In the world of game development prototyping lays the foundation for a project’s success or failure and it is about the market potential. Understanding these initial phases plays a significant role in nurturing the seed of an idea into a flourishing reality.

Companies in the early stages prototype for funding, while those in the middle stages prototype new ideas to sustain. Understanding the prototyping process can significantly impact the establishment of start-up companies. It is extra important for development teams and game designers, as their design choices will dictate where to allocate the studio budget in the form of art.

In this article, we will explore the essentials of prototyping including how to create a prototype, prototyping in Hyper-Casual games, golden points in this process, why it is necessary, when to advance prototype development, when to stop a prototype, and common failure reasons.

 Additionally, we will share experiences from Deneb Studio’s game development and insights from our case studies and CPI tests as a mobile game’s publisher.

Table of Contents

Stages of game development

What is prototyping

In mobile game development, game prototyping is a process of exploring a game concept and testing game mechanics and functions, and playability whilst refining the core concept including developing hypotheses, designing experiments to test them, and analyzing the results and KPIs to make informed decisions

knowing more about improving the KPIs:

Categories of prototyping:

There are different types of prototyping for live game development, such as vertical, horizontal, rapid, and draft prototypes.

What is a Vertical prototype:

Vertical prototyping enables you to create a detailed version of one part of the game, such as a combat system, to evaluate its mechanics and functionality. It provides a test to show what a small part of the game will resemble in its final form. Vertical prototyping focuses on both visual experience and gameplay feel. Additionally, you can also do it without players, like making a video.

What is a horizontal prototype:

Create the whole game to test its main idea and user experience. This helps to quickly explore and check different features and interactions. It’s useful to get feedback early on, so you can refine the design before full-scale development.

What is a rapid prototype:

Rapid prototyping is designed to show that you can link the general fantasy of your game with actual mechanics that work. It comes into play when developers want to test different design elements and test new gameplay mechanics fast. In this way, Testing is quick, dirty, and focused.

You quickly iterate in as cheap a format as possible like; index cards, simple notes, lots of shortcuts, and band-aids to jump to the playable experience. You use tools like game engines, asset libraries, and scripting languages to rapidly build and evaluate different gameplay elements before committing to full production.

The rapid prototype is beyond the designer and maybe their friends. It is not perfect, but it is detailed enough for game developers to allow the game developers to test the main mechanics. It shouldn’t take too much time to set up or play, and usually, feedback is about the situations, agency, and outcomes.

What is a draft prototype:

Once the rapid prototyping phase is done and the team and designers feel the potential is there, the team will move on to the draft prototype. this prototype is created to pitch the game’s potential to fund the game’s development.

The main aim of the draft prototype is to show that the game can be appealing to the target audience. It usually includes high-quality art and style that would be in the final game, even though it does not require everything to be perfect yet. However, it should have enough to show that the team can deliver what they promised.

Together, these two prototypes (rapid and draft) explore the game’s mechanics, style, and aesthetic vision, and clarify the kind of audiences who will find the game appealing.

On top of these, let us dive into the prototyping process.

What does Prototyping do (Advantages of prototyping)

A prototype helps designers and engineers to experiment and test different aspects of a game, including its mechanics, designs, and functions. The main point of creating prototypes is to check feasibility and identify potential issues. Also, Prototyping helps refine ideas and maintain standards in game development.

Sometimes, ideas come straight from the creator’s mind without planning. In these cases, certain mechanics or shaders might be appealing and added as extra features in large projects, but not usually in Hyper casual games.

In Hyper-Casual games out of every 20 prototypes, typically one game is launched into the next stage. Team abilities matter as they may be experts in certain genres, leading to fewer errors.

For example, out of 80 prototypes, 5 games have demonstrated significant KPIs. (soft launch?)

You can see our prototypes there:

Deneb’s Prototypes

Read more about mobile game genres and market shares:

Consider that the idea in prototyping is really important, although implementation is more important. For instance, a well-implemented bad idea can fare better than a poorly implemented good one.

In every prototype, teams usually spend 10 to 14 days, but talented teams can be more efficient and faster. Hyper-casual games often prioritize quick development and broad distraction. When choosing a game genre, consider your team’s strengths.

By prototyping you can share your ideas with investors and managers, seeking valuable feedback for game improvement! Feedback is key for making your game even better. On top of this, 

take the feedback you received and use it to develop your game design, and mechanics to suit.

