Complete Guide to Mobile Game Development

  1. How to estimate a budget for a mobile game. Factors of influence.
    1. Mini & hyper-casual games.
    2. Casual games.
    3. Mid-core mobile games.
    4. Hardcore mobile games.
  2. Key stages of game development & costs.
    1. Pre-production & planning.
    2. Production.
    3. Submission & live operations.
  3. Our experience.
  4. The bottom line.

The mobile games market is evolving extremely fast, and there are lots of studies supporting the view that this is a long-term trend. According to Statista’s research, the smartphone gaming revenue was estimated at over $63 billion worldwide in 2020, while the revenue from tablet games reached $13.7 billion. Forecasts suggest the mobile gaming industry’s revenue will continue to grow, surpassing the $100 billion mark by 2023. 

In the mobile gaming sector, major game publishers and developers like EA, Activision Blizzard, and Rovio have been active in this sector for a long time and earned millions on hits such as Angry Birds or The Sims Mobile. There are also newer companies that view the mobile boom as an opportunity to enter the market at a lower cost than the budget needed for console or PC titles.

Whether you choose to develop something unique or a copy of a popular game, you need to understand how much it will cost before starting. Here at Room 8 Studio, we constantly search for creative ideas to be developed into the next game hit and love collaborating with partners sharing the same vision. Although having a great idea isn’t enough for success, you need an excellent team for its creation. 

Drawing on our extensive experience in creating games from scratch, we can share some valuable tips on the topic. This article will explain how to create a mobile game, including the main stages of the process and potential costs. 

How to Estimate a Budget for a Mobile Game. Factors of Influence

To estimate the cost of mobile game development, one should consider several factors: 

  1. Platform: iOS, Android, Windows, or all of them.
  2. Technology. Here you can choose between the two most common options — Unreal Engine and Unity, though some game development studios still prefer less popular platforms such as Haxe or Cocos2D. Despite the fact that Unreal has diverse and quite well-priced assets and scripts as part of their library, offers great process control, and optimization abilities, this engine is still focused on PC and console development. On the other hand, Unity is fully cross-platform, much more flexible, and offers a wider variety of tools, including custom tools for iOS and Android that makes it the best fit for mobile development. Therefore, here at Room 8 Studio, we’ve decided to focus on Unity as our primary technology and have recently entered into a strategic partnership with them as a Channel Partner.
  1. Complexity. To find out how much it costs to make a game, you first need to assess its potential complexity. This integral concept includes a number of important aspects: the genre, mode (single-player, multiplayer, or social-player), target markets, and localization needs. Additionally, post-launch support costs should be included to cover regular updates and the addition of new content (e.g. game levels, new characters, skins, etc.), which should also be planned in advance.
  1. Game Design & Story. Whether players will enjoy the game or not ultimately depends on both the design and the storyline, therefore these are crucial parts of the project. Here you need to define gameplay features, characters, and environment, as well as the UI/UX design. In order to estimate the game app development costs correctly, you will likely need the support of various specialists — artists, game designers, etc. Besides, the top-performing games are always virtually bug-free and highly performant on a wide range of devices, based on their target audience. This is a cost that always needs to be taken into account for a game to be successful. 

In general, mobile games can be divided into several categories. This classification may be pretty rough, but it can still help assess the mobile game development cost range:

Mini & Hyper-Casual Games

Such games are visually simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. Players are offered a simple experience with short (or mini) sessions, and then they can disconnect easily. Mini and hyper-casual games generally contain a simplified but repetitive mechanic and are heavily weighted towards constant rewards and habitual behaviors.

Hyper-casual games need to be produced extremely fast and in a nonstop chain one after the other — one game out, two games in production. Based on the fleeting trend, the time to market a single hyper-casual game is crucial. Though hyper-casual games are pretty popular, they are not Room 8 Studio’s primary focus. Although, we do still offer such services to our partners within the framework of long-term cooperation. We assemble a dedicated team to hone in on the best ideas in the current market through data research, analysis, and experience. Since Room 8 specializes in long-term viability, much of the mechanics and pipelines can be reused after creating the initial game. With this cost-efficient approach, a hyper-casual game can cost from $25.000 to $50.000.

