Tips for developers: how to create a popular game for smartphones


Has it ever happened to you: you look at passengers of public transport that shoot bubbles or get stuck in «2048» and think: «Such an easy game but so popular!»

That is why we decided to find out how to create a popular game for smartphones, what minimal knowledge you should know about development, what mistakes you should avoid and what is worth attention.

Gain insight into basics

In order to understand how to develop a game conception, how to build a gaming process, and make the game pleasant for for users, you need to get familiar with game design. Books from the list The 20 Best Video Game Design Books will help you to understand the principles of creating video games. Of course, you do not have to read everything.

As for programming, you need to learn how to write native code for the platform the game is being designed for. According to many developers, you will need such knowledge:

To understand the life cycle of an application for iOS/Android inside of the operating system — what happens at start and a call, what resources and when are downloaded in the memory.

  • To program in Swift/Objective-C for iOS and in Java for Android.
  • To understand formats of sound and graphics (textures) for iOS/Android.
  • To have experience of programming in C/C++ for iOS/Android in OpenGL.
  • To understand a game cycle from creating to its appearance in Store.

It makes sense to take a look at game cross-platform solutions:

  • Unity 3D.
  • Unreal Engine.


Making a popular game, especially alone, is very difficult. You need programming skills, knowledge in game design, 3d modelling, animation, graphic design. Game development is a crisscross of technologies, art, and business. You will also need competence in psychology. So still it is better to gather a team.

Modern games for smartphones that are present on the market is a result of work of harmonious teams and not of one person. Usually there are programmers, game designers, artists, musicians, testers, market analysts, advertiser and promotion specialists, finansists. Now it is practically impossible to realize a popular game single-handedly.

Think of who this game will be for

You need to know your gamer at any stage of development and support of the game. Who are they? What do they like? How old are they? What country are they from? It is especially important to decide upon geography. Asia, Europe, US, CIS — there are special details of realization of gameplay, graphics and other aspects. Simple example: in Asian countries, all characters must have big eyes.

Gameplay in the first play

At first, develop core gameplay — the base of the game: think of what the gamer will do, how and depending on what the game world will react to it. It must absorb. Move on only when the core gameplay is 100% ready.

Put off fixing bugs, graphics improvement, translation, and voice work up to the final stage. You will have to remake the game many times and a part of the work done in advance will happen to be in vain.

The main criterion of a great gameplay is that it makes you come back to the game. The game must have depth for the player to stay there as much as possible. In the end, success of games is based on the retention rate — the percent of gamers that come back to the game over time.

Try to use the “Easy to learn, hard to master” approach

This is classical advice in game design: it must be quite easy to learn, but quite difficult to master — almost impossible. It is something that captivates you to the game. This principle is especially important for mobile free-to-play projects as the developer has not more than 10 minutes to catch a gamer. The majority of users will delete the game after the first unclear situation and will never use the application again. Players should understand how to play and what the aim is immediately.

Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, is claimed to be the author of this principle. The original quote is: “All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth”.

Nolan Bushnell said it in 1971 in the context of Atari gaming machines. At those times gaming machines were new and simplicity of games was crucial for users. Almost nobody had gaming experience and associations with real life were necessary for the commercial success.

Make gameplay simple and convenient

Think about the specific nature of the platform you write the game for and about situations people will play the game in.

Gaming session is likely to take only 10–15 minutes. It is a big win in the plus column if the gamer will be able to take themselves off the game smoothly. Step-by-step gaming mechanics may be helpful here. Phones are usually held vertically in one hand — and it means that you will get control only over one finger of a gamer, a thumb. Build gameplay with easy swipes and taps — this principle is used in many casual hits.

Remember: a mistake is information and not a reason to get upset

Your game will fight for gamers’ attention with projects by Electronic Arts, Gameloft, PUBG Corporation, or Rovio. It is very difficult. But you should treat it only as a challenge. And any mistake must be met as valuable experience. In the end, before Angry Birds became popular in 2009, Rovio had already released 50 games and been on the verge of bankruptcy.


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