A look at the dark side of the cheap clones of casual mobile games you download and play on your phone every day.
If you open the App Store on your iPhone or Google Play on your Android device, you will see the mobile game graphics filled with cheap clones of popular games. Everything from fake building block simulators to supermarket house brand Fall Guys; if a game is successful, there are a hundred counterfeits available for download on mobile. These counterfeits share similarities. They all feature weird characters from the valley. They are developed by game studios that no one knows about. And they are published by publishers along with hundreds of other games although they are completely unknown.
The origins of these games are unknown to consumers, but we know they come from somewhere. People make all these games. Not only are these developers subjected to mindless work, devoid of creativity and often reusing assets, but in many cases they are also being exploited.
Berke Sayıl was one such developer. Living in Turkey with no previous experience, he was excited to work for a company creating popular mobile games. Sayıl is unable to name the company he worked for due to legal issues, but his story tells of a job that sacrificed every crumb of creativity for advertising revenue.
“I didn’t feel like I was contributing anything,” says Sayıl. “Anyone could do what I did.”
Sayil is humble. As a coder, he has a number of fairly niche skills with the general public. However, that’s how the job made him feel. At first he worked with two others, until the team grew to five. However, each of the team’s coders worked on their games separately. The only collaboration came from artists who produced these very similar assets.
Working 40 hours a week, Sayil was paid $150 a month. That’s less than half the country’s minimum wage of $350 a month and less than a quarter of the average rent of $650 a month. Balancing his job with his college education, he relied on his parents to survive.
“We’re targeting the top 100 free iOS games in America ranking, because that’s where the most ad revenue is,” Sayıl tells GLHF. “We were analyzing them and trying to find a little quirk that we can add so that it doesn’t look like the same game, but is also played. But you do it in such a quick way that you’re not really looking for great unique qualities, and you’re just like, “Yeah, people think that’s something else.” “
Each developer only has one month to complete their game, from concept to release. At first, the small team came up with 15-20 game ideas that were simply versions of popular games that had already been released. Then, a game manager would review them and choose the games he felt were the most profitable.
“They looked at these ideas and gave us tips to improve them,” says Sayıl. “So when we got the go-ahead from them, we had about two weeks, at most three weeks, to get a game ready to test the ads.”
This advertising test phase consisted of making a short gameplay video and then spending around $150 to promote it through social media. The number of people who then decided to follow the game’s page based on this short advertisement ultimately determined whether it was subsequently released or simply dropped.
“There were metrics: CPI (cost per install),” says Sayıl. “So we looked at these CPIs. if they were less than 50 cents per install, it’s a promising game. »
If a gameplay video didn’t perform well, developers had to change colors or concepts to see if the game would become more popular. “We had to modify some final animations,” says Sayıl. “We had something related to basketball. So the player was soaking and we had to change how it worked because it didn’t look good on other ads.
While Sayıl admits the experience has helped him find work and post titles on his CV, he wants to discourage others from doing the same. On Twitter he explained the overwhelming effects of this type of work, producing endless games for hyper-casual mobile publishers.
“It’s great to find your first experience, but you just have to remember that you don’t want to be there forever and you have to leave as soon as you can,” he says. “It’s like a factory. They throw a lot of games until something sticks. These publishers market first, and they use the game to generate revenue, but they are marketing agencies.
Written by Georgina Young on behalf of GLHF.