A Deep Dive into Studios Game Developers Work for

The nature of professional game developers’ work can vary depending on the type of studio they work for. In this chapter, we will explore the profile of developers working for different types of game studios, focussing on their experience, roles, and technology choices. 

For the first time in the latest edition of our Developer Nation survey, we asked professional game developers to describe the type of game studio they work for. The modern game development space has stratified itself into several different studio types, and within these studios, the types of tools and technologies used can vary significantly. Further to this, the profile of developers also shows differences between studio types.

We break down professional game developers as belonging to the following studio types:

  1. Game publishers, who outsource most of their development;
  2. Large-scale studios that develop and self-publish a collection of games;
  3. Third-party developers who work on various games from different publishers;
  4. Indie studios that publish and develop a small number of games

Here’s what we found

Game developers may be equally spread among different studio types, but we observe some important differences in their profiles. Developers with 3-5 years of experience are most commonly found in all types of studios except third-party developers; for this type of studio, their team is most likely to have 1-2 years of experience. Those with more than 11 years of experience in game development make up only a small portion of the general game developer population (11%) but have a much higher representation at indie studios (20%). 

The most experienced developers in the industry can choose where they work. They may be choosing to work for indie studios due to greater creative control over projects or a preference for working within small teams, now rarely found in AAA development. They may also make personal decisions to work for studio types that are less likely to be involved in ‘crunch’.

“Developers at Indie studios are twice as likely to be highly experienced – 16 or more years under their belts – than those working for other studio types”

Mid-career game developers–those with 6 to 15 years of experience–make up more than a third (37%) of the developer workforce in large-scale studios, compared to only a quarter (24%) among professional game developers in general. The scope and complexity of the properties that large-scale studios work on may drive demand for more experienced developers. Despite this, the most experienced developers still more frequently choose indie studios, indicating that the previously suggested factors may outweigh the offers large-scale studios can make to these developers.

Of the many roles game developers may hold, we consider game designers, artists, UI designers, programmers, and QA engineers as the ones that consumers would likely identify with game development and are often the ‘core’ roles for producing games. Differences in studios can be seen by the different percentages of developers identifying themselves with these roles. Those who self-identify as programmers account for 39% of those working for indie studios, which is significantly higher than the professional game developer average (24%). 

Similarly, the proportion of developers working for indie studios describing their roles as either game designer (46%), artist (27%), or UI designer (14%) is nearly double that of the population average, 23%, 15%, and 8%, respectively. The proportion of these roles between studios makes sense, considering the nature of development within these types of studios. Indie studios are typically smaller than other studios, with 66% of indie developers working for companies with up to 20 employees, compared to only 43% and 34% of developers working for game publishers and third-party studios, respectively. This can lead to more employees in a studio being directly involved in game design and development.

“Third-party studios have twice the proportion of developers in test roles compared to other game studios”

A counter-example can be seen with QA engineers, who are twice as prevalent in third-party studios (10%) compared to the population average (5%). Third-party studios having a larger proportion of QA engineers corresponds to their role in development cycles. These studios do a lot of development in-house, often work on larger projects, and can undertake contract work for larger studios, all of which require dedicated QA departments.

Further differences between game studios can be found in the choices of game engines. Unity and Unreal Engine are the most used game engines, with 33% and 15% of game developers using them as their primary engines, respectively. However, among developers who work for indie studios, these two game engines account for 48% and 20% of developers, compared to less than 28% and 12% for developers at other studios. Both engines are widely used and popular, with Unity being the most used engine for all studio types, but they have specific business and technical aspects that appeal to indie developers.

Why Developers use Unity

Due to its flexibility and ease of use, Unity was the common choice for indie developers when the scene emerged. This has led to a large online community and marketplace to support indie developers with tutorials, assets, and customised libraries. Unreal Engine is also popular amongst indie developers with it being considered one of the most powerful out-of-the-box engines and having a licensing structure that doesn’t require royalties to be paid until a game makes more than $1 million in revenue. The difference in popularity between the two game engines for indie developers likely lies in the availability of assets in the Unity store. Unity Asset Marketplace has over 77,000 assets and tools, compared to Unreal Marketplace’s 22,000, allowing small indie studios to offset development time with ready-made assets and tools.

