TECHNOLOGY

4 Ways To Make a Cheap Mobile Game in Southeast Asia

The cost isn’t much. But money is less important than knowledge.

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BY Jonathan Toyad - 12 Jan 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Supercell

Video games are a huge business nowadays, especially on mobile. Strategy game “Clash of Clans” and monster-collecting simulator “Pokemon Go” are earning their respective game companies, Supercell and Niantic, more than half a million US dollars per day.

Yet somehow these two games do look like they were made with the simplest of tools when compared to a high definition PlayStation or Xbox game like a “Call Of Duty” or “Final Fantasy” title. So how much does it cost to create a game like those million dollar-earning titles?

Not that much, apparently.

According to Altitude Games’ leader Gabby Dizon, it is now cheaper to develop games compared to many years ago. Game engines like Unity cost US$125 per month; no other strings attached. Coupled with manpower cost and salaries, you can go as cheap as a few thousand US dollars even for just one game.

Of course, there are caveats.

1. Polish Takes Time. And Money.

A game like “Clash of Clans” does not succeed unless it goes through a lot of quality assurance and playtesting. “To have a successful game, it must be of a certain level of polish,” said Dizon. “You need time to iterate on your gameplay, give it to players for feedback, have analytics by the marketing team, make changes on the fly, and so forth.”

You also have to factor in labor cost, which is inexpensive in Southeast Asia. “The bare minimum is relatively inexpensive in most of Southeast Asia. Creating a game in Unity and uploading it on Apple and Google’s app stores can be done for mostly your labor cost.”

2. You Can’t Rely On One Game Idea

If you are a start-up willing to get into the game-making business, you have to start small and be realistic. You have to plan to make games, not just one game. Game makers like Rovio Entertainment had to make 14 odd titles since 2003 (under its old name Relude) before it struck gold with its lucrative “Angry Birds” franchise in 2009.

Start-ups should not put all their eggs into one basket. Do a portfolio of games for your 3-year start-up business plan. The best sum to raise from investors is US$1 million at a minimum. You need to be able to create a portfolio of titles (preferably with multiple teams) unless you already have an experienced specialist team on hand.

3. Figuring Out Where It All Goes

Say you have the money. Where does it all go? While it’s easy to just divide that lump sum into five games within the aforementioned 3-year plan, Dizon said that dividing the sum up is dependent on the games themselves and how successful they can be. “It would vary wildly per team, company, and type of game,” he says.

Most of the money will go to marketing and advertising. Those annoying ads that pop up in the middle of your mobile gaming session and on your social network feeds are the work of third party mobile ad sites like Adways and Glispa, as well as Google and Facebook.

If your game somehow garners a big following within the first few months, like a million users per day, that cost can skyrocket to US$2 million per month. “A game's marketing and operational cost can exceed the original development cost of the title,” says Dizon. “A lot of money is at stake so publishers would rather go with an experienced, more expensive developer in Southeast Asia or elsewhere rather than going for the cheapest option.”

4. Bottom Line

To sum it up: Yes, you can spend a few thousand dollars or even less to make a game with a few coders, programmers, and creatives. But no investor is going to pass you a million for one game idea.

When you factor in the experience of knowing how to make successful free-to-play games, cost is secondary to the knowledge needed to make money from free-to-play games via in-app purchase and ad revenue. So make sure you have the in-house expertise first.