By Nick Thomas, Head of Gaming at Immersion
Over the coming months, I’ll be posting a blog series exploring untapped opportunities to increase engagement in mobile games, along with a few predictions on the future of the mobile gaming industry. We’ve been buzzing about this concept since the Samsung Developer Conference (SDC) in San Francisco, where Immersion was given the opportunity to host the panel “Left Brain + Right Brain = Engagement.” This session featured industry leaders from both the creative and analytic side of mobile gaming spectrum, and I was delighted to philosophize with industry experts Jeff Drobick of Tapjoy, Jeffrey Cooper of Samsung, and David Zemke of DeNA. Our wide ranging discussion uncovered a rich tapestry of ideas that illuminate some of the core mechanics in both designing and analyzing mobile games, which in turn provided insights for game developers on how to improve engagement in their games. This series will touch on some of the key takeaways from the panel and our work since, and will offer game developers some actionable ideas to implement in creating the more creative and engaging games.
Games are Evolving
For the first part of our blog series, we need to recognize the evolution that games have undergone in their transition from free-standing arcades, to console, to PC/Social gaming, and now the current mobile platform. We’ll look at how this evolution has led to meaningful and engaging gaming experiences for users anytime and nearly anywhere – at the touch of a button. With the average screen size for a smartphone reaching close to five inches, and computational power of the current generation of smart phones exceeding the original Playstation and xBox (which is really quite amazing when you think about it) mobile games now have the ability to go much further than the pickup-and-play mentality of social games like Words with Friends.
Netbiscuits Web Trends report Q2 2014
The Psychology of Gaming
Today we carry a literal arcade in our pocket, making games an integral part of our modern human culture and consequently becoming one of the most accessible platforms for engagement in our digital lives. With a 2014 study by App Annie finding that nearly 60 percent of apps downloaded in the Google Play store are games, games are in a position to capture consumers in ways rivaled by few other mediums. As mobile gaming has progressed over the years, we have expanded not only our technical capabilities, but more interestingly, our psychological understanding of what makes games fun and how to design experiences that speak to and stimulate these “fun” sensors. This is exemplified through the economic revolution known as Freemium, or Free-2-Play gaming, which has established a business model based almost entirely on our ability to precisely monitor and react to players’ behaviors to keep them engaged. Mobile games have the potential to provide almost instant gratification and immersive engagement, and if done correctly, to make a lot of money.
App Annie App Annie Google I/O Special Report, Google Play’s Phenomenal Growth
The Playing Field is Level (Sort of)…
This current era in gaming is providing both small game developers and large corporations, alike, a level playing field to engage with ‘gamers’ in the traditional sense. Additionally, development platforms like Unity have further equalized the development process to the extent that my 10 year old son, with a passion for gaming and an innate and intuitive sense for “coding” is nearly able to develop his own games!
However, the inequities when it comes to marketing to launch a successful game is astounding. It is well understood in the mobile gaming industry that it is “easy” to make a game. Acquiring “users” who become engaged “players” who will help you monetize your game and pay your bills is very difficult and can make this “level playing field” feel more like Mount Everest vs the Grand Canyon. The current economic paradigm does not change the fundamental realities that developing and releasing a game is now easier than anyone would have ever thought possible.
Games are Becoming Media Promotion Engines
On one side you see leaders in the traditional media industry like Disney, Universal, and Dreamworks embracing the capacity for mobile games to engage, and integrating gaming into many of their business endeavors. These media behemoths have transformed their film IP like Despicable Me and Frozen into hit games that allow audiences to interact and engage with the story and characters in new ways while further building a strong and overarching brand. On the other side you have the traditional AAA developers such as Electronic Arts also leveraging known IP. For example, The Simpsons: Tapped Out, which applies a well understood game mechanic to the iconic world of the Simpsons, bringing in some $100 million in revenue annually. And in the middle you see the newest generation of mobile developers, such as Kabam and TinyCo, also leveraging brands like The Hobbit and Family Guy to once again rake in millions repurposing tried and true game mechanics safely skinned in well known television shows and feature film IP.
Deeper Engagement Drives Stickiness
Large players like Disney and EA are just one square in the quilt of publishers that understand the profound impact of mobile games. The recent rise of a new generation of mobile gaming publishers – companies like King, SuperCell, Kabam, and DeNA – are displacing the traditional giants of the past. How? By focusing on player engagement and developing content that is tuned to give players just what they want, when they want it (especially if they pay for it). And just behind these new titans of the mobile ecosystem is an army of indie developers, pushing the envelope of creativity and providing many of these same publishers with new game ideas normally reserved for the “artists” of the industry (read as “broke game designers”). These Indie games tend to be highly creative, but the level of stickiness and engagement is not typically as well evolved as content from their corporate rivals. While marketing dollars are an undeniable part of the equation, there is much more to the success story behind King and SuperCell then just their ability to control User Acquisition.
Consumers are now spending over three hours per day on their smartphones, and the opportunity to capture a user’s attention and engage them with your brand is more possible now than ever before. With the current new generation of mobile game publishers, coupled by the traditional media giants and AAA Console developers, all of whom are constantly quelling the disruptive nature of the Indie community, the landscape has become competitive, refined, and highly sophisticated. As we continue to explore mobile gaming as an engagement platform, ask yourself, what are you doing to increase engagement in your games?