Guest post by Dean Takahashi from VentureBeat. VentureBeat’s seventh annual gaming conference, GamesBeat is taking place at the Grand Hyatt Union Square on October 12 – 13 in San Francisco. The event will feature speakers from Oculus, Epic Games, Twitch, The Coca-Cola Company, Lionsgate, First Round Capital, and The Walt Disney Company. To learn more about GamesBeat and reserve your spot, click here.
As user acquisition costs soar, mobile-game developers are looking for alternatives to getting users. One of the best ways, and sometimes most overlooked, is obtaining users organically through app store optimization (ASO). This basically means that developers have to ensure that their keywords, their descriptions, their icons, and all their metadata makes their app easily discoverable amid a sea of a few million apps.
Faced with low production budgets and tight deadlines, many mobile game developers often devote their scarce cash resources on marketing/discovery — but little or nothing on protecting their app from malware, IP theft and other security threats. But ironically, marketing a game actually helps make it even more vulnerable to hacking, because if it grows in popularity, hackers are much more likely to identify the game as a good candidate for exploitation. This puts mobile game developers in a Catch-22 position: If their game doesn’t earn much money or downloads, it’s relatively safe from security breaches — but when it is successful, it becomes a target for malicious attacks which can undercut any revenue the game might have earned. DFC Intelligence founder and CEO David Cole explains more.
As the digital marketplace has evolved, it has become a challenging place for developers. With over 20 years of experience in the technology industry, Martin Macmillan, CEO and co-founder of Pollen VC, has seen the challenges that face startups. He looks at how to approach the digital marketplace in this article.
The advent of democratic, open-to-all digital marketplaces must have seemed a godsend for anyone with an idea and basic coding skills that wanted to launch their own app. Yet, as retail spaces such as Apple’s App Store have taken hold, competition has intensified and is giving rise to a new form of digital Darwinism. While it may have been the case that an app developer could become an overnight success without a solid business plan for their product, those days are long gone.
To ensure success, app developers need to treat their apps and games like commodity fast-moving consumer goods as opposed to more niche creative products. Take food as an example. While your wonderfully artisan product has appeal at the local market, where aficionados congregate and share recommendations, for major success, you need to make it in the high-volume supermarkets. To survive in such a cut-throat environment, you will need extensive marketing campaigns, research into consumer behavior and constant refinement of both product and positioning. If not, your audience won’t know what to look for and your product will disappear into the darkness (and the bargain bin, probably).
Putting your product (whether it’s artisan food, a communication app or a text-based adventure game) in front of the right people is key. Hitting the top of an app store’s top chart is one place you can be sure to attract a large enough audience to make your product a success. To get there, you need to think strategically.
Starting strong might seem like the best way to secure success, and an initial flurry of downloads and recommendations for a new, “hot” game or app can prove a great springboard to achieving healthy revenues. A developer can then, however, face the danger of imitations and clones which can tap into their sales. For example, the designer of Flappy Birds recently found that his follow-up app, Swing Copter, had been cloned within days of launch, with many of the copies doing better on the download charts than the original game.
To exploit any initial success from a well-thought-out launch, app developers need to hack their growth. This means jettisoning the old business models that have worked for offline companies, or the ‘build it and they will come’ approach of early app pioneers. Instead, they must apply a savvy blend of monetization and customer acquisition strategies, balancing product needs with marketing demands.
The Path to Safety
Despite creating a competitive and ruthless environment, these new retail spaces hold an invaluable wealth of data.
The hero in this approach is the digital marketplace. Despite creating a competitive and ruthless environment, these new retail spaces hold an invaluable wealth of data. Coupled with in-app analytics, this gives a developer access to near instantaneous feedback on customer preferences and behavior.
