What can esports developers learn from mobile games?

While you can’t “create an esport”, many developers are now trying their hardest to create a game with a competitive scene, an attractive proposition for a game studio or publisher as esports success for a game can promise an opportunity for near-limitless cash and a strong community.

But, while developers of AAA titles or indie curios might struggle with trying to create a digital alternative to Netball, many of the principles and strategies already accepted as best practices in the mobile games industry could be beneficial for studios looking to create competitive games.

If you’re a game developer looking to try and ensure you’re doing the best job you can to create a competitive scene for your game, here are things you can learn from mobile developers.

Constant Iteration

Competitive games require near-constant support, with a full-time team testing, balancing and iterating in order to produce the most fair and balanced game for teams to play on.

It’s unique to digital sports, because no one is releasing Football 7.2 to change the meta around kicking a ball up and down a pitch, but the closest discipline is mobile games, an industry that has adapted to produce games as a service, providing constant updates, tweaks and fixes to an eager audience.

Here, developers should be looking to ape mobile’s constant iteration, especially early on when a game’s nascent competitive scene is at it’s most delicate.

Free-to-play is a good thing

Many of the biggest mobile games in the world are free-to-play, and it’s a model that most of the big esports monoliths have adopted too, with many having no financial barrier to entry, with the games propped up largely via microtransactions.

The benefits to opting for a free-to-play model, if you have the money to float it, is that it lets anyone that’s tempted to take a swing at the game, allowing you to try and tempt genre fans in, but also making sure your competitive games own Pelé isn’t put off by a £20 price tag.

Microtransactions are a dirty word for gamers, however as long as microtransactions aren’t upsetting that delicate balance of play and offering an advantage to those with cash to spend and takes the form either of new — equally balanced — heroes to play as or cosmetic items for the game, a big audience will buy these items, while those without a lot of cash to spend will still get to enjoy a fun core experience.

Keep it simple

Simplicity is everything in mobile games, and as many esports get harder and harder to understand for the casual observer, it’s worth considering how literate with the game your spectators will have to be.

Esports is unusual because, unlike Football, Rugby or Basketball, those watching the game often need to understand minute details to pick up who is winning, why they’re winning and how that is shifting, often imperceptibly, as the game plays out.
Simple is good because it’s easy to watch for people who aren’t players, but simple is also great for encouraging people to pick up the game for the first time. That doesn’t mean there’s no complexity to the game, just that you can add depth without asking people to learn build orders or how to stack jungle camps just to understand what’s occurring during a professional map.

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