On a panel delivered at Casual Connect USA, Oliver Birch, Director of Marketing for Hothead Games along with others discussed the most effective acquisition channels for mobile games. During the User Acquisition and Retention at Scale panel, they chatted about the strategies top mobile games are employing to retain users. In answer to the question, if he had a million dollars to work with, Oliver replied, “If you’ve got a million dollars, don’t spend it in a month. Take one step at a time, understand what you are doing, really look at the return, and the return may take time to understand as well . . . Take your time with it. Don’t go all guns blazing.”
From fizzy drinks and Lara Croft to Dennis Rodman, Oliver Birch has had a long and storied career in marketing. He spent his early years in marketing to promote globally recognized alcohol, snacks, and fizzy drinks. Over 17 years, he has worked with major software publishers and developers, managed an advertising network and media agency, and brought several new products to market with chart-topping success.
Drinks with Lara Croft
His fateful transition to the games industry came through Lucozade and their “brand ambassador”: Lara Croft. The printing company Oliver worked for at the time was in charge of all the point-of-sale materials for Lucozade and his job was to find more work in the entertainment industry using the Lara Croft work for business pitches.
He chose games companies as his target and eventually landed a project to create all point-of-sale materials for a Ubisoft King Kong game. From there, things began to snowball. One of his first actual publishing projects was a boxed version of the PC game DEFCON by Introversion Software, something he says he was very proud of accomplishing at the time.
While he says he was fortunate to be able to work with such big-name consumer brands prior to his entry into the games industry, he says nothing beats working in video games. “It’s the pinnacle for me,” he says. “If we can sell people things they want for their free time then we are doing a special job.”
Since his entry into the video game sector, Oliver has worked with clients such as EA, SEGA, and Paramount Digital Entertainment. Now, he is bringing his knowledge and experience to Hothead Games, an independent video game developer and publisher in Vancouver, Canada.
As Hothead’s director of marketing, Oliver oversees user acquisition strategies, advertising revenues, publishing to the app store and more. One of the things he likes in particular about working at Hothead Games, aside from the games they make and talented people he works with, is helping to direct the company’s destiny with his colleagues – a contrast from his earlier career working at the behest of other clients.
One of the biggest highlights so far for Oliver at Hothead Games has been interacting with Dennis Rodman, who was part of a commercial shoot for the company’s game Big Win Basketball. However, at times it was a challenge. “Picking him up from the airport and trying to get him settled in his hotel was one of my more challenging moments!”
Luckily for Oliver, challenges are one of the things that attracted him to the games industry. “The mobile games business is operating at such a fast pace that no single day is the same,” he says. “You have to keep up or you fall behind. I love this sense of quick learning and adaptation. We modify our thinking all the time to be ahead of the curve – it is very exciting.”
He notes that development studios can be a mixture of art, science, and “pixie dust.” With the addition of differing personality types, and the need for a strong work ethic, he admits they can be a complicated beast that needs loving attention.
However, Oliver feels more than prepared to tackle whatever is thrown at him and says that his past career experiences have been a big help with the work he does now. “Sure, distribution has changed, but publishing products to consumers is what I focus on and some of those principles have remained the same. I don’t get the front and back of the box to sell the product anymore, but I do get an app icon to convey the game – I have had to become more efficient!”
Some things that have changed since Oliver’s entry into marketing 17 years ago include the rise of social media and the introduction of video to websites and apps. While Facebook has been an excellent form of marketing for the company, video is where the real marketing wins have been; for example, Hothead Games’ campaigns are video heavy and have great returns.
Looking toward the coming years, Oliver says trends are impossible to predict, but he believes there will be more consolidation in mobile advertising and install tracking will be in a better place with more analytics available from both clients and networks.
Personally, he’d like to see industry standards tackled. “Perhaps some standards will be finalized that everyone can agree with!”