Disclaimer: The following opinions are based on experience and a good quantity of examples.
This article explains how to put all the chances on your side, of course, it doesn’t pretend to be the only road to success, just the safest.
Nothing easier than a runner?
We have stopped counting the number of endless runners made as a first game, usually by young/new game devs. They are indeed a very easy genre to code. Most of the time 2D, with limited actions (only jump or left/right/jump) and very few asset (art/animation) requirements.
Doing an endless runner as an exercise is obviously perfectly fine, but the gap between a “functional” runner and an actual game, that people will enjoy playing (I’m looking at you Subway Surfers) is actually quite huge and requires way more game design skills than most would think.
Unfortunately, very few endless runners respect the basics that they should all include. These games are supposed to be accessible, even when hard.
The first rule is to make it impossible to die for at least the first ten seconds (we noticed an average 13s before the first obstacle in Alto’s Adventure and 18s in Odyssey). Nothing is as frustrating as immediately dying when pressing start and code-wise, there is no challenge to implement that amount of leniency.
The second rule is clear, responsive controls. On a game based on reflexes, you can’t punish the player by slow reactions or incorrect interpretation of inputs. A tap/click is always easier and more readable than a slide to change lane for example. Also, a movement validated on the release of a button or screen tap can be very important to let the player prepare the perfect timing for a jump.
Another basic rule would be to make sure even with a higher number of obstacles, that the game is still achievable. You need to add rules to the random obstacle generation algorithm to keep a certain distance between enemies, jumps, etc… You can also try to implement a “series” of obstacles, creating patterns to learn for the player.
If your main skills are developing ones, you clearly need to polish the random generation aspects, the jump, look and feel, and global controls. For the art, keep it simple, readable, add bonuses and objectives that shouldn’t be a challenge for you to code.
If you’re more an art person, try to make the game not too hard but beautiful. Think of a “zen mode” (like in Odyssey).
As always, when you’re working on a game, look at the market references, what they have done right, what can still be improved.
In this case, you should play: Alto’s Adventure/Odyssey, Subway Surfers, Bendy in Nightmare Run, Crossy Road for “basic” gameplay (of course the variety of endless runner is… endless, but we would consider that if you’re developing a game with endless runs as a pillar additionally to other specific gameplays, like shooting, you might have different development problematic).
The selling strategy
People may disagree here, but most of the time, we would advocate releasing your first game (if it’s a humble “tiny” game) for free, without ads.
If you’re an experienced dev, with several games developed (for companies or independently) and you’ve just finished an endless runner that can clearly compete with the ones listed above, of course, you can and should monetize it. Most of the developers are underpaid, and people need to understand that a game is hundreds of hours of work.
But if you’re still very new to game development, what will help you the most, is people massively playing your game, read the metrics and analyse their comments.
You have a lot to learn about player experience, compatibility (especially on Android), progression curve etc… And to be able to gain that knowledge, you need to make your game the most accessible and frictionless as possible to generate those feedback analytics.
If you put a 30s ad after each run, how will you know why the player has quit?
Try to work on your selling page, add a video, write everywhere “free – no ads”, and be vocal about it. You will progress very quickly, and if you’re still an endless runner lover, nothing can stop you to do a “version 2” that you will monetize this time, but importantly you will have insights through your player metrics to fuel any decisions on the road to success.
We wish you all the best and hope this article helped you.