Recently I read an interesting article about optimizing app revenue by applying…questionable business methods. My initial thought, as a developer primarily focused on making fun games, was to scoff and huff and frown at the dubious ethics on display. As can be seen in, for example, a Gamezebo comment on the article I was not alone in having that reaction. But after some careful consideration I’m not so sure that I agree with the Gamezebo critique after all.
The article reads like a common get-rich-quick scheme, listing a number of steps and a simple procedure to follow in order to get app revenue:
- Buy Low, Re-Skin, Repeat. Only Make Games
- Monetizing in 33 Days
- Choosing Your Theme
The game developer in me thinks that this sounds awful. It removes the creative aspects of game design, and only focuses on maximizing profit.
But what’s the problem with that? Really?
A very simple way to measure customer satisfaction is to observe how many people download/play/buy your apps. If enough people actually download and play these re-skinned games to give a substantial ad revenue, isn’t that a clear indication that you’re actually making a product that fills a gap in the market and fulfills needs? So what if it’s not the height of creativity and design?
Most successful game development teams have a combination of game production and business acumen. The game producing side are the ones focused on making the best game possible; to satisfy the end user optimally. The business side, on the other hand, is focused on maximizing the revenue. The normal situation for a small indie developer is to focus on the game production side, and try to get a publisher to focus on the business aspects.
I think that most indie developers’ knee-jerk contempt of re-skins and soul-less games stems from their lack of interest in the business side of game development. I don’t approve of the original article’s message, but I don’t approve of dismissive “better than thou” developers either. Designing a game for end user satisfaction is important, yes, but profit is also important. Without profit there is no way to keep a business running. If an indie developer has any plans for going full time, the business side of things must be observed. In my view, people often forget the fact that art has always needed a patron of some sort. Mozart didn’t write his operas with only thoughts of musical purity. Michelangelo didn’t paint for his own sake, making purely aesthetical decisions. These days the free market is an artist’s patron instead of kings and nobles – but the concept still holds true.
Personally, I’m fortunate in having a day job I’m very happy with so I don’t have to focus on maximizing my profits when making games. But I respect people who do. Just as I respect people who create wonderful game designs. Both skill sets are necessary to become truly successful.
Note: there are many examples of accidentally successful game developers. But for every Flappy Bird story where a developer with no business sense has become successful there are thousands of garage developers who can’t understand why their awesome game isn’t successful. Exceptions exist to every rule, and bringing up a few odd cases isn’t enough to invalidate a general statement.