Flap happy: How you too can become a mobile games mogul

Flappy Fish screengrab Flappy Bird's success has spawned a plethora of similar games developers can create from templates

Flappy Bird, the mobile-phone game that was making as much as $50,000 (£30,000) a day for its developer before he pulled it from online stores, took one man just two or three days to write.

Technology of Business

It shows that there's still a place in the £40bn video games industry for independent makers, or indies, working alone.

And it's easier than you may think to build your own game that could potentially become a global hit, thanks to a growing number of marketplaces for off-the-peg games templates.

It turns out you don't even have to know how to write a single line of code to make a living selling mobile games on sites like Apple's App Store or Google's Play Android store.

Code marketplaces, like Binpress, Apptopia, Chupamobile and CodeCanyon, are offering game templates for a few hundred pounds.

These templates provide the program code required for a basic game, which buyers then flesh out by adding their own graphics, music and overall theme to make an app which is ready to be sold.

'Swipe to slice'

These types of games are usually offered as free apps, generating money through advertising included in the game. Even the code to display the ads, which are provided by online advertising networks, is included in the game template, so the buyer needs only add an account number with each network to start earning money.

"What you are buying with a template is a simple game mechanic - something like pressing on the screen to shoot something, or swiping the screen to slice," says Jonathan Kay, one of the founders of US-based code marketplace Apptopia. "That forms the basis of your app."

Buyers of a "swipe to slice" template could then create a fruit-slicing game similar to the popular Fruit Ninja app, or something with a different theme, like slicing the heads off leaping zombies, he says.

Apptopia games templates You can buy off-the-peg game templates from online marketplaces like Apptopia

"If you have some design skills, then the only programming experience you need is knowing how to drop the graphics you create into the code."

"There are definitely still opportunities for independent developers in the mobile market because the barriers to entry are much lower," says Richard Wilson, chief executive of Tiga, the UK games industry association.

"People are not prevented from developing their own mobile games in the way that they are prevented from developing for games consoles," he adds.

'Tap to flap'

Games for Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox consoles can cost tens of millions of pounds to make and involve teams of 300 or more developers.

Templates enable entrepreneurs to create "copycat apps" that cash in on the latest app trends. Currently there is a plethora of Flappy Bird-like templates with names like Flappy Penguin, Flappy Crocodile and Flappy Fish, all explicitly offering similar "tap to flap" mechanics.

Jonathan Kay, Apptopia You do not need programming experience to create a mobile game, says Apptopia's Jonathan Kay

Since so many games are similar, good graphic design can make all the difference between success and failure, Kay believes.

"There is definitely a correlation between good design and how long people use an app - 40% to 50% of apps get deleted within 45 seconds of being downloaded," he says. "But good design buys your app extra time when it can earn advertising revenue."

Another key to an app's success, Mr Kay believes, is the ease with which it can be found in online app stores.

"App store optimisation - choosing the right game title, keywords and so on - is incredibly important," he says.

Translating these keywords into other languages is also crucial, he adds.

"If someone in Korea feels like shooting some flying pigs and you have a shooting flying pigs app but haven't translated your keywords into Korean then they are simply not going to find it."

Start Quote

"If you bought the right template and produced a game with a cute, ski-ing flappy kitten with 1980s-style graphics it would probably do rather well”

End Quote Jaime Enriquez Inode Entertainment
Game economics

There's a more fundamental reason why so many apps are derivatives of each other: the short shelf-life of most mobile games makes it hard to create original games profitably, according to Jaime Enriquez, founder of games company, Inode Entertainment.

"When I started I developed a bunch of games from scratch, and that cost me about $10,000 per game. But the economics just didn't work," he says.

"Now I buy a game template for $500, change the theme and maybe add a feature or two, and end up with a game that could generate $10,000."

As well as enabling Mr Enriquez to create games at a far lower cost, templates allow him to get them to market quickly, often in a matter of days - important when popular themes can change by the week.

And with Google and Apple app stores both taking 30% of revenues, high download volumes are essential if indie mobile developers are to make money.

Game templates before and after A basic game template for mobile can be adapted to create a different feel

"If you understand the trends, that's probably 80% of what you need to succeed," he argues. "The other 20% is buying the right template."

So what's trending right now in the mobile app world?

Mr Enriquez says that apart from Flappy Bird clones, popular themes include winter sports, pixel art and cute-looking animal characters.

"If you bought the right template and produced a game with a cute, ski-ing flappy kitten with 1980s-style graphics, it would probably do rather well," he concludes.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    IAG PROFITS Breaking News

    British Airways and Iberian airlines owner International Airlines Croup reports pre-tax profits of 155m euros (£123m) for the last six months, compared with a loss of 177m euros a year earlier.


    Office services business Rentokil Initial said its half year profits rose 38.9% to £66.8m.

    US ECONOMY 06:59: Radio 5 live

    More from Terry Savage on the US economy. She says the US Federal Reserve policy of quantitative easing "has created all of this money... and all that money has not gone into, so far at least, good paying jobs or homebuilding. It's gone into the stock market and... made the rich a lot richer."

    PORTUGAL BANK 06:47: BBC Radio 4
    Woman outside BES

    Bill Blain from Mint Partners tells Today Portugal's government has a tough decision to make on BES: "Does it bail it out as 'too big to fail', or does it stand back and let the bank sort itself out? Many want the debt holders to pay the cost of this."

    TOUGH MUDDER 06:36:
    Man leaping

    The Today programme likes a natter with a company boss of a Friday morning. Today's is Will Dean from Tough Mudder. People pay him £100 to spend time on an obstacle course - jumping, swimming, crawling through mud and so forth. Why? "It's not a race its a challenge. It's about team work over 12 miles. Its a set of individual challenges to test you mentally and physically." Fine.

    PORTUGAL BANK 06:28: BBC Radio 4

    Shares in Banco Espirito Santo lost 42% yesterday after the bank announced a loss of 3.6bn euros (£2.8bn). Bill Blain from chief strategist at Mint Partners tells Today this is "Deeply concerning for all bankers looking at Europe. It's [Europe] had 450bn of new capital to sort out the relationship between sovereign debt and the banks. What the Banco results show shows is the bank remained a piggy bank for the family".

    US ECONOMY 06:15: Radio 5 live

    The US releases jobs data later today - GDP figures earlier this week showed the US economy growing strongly. Expectations are that another 230,000 jobs could have been added to the US economy in July and that the unemployment rate may - we'd stress the may here though - have fallen below 6%.

    US ECONOMY 06:07: Radio 5 live

    US financial expert and businesswoman Terry Savage tells Wake Up to Money the US economic recovery is still difficult to read: "It's kind of a glass half full/half empty kind of thing. Different parts of the economy have picked up, particularly consumer spending on autos and other big items," she says. "It's not what we would call a booming economy . It's just so much better than what we have had for the last few years."

    06:01: Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    In a short while we'll have results from William Hill and British Airways owner IAG trading updates. And we'll have an eye on everything else that's going on. bizlive@bbc.co.uk @bbcbusiness.

    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. So what's happened overnight? Well the World Trade Organisation has failed to agree a global customs deal.... again. But manufacturing in China grew at its fastest pace in more than two years in July, according to the latest figures.



From BBC Capital


  • A woman sits on a bed in a scene from Gustav Deutsch's latest film about Edward Hopper's paintingsTalking Movies Watch

    How film-maker Gustav Deutsch brought Edward Hopper’s paintings to life

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.