Develop your game design

How to create a prototype

The goal of game prototyping is to build up your skills and prove your ideas, not prove yourself. In general, some points are listed when you are prototyping.

1- define your concept:

Define your game concepts and its target audience. This will give you a clear direction on what to include in your prototype. In mobile games, you can start by establishing your connective fantasy vision. In this step come up with at least three game ideas, and pick the simplest one to execute.

2- identify your core experience:

Identify the fundamental gameplay experience that makes your game fun and engaging. Focus on the experience that will set your game apart from others in the same genre.

3- build a prototype:

Select the prototyping method that best suits your game’s needs. vertical prototyping is ideal for testing specific aspects of the game, while horizontal prototyping is best for testing the overall concept. Create an essential design document that includes details such as the game’s story, mechanics, characters, and levels. It should be detailed enough to guide the prototyping process but not too detailed.

4- test your prototype:

 test your prototype with a small group of people from your target audience and get feedback on what works and what does not.

– If so, move forward to the next step and start making iteration

– If it is not, scrap and go back to step 1 and prototype the next idea.

Testing:

Testing is an important and stressful phase of game development because it aids in finding and resolving any faults or problems. In this phase, the development team extensively tests the game to find bugs, glitches, or crashes and works on the feature freeze process. They also gather testing feedback and make necessary adjustments, ensuring the game is stable and ready for release.

In this stage, good games are created through playtesting. Players help us improve games to explain ask questions, watch players, and learn from what happens. 

Test Prototyps

Maximizing the Effectiveness of Game Playtesting

By asking these essential questions at this stage, every company can enhance the development of their games:

Why?: Set goals for your play tester. Good questions are like is my game fun?
Who?: Pick testers based on what you want to know. Developers, friends, gaming experts, or beginners? 
Where?: Choose a spot that fits your goals. Studio, lab, public place, at someone’s place, or online?
What?: Figure out what you’re after. Answer questions from your ‘why’ list and be ready for surprises.
How?: Figure out what you will do during the playtest. If you are there, stay neutral. Either talk out loud or use surveys. Pay attention to people’s faces for feelings.
Effectiveness of Game Playtesting

Testing stages:

Testing involves several stages, including:

Alpha testing:

Alpha testing happens after the initial development and internal testing. It’s the first time the game is tested by a larger group, including people not on the core development team. The main goals are to find bugs, get feedback on gameplay, and make sure all major features work correctly.

When: After internal testing and before the game is fully finished.

Who: Internal testers, developers, and sometimes a small group of external testers.

Focus: Finding bugs, refining features, and improving overall stability.

Beta Testing:

 Beta testing comes after alpha testing and is closer to the final release. It involves a wider audience, including external testers, to get more feedback and catch any remaining issues. This phase helps polish the game, balance gameplay, and ensure it works well on different devices.

When: After alpha testing, when the game is feature-complete but needs polishing.

Who: A larger group of external testers, sometimes including the general public.

Focus: Fixing final bugs, balancing gameplay, and optimizing performance.

In this stage, good games are created through playtesting. Players help us improve games by providing feedback, asking questions, and showing us how they play.

5- Refine and iterate:

use feedback and keep testing and refining until you have a prototype that is engaging and fun to play.

 you can see some case studies that have improved:

Then-now, Office Master game

6- decide when the prototype is complete:

once you are satisfied that the prototype has answered your hypotheses then you are ready to move on to the next stage of the development process.

Prototyping process

Here, you can find more detailed information about the top 10 games in 2023 and 2024, including their downloads, grossing, and revenue for creating your ideas:

10 Top Downloads Hyper-Casual Games – Jan & Feb 2024- Google Play- App Magic:

10 Top Downloads-Jan & Feb 2024

10 Top Grossing Hyper-Casual Games – The year 2023- Google Play- App Magic:

10 Top Grossing- The year 2023

10 Top Revenue Q1- 2024 – Google Play- App Magic:

10 Top Revenue Q1- 2024

Prototyping for Hyper-casual

Requirements for hyper-casual and hybrid-casual games are different. Here, we’ll cover the checklist for hyper-casual games.