“Unity and Unreal Engine are the most popular engines for game developers, with particularly high adoption by developers at indie studios”

Unity and Unreal have many tools and utilities but are not capable of performing every possible aspect of game design. In contrast, in-house or custom tools allow developers to focus on working with engines designed around the specific requirements of their games, as well as develop tools to optimise both development and performance. Amongst the large-scale and third-party studios, the second most popular engine choice is the use of either an in-house or proprietary engine–16% and 12%, respectively. These studios have the resources, time, and business motivation to focus on developing their engines. Use amongst large-scale developers is further incentivised by allowing assets and developers to move between projects more seamlessly, with a greater familiarity with the engine.

Engines Game Publishers prefer

Game publishers have a similar level of resources and time, but their in-house engines are often pivoted to commercial engines. Unreal Engine was developed by publisher EpicGames, Source from Valve, and RedEngine from CDProjektRed. Among game publishers, the engines initially developed by a publisher but are no longer in-house, make up another 15% of primary engine choices.

Less than 5% of developers working at indie studios use in-house engines; instead, Godot is the next most common engine choice. Godot is an open-source game engine that has built a strong community of developers around it. It has created supporters due to its dedicated 2D engine and its Python-like language GDScript which accommodates many Python users worldwide and is especially popular among student developers. The open-source nature of the engine also means indie developers do not have to worry about licensing or subscription changes, reducing financial demands and worries. 

Access research reports that highlight key current and emerging development trends, expertly narrated by our analysts, based on the data from our global surveys by joining the community. Click here to join


A Definitive guide to Game UI for enhanced Gaming experience

If you ever wondered how game designers come up with placement and immersability of assets such as health meter and mission progress without them hindering game play, this article is for you. Like websites or mobile apps, video games have common UI components that help players navigate and accomplish goals. In this article you’ll discover the four classes of game UI and how as a game designer you can utilise them to provide for the best possible gaming experience.

Sixty years ago the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY held an open house. Visitors who toured the lab were treated to an interactive exhibit, a game titled Tennis for Two. The setup was simple—a 5-inch analog display and two controllers, each with one knob and one button. The world’s first video game was born, but after two years, the exhibit was closed.

Twelve years passed, and an eerily similar arcade game showed up in a bar called Andy Capp’s Tavern. The name of the game? Pong. Its maker? Atari. Seemingly overnight, the burgeoning world of video games was transformed. Novelty became an industry.

Since Pong, the complexity of video game graphics has evolved exponentially. We’ve encountered alien insects, elven adventures, and soldiers from every army imaginable. We’ve braved mushroom kingdoms, boxing rings, and an expanding universe of hostile landscapes. While it’s fun to reminisce about the kooky characters and impossible plot lines, it’s also worth discussing the design elements that make video games worth playing—the UI components.

Like websites or mobile apps, video games have common UI components that help players navigate, find information, and accomplish goals. From start screens to coin counters, video game UI components are a crucial aspect of playability (a player’s experience of enjoyment and entertainment). To understand how these components impact the gaming experience, we must quickly address two concepts that are vital to video game design: Narrative and The Fourth Wall.


Narrative is the story that a video game tells. Consider this as your video game character storyline.

The Fourth Wall

The Fourth Wall is an imaginary barrier between the game player and the space in which the game takes place.

Narrative and The Fourth Wall provide two questions that must be asked of every UI component incorporated into a game:

  1. Does the component exist in the game story?
  2. Does the component exist in the game space?

From these two questions, four classes of video game UI components emerge: Non-diegetic; Diegetic; Spatial; and Meta.


  • Does the component exist in the game story? No
  • Does the component exist in the game space? No

Non-diegetic UI components reside outside of a game’s story and space. None of the characters in the game, including a player’s avatar, are aware that the components exist. The design, placement, and context of non-diegetic components are paramount.

In fast-paced games, non-diegetic components may interrupt a player’s sense of immersion. But in strategy-heavy games, they can provide players with a more nuanced assessment of resources and actions.

Non-Diegetic components commonly appear in video games as stat meters. They keep track of points, time, damage, and various resources that players amass and expend during gameplay.

In Super Mario Bros. 3, the stat meter is non-diegetic because it exists outside of the game world and story (characters within the game don’t know it’s there).