Casual Games

Casual games leverage simplified core mechanics, but their gameplay is more complex than mini or hyper-casual games. They must have a well-balanced economy, making it possible to add extra gameplay features like collecting game currencies, unlocking new characters, skins, levels, or even meta-games. The most popular casual genres are Puzzle (especially those based on the Match-3 mechanics), Arcade, Platformers, and simple simulators (e.g., time-management and city-management games). 

According to Deconstructor of Fun 2021 predictions, puzzle games will become the top-grossing genre on mobile this year. In casual games overall, puzzle games account for just over 50% of all revenue for 2020. 

We have a strong background in creating tile-based puzzle games and have already shared our experience through our complete guide on how to make match-3 games.

The full-cycle development of a casual mobile game can cost anywhere between $400.000 to $1.000.000 or even more, depending on the scope and complexity. At a lower point of this range are games like a simple word game — One Word, while a platformer or time management game, for example, Manage the Stars, would be at the higher end.

Casual games should also consider costs for the live operations support, which is not included in the initial development budget but is essential to these games. 

Mid-Core Mobile Games

Progressing and winning in such games requires some strategic planning. Mid-core games often offer a multi-player experience, players chats, quests, etc. The player’s sessions can be quite long here, from 30 minutes to 3 hours per day. 

Key genres in this category include Strategy, Action games, Action Adventures, Storytelling, and even RPG. An example of such a game сould be a real-time strategy — Etihad Al Abtal, developed for the Arabic market. The cost of developing such a mobile game varies between $1.000.000 and $3.000.000. 

Hardcore Mobile Games

Some publishers and developers focus on hard-core mobile games that are much more expensive to develop but can be much more profitable in the long term, ensuring the highest engagement rate among game genres.

Hard-core mobile games require deep immersion from the player. Playing sessions are pretty long and intensive. The game mechanics are designed to test the players’ skills and make them want to complete tasks and win against other players. Games of this type are the most engaging and can sometimes be very difficult to quit.

Currently, the top genre of hardcore games is probably 4X MMORPG — a subgenre of strategy-based games where gameplay involves building an empire. Interestingly, collaboration in these games is just as strong a motivator as competition is (and a monetization point), as players need to be part of extremely competitive and active guilds. 

Of course, this is the most expensive category with 2 million and more budgets.

Key Stages of Game Development & Costs

Whether it’s a simple mini-game or a multiplayer RPG, all game development projects require proper time and budget planning. Below are the key stages of a typical mobile game development project.

Pre-production & Planning

Arguably the most critical phase of the entire project. The work and attention to detail will set the tone for the whole project production, which focuses on creating core concepts and writing detailed Game Design Documents (GDD). The more questions that can be answered (whether it’s a feature design or system architecture) will save 3x the effort in the overall project production. 

This phase should clearly define all aspects of the game created to understand the scope and achieve an accurate budget fully. At Room 8 Studio, this phase typically includes several key areas:

  • Design Documentation – Highly descriptive living software design documents representing the complete scope of the project (game concept, genre, target audience, objectives, gameplay features and mechanics, game progressions, in-game UI/UX, architecture, platforms, art style, etc.)
  • Production Schedule – Game projects are divided into specific phases and milestones, each milestone has a set of criteria that has to be fulfilled. The production schedule is a detailed breakdown of these milestones including resource schedules, risks, and mitigation plans, and other requirements to name a few.
  • Prototyping – Prototypes of gameplay ideas and features is an important activity that allows programmers and game designers to experiment with different algorithms and usability scenarios for a game. They act as a proof of concept or to test ideas in a high-level playable version to ensure the original design translates from a theoretical state into reality.
  • Systems & Architecture – Complete creation of all data types, system architecture, and system structures to build the game’s features as well as supporting systems, API’s and server configurations.