Using this data, app entrepreneurs can drive the monetization of their products from the minute they launch in a marketplace. They can use a formidable array of tools such as promotional activities, new additions to a service or game, and new in-app purchases aligned to user behavior to increase the money a consumer spends on their product. As they develop and deploy each tool, the app developer can use data from the marketplace to check if the strategy is working, make any tweaks necessary, and calculate the return on investment. Using these tools, a developer can calculate the Lifetime Value (LTV) of customers, indicating the revenue that the product will generate per customer.
Home and Dry
Adding to this, developers and designers need to work on customer acquisition, and can again rely on increasingly sophisticated attribution software to provide direct feedback on how successful their marketing and promotional activities are and the quality of users acquired. The developers of a game or app can target different territories and compare different promotional tools with instant data on how they fare. Developers should, over time, be able to calculate a formula indicating the cost to acquire quality users. Once identified and understood alongside with the LTV, a good game should be able to find a virtuous cycle upwards towards strong success, where LTVs exceed the acquisition cost of a user and the opportunity to do this at scale.
The quick, responsive nature of the digital marketplace requires fast investment of revenue back into both the product and its monetization.
The next stage of growth hacking is where the new rules of business come into play again – how revenues are re-invested to ensure the long term success of the business. The quick, responsive nature of the digital marketplace requires fast investment of revenue back into both the product and its monetization. As revenue rolls in, sellers must apply those revenues to supporting future growth. Essentially, the quicker the game can fund its own user growth, the more sustainable and successful it becomes.
And What Have We Learned?
Today’s games developers have been brought up on romantic stories about their predecessors who wrote games for mobile devices in their bedrooms. These pioneers then, through organic, word-of-mouth recommendations, generated cult or even mainstream followings. Happily, those developers and games still exist, and long may they do so. But to ensure a modern game delivers some return or profit, a developer needs to make the market conditions and characteristics work for them, and take time to understand the economics behind the app stores. Use the data generated to inform strategy, don’t be afraid to invest in wider marketing, and make sure you have a long term goal in mind rather than depending on ad-hoc feature opportunities to create your success.
Learn more about how Pollen strives to provide a new way to bring growth to the digital industry on their website.
Running for over three years, OneSky aims to help apps and games capture the global market by going multilingual. Headquartered in Hong Kong, OneSky has served over 1000 clients in U.S and Europe, including Plain Vanilla Games, Frogmind Games, JuiceBox, and Epic Games. Loki Ng, co-founder of OneSky, talks about testing the international market in this article.
To localize or not to localize, this is the question.
Fun is universal. A game can easily reach everyone in the world who is looking for joyfulness. But it is so difficult for a game developer to decide which language to localize first, given the chicken-and-egg scenario of users vs investment (I need users to justify translating or is it translation that’s holding me back from acquiring users). A logical step is to use minimal investment to test the market.
Is it Fit for the International Market?
Most of the games don’t know where to go at the very beginning, though some of them are easier than others, especially casual games with minimal words and minimal cultural elements. Take Angry Birds as an example: it is very easy for everyone in the world to understand the physics and the simple gestures in the game, regardless of the culture or country.
Games with elements like historical background or characters from fairy tales will have more difficulty deciding which countries to go to first. The more cultural elements, the higher risk they cannot perform well in particular countries. Sometimes, it is not about the game but simply because the players in particular countries are not familiar with the cultural elements. For this type of game, test the market in phases. Translation is much easier to implement and deploy before deciding to localize any graphics or storyline.
The Description Gateway
Instead of investing a lot doing market research in different countries, iTunes Store, Google Play, and Amazon App Store have made it super easy to test the global market feedback.
There are 28 languages on iTunes Store, 50+ on Google Play Store, and 9 languages on Amazon App Store. Store description is the players’ first encounter with the game before downloading it. It also act as the content to be searched by potential users. Non-English speakers, say Korean and Japanese players, might not be performing the search in English. There will be a group of potential players missing if the game is English only on the stores. By localizing the store descriptions, non-English speaking players will be able to discover the game and give it a try if they are interested.
There are usually 300 words in the description for a game, which cost $30-$40 per language to translate. So for less than $150, you can test out user reactions of your