  • Does the component exist in the game story? Yes
  • Does the component exist in the game space? Yes

Diegetic UI components inhabit both a game’s story and space, and characters within the game are aware of the components. Even though they exist within the game story and space, poorly considered diegetic components are still capable of distracting or frustrating players.

Scale makes diegetic components tricky. For instance, an in-game speedometer that resides on a vehicle’s dashboard will likely be too small for players to see clearly. In some games, handheld diegetic components (like maps) can be toggled to a 2-D, full-screen view, making them non-diegetic.

In the demolition racing game Wreckfest, cars are diegetic UI components. Over the course of a race, they take on visible damage that indicates how near a player is to being knocked out of competition.


  • Does the component exist in the game story? No
  • Does the component exist in the game space? Yes

Spatial UI components are found in a game’s space, but characters within the game don’t see them. Spatial components often work as visual aids, helping players select objects or pointing out important landmarks.

Text labels are a classic example of spatial UI components. In fantasy and adventure games, players may encounter important objects that are unfamiliar in appearance. Text labels quickly remove ambiguity and keep players immersed in the gaming experience.

The American football franchise Madden has spatial UI components that help players select avatars and understand game scenarios.


  • Does the component exist in the game story? Yes
  • Does the component exist in the game space? No

Meta UI components exist in a game’s story, but they don’t reside in the game’s space. A player’s avatar may or may not be aware of meta components. Traditionally, meta components have been used to signify damage to a player’s avatar.

Meta components can be quite subtle—like a slowly accumulating layer of dirt on the game’s 2D plane, but they can also feature prominently in the gaming experience. In action and adventure games, the entire field of view is sometimes shaken, blurred, or discolored to show that a player has taken on damage.

The Legend of Zelda utilizes scrolling text (a meta component) to advance the narrative and provide players with helpful tips.

A very illustrative infographic summing up all 4 classes of video game UI components can be found below.

Classifying video game UI components isn’t always cut and dry. A life meter may be diegetic in one game but non-diegetic in another. Depending on a game’s narrative and its players’ relationship to the fourth wall, components may blur the line between classes. Likewise, an infinite range of visual styles and configurations can be applied to components according to a game’s art direction.


Where do game developers run their code?

The 21st edition of the Developer Nation global survey ran from June to August 2021 and reached more than 19,000 developers in 168 countries. Participants come from mobile, desktop, industrial IoT, consumer electronics, embedded, third-party app ecosystems, cloud, web, game, AR/VR, and machine learning as well as data science. We track developer experience across platforms, revenues, apps, languages, tools, APIs, segments, and regions. A while ago we covered how game developers make money. While a lot has happened since then, business models for game development have seen little change. Here we will focus on where game developers are deploying the code for their games and the technologies they’re leveraging to build their applications.

“More that half of game developers are writing code and deploying games for PCs and mobile devices”

The game development sector has long targeted on-device game deployment. More than half of all game developers are writing code and deploying games for the usual suspects: personal computers and mobile devices. The percentage of developers deploying code for PCs saw a slight increase to 58% in the last six months, indicating that gaming on PC hardware is still a thriving market. However, the proportion of developers creating games that run in the cloud saw a slightly larger percentage increase in the last six months, rising to 30%.

Cloud gaming is arguably one of the most foundationally innovative trends in the game development sector. The increased usage and availability of smartphones with high-speed internet connections has paved the way for game developers to deploy their code to a game-configured server instead of a downloadable, platform-specific version. With less game-specific content to download and similar performance to on-device versions, both gamers and companies stand to benefit greatly from cloud gaming.

“59% of professional game developers deploying games to the cloud use a multi/hybrid cloud strategy.”

Cloud developers can either work with a single public, private, or on-premises server, or they can devise a strategy that uses a combination of these server types. Our data shows that about 46% of game developers deploying their code to the cloud are now using a multi/hybrid cloud strategy. Further, we see a significant increase in multi/hybrid cloud deployment to 59% when we filter for professional game developers only. Though a multi/hybrid cloud strategy can be more complex, it’s a popular approach for game developers when tackling one of cloud gaming’s biggest issues: latency

Multi/hybrid cloud solutions are becoming more popular as companies look to reduce dependency on a single vendor and avoid vendor lock-in. There’s also a cost optimisation that’s associated with hybrid solutions, whereby companies can keep a steady amount of compute resources available on a private server, while engaging a public server for variable increases in resource requirements. 