Read more about the importance of pre-production in our article

Production

This is the point where the core production can begin. The game will evolve from the prototype into a fully playable version at this stage. This evolution is split into key stages (milestones), with Quality Assurance (QA) at each milestone.

This is the most prolonged phase, which can take months or over a year, depending on the complexity and title being created. 

The proper planning and risk management previously prepared and maintained is critically important during this production phase.

Submission & Live Operations

This is just the beginning. The game’s success heavily depends on its timely submission to the desired platform and release on the planned date. Most mobile games require post-launch support (see above). 

In addition, game publishers and developers often use some marketing materials, UA videos, and playable ads to promote games before and immediately after the release. 

Here is the reference example of how the standard game development process stages can look and how the budget can be divided throughout these stages.

StageDescription/TasksMS %Duration /months
Vision FormationWork through details to agree on milestones and terms for delivery and payment.
5%
NA
Pre-Production• Game Design Document (GDD)
• Primary & Secondary Feature List
• Technical Design Document (TDD)
• Primary & Secondary Systems Integration List
• Creative Design Document (CDD)
• Detailed Production Plan
• Capacity Plan
• Risks & Mitigations Plan
10%2
Prototype• Primary features represented for functional validation of game. • Preliminary graphics
• Wireframe UI
10%1
First Playable• Primary features represented as a Vertical Slice
• Preliminary Graphics
• Wireframe UI (mock-ups)
15%3
Alpha 1• Primary features complete
• No A Severity bugs (inability to boot up, install, etc.)
• GUI integrated for Primary Features
10%2
Alpha 2• Secondary features represented as a Vertical Slice
• No A Severity bugs (inability to boot up, install, etc.)
• Primary Systems Integrated
10%2
Beta• Primary and Secondary Features complete
• No severity A or B severity bugs
• Localization System integrated and functional
• Final GUI integrated
• Secondary Systems Integrated
15%2
Closed Beta• No A, B, or C severity bugs
• SDK/API’s fully integrated
• Final Audio Integrated
• User Testing (Playtests or A/B tests)
• Stress Testing
10%1
Open Beta• Game is open in controlled territories (Canada, Australia, etc.)
• Platform Submission, marketing, and communications
• Launch events.
15%TBD
100%

Our Experience

Room 8 Studio’s team has over ten years of experience helping partners transform the industry, create innovative games, and deliver exceptional entertainment experiences to players. Our most remarkable mobile projects are described in the portfolio.

In addition, you can learn more about our extensive experience with Match-3 games in the Complete Guide that we recently posted on our blog. We also shared some thoughts on how to properly scale and make more games in our article about the external full-cycle mobile game development

Here are some practical tips from our experience which might help create a mobile game:

  1. Use your budget wisely, plan expenses at all stages in advance.
  2. The mobile game market is highly saturated. Keep an eye on industry trends: game mechanics, genres, art style, etc. 
  3. Apply a player-centric approach. Try to create a unique gameplay experience, the game you want to play yourself.
  4. Choose the correct game development tool (we prefer Unity).
  5. If creating mobile games is not for you, but you want a game – entrust your project to the professionals.

The Bottom Line

Mobile gaming is expected to continue growing in the years to come. If you are looking for a reliable partner with the relevant expertise, Room 8 Studio will be happy to work with you. Our team has the inspiration and desire to collaborate creatively and technically with our partners to deliver outstanding games.

Room 8 Studio partners access our teamwork capacity and industry expertise to get full SKUs while reserving their IP rights through our collaboration. Our creative team is constantly searching for the best game ideas, which we can share with our partners. We can also offer turnkey development and implementation of your original ideas.

Have a project in mind? Let’s talk!

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Vadim Krayevoy
Head of art division
Vadim Krayevoy