phone and watch a virtual beer drain, now that stuff is jejune.

What less people realize is that it’s also an effect of genre thinking. In most platforms a conventional wisdom tends to form whereby developers/publishers see one successful game of a type and then they replicate it and try to compete on features. The idea here being that since this a type-of-thing, and customers like a type-of-thing, therefore they are type-of-thing buyer.

This rarely proves true however because customers don’t put that much thought into what types of game they like. Nobody’s out there going “I really need more endless runners to get my fix”. They just like Temple Run or Jetpack Joyride. Sure, sometimes it is, for example in hidden object games or the top end of the FPS market. But mostly it isn’t, and in conditions of oversupply and declining novelty chasing after perceived genres is usually unrewarding. Because then the only story we have is my bingo game is better than yours or my endless runner is prettier than yours.

More typically that kind of thinking is successful when game types jump from one platform (my farm game got the attention of the audience on the new platform first, I win) but not within. We are very good at convincing ourselves about lockouts and customer intent, and of looking for edge case opportunities only along the lines of the self-selected qualities of the market that we’ve already assumed exists. We’re addicted to risk mitigation, but that’s what leads people like us to think of platforms as “full” or not, which is a bit like thinking books are “full” because a dozen genres got invented and each has a king.

Somebody somewhere is using genre thinking to convince themselves that their endless-runner-meets-bingo game ticks all the boxes for those two kinds of customer, and so they are guaranteed success! So in those terms, yes you can see how it “big boys” seem to rule the roost. But as ever what they’re ruling is the back end filled-out genre-thunked part.

The question is whether there’s still an opportunity for orthogonal, weird, I’ve-never-heard-of-that games though? And I think the answer is yes.(source:gamesbrief)