“Backend technology usage in game development has risen by 56% in the last two years.”

Over the last 12 months, backend technologies have seen a massive increase in usage by game developers, making this the third most popular technology in game development, behind only 3D and 2D game engines. Backend technology use by game developers has almost doubled in this timeframe, from 11% to 21%. The growing trend of games being deployed in the cloud has partially fuelled the growth of backend technologies, especially among professional developers. 

Ad network usage has dropped from the fourth most used technology to the ninth most used. 

In the two years leading up to this last survey, ad networks had an average usage of about 27% among professional game developers. Usage has now dropped to 21%, a change that is in line with Apple’s recent update requiring iOS developers to ask users for permission to be tracked by third-party websites and other applications. A survey was conducted before the iOS 14.5 update that showed about 57% of users were either unlikely or extremely unlikely to allow tracking by an application. Restricting access to users’ Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) reduces the possibility of conversion tracking, meaning less revenue potential for the advertiser and publisher, making the revenue strategy less attractive. 

Ranking of technologies used by game developers 

Usage of backend technologies like game servers and orchestration tools have risen to 50% and 18% respectively among professional game developers. Game server technology is also evolving, with the emergence of dedicated multiplayer products like Agones that are built on the back of Kubernetes. The growth of both backend technologies and cloud gaming are interdependent and are impacting the methods by which professional developers are building games. The future of game development will leverage the advantages of cloud technology more often, requiring game developers with skills and experience in managing data across multiple servers.


Evolving technology helps game developers make money

Game economics are changing with streaming

Before gaming consoles hit the market in the 80’s, gamers had to visit the arcade and wait for a machine to be available for their turn to play. This created a sense of community and players watched more games than they played, especially if their supply of coins was low. The emergence of streaming is bringing this experience back and watching games has become its own form of entertainment. But how has it affected game developers?

What will working on game development look like in 2019 and beyond? Where should you brush up your skills? Take the Developer Economics survey and get to shape the future of game development.

One of the reasons Fortnite has become so popular is because it is so watchable. Streaming is creating a new channel for developers to promote their games and generate revenues. Gamers can actually watch experts play a game before trying it themselves. The trend is also bringing new capital into the space. Streamers can make big money attracting subscribers to follow them on their channels and sponsors are paying to promote to these audiences. Ninja, the most successful streamer, is reported to make $500,000 a month from his streams. While this revenue does not go directly to developers it does bring a new source of capital into the ecosystem, introducing new opportunities.

This new revenue source is helping spread more money across the industry. In the first half of 2017 only 29% of game developers were making more than $100 a month. In the first half of 2018 that jumped to 48%. While many factors may be influencing revenue growth, streaming is providing a new way to engage with video games, passively, providing opportunities to innovate new business models.

game developers generate more revenue

One dominant trend in game developer business models is that developers are focusing on a fewer number of them, and the more popular ones such as advertising and in-app purchases are getting significantly less popular. Presumably this is due to developers focusing only on revenue sources that are producing for their apps. However, the use of a few less popular approaches is growing. This can be traced back to a growing communal and collaborative environment in the gaming space. Symbiotic relationships are emerging among streamers, developers and gamers that are beginning to change the economics of the industry.

The challenge of developing a game and attracting users has proven too expensive for small developers so they are focusing on leveraging ecosystems and platforms that enable them to help each other instead of relying on launching their own game. Our data shows a small but steady increase in the

number of developers making money through selling services, assets and plugins to other developers. The communal effect fueled by streaming is also leading to increases in subscription games such as World of Warcraft which keep players engaged in the community. Developers are also making money through subscriptions to their own live streams of their development process.

As the rock stars of streaming create a new entertainment experience, development and streaming platforms are innovating new ways to provide opportunities. Twitch has launched extensions which enable viewers to engage with the game stream through web overlay extensions developed by third parties. Developers can create stats views or side games and split profits with the streamers who are attracting the audience. Unity content store is providing a channel for developers to deliver plugins to other developers, another channel for delivering game software. As games are passively consumed, it also provides more opportunity to sell merchandise. We are seeing an uptick in developers generating revenues this way.