Prototyping for Hyper-casual

To-do List

– Although the main focus of your prototype should be the core mechanic, it should work well and run smoothly by considering the following points:

  • Integrate Analytics SDKs
  • Include about 7 minutes of core gameplay, although it is important to note that each sub-genre will have its benchmark. 
  • Ensure the core mechanic is polished
  • Make sure there are no bugs

– Approximately 14 days of development time

– The prototype should be visually attractive to users.

  • Juicy visuals
  • Quality and trendy assets
  • No pixelation on shades
  • Minimal UI and environment

– Your game should feel satisfying and include:

  • Basic visual and haptic feedback
  • Responsive feedback

No need for in-game stores and advanced progression.

No need for too polished art or a detailed environment.

Golden Points

Golden points in game prototyping

here we highlight some key considerations in this process.

1- Dream team:

Start by chatting with your colleagues to understand what your game is all about. It is all about setting clear goals together!

2- Simple to build:

Focus on just a few key gameplay elements or core mechanics at a time (around 2-3) for clarity and ease of management.

3- Core experience:

Focus on the core experience of your game during prototyping. Direct your efforts toward refining essential gameplay elements.

4- Fast to execute:

Prioritize speed in prototyping to accelerate your development cycle. It enables quicker validation of ideas and concepts.

5- Minimalism:

Adopt a minimalist approach to prototyping, emphasizing the exploration of key ideas with the least amount of work required.

6- Copywriting: 

Discover captivating words to engage your audience it is really to be summaries and attractive.

Read more about A-to-Z game copywriting:

7- Level up:

If your game mechanics are working smoothly, try adding new features and more mechanics. Build on what works and for success.

Why is game prototyping necessary?

Games are incredibly complex and they get more and more expensive to create the further along into development you progress. The process of prototyping can tell you about the following:

1- If your game idea is worth spending time on

A prototype might serve as a reality check for your game concept. By developing a simplified version of the game, you can test the core mechanics, entertainment factor, and interactions. This helps determine whether the game idea is worthwhile before investing resources and time. Once the core mechanics and gameplay have proven themselves, only then build out your game.

2- assess logical errors

Some game ideas look great on paper but ultimately end up failing when put to the test. Prototyping allows you to perform various tests to find any logical flaws.

3- save time

Getting started on your game concept idea can be attractive, but taking time to prototype your game idea can save time once you complete the game development.

As a result, you want to de-risk your game concept by experimenting with high-risk ideas as early on in the process as possible.


When develop prototype?

When to advance prototype development?

Determining when a prototype is good enough to move to the next step depends on its phase:

Rapid or rough prototype: this stage progresses once the game designer is convinced the game has the potential to be fun and engaging.

Draft prototype: it is ready when you have a few minutes of gameplay that can impress a publisher or investor, even without game design expertise.

Tech prototype: this phase is good to go when you have a clear understanding of the necessary code to support the feature, including tools, even if the code hasn’t been written yet.

Reasons for prototype failure

Make sure you avoid these mistakes when building a prototype:

1- Game idea:

Firstly, try to build your dream game first, even if it is a billion dollars when you never built anything before. If you can’t even build a game as simple as “Flappy Bird” yet, how can you build a grand vision that takes a team of experience game development to execute?

That is like trying to win your first professional boxing about before you ever even sparred in the gym.

secondly, selecting a suitable genre and timing for developing a trend in this industry is crucial. In this process, it is essential to analyze the market and track growth using AppMagic, Statista, and other Platforms.

Styles of top games over the years

2. Lack of attractiveness:

 Being attractive can include different factors such as gameplay, design, story, flow and etc. In some cases, the game may be simple but attractive. So, developers should consider these factors to ensure the game is engaging. To prevent failure in prototyping, the role of a game designer can make a great contribution.

Read more about creating an engaging game environment:

3. Low-performance production:

Firstly, copying ideas without considering their pros and cons can create some limitations that developers will not be able to model or improve that idea. For example, some games are boring and you do some activities which are really boring so it is highly likely to take a long time to launch these games. Adding attractive mechanics or changing the flow may help to develop their games. Considering the parameters of the game play always can make a great contribution to your games. If you have decided to do copy or clone as a developer it is really important to consider pones and cons.

Secondly, the core of gameplay mechanics does not work well. For example, in a shooting game, the swipe control process may not function properly and it will directly impact the experience of your audience and players.

When stop a prototyping game?

From the start, you should have a clear idea of the game’s vision or fantasy you are trying to create. Knowing when you stop can save your team’s time and energy.

