As mobile app usage continues to increase and expand, those within the industry continue to create tools and applications that enhance, optimize, and streamline the app development process. As a mobile game developer, you must create fully-functional, beautifully-designed apps that not only serve a purpose but also entertain and engage your users so much that they keep reopening your app again and again.
Whether you’re an experienced mobile gaming developer with full coding knowledge or a beginner Indie developer with little to no development experience, there are plenty of development suites, platforms, design, and marketing tools that support and simplify the mobile game development process. Below are a few of our favorite tools you should have in your arsenal when developing a mobile game app.
App Development Suites & Platforms
Unity3D is arguably the most renowned and popular game engine available to you as a mobile game developer.
Unity allows you to interact with and manipulate your projects’ and apps’ code as well as their visual components, making it the ideal game engine if you’re new to coding or prefer visuals to code. Additionally, Unity allows you to export your projects to every major mobile platform and tons of other programs and tools at no cost.
Unity is free for individual or personal use and costs $75 a month for the Pro license. It is truly an all-in-one software suite for mobile, web, desktop, and console game developers. Known for its ability to create stunning visual 3D gaming experiences across multiple platforms and devices, Unity software was originally meant for OS X in 2005 and has since expanded to target over 20 different platforms. Unity makes it extremely easy to switch from one platform to another directly in the GUI; you simply select the platform of your choice from the menu to switch. Unity as a tool allows you to create beautiful 3D experiences and is extremely compatible with most of the tools and libraries you’ve already got in your toolbox.
Unity provides you with a very user-friendly development environment, making it an excellent game development software for beginners and experienced developers alike. Popular mobile games developed using Unity3D include Assassin’s Creed: Identity (Ubisoft, pictured below) and Temple Run (Imangi Studios).
Unity Asset Store
Unity provides its game and app developers with access to the Unity Asset Store, which is considered one of the best asset marketplaces in the development industry and is a value asset to app developers specifically. Premade artwork, the Multi-Platform toolkit, advanced drawing tools, texture effects, 3D rendering, base models, and extensive libraries of animations, audio, and plugins can all be found in the Unity Asset Store. In addition to the Asset Store, it’s interface is completely customizable with scripts, allowing you to add popular plugins and extensions directly to the User Interface for easy importing and exporting. Lastly, the Asset Store helps developers support each other by allowing you to publish your own packages and tools for other app developers to download.
One of the most valuable features of Unity 3D is the Unity community. Unity offers a community forum and chat channel where you can start or add to discussions with other developers, share your current projects, and view others’ projects. Unity’s issue tracker gives you insight about the status of known bugs and issues. They also provide an ‘Answers’ site with an upvoting system that’s specifically dedicated to helping you get answers from the development community. Lastly, Unity provides a full library of thorough resources that guide you on how to use every single tool available within Unity. Overall, Unity’s extremely supportive community coupled with the Engine’s amazing capabilities make it an integral asset in your developer toolbox.
Live Updating and Light Source Programming
Unreal Engine 4 can save you major iteration time due to its live updating capabilities. You can make changes directly to the game’s code while the game is running, and the engine will run in the background to make your changes live. This can reduce the editing process significantly, and can reduce or eliminate designer-to-developer back and forth time.
Another major advantage for Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) is its advanced lighting capabilities. UE4 offers a Cascade Visual Effects editor, which enables you to add advanced detail to fire, smoke, dust, rocky terrains, snow, and more. UE4 allows you to manipulate millions of dynamic particles that can each emit their own light and gives you full control of each particle’s size, color, bounce, density, and other properties. This lets you create incredibly detailed and realistic visuals and scenes.
Read Unreal Engine 4’s Lighting and Shadow Documentation here.
Unreal Engine Community
The Unreal Engine community rivals the Unity community, with full libraries of assets, documentation, and resources to support you during each stage of game development. Additionally, UE4 has an AnswerHub community that provides answers from other developers and a forum for sharing projects and starting discussions. For mobile developers specifically, Unreal Engine provides “Quick Start” guides to help beginners download the system prerequisites and use templates to begin the development process.
Popular mobile games developed using UE4 include Real Boxing, a realistic and extremely detailed single or multi-player game for Android & iOS, and Joe Montana Football 16, an American football game developed by Superstar Games for iOS & Android devices. Unreal Engine 4 released its teaser trailer for Rivalry to show off its incredible visual and realistic detail capabilities.
App Game Kit
While Unity and Unreal create stunningly beautiful 3D and 2D games for consoles, desktop, web, and mobile devices, there are specific mobile-only tools that are solely meant to help you create mobile gaming experiences. In the past, when you wanted to deploy your mobile games on multiple devices, you were forced to repeat the development process for each device’s/platform’s requirements. This costly and repetitive process is (thankfully) eliminated by tools like App Game Kit that allow for multi-platform deployment. App Game Kit’ allows mobile game developers to code games only once, then deploy it to a variety of platforms and devices. This tool allows you to spend less time reworking existing mobile games and more time developing new games and growing your portfolio.