Cryptocurrencies are another trend that is helping spread the wealth across the industry by enabling developers, streamers and gamers to make micropayments to influence behaviours. Gamers can tip streamers when they are entertained and developers can pay streamers to promote their games, all through cryptocurrencies. Bits, the cryptocurrency within the Twitch platform which allows viewers to tip streamers, generated $12 million in the service’s first 10 months.

game developers business models

Game developers are moving to the web

As developers promote and distribute games outside of app stores through streams, they are also moving to the web. This fact and the constantly improving performance of JavaScript is reducing the percentage of developers focusing on mobile, desktop and tablets.

As gamers congregate in communities around streamers, developers can reach these prospects without having to go through an app store. Moreover, smaller developer teams don’t have to build for each platform and can have more control of their app and engagement with their audience via the web. New Twitch extensions are also web based, providing a new product category for web developers.

The improving performance enabled by JavaScript JIT compiling engines and frameworks such as React are enabling web developers to create superior game performance over what was possible in the past. With greater performance and distribution options, it is not surprising that the web is becoming more popular with game developers.

game developers moving to web

As the opportunity to make money becomes more democratised, the chance for real innovation grows. When more resources are spread around the industry, fledgling ideas have the economic viability early on and stand a better chance to get out of the starting gate.

We are currently running another survey and we would value your input. If you’re a software developer working in the field of game development, or considering doing so, please consider answering the questions.  Plus, if you refer other developers to take the survey, you may win up to $1,000 in cash.


Top Game Development Tools: Pros and Cons

According to our survey, a surprisingly high [tweetable]29% of games developers are primarily building their apps without a third party engine[/tweetable]*. They have either written their own engines, or are building everything from scratch. Large games studios very often build their own engines and tools, or customise open source solutions to suit their own internal processes and workflow. However, two of the most popular developer segments going for this option are Hobbyists and Explorers. It doesn’t make much sense for part-time game developers, or even small studios, to spend a lot of time working on their own tools rather than building games. In this post I’ll take a look at some of the most popular tools they could be using instead.


Which are your favourite tools for games development? Let us know in our new Developer Economics Survey and you might win an Occulus Rift Pro and other hot prizes.

Unity – the people’s champion!


As developer tools go, Unity is incredibly successful. A massive [tweetable]47% of developers in our survey use Unity for some of their projects and 29% use it as their primary development tool[/tweetable]. This is not just Hobbyists taking advantage of the free licensing options, Unity is more popular with professionals in general and most popular with the Hunters (53% of them) who are trying to earn their living from the app stores.


Unity supports both 2D & 3D game development, which is quite unusual for a game engine. That said, Unity was really designed for 3D games with 2D support bolted on afterwards; the 2D features were initially just for building menus and other 2D screens needed in a 3D game, to avoid the need for an external tool. The features were quite generic and developers started building games with them; probably due to the broad cross-platform support. To their credit, Unity have supported this and continue to invest in the area.

Supported languages

Three development languages are officially supported: C#, UnityScript (basically JavaScript with type annotations) and Boo. The last of these, Boo is not widely used and probably best avoided. Given its name, you’d be forgiven for thinking that UnityScript is the main development language, it’s not. The Unity community has widely adopted C# and you’ll find the majority of plugins and examples use it. If you prefer JavaScript and only have a very simple project in mind then UnityScript is a good option. Once you start using plugins written in C# that potentially need to call back into your UnityScript you’ll find issues with compilation order and wish you’d gone with C# from the beginning.


Unity has a lot of great features:

  • Unity has a very strong community of asset and plugin creators – there’s lots of free and reasonable priced content available.
  • Unity’s visual editing tools are excellent and the editor can be extended with plugins.
  • It supports a wide range of asset formats and converts automatically to optimal formats for the target platform.
  • It supports a very wide range of platforms, mobile, desktop, web and console.
  • Deployment to multiple platforms is very easy to manage.
  • The 3D engine produces high quality results without any complex configuration (I’ve personally written a licensed game with Unity that Apple has featured in lots of countries).
  • There is a free license that covers the majority of features.
  • Paid licenses are very affordable for most professional developers, available on subscription for $75 per platform currently (some platforms are free).


