Thursday, November 17, 2011

PART 1: The Evolution of a Mobile Gaming App

PART 1: The Initial Steps in Creating the Next Social Word Game

Words With Friends.  Angry Birds.  Fruit Ninja.  Every once and awhile, a new app comes around that seems to change the face of mobile gaming.  So what new game app will take the spotlight next?  What game will be distracting people during important meetings?  What game will travelers be tapping away on when waiting for a plane in the airport?  What will be the mobile game causing that vibrating buzz on phones in schools, offices and homes alike?
What does it take to create the next sensation in the mobile gaming space?
In order to answer this question, we decided to follow Chris Puglisi and Kyle McGetrick, founders of Mellow Militia (a successful mobile application company based out of Kansas City, Missouri) on their road to creating The Next Social Word Game.  In this many-part series, we will be exploring the world of mobile app development and following Mellow Militia on their mission to develop a top 25  mobile gaming app.  Our exploration will range from what it takes to develop and execute a mobile app effectively to launching the Next Social Word Game*, to the potential return for a company like Mellow Militia.  Care to join us for the ride?  Then take a look at the first phase of the life of a mobile game app—the initial steps in creating the Next Social Word Game:
A bit of background: Mellow Militia has an investor commitment for 25% of the capital that will be required for this venture.  Countless hours over several months have gone into transforming the original concept into a viable model that investors can grasp on multiple levels including the game itself, the mobile gaming market and of course, the potential return on investment which, in this case, equates to a great return on investment based on realistic (not stretch) goals and projections.  This commitment kick-starts the project allowing for advanced design and app development to be put in motion while Chris and Kyle continue to raise capital to meet their total goal.  Reaching this stage didn’t happen overnight, and the partners are very pleased with the initial commitment, considering it a verification of their concept and work.  A lot of preparation goes into making a Top 25 Gaming App.  So what did Chris and Kyle do first?
*The Next Social Word Game is what the new application will be referred to for the time being. 
STEP 1: Find the Idea
As many mobile app game developers know, it all begins with an idea.  From that idea, it is important to look to the core foundation of the concept and answer the most important questions: Does this mobile app have stickiness?  Is this a game you would want to play?  Is this something that people will be excited about?  Will others play with you? And more importantly, will they invite their friends?
According to Chris Puglisi, everyone has an idea for a mobile app.  Since the launch of Mellow Militia’s initial release, Tiki Toss 3D, the partners have been inundated with ideas stemming from every angle imaginable.  In addition to the inquiries that the company receives through their business network and website, Chris comments that every personal acquaintance has a handful of ideas, along with virtually any stranger who learns that we are in the mobile app space.
“The range of ideas is borderline overwhelming, both in subject and in quality,” says Chris.  “You will start with ten different ideas and fifty other ideas will be brought to you.  But you have to ask yourself, ‘Why this app?  Why is this worth my time?  Why is this worth the investment?  Is this a new idea?  If it has been done already, in what ways can we improve upon the concept?”
STEP 2:  Decide on the Type of Game
In order for Mellow Militia to develop The Next Social Word Game, they had to first decide what type of game it was going to be.  The first key questions: single player, two player, multi-player or social?  Chris and Kyle decided that they wanted their next game to have a sense of community.  Therefore, they decided to take a look at Words With Friends—one of the most popular games in the app world today and one of their favorite models.  Words With Friends currently has 2.5 million daily active users and 5 million monthly active users.  When you consider the user base along with the fact that the game was purchased early on by Zynga for tens of millions of dollars, you have to ask: Is there a better model to emulate than that? 
STEP 3: Storyboard!
Chris suggests to develop a half page document with findings and decisions from Step 1 and Step 2 and then to create a storyboard for your mobile game app.  Storyboarding can take months and involves a large number of talented people.  Chris suggests wire framing your screens so that the entire game flows.  Another part of the storyboarding step is to research, research, research!  Never stop looking at what the marketing trends are and what type of game is on top. 
“One of the most challenging aspects to creating the storyboard is confining the concept,” says Chris.  “When you actually start diagraming and putting the concept on paper, the project inevitably takes on a life of its own.  Idea after idea; never-ending possibilities.  Many of the ideas are amazing and so much growth is realized, but at some point you have to put a cap on it, define the specs, commit and move to the level.”
STEP 4: Determine the Game’s Mobility
There are another series of questions to ask yourself when it comes to the mobility of a game app.  How does the game translate across various mobile platforms?   What are the social hooks that can be implemented?  Can you invite players?  Will it go viral?  Can you integrate into social networks?  Do you want a group chat?  What will motivate people to continue to play? The list goes on and on.
So what did Mellow Militia do?  The company incorporated the game so that Android, Blackberry and iPhone users can all play together.  In addition, Chris and Kyle have decided that The Next Social Word Game will incorporate social status and social rewards that will motivate players to continue game play. 