1- fantasy mismatch:

 If you realize the game, you are building does not match the vision and no other idea comes to mind, it is time to stop the prototype and try a new one.

2- quality and feasibility:

 If your team can’t achieve the needed quality for funding or if the technical challenges are too big or expensive, it is time to have a serious discussion about whether to continue.

New developers often think their game idea is perfect. However, after launch, players are usually not impressed. This happens because the technology they used doesn’t support their game’s core mechanics. To avoid this, it is important to test a prototype before finalizing the game.

It is okay to go back to investors and admit there are problems. They might offer resources and guidance to help you overcome these challenges.

 

Our Case studies

Outsourcing prototyping brings numerous benefits, particularly when time is limited and success is uncertain. Specialized studios offer extensive experience, ensuring not just accurate testing but also faster and more cost-effective solutions.

We’ve tested over 80 prototypes and selected 5 for the next step. Creating and testing prototypes is crucial, especially for mobile games. We will share some of our achievements in this process.

For these prototypes, we were able to achieve the following In-App Ad impressions in 2023:

In-App Ad Impressions - 2023

For these prototypes, we anticipate achieving the following In-App Ad impressions for 2024:

In-App Ad Impressions - prediction 2024

We’re thrilled to share our achievements and predictions for our game playtime in 2024:

Game playtime 2024- prediction

Game Playtime – 2024 Prediction

Game downloads - prediction 2024

Game Downloads – 2024 Prediction

The prototyping process is valuable to us, and now we can test them with small teams. Since gameplay is a significant aspect of games, we focus on improving prototypes to enhance overall game quality.

In these small teams, if a prototype has room for improvement, we help refine their mobile games. I’ll share some examples from our experience to illustrate how we do it.

76% Improvement in ROAS – Q1-Q2 2024

Improvement in ROAS

Case study1: Dr Octopus

Doctor Bingo in the process of prototyping is developed very much. We have enhanced both the economy and monetization of the game, resulting in significant improvements.

We have improved its economy and monetization. It has had significant changes. In the core of gameplay, we can see the sense of development.

The CPI of Dr. Octopus was $ 0.21, while its initial playtime was 723 seconds. Given the favorable CPI, we decided to focus on enhancing its gameplay. As a result, we boosted the playtime to 1058 seconds, a significant achievement that demonstrates the game’s potential for success.

8 Prototype Dr Bingo 2
An old version of Dr Octopus
Doctor Octopus 2
A new update of Dr Octopus

Because of this sense of progress, the user can see advertisements and progress, which makes the game economy better. For example, In the first stage, our score in this game was 2 out of 20. In the next stages, we improved our score to 8 out of 20.

Then-now, Doctor Octopus game

How we have improved the game’s economy

Through a step-by-step, the audience was gradually engaged by the gameplay, leading to increased playtime and addiction.

Step by step audiences have been encouraged by gameplay and gradually engaging users has led to increasing playtime and addiction to these games. This made the audience more willing to pay, either with time or money. Either, by considering the period and the audience’s behavior, the number of players and their playtime increased.

The integration of faster speed and enhanced visuals have played a key role, and we used trial and error with rewards and techniques to identify the optimal point for user engagement.

CPI (Cost Per Install) test

We run ads to conduct a basic campaign for your game over several days to assess its potential. Our primary focus is on the CPI results, but we also consider Day 1 retention and Average Session Length. The creative team requires 1-2 days to prepare the ads, and the CPI test itself takes 2-3 days. Depending on whether your game is hyper-casual or hybrid-casual, our expectations for the CPI test

For hyper-casual, our goal is to reach:

  • CPI (US) < $ 0.5
  • D1 retention > 35%
  • D3 retention > 10%
  • CTR> 5%

After implementing the strategies outlined in the article, we’ll be prepared to soft launch our games successfully.

Conclusion

Understanding the prototyping process in game development is very important for creating successful games. By mastering these stages, developers can efficiently test ideas, save resources, and enhance their game’s appeal. becoming a better prototype is a matter of experience. Become comfortable throwing away work and old ideas. Prototyping not only helps refine concepts but also aids in making informed decisions. Through our experiences at Deneb Studio, we have shared valuable lessons in this process.

By the way, as you are reading this post, if you have any questions or ideas, you can share them here.