There are a few issues which are worth considering before choosing to go with Unity:

  • Collaboration is difficult. Unity has an expensive asset server product to help teams collaborate. If you don’t use it, sharing code and assets between team members can be painful. The best option is to enable and use external source control but there are several binary files (which don’t need to be) that can’t be merged and updating assets often causes them to break things in scenes, losing connections to scripts and other objects.
  • Performance is not great – until very recently Unity ran almost entirely in a single thread and made almost no use of the extra cores in most mobile devices – this is improving in Unity 5. The compilers are not at all well optimised for the ARM processors in almost all mobile devices – Unity have decided to transpile to C++ and use LLVM to get a more optimised build rather than solve this problem directly in future releases.
  • The engine source code is not available. Even paying users don’t get to see the Unity source code, which means if you come across a bug in the engine you have to wait for them to fix it or work around it. It’s always going to be more critical for you than it is for them. This also limits the ways in which you can extend or customise the engine.

Overall, Unity is a great choice, particularly for solo developers who aren’t trying to push the limits of what the platforms can do.

Cocos2d – perfect for casual games


Cocos2d is, as the name suggests, a 2D games engine. It originated around the same time as the iPhone SDK and quickly switched to Objective-C, growing in popularity as the best free and open source option for mobile games. However, Apple released their own highly performance optimised 2D engine for Objective-C developers called SpriteKit. That, along with the rise of Android, has caused the focus of Cocos2d development to shift towards the cross-platform Cocos2d-x branch written in C++. The Cocos2d family of engines is the most popular open source option in the world, used by 19% of game developers in our survey and by 8% as their primary tool.

Supported languages

There are different versions of Cocos2d available in Objective-C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript and Ruby. As mentioned above, the C++ version is the most actively maintained, it also has the widest range of supported platforms. There are also scripting language bindings to the C++ version in both Lua and JavaScript, enabling developers to write in their preferred scripting language but get the full native performance of the underlying engine.


As with most thriving open source products, there’s a lot to like about Cocos2d:

  • Broad range of supported platforms, particularly mobile ones.
  • Free and open source (MIT license).
  • Wide range of extensions, tools and open source code available.
  • Lots of community created examples and learning resources.
  • Large peer support community.
  • Hardware accelerated graphics and good performance.
  • Audio support (in most versions).


Nothing’s perfect, here are a few issues with Cocos2d:

  • There’s no large commercial entity providing support and bug fixes. It’s great that you can fix it yourself, or hire someone who knows how. The community might even fix your issue for free but sometimes when a big project hits a bug or performance issue close to a deadline you just want to be able to pay someone to make it go away.
  • The APIs are somewhat unorthodox. The history of the project is such that it started in Python and moved to Objective-C very early. The Objective-C wasn’t exactly following standard practices and then that got ported to C++, retaining the Objective-C idioms.
  • It doesn’t do much to encourage good structure. Some developers like frameworks that don’t impose a style on their apps but Cocos2d goes a bit far. It’s possible to write code that’s hard to maintain in any system but it’s easy to find examples of Cocos2d games with really long functions and a lot of global state.

OK, the cons are nit-picking and more warnings that really negative points. After all, poorly structured code and unusual APIs are not exactly barriers to success. I’ve ported a game from iOS that was written with Cocos2d (the Objective-C version, before the C++ variant existed) and almost one giant method with tens of global variables. At one time it was the number 1 paid download on iOS in several countries. Cocos2d-x is an excellent choice for a 2D game.

Adobe AIR – what remains of Flash

Adobe AIR

In 2007 Adobe seemed to be winning the casual games runtime battle, with Flash having become the defacto standard for games on the web and Flash Lite almost ubiquitous on more advanced mobile devices. Then the iPhone came along and Steve Jobs said it wasn’t going to support Flash. This knife wound wasn’t immediately fatal but Flash has been slowly bleeding to death ever since. By 2011 Adobe eventually produced a version of AIR that compiled Flash to native iOS apps but by then the damage was done. Android initially supported Flash, poorly, in the browser but Adobe eventually gave in and stopped developing the browser plugin to focus on AIR. There are still a lot of Flash developers in the world, 15% of mobile game developers use it and 6% of them as their primary tool. It’s also still, just about, the only way to target rich gaming experiences to the majority of the world’s desktop web browsers. Adobe is now focussing on tools for HTML5 developers and Flash/AIR has not really evolved in a long time. Given this background, I won’t focus on detailed technical pros and cons as with the other tools.

Supported languages

Adobe AIR applications are developed in Flash, coded using ActionScript. There’s an integrated web view which can be targeted with HTML, CSS and JavaScript. It’s also possible to build native extensions for AIR apps, individually for each targeted platform.


