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Mobile Gaming: Will Indie Game Developers Thrive in 2020?

Is there a future for indie game developers to succeed? For some time now, there’s been speculation around there still being a place for indie developers to thrive with large studios further entering mobile. It’s an interesting topic as big brand titles like Gundam Battles, Pokemon Masters and Arena of Valor are competing head to head with indie studios for top app store rankings. Speculation aside, these are a few reasons why indie developers will continue to thrive in 2020, along with tips on how they can compete.

Indies Are Outranking Larger Brands

At the time of this writing, indie titles such as MotionVolt’s Flip Runner and Noodlecakes’ Farm Punks held the #6 and #5 spots in the Simulation and Action categories. Despite these being from indie studios, they are outranking brands like Electronic Arts’ FIFA Soccer (Simulation – #72) and Supercell’s Clash Royale (Action – #26). It goes to show that even smaller teams with great ideas can rise to the top and dethrone publisher-backed titles.

There’s More Money in Mobile Games

Newzoo in 2018 reported that the gaming market was worth close to $140 billion, with mobile gaming accounting for more than 50% of this. On top of this, the number of mobile gamers that pay has been continuing to rise meaning there’s more money in mobile gaming.

Monetization is key to helping a studio grow (and paying the bills). Whether deciding between an upfront cost, IAPs, ads or all the above, one thing is for sure: the money is there for indie developers.

Popularity Surrounding Indie Titles

When researching search-demand using the app store optimization platform DATACUBE, we found tons of popularity surrounding indie games. On top of Apple having a dedicated indie games category, search queries such as “indie games” and “free indie games” have high volume behind them. Additionally, indie titles like Donut County, ELOH and Simulacra are holding top rankings in Apple’s Puzzle, Music and Role-Playing categories respectively. In order to maintain a high category ranking, apps need to generate a high number of installs on an ongoing basis, which can be difficult without a large marketing budget, or a large demand from users organically. Looking at the high search volume, top-ranking indie games, and even Apple including a dedicated category, it’s clear that the demand for indie titles is great.

3 Ways Indie Developers Can Get Found on the App Stores

While it’s clear indie games are in demand, knowing how to get discovered isn’t. Here are three ways to help your game get discovered on the app stores.

1. When indexing an app for keywords, the App Store and Play Store algorithms crawl an app’s metadata for keywords to determine where to index it in organic search. Targeting the keywords related to your game and your users’ search queries could help you show up in search and get installed. This is why developers need to optimize their game’s store listings and metadata, including key terms to help their games show up in relevant search results. Developers can research keywords and marketing trends using an ASO platform.

2.   Running paid marketing can greatly complement your organic efforts. Depending on the platform your title is on, Apple Search Ads or Google UAC can be a great investment. This is because unlike featuring or editorial spotlights, these native ad platforms are baked into the App Store and Play Store ranking algorithms. What this means for devs is that if you perform well on a paid ad, you’ll also start to see an increase for your organic ranking on the same keyword, helping maximize your marketing spend’s efficiency. On top of this, your ad is placed at the top of organic search results which again is where the majority of traffic lies.

3.   In addition to optimized metadata, a game’s screenshots should appeal to users by showcasing its core gameplay. Developers should A/B test their creative to understand what converts users better. Screenshots should demonstrate features, gameplay, mechanics, graphics and so forth, using callout text and relevant imagery to highlight these aspects. Not only does this help show off your game, but it can also make the difference between users installing your game versus a larger brand. The extra installs and clicks you get here can also boost your keyword ranking, leading to more installs.


With the right know-how, and indie can take on a publisher with proper ASO execution. To help get discovered organically on the app stores, developers should ensure that they’re using a solid App Store Optimization strategy, targeting keywords their players are searching for, running paid campaigns to complement efforts and through creative A/B testing. Doing so can potentially help them grow and thrive, even in the competitive mobile game environment.