Book Review: Game Design Secrets By Wagner James Au

The mobile game industry is growing at a healthy rate year over year, and it doesn’t seem like it will plateau any time soon. It’s not a stretch to think that the world’s feature phone market will be entirely replaced with smartphones, opening its doors to indie developers and large publishers alike. But with over 100,000 games in the App Store alone, it’s tough for the average developer to make a game that stands out. That’s where Game Design Secrets by Wagner James Au comes in.

Game Design Secrets (GDS) breaks the game industry down into Facebook, Web and iOS games. This is helpful because these platforms are indicative of where the game industry is headed. Facebook is increasingly the social backbone of multiplayer games, while the web remains a dominant player due to its shear size and market penetration. Apple’s iOS has without a doubt changed mobile gaming and any discussion about the gaming industry would be incomplete without its own section.

For the purpose of this review, I’m going to largely stick to iOS because it’s the reason I bought the book and where I derived the most value, although much of what is discussed in the Facebook and Web sections is still very applicable and filled with helpful information. If you’re in the game industry, you’ll appreciate how the three sections work together to provide a well-rounded view of the game industry and where it’s headed.

So how exactly can this book help game developers?

For those looking to develop an iOS game, you’re probably looking at potential target markets to hit for your games. If that’s the case, GDS outlines some demographic research your company could take advantage of. For example, the top demographic for free-to-play is 25-35 for both males and females as they tend to spend the most money too. The most avid smartphone gamers are between the ages of 18-24 as 32 percent of men and women in that age range play games. Those gamers account for 16 percent of total revenue, making them a very lucrative market.

If you already have a game in the market, and you’re curious how well it’s doing, GDS has some interesting metrics that should give you some benchmarks. For example, your game should be targeting a 60 percent Day 1 retention rate. That means that 60 percent of your users are returning the next day to play. Less than 13 percent Day 1 retention means you need to do a lot work. If you’re curious what your game should be making in terms of revenue, consider that 63 percent of games on iOS make $10,000 or less over their Life Time Value (LTV), which is typically 6-8 months. If you’re lucky (and you have an amazing game), you could be among the 15 percent of games that make between $100,000 to $1M (LTV) or the 4 percent of games that make between $1M – $10M (LTV).

While GDS is packed with helpful information for potential and established game developers, it could have gone into more detail in some sections. For example, there are several places in the book that mention the need for Twitter integration in games but there is no data to support this claim. There are reports online that suggest only 30 percent of Twitter’s registered users are active and many are bots. The integration with Facebook makes sense as the social network drives traffic through the social graph but also its App Centre. It would be interesting to see some actual metrics on Twitter’s ability to drive downloads in order to separate hype from fact.

Overall, if you’re in the game industry or looking to get into the game industry, this book is packed with helpful resources. GDS has sections ranging from design to funding, spanning all the major gaming platforms (except console, which is looking increasingly outdated). For the price of the book, you’re getting a great amount of value and it’s definitely worth having in your library.

You can get a copy of Game Design Secrets here.

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