2018 was something of a whirlwind year for the indie games developers that make up the mobile scene.
On the plus side, plenty such as Mountains and Ben Esposito showed that premium games can still work with titles such as Florence and Donut County; a welcome sight for those wanting to go against the grain in the name of art.
A less welcome sight, however, was that of common problems that continue to plague the community such as cloning, which reared its ugly head when Esposito found there to a bit too much in common between Donut County and Voodoo’s Hole.io.
But what of the year ahead? Will the gamble to innovate with premium games pay off or will be the realities of the market add pressure to go free? As ever, it’ll probably be a mix of both.
We’ve reached out to those who know best to get a lay of the land for 2019. Specifically, we asked our Indie Mavens:
What's your outlook for indie developers on mobile in 2019 and what industry trends do you see on the horizon?
I'm pretty sure 2019 will be the year of small one finger games more than ever. A lot of companies are trying to follow Voodoo's success and I'm pretty sure we'll see a few other studios making these kind of games emerge.
Also, I'll bet on the improvement of paid games sales. There's still a big audience for this market and I think a lot of indies will try to get back on it.
From a purely technical point of view, I see nothing that will come to be a revolution in mobile gaming over the next year.
I'm excited about the mobile games market of 2019. I think we will see some interesting direction for premium games; especially when it comes to storytelling and visual style.
Gris (PC and Switch, 2018) showed us all that visual style is going towards a more hand drawn and high-quality approach hand in hand with a beautiful story, the same goes for Sable (Steam, not released). I think we will see more of this on mobile platforms too.
Just look at Old Mans Journey (2017), Bury Me My Love (2017) and Florence (2018); all three mobile games that stand out visually with a hand-painted approach and a deep story.
I think just as Monument Vally set a new direction for clean vector and geometric styles for mobile games, the hand-drawn art style and deep story in the games mentioned above will be an inspiration for many indie developers on the mobile market.
I also think we will see more games released on Nintendo Switch and mobile at the same time, as the controls often work well on both platforms.
For indies, this could be a good way of getting the press aware from the Switch releases while reaching a broader audience on Google Play and App Store.
I’m slightly pessimistic about the year ahead for indie game devs on mobile.
There’s going to be a lot of fun little small games, pumped out by everyone, but mostly only visible from the big advertisers.Aaron Fothergill
It’ll be fun for the players in the short term at least as I agree with Pierre-Luc, there’s going to be a lot of fun little small games, pumped out by everyone, but mostly only visible from the big advertisers.
I’m not sure about there being an improvement in paid games sales, although I remain hopeful that the paid market will become a more sustainable niche again, especially for games that target the high-end devices. I still don’t think you’ll see an Android user paying for a game this year though. That might be a bit too optimistic.
Unfortunately, I do think we’ll lose a lot of smaller game devs from the market.
With the bigger publishers having the marketing budget to swamp any news output, there’s no real room for the little teams to get any visibility and without that, they’re just not going to get the downloads or sales.
So there’ll probably be a widening gap between the well funded larger teams and the hobbyist 'my first game' releases on the various stores as those of us in the middle become Uber drivers or spend more time on contract work to pay bills.
The only disruptive force I can see in mobile coming in 2019 will be the launch of a bunch of mobile streaming services that will all claim to be Netflix for games.
This opens up some new platforms for premium high-quality games that don't need to rely on monetisation so aggressively. Hopefully, those services will act like Netflix and start paying to have content developed for their services, which is good for studios.
I think Daniel is right that it would be good for indie studios if there are more 'Netflix for games' services, but there are caveats of course.
Services like those could make that premium market larger, and importantly, more accessible than it is now for indies.
I think services like these work because they are generally a good deal for consumers (as is Game Pass on XBox), so more and more people sign up to the service, and then they come to rely on those services to deliver their gaming entertainment, making that kind of content more central to their gaming experiences generally.
They grow because they are a good deal and they become a reputable and easy way to get access to good content like Netflix is today.
They can make the premium market more accessible for indie developers by aggregating the demand, in the sense that all those people interested in premium content are brought together under one payment plan and they come through the chokepoint of that service.
So suddenly to ship your premium game on the service can get you access to a very large subscriber base instantly. This is great for indies.
Stability like this would enable indies to explore more creative, wacky and unlikely ideas since the stability is ensured and you don't have to succeed each time.
The service can take the hit if the occasional game doesn't do well and in some ways the variety of content actually makes the service more attractive, so it's not necessarily a problem for them. That's great for creativity and the medium in general.
I think Netflix, and cable TV previously, enabled TV creators to explore and become more creative generally. So I expect that it would translate to games too.
If somehow a service like this could exist on mobile, this could help to alleviate the current power structures on mobile, i.e. the user acquisition model that only the big players or highly monetising games can utilise. I'd say these current power structures are generally bad for indies since we tend not to be great at monetisation or UA in general.
The caveat I'd add is that these services would also make us (the content producers) pretty unimportant on an individual level. Basically as a consumer you never really know much about the directors/producers of Netflix-owned content. You just know Netflix makes it.
That then means we are modularised and made pretty unimportant, so therefore you become more reliant on the service to pay your bills too.
So while I think these services could give us more stability, they would also take away the upside if your game takes off.
For games like Monument Valley, Rocket League or Stardew Valley, that would've been a huge loss for the creator, whereas, for the vast majority of us that don't have to break out hits in our back catalogue, the stability would be much appreciated.
You just don't get to have both the upside of a break-out hit and the stability of reliable income.