Dynamics of Success for Early-Stage Mobile Game Startups

Maryam Roshan Kokabha

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


Mobile platforms offer an opportunity for creating and distributing apps through app stores. Many developers, in the form of startups, have joined these platforms with economic motivations. However, they face several challenges on the way to creating a business. Firstly, the startup nature of the businesses implies a scarcity of financial resources and a dearth of business experience in developing and selling apps. Secondly, the popularity of the platforms has resulted in fierce competition among apps, hence difficulty in bringing an app to the attention of users. Thirdly, the startups are compelled to operate within the app store structures under the market-making rules of the platform owner. Finally, the contextual factors related to the type of an app may create additional difficulties. For example, game developers must cope with the heterogeneity of users' expectations, users' reluctance to wait for a game to be fixed in the case of problems, and the mainstream freemium monetization model which makes revenue-making more complex.  This dissertation explains how early-stage mobile game startups operate in order to succeed. It uses the qualitative classic Grounded Theory Methodology for both analyzing and theory building. The data is collected through semi-structured interviews with 20 international game startups that were participating in a business accelerator – founded by a platform-owner – in Finland. The main research question asks 'What are the dynamics of success for early-stage mobile game startups?' The two more specific research questions ask how startups utilize the facilities of an accelerator, and how they excel in the market after publishing their games.  The theoretical contributions of the dissertation are threefold. Firstly, it contributes to the literature on the role of the platform owner in the activities of startups. It discusses the role of the accelerator as a social boundary resource in improving the capabilities of startups in terms of game design, access to resources, and improved market activities, as well as providing an opportunity for the startups to impact the platform owner's decisions and to access resources from other members of the ecosystem. Secondly, it contributes to the literature on experimentation in software startups by explaining how mobile game startups follow an experimentation approach and use game analytics to discover areas of improvement and new potential markets. Thirdly, the developed theoretical model of 'dynamics of success for early-stage mobile game startups' explains that by utilizing the accelerator's facilities and taking an experimentation approach, startups aimed to iteratively raise game quality, visibility and user engagement in the pursuit of initial success for future expansion to other platforms. Moreover, the findings provide practical implications for mobile game developers, platform owners and business accelerators.
Translated title of the contributionDynamics of Success for Early-Stage Mobile Game Startups
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Tuunainen, Virpi, Supervising Professor
  • Hekkala, Riitta, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8214-1
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8215-8
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • accelerator
  • app development
  • boundary resource
  • experimentation
  • grounded theory
  • mobile game success
  • startup


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