If you’re just starting out, App Game Kit (AGK) makes it easy for beginners to create and compile everything you need for game development in one place. If you’ve got a bit more expertise under your coding belt, AGK also allows more experienced developers to use C++ libraries for more extensive mobile games.
Popular mobile games developed using App Game Kit include Candy Match 3, a matching game similar to the famed Candy Crush. You can check out AGK’s
Corona SDK is a cross-platform software development kit that allows you to create beautiful mobile apps for a ton of operating systems, including Android, iOS, tvOS, Mac OS, Windows, Kindle, and Nook. The Lua-based API is integrated with C++ to create incredible graphics, and its real-time simulator runs on both Mac OS and Windows, allowing you to instantly see changes as you make them.
Corona SDK is free for basic use and boasts the ability to publish apps for both Apple and Android TV in addition to using app monetization platforms. Corona’s cooperation with platforms like Appnext enables you to monetize users through static interstitial, video interstitial, full-screen, and rewarded video ads
A $79 per month subscription gives you access to a directory of native libraries and APIs, and a $199 per month unlimited subscription allows for hosted plugins and removes the revenue limit. Popular games developed with Corona SDK include HoPiKo, a strategy game by Laser Dog that won Apple’s ‘Editor’s Choice’, and Freeze!/Freeze! 2, an award-winning puzzle game app by Andreas von Lepel. View more mobile game apps powered by Corona SDK on Corona’s Showcase page.
Stencyl allows you to create some pretty sweet, professional looking games without coding! Once you design you can publish it on:
- Linux & Flash
This unique software has a simple block-snapping interface with new functionality and hundreds of ready-to-use blocks. Their engine is written in Haxe and based on OpenFL, an open source project that mirrors the full Flash API in Haxe and provides all the hooks required to publish games to all the major platforms they support.
As far as pricing is concerned Stencyl is free to use for Flash publishing – you will have to purchase a license in order to use the other platforms. Usually a small banner will automatically appear before the game in order to give the company the credit it rightfully deserves.
Here is another example of a great tool that allows you to create games without the need to code. This HTML5 game creator is designed for 2D games and makes building games accessible to everyone.
Construct 2 makes making games a piece of cake. You can easily drag and drop objects, adding behaviors and making your game come alive with events. The easy to use interface provides beginners with a set of tools that help them jump right into game creation with no prior experience.
Construct 2 is known for its:
- Powerful event system
- Flexible behaviors
- Instant preview
- Stunning visual effects
- Multi-platform export
- Easy extensibility
Like Stencyl and Construct 2, GameMaker helps to simplify the game development process. You can use their intuitive ‘Drag and Drop’ development environment and easily create and share your game with no code. GameMaker’s built-in language (GML) helps beginners learn to program as they progress. The single codebase allows you to directly export your game to all supported platforms, reaching a large number of players across desktop, mobile, web, and console. With GameMaker you can implement AAA game features bringing your games to life with 2D physics and visual effects, creating a player base with cross-platform network play.
Obviously, beautiful design with a stunning user experience is every mobile app developer’s end goal. In fact, design is so important to ROI that design-focused companies have been shown to outperform the S&P Index by over 200%. Luckily for you, there are many design-focused tools available that ensure your app has beautiful, detailed graphics and expertly branded elements. From mapping and prototyping to creating incredible effects and graphics, a few of our favorite design-focused mobile game development tools include:
Sketch is a vector-based UI design tool that is quickly replacing Photoshop in many developers’ tools boxes. Sketch is said to be a mix of Adobe Creative Suite favorites, such as Illustrator, Photoshop, and the late Fireworks, and is specifically built for UI and UX designers.* With its speedy styling attributes, pre-installed text styles for consistency across entire projects, and a more intuitive user interface, not to mention the tool’s countless plugins and seamless integration with other app development tools, Sketch enables developers to design beautiful mobile app experiences quickly and easily. Sketch also allows designers to create reusable elements to efficiently build up app screens and make changes and updates live. Talk about time saving!
Overall, Sketch as a mobile game app development tool speeds up wire-framing and makes exporting files and transitioning from design to development easier than ever. Sketch has a one-time fee of $99 per developer with the option to extend the membership to team members. Well-known brands using Sketch include Apple, Facebook, Stripe, Etsy, and many more. Check out the Community section of Sketch’s website, full of groups and social sites, developer resources, Sketch-compatible plugins, and much more. They also have a super helpful “Tricks” website, designed to help you improve your current workflow and stay on top of new tools and integrations.
Boost Media is an optimization platform that helps you create professional grade creative that you can then use in display advertising, social media and social media ads, and most advertising platforms. Boost Media’s creative design platform is able to quickly turn around your custom image orders, helping you to create a unified branding experience across all the channels on which your app is present. In addition to fast delivery times, Boost Media allows you to quickly create a variety of image sizes and types, from banners and carousels of any size to GIFs, Video, and HTML web pages. You can create a fully branded experience for your app in a matter of hours, rather than a matter of days or weeks.
