Why Do Mobile Gaming Apps Cost so Much More to Build Compared to Other Apps?

The following is a guest post by ChopDawg.com, an award-winning app development company that has worked with over 180+ startups and companies from all around the globe, helping them bring their web apps, mobile apps, wearable apps and software ideas to life.

Follow ChopDawg.com on Twitter at @ChopDawgStudios.


When guiding entrepreneurs through the costs of developing a mobile gaming app, no one is surprised that the cost is more than any other app. What they are shocked about is just how much more it costs compared to the traditional app. By traditional app, I’m talking about almost anything else other than games such as social, finance, messenger, anything.

So why do games cost so much more to build than other apps? It’s because games by default require much more complex programming, design, and planning. However, the range of costs for developing a mobile game is vast. What I advise entrepreneurs to keep in mind is that while there are upfront costs for making mobile games, there sometimes can be high maintenance costs as well.

Choosing your operating system: iOS or Android?

Whether you decide to go with iOS or Android will heavily affect your overall development expenses.

Adding payment integration and administration systems in Apple devices are about 10-20% more costly than for Android devices. However, Android development costs can be a lot more if you want your game to be compatible with older versions and phones.

So what are the estimated cost ranges?

Simple Android or iOS Game – $25k to $50k
Small Android or iOS Game – $50k to $80k
Medium Android or iOS Game – $80k to $120k
Large Android or iOS Game – $120k – $250k
Very Large Android or iOS Game – $250k – $1MM+

The initial costs will vary depending on the type of mobile game

Simple Mobile Games: While I say that these games are “simple,” that’s a bit misleading. These are single-player games that fit any genre, and they tend to be more casual. A user can pick it up at any time these games often include repetitiveness and a lack of finality. They have 2D graphics and possess limited functionality. Think about a simple puzzle game. Users can access additional features through in-app purchases, such as extra lives. And even simple games today are pairing friends using social features.

Typically, these types of games cost around $50,000 at a minimum.

But some complexities will add to the costs. A game like Flappy Bird has a different level of complexity than something like Angry Birds.

When adding in rich visuals, the costs can mount even for simple games. Angry Birds cost $140 million to make, although its revenues have made up this cost many times over. These games may look simple but require a sophisticated logic to run.

There are also costs that come with simplicity to design a simple UI/UX that anyone from a 6-year-old to an 80-year-old can understand will require planning and ingenuity.

Complex Games: Let’s go over two examples of complex games that are very different from each other: HQ Trivia and Monument Valley.

HQ Trivia is a free app for your smartphone that holds a “live trivia game show” twice a day If you get all 12 questions right, you win or split a predetermined pot of money with other winners, which can be hundreds or thousands of dollars in cash. If you lose one question, you’re out of the game, but you can still watch the remainder of the show.

Games like HQ Trivia take the characteristics of a social network, banking apps, SaaS apps, financial apps, live streaming apps, and e-commerce apps and roll it into one. While HQ Trivia is disguised as a game, there is so much more to it.

Monument Valley is an isometric 3D puzzler that has a beautiful visual design and some complex game mechanics. The developer of Monument Valley, ustwogames, has been very transparent on the costs of producing the game.

Games are all of the multi-faceted aspects of app development combined into one. Even the most simplistic ideas will require these sophisticated elements and developers that are capable of mixing all of these things together.

What users see on the surface is a game, but under the hood, you’re combining the characteristics of many different types of apps. The game is the purpose of the app, but a gaming app has the aspects of social networking, banking, SaaS, B2B, and e-commerce apps; all rolled into one.

You are taking many different apps, rolling it into one, and disguising it as a game and other revenue generating functions such as ads.

Keep in mind, even though the cost is higher, there are significant profit opportunities for games

The investment is higher, but the returns are more direct. Just look at the top grossing apps on App Annie, the bulk are games. A game may cost more to develop but with monetization built in you can have a high return on investment.

Additionally, I see some opportunities to use Dynamic Pricing strategies for games, although it’s something that you need to be careful with. For example, Zynga fumbled big time when they went all-in with dynamic pricing with their highly profitable game CSR Racing 2. In their experiment, they priced the same downloadable content $4.99, $14.99, or $34.99 depending on who was buying it and when. They had to issue a public apology. So be careful when experimenting with your pricing.

Here are some monetization strategies that can make money for your game:

In-app currency. See how you can integrate cryptocurrency into this because that’ll be the standard in the near future.

Ads. Don’t just use one ad network, though. Make sure that you are allowing multiple ad networks to compete to make you more money. Also, make sure that the ad network that you use is only showing high-quality ads. Finally, the rule of the thumb here is that if ads ruin the user experience, they’re not worth it.

-Paying for extra playing time, extra lives, etc.

-You can also price your game a flat-rate. That way you have your base without having to rely on ads, and then you can expand your revenue base with microtransactions.

-In-game products for extra perks such as more armor

So how should you get started?

I would recommend starting with something simple and moving up for there. Develop a fan base and then move onto more complex games. If you want to make something more complicated, what I would start with is one level that you can demonstrate as a demo to develop interest and get feedback. You could also add new levels in the future as a point of monetization.

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