Flash is still a capable environment for simple 2D games. If you already know Flash it’s one of the fastest ways to build a mobile game.


The platform is a dead end. I couldn’t recommend anyone who doesn’t already know Flash to learn it. Those who are fans of ActionScript but don’t like HTML5 should probably look at Haxe.

Unreal Engine 4 – the AAA king goes mass market


The Unreal Engine has a long history as one of the top 3D games engines for PC and console platforms. The 3rd generation of the engine supported mobile platforms but it was really only for hobbyist developers tinkering with their limited UDK or the multi-million dollar licensees of the engine for console games porting their titles to mobile devices. In March this year, Epic Games released the Unreal Engine 4 to anyone for $19/month plus 5% revenue share. This offering includes full access to the engine source code and their suite of tools. This change was not long enough before our survey was launched to see significant adoption by developers but 13% were using it with only 3% as their primary tool.

Supported languages

The Unreal Engine is written in C++ and that’s the only supported development language. However, it’s possible to do a lot of development without writing any code using Blueprints – a visual programming environment where nodes are connected with lines.


The Unreal Engine is AAA game quality:

  • Incredible performance. The Unreal Engine was demoed using Apple’s new Metal graphics interface at WWDC. It can produce the most realistic graphics ever seen on an iOS device. The same will be true for (high end) Android devices.
  • They have state of the art tools for all aspects of game development.
  • Full source access enables extension, customisation and engine bug fixing.
  • The pricing model is an excellent match for the high risks of failure on the App Store.


The Unreal Engine is designed for professionals:

  • Development is in C++, not a beginner friendly language.
  • The learning curve for the tools and engine is significant, greater than Unity.
  • The engine has limited support for older devices.
  • The pricing model is very expensive for a successful title, unless you expect significant success and use the engine under a different licensing model.

The Unreal Engine is an excellent option for high quality 3D games on high end mobile devices but it won’t be for everyone. I expect to see increasing adoption across the next couple of years. If you’d like a free 3D engine with scripting language support it might be worth checking out Project Anarchy by Havok. It’s effectively subsidised by Intel (owners of Havok) for mobile devices. There’s a co-marketing option in the license and you have to build an x86 variant if you build for Android (or Tizen, if that ever happens), otherwise it’s completely free, only the PC version is paid.

* Apple’s SpriteKit on iOS is actually a fully functional 2D game engine but as it’s part of the platform, developers may legitimately have said they were only using native code. If this is popular then it may significantly reduce the 29% figure.

Which are the best and worst aspects of each tool? Here’s your chance to have your say. Take the survey.

Business Platforms

Mobile Gaming And The Pyramid Of Scarcities

Distimo - App Revenue Distribution

According to Distimo’s latest report, apps with “freemium” business models, i.e. free apps monetized by in-app purchases (IAP), have dominated revenue charts in 2013. This spurred me to take a deeper look at the “economics of free” and explore new opportunities for innovation in these business models.

The Economics of Free

Let’s begin by taking a brief look at the “Economics of Free” or the “Economics of Abundance”, as described by Mike Masnick. Here’s a short, 2 minute video introducing the concept:

Economics is essentially a social science that examines the best possible way to allocate “scarce” goods or resources, i.e. ones with meaningful marginal cost and limited supply. However, digital goods like apps are abundant because the marginal cost of creating an additional copy is zero. Given the nature of near-efficient competition in the digital world, price naturally approaches the marginal cost of zero.

This explains the decline in popularity of paid app downloads and the decline of numerous traditional business models. However, cheap or free content allows developers to reach a much wider audience which consequently increases demand for related scarce goods or resources. In the music industry, the advent of digital music precipitated a steep decline in US recorded music sales from $14.6 billion in 1999 to just $6.3 billion in 2009, but concert ticket sales grew from $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion over the same timeframe. In other words, digital music converted a scarce resource (recorded music albums) into an abundant resource (cheap, easily downloadable singles), which then increased demand for a related scarce resource, i.e. concert tickets.

