Making the Move from AAA to Mobile: Tips for Starting Out

The mobile market has become very popular thanks to the rise of casual gamers and the accessibility of smart phones. This in turn has given developers a new market to target besides the AAA. 


But switching to such a different market can be difficult. Recently Gordon Walton gave a presentation on the very subject at Casual Connect and we had a chance to ask him a few questions on the subject.

Gordon Walton has been authoring games and managing game development since 1977. He is currently President of Art & Craft Entertainment, Inc., a mobile and web game company focused on experiences that create and nurture communities.


Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of developers leave the retail or AAA space to move to Indie and mobile development. In your opinion, what trends or popular reasons have led this movement?

The immense audience that mobile and web represents dwarfs the potential of the AAA traditional distribution and publishing partners.  We’ve seen single games have revenue and drive company valuations in excess of $1b.  This opportunity is reflected by those investing in game companies.


The demands and marketing strategies are certainty different between the mobile and AAA space. Have you noticed any major missteps that developers make when designing a mobile game after being in the AAA space?

My experience is that changing game platforms always requires a learning curve for developers, in all aspects of developing and taking a game to market.  Discovery and driving customer installs in mobile is particularly challenging at this point in the development of the medium, with no easy answers.  Most AAA developers come from games that are sold at retail for an upfront price and a lot of design assumptions are baked into that business model.  Moving to free-to-play has a pretty significant learning curve, and this is where I believe we see most of the initial missteps.


When Epic Games went into mobile development, they had to learn the differences with the new market

The way players play on a given device is often quite different, for example PC/Console gamers often have longer play sessions, while mobile players tend to have very short play sessions.  The types of games that work best on each platform can be quite different because of this.  Combine these with the changes required to successfully market and sell games from AAA to mobile, and you realize that much of a AAA developers “muscle memory” is not valid for the mobile platform, meaning they will have to go through a re-education process that might take one or more games before they begin to achieve mastery of this new platform.


And continuing from that point, AAA marketing has gotten more bombastic over the years with multi million dollar campaigns aimed to gain awareness of titles. How does marketing your game change when you are on the mobile platform?

I haven’t marketed a game on mobile yet, but we certainly don’t have multi-million dollar budgets to throw at a mobile game.  I do think we see more organic growth of hit games on mobile, where they start small and the most grow to major hits over several months, rather than massive launches backed by serious media buys.

In terms of market popularity, the AAA market has been dominated by first person shooters for over five years and we’re starting to see a trend of developers looking at MOBAs. For the mobile market, what genres are currently popular for developers to look at for their next game?

It’s still relatively early in the mobile market, so while some genres are clearly doing great, I believe there will be a wider array of games still to come as developers master the medium and the audience appetite matures.  I don’t know that we’ve seen all the dominant genres yet for mobile.


Monetization and DLC are current trends throughout the Game Industry with many developers looking at it for their next games. Does the use of DLC and monetization change at all when talking about AAA development vs. mobile?

Sure, but this is all over the map, and very dependent on the type/genre of game involved.  Clearly right now FTP is driving more revenue that paid game apps in mobile, but everything is still subject to evolution in my view.

As AAA developers move to mobile development, they are obviously taking their expertise and know how to the new market. Are there any qualities or skills that a AAA developer could have to make the transition any easier?

I think the willingness to go “back to school”, and remember that your former mastery is not fully applicable is key.  Learning from the masters of this medium, while being open to the possibility of bringing something new to this medium is very exciting.

And lastly, the mobile market like social games experienced a boom thanks to the surge of casual gamers. But we’ve already seen the social game market crash somewhat and many developers are worried about going all in when it comes to the mobile market in fear of the same thing. In your opinion, where do you view the viability of mobile when comparing it to the AAA in light of these worries?


The social game’s overuse of monetization was one of the causes of the crash and something mobile developers are trying to avoid.

We have only ourselves (and Facebook) to blame for the social game plateau.  The focus on pure monetization versus delivering value to/entering into a relationship with consumers created an inevitable backlash from the consumers, many of whom seem to have abandoned social games due to their experiences.  We’re in the entertainment business first and people that are entertained can and will become loyal, paying customers.  But only if they perceive value.

Thank you for taking the time out to answer these questions

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