“Having a true community is our goal.  We are building the app to accommodate up to 13 players per gaming instance with thousands of parallel instances in play at all times,” Chris explains.  “Players will be able to chat within the app across all of these instances.  Communication expands outside the app allowing the community to incorporate their Facebook and Twitter contacts to arrange group play at any time.   Points will be cumulative for the lifetime of the player’s involvement in the community.  This allows for leveling up through skill sets, accumulation of rewards, trophies and social badges; all of which are necessary in maintaining an on line social community.”
Mellow Militia also decided to offer the app for free along with a paid or premium version.  The free version will feature advertisements.  The premium version will be ad-free and grant access to the advanced skill levels.  This motivates more players to buy, buy, buy!
STEP 5:  Monetize
A game developer must next determine how the game will be monetized.  This step requires looking at ad and revenue models as well as the models of competitor games.  Use this step to negotiate with ad vendors and look at the acquisition.  You must  largely determine your marketing plan and advertising budget before the first line of code is written.
Many mobile gaming apps have a free version that displays ads at undisruptive moments.  Paid versions are commonly ad free.  Mellow Militia has decided to go another route.  They will offer a free version of The Next Social Word Game without ads for the first three months.  After the first three months, ads will be integrated in.  In the premium version, the ads will disappear.  In addition, Chris has decided to use Flurry—a proven app marketing tool—for the ads in The Next Social Word Game. 
Another important part of this step is to map out the overall budget create projections.  All possible expenses have to be balanced with several potential revenue scenarios.  As it is essential that nothing gets overlooked here, the result is a stack of spreadsheets outlining a variety of financial scenarios ranging from failure, to conservative, to grand slam outcomes.   Mellow Militia has created a target goal of $2.6 million in a 24 month period for The Next Social Word Game.  Determine your goal and calculate how much money it will take to get you there (and be sure to keep in mind the facts! 95% of apps make less than $1 per day!). 
STEP 6: Get the Moo-la!
Step 6 is dreaded by many: the funding stage.  “It’s important to put together a presentation for both investors and vendors,” says Chris of his experience in the funding phase.  “Be sure that you present with one goal in mind: to provide ROI for your potential investors.”
There are many challenges to fundraising.  It can be very difficult to even get an audience. One of the challenges that Mellow Militia has experienced, like many other app development companies, is implementing funder’s feedback and suggestions. 
“The input is often very very intuitive and valuable and it can be eye-opening to see the outside perspective,” both Chris and Kyle say.  “The challenge is in finding the balance between implementing while not losing sight of the original plan.  In this case, we went back to the drawing board to make some adjustments to how quickly (or slowly) this game will move.  Being open to the insight of our potential second investor, our product, we believe, has significantly improved.” 
STEP 7: Start coding
Finally, the step that developers everywhere have been waiting for: the coding phase.  It took Mellow Militia eight months of research and preparation to get to the coding phase for The Next Social Word Game.  Coding is just beginning, so we will keep you posted as to the progress throughout this series.
STEP 8: Amp Up the Social Media
The Next Social Word Game is (quite obviously) a social game.  Therefore, it will require very significant attention from social networks like Facebook and Twitter in order to become the success that Chris and Kyle anticipate.  This is yet another project that begins pre -launch and carries throughout the life of a social gaming app. 
“Keeping the community involved through these standard outlets is an absolute must in the social gaming world,” Chris articulates.  “This is a daily endeavor and requires a dedicated team who are motivated by a love of the game and community engagement.” 
Marketing through press releases and within the iTunes app store and other app markets can also be considered social media (but in general are a whole other animal that will be discussed in another post!). 
One of the main reasons that The Next Social Word Game has looked to the Words With Friends model in planning is that this knockout game acquired 60% of it’s user base through word of mouth, largely through online social networks.   With a very slim marketing spend, Words With Friends still went viral.  Every so often, an app will make the Top 25 App list (even though it may not mean to—cue Angry Birds!).  Mellow Militia would be very happy to see this happen, but does not plan on taking that chance.  The vast majority of their budget will go to targeted marketing, ensuring that the necessary daily active user base is acquired. 
Chris and Kyle both believe that it’s not about the marketing, it’s about the product:  “It starts with creating a great product.  Once you have the product in hand, you have to let the world know.  That is our responsibility, but we hope that we will have the support and help of our players in spreading the word!”
We have only scratched the surface of mobile app development for games.  So what in the world should a developer do next?  Tune in for PART 2 when we check back with Mellow Militia and the evolution of The Next Social Word Game and how you can make or break it in the app world. 
Want to go behind the scenes of  ‘Creating the Next Social Word Game’, including tips & strategies to creating great mobile apps and games?  Visit Chris’s Blog.

Follow me! @AllisonThinkBig


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