Yo, Kamal here! Welcome to the first episode of Game Dev EXP - Business for games edition
Probably one of the most important stages of developing a game as a business in today’s super competitive market is market research.
But what even is market research? It sounds kinda boring!
Well, Market research is a process where you attempt to find a potential gap in some market in order to fit your game to market demands. And yes, it’s AS BORING AS IT GETS. However, it is as important to making the game if not more. And here’s why you need to start giving market research a considerable amount of time off of your work hours.
Market demands are always changing. For example, now that The Last of Us part2 came out last year, the market probably isn’t demanding another zombie survival story-driven game, so making a game in this theme is probably not a good idea. Remember, game development is an art, but here, we treat it as a business, and we need to have a firm understanding of the market if we ever want to turn our games into revenue. Market research has many phases, however, and it starts right after you have the main idea of the game (not even the complete Game Design Document).
Say you have an idea for a game that you really would like to play, you take it from just an idea to a detailed concept where you know exactly the main loop of the game. The first thing you need to do is to check if there is a similar game in the market, if there is, list them by popularity, those are your competitors.
Congratulations, you’ve just done the very first step of market research.
You’re probably thinking “It wasn’t that bad!” Well, buckle up, it’s about to get rough.
Before going into this, you need to identify your target audience. These are the people who will probably play your game. I’m talking age, gender, location, culture, habits, online presence, favorite games, occupation, and any data you can find about them. A good place to start is Facebook Audience Insights.
The Next thing you need is to go through your competitors one by one and somehow acquire data about them starting from the developer studio, the publisher (if found), developer studio history, publisher history (if found), revenue generated per year, active userbase, Daily Active Users (DAU), Engagement Ratio, Monthly Active Users (MAU), marketing materials, business model (freemium, premium, etc … I’m going to talk about business models in a future blog).
All of this information is paramount to give you a real view of the amount of work, effort, and money you’ll be needing for developing such a game. Remember, developing the actual game is the easiest part, you first have to ask yourself why am I developing this game and how will it benefit me. If the answer is "I want the game to succeed in the market and generate enough revenue for me to keep making games" then you really need to invest in your market research.
Sometimes, data are just found through a simple Google search, especially for massively successful games, other times, you have to dig really deep. You can use sites like Sensor Tower to retrieve valuable data on apps on android and IOS or Steam spy for steam games or App Annie for super detailed information (Keep in mind, some of these services do not come for free). You can also find some information within devlogs of your competitors or postmortems of failed attempts. You could also acquire data by interviewing your target audience or doing an online survey. Just make sure to keep your questions simple and to the point. AND MAKE IT SHORT!
One other way (rather a hellish one) to retrieve some of the data is through compiling reviews written on your competitors’ store page. Don’t take less than the top 500 hundred reviews (all of them if less than that). Read each review, understand it, and categorize what players find enjoyable, what they find frustrating, what keeps them playing the game, and what they want the game to feature.
Of course, this is going to be very time-consuming, but it’s all worth it, I guarantee it. Because by the end of it, you’re going to have a very clear and REAL perception of what it actually takes to make your game successful in the market.
But Kamal, I hear you ask, what if my game has no similar games to it?
If that’s the case, it’s probably a red flag. Having no competitors can be good and bad. Good as in if you find that the market has demanded features of your game, then it’s going to be very easy to acquire users and share the game around. HOWEVER, if that’s the case, why no one else is using this gap? Market gaps are not a secret and big companies' dedicated teams to market researching will probably notice this long before you do. So, you have to ask yourself why didn’t they do it? That’s why I said it’s probably a red flag.
If you still believe in your project, then promise me that you’ll do a solid market research and make sure why the big ones did not already tab into this and how are you going to tab into it. I would not want you to invest time and money in a game that has little to no chance of success ☹
So, let’s recap, now you know the userbase for your competitors, their DAU and MAU, their engagement ratio, their players’ demands, their players’ frustrations, and what makes them enjoyable. Now, you can organize all of this in the following:
Competitive matrix: A table where you list the major features of your competitors besides your game
Position map: A visual presentation of how your product fits in the market.
Target audience: Detailed description of your ideal audience. Give personality cards if possible.
Now that You know what your market is, what your game needs to adjust to fit in that market, who are your competitors and how are you going to beat them with your unique features, and most importantly you’ve documented all of this in a professional document called Market research, it’s time to evaluate your market research. Look at the amount of work you need to do to succeed in the market and take a look at your resources and what you can do as a team (or a solo dev, I’m not judgin’) and ask yourself "Can I achieve this?" And if yes, how many hours/days/weeks/months/years do I need to perfect this game. This will probably be a guess based on your experience, but whatever you guessed, double that. So, if you guessed two weeks, you’ll probably need four weeks AT LEAST. You never know what might happen and there are millions of situations that could delay the development process.