Farmers & Sharks: how mobile development has changed

Farmers and vision

When developing video games for console or PC, there is a long duration of development followed by a release, in recent generations this has also included some support via patches and DLC, but the majority of a game’s development is done in a single cycle.  Whether it monetizes well or not is dependent on the strength of the game developer’s vision, and whether or not their design intention is realized in the final product.

In other words there is a finite amount of change developers can do after release to alter their product.  This is not only a matter of feasibility but also one of philosophy.  Developers focus on a development cycle which begins and ends like the seasons.  In this way, traditional game developers are like farmers, who cultivate a product and when it comes time to harvest, they ship their fruit to the world, earning revenue based on the product they ship.

This method of development while featuring its own dirty secrets such as work-life balance destroying “crunch periods” of excessive overtime, has the benefit of having an end.  This also serves the games themselves because it forces focus on the part of the developer, to deliver a concise product.

When price per install becomes free to play

When mobile game development began with the earliest apps, games were developed in much the same manner, mobile games were; built, tested, approved, released, and sold with a price per install as a product.

However, when profits began to wane developers didn’t know what to do next, once a player had monetized to purchase the game there was little more they could do to earn money.  Increasing the price of the game would render the developer less competitive, and some developers began scrapping the price per install altogether in favor of ad revenue for a constant source of income.

With this came the “free-to-play” model of game which cost nothing for the player to install and could be played for free, with the catch of featuring pesky advertisements.  When this didn’t prove to be enough to allow for developers to grow they started introducing in-app purchases, which allowed the player to obtain rare or unique items, gameplay boosters, and / or additional mechanics, using in-game currency.

Sharks and hunger

Just like that, mobile developers were no longer developing products, but developing games as a service.  Games as a service tap into the psychology of deeply tying theme to demographic in a way that borders on stereotype instead of consumer knowledge, compulsive spending behaviors to ensure that players who spend continue to spend, and methods of retaining users to maintain an audience to consume each new release of content.

This shift from focusing on vision to feeding the need for revenue via constant content pushes has changed mobile developer from farmers into sharks.  Ferociously seeking new means of growth and ways to remain relevant in a fast paced and overcrowded marketplace, mobile development, as it exists now, only rewards those who can survive in this fierce environment.

As opposed to creating a game as a whole experience, free-to-play games have suffered the fate of having their experiences cobbled together from half-baked ideas of disconnected mechanical systems and monetization experiments. The good intentions of developers, in this model, are never given the chance to be fully realized due to the constant demand to release new content to a game ad-infinitum.


Have you noticed this difference between the console video game experience as a whole vs video games which continue to develop new content and release it regularly? Do you believe there are benefits of using one model over another? I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to

Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.





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