Boost Media also has an extensive knowledge base with tons of guides, infographics, whitepapers, tips and tricks, and strategies to help you reach your target audiences and help your app perform its best online. The knowledge base contains tips on social media and social advertising, paid search (PPC) and display advertising, conversion optimizations, AB testing, and many other methods to help your app succeed.
Marvel is a mobile game development tool that allows you to create prototypes of app animations, transitions, and interactions, then share the prototypes with decision-makers or other members of your development team. With Marvel, you don’t need to have advanced knowledge of programs like After Effects, since the tool allows you to create transition-based animations for many screen sizes and platforms. You can create app screens directly within the platform, import from Sketch or Photoshop, then quickly and easily share your interactive prototypes with your entire development team or even with your clients. Viewers can leave messages and comments directly on the screen, allowing for more efficient collaboration and feedback.
Principle (for Mac) is a tool that comes in handy when you want to prototype and test complex animations for your apps. Principle allows you to test out animations and interactive game flow on multiple app screens before you actually begin development, allowing you to foresee common roadblocks and eliminate the process of trial-and-error between design and development. Principle not only enables you to test and create in-app animations, but it also allows you to demonstrate complex animations that are based on user input, such as object dragging, color blending, and other dynamic information.
Principle offers a free trial and costs $129 per license. View live examples of Principle prototypes on the company’s gallery page.
Affinity Designer is another great graphic design software often used by developers. This fast, smooth, and accurate software will make your life a heck of a lot easier if you’re working on macOS and Windows. Here are some of their updates since the update of their latest 1.5 version released in October 2016:
- macOS Sierra Optimisation
- Asset Management
- New color picker tool
- Text Styles
- Style improvements
- Huge export improvements
- Free UI kit
Flinto (for Mac)
Flinto for Mac is an extremely useful app prototyping tool that enables developers to create both simple tap-through prototypes, as well as comprehensive prototypes with state of the art interactions. Flinto was created in order to make things simple, taking programming timelines out of the equation.
With Flinto you can:
- Design your own Animated transitions
- Design micro interactions – (button effects, toggle switches, looping animations and scroll-based animations.)
- Smooth natural animation gestures- Navigate between screens using transitions you design, controlled by simple taps, or direct manipulation swipe gestures.
- Add Scrolling- You can easily add scrolling areas to your screens . Choose a few layers and click the Scroll Group button. You can choose from a variety of options and create paging Scroll Groups, nest scroll groups and scroll-based animations.
- Import from sketch – Flinto’s Sketch plugin helps to easily export designs from Sketch into Flinto.
- Live preview- Watch and test all the changes you make in Flinto’s preview window, or on your WiFi-connected iPhone or iPad using our free iOS viewer app.
Once an app is sketched, prototyped, and developed, the next step is to market it! Effectively spreading the word about your mobile game post-development can be a challenge, especially if you have a limited marketing budget. Never fear; there are numerous tools to help you successfully market mobile games, even with limited marketing spend.
Sharing and engaging with your target audience on social media can help build brand awareness and promote your mobile app. A consistent, strong social media presence helps build up your brand’s reputation and drive qualified traffic to your app’s app store pages and/or website.
Facebook and twitter both have innate features that allow for app downloads directly from within the social media apps themselves. Facebook allows developers to include video app teasers in their mobile app install advertisements.Twitter Cards, which allows for media attachments within tweets, enables deep-linking to send Twitter users to content directly within your app. Google+ Sign-In allows your visitors to sign up for an account in your app without having to create a separate username and password. By integrating popular social channels into your mobile app and building a social audience, social media can become an effective marketing channel to increase brand awareness and app downloads.
Third party tools like SproutSocial, Hootsuite, and Buffer can help you create social media calendars and posting schedules, and can supplement your analytics and benchmarking for social channels. Buffer provides a free tool (you must be signed in) that calculates which time of day is optimal for your posting schedule and audience, so that you can optimize your posting times for maximum exposure and reach.
Related content: Got a paid app? Check out our guide on marketing paid apps.
Bonus! Handy Tools
For $30 a month, Iconjar gives you access to thousands of icons and allows you to download, store, and drag and drop icons into most of the popular app development platforms. If you regularly use icons in your app design, Iconjar is the perfect source for instant access to one of the largest icon databases.
If you’re looking to add custom music, tones, and sound bits to your mobile apps to give them an extra ‘oomph’ or edge, try Wwise. Wwise is a cross-platform sound engine that allows you to create, prototype, and adjust sound effects and subtle app cues in real time over a local network.
Mobile game and app development is not an easy undertaking, and as a developer you’ve got to be ready (both financially and emotionally) to put in the time and energy it takes to make your mobile app successful. If you have the motivation and desire to succeed, coupled with a well-planned app idea and the app development tools listed above, your mobile game app can be a success.
Do you know of other app development tools game developers should have in their development arsenal? Share your thoughts or suggestions in the comments below!