  1. Marginal Cost – Cost of producing an additional unit
  2. Efficient Competition – Participants do not have the market power to set prices

The Pyramid of Scarcities

This particular study focuses on scarcity-driven monetization opportunities available to developers of free-to-play (F2P) games like Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, etc. As shown in the image below, the scarcities created by F2P games can be segregated into 3 categories, in order of increasing scarcity (or decreasing availability)

  1. Induced Scarcity
  2. Scarcity of Goods
  3. Scarcity of Time or Access

Pyramid of Scarcities

1. Induced Scarcity

Induced scarcity is one that does not exist in reality, but is created artificially — for example, in-app purchases of digital goods. The availability of these goods isn’t really in question and therefore, the value placed on each purchase or transaction is quite low. Consequently, effective monetization depends on maximizing transaction volume from these low-value digital goods, i.e. micro transactions. This strategy is most effective when scarcity is induced because of direct player engagement, and not when it is forced onto players. Game design plays a critical role here as in-app purchases need to be naturally blended into gameplay elements. King’s games like Candy Crush Saga are perfect examples as players pay for boosters to help them progress through difficult levels. In fact, King’s revenue is expected to top $1 billion this year, almost exclusively driven by micro transactions on Facebook and mobile games.

However, exclusive use of this monetization strategy also brings up some challenges. King’s “Games Guru”, Tommy Palm, recently said that 70% of the players on Candy Crush Saga’s final level “haven’t paid anything”. While this is a great sign for consumers, King seems to be losing out on monetizing their most engaged players and biggest fans (excluding a minority population of “whales”). The only reason these players haven’t become paying customers is because they don’t consider digital goods to be scarce enough. The solution isn’t to create “paywall” equivalents, but to explore additional monetization opportunities with even scarcer products.

2. Scarcity of Goods

Scarcity of goods refers to physical products that have a tie-in with an F2P game — for example, branded or licensed merchandise. Since physical goods aren’t as abundant as digital ones, the value placed on each transaction is automatically higher. However, this comes with the trade-off of lower transaction volume. Rovio’s Angry Birds franchise is a great example of a successful merchandising strategy. Led by sales of Angry Birds plush toys, merchandising and IP sales made up 45% of Rovio’s $195 million revenue in 2012. This year, Hasbro sold over one millionTelepod” figures within a month of Angry Birds Star Wars II’s launch. This year, King also dipped its toe into merchandising with a range of Candy Crush themed candies and socks.

These products are likely to appeal to fans of F2P games even if they have never purchased digital goods. However, the biggest fans and most engaged players may be looking for something even scarcer.

3. Scarcity of Time or Access

Scarcity of time or access can be leveraged through a direct connection with the most ardent fans — for example, events like gaming competitions or conventions. Conventions tap into scarcity of time from key personnel like game designers, while social gaming competitions tap into scarcity of access to exclusive benefits and direct competition with other “superfans”. The monetization opportunity from events is likely to be immense, even though the actual frequency may be low.

So far, very few game developers have utilized this particular strategy — a related example from the non-F2P space is Mojang’s Minecraft Convention or MineCon. 7,500 tickets to the event sold out in roughly 5 minutes, generating roughly $1 million in revenue. This may seem like small change for large gaming companies, but it’s important to keep in mind that Mojang may view MineCon as more of a promotional event. Expanded ticket sales and advertising partnerships could easily make gaming events a significant revenue opportunity. Given the competition in allied industries like mobile hardware, there will certainly be no dearth of advertisers.

Opportunity for Innovation

The monetization opportunities outlined in this post show that the free-to-play mobile gaming industry still has a lot of room for growth. Most publishers have focused on just one of these strategies and I have no doubt that we will see more business model innovation from these companies as we move forward.

Having said this, these strategies are only useful for companies if their games remain popular. The gaming industry has proved again and again that companies cannot rest on the laurels of a single mega-hit. Therefore, developers need to focus on continuous innovation across a wide catalog of games. What’s most important is to ensure that players have fun. After all, isn’t that the entire point of playing games?

– Sameer

This post was originally posted in Sameer’s Tech-Thoughts blog – you can find the original article here.

Sameer is a business strategy professional with expertise in mobile ecosystems, asymmetric business models and disruptive innovation. Over the last 6 years, he has held various roles in strategy consulting, investment management, M&A and venture capital. During this time, he has developed a keen interest in the intersection between technology, innovation and business strategy. You can follow his work on his blog at Tech-Thoughts, on Twitter @sameer_singh17 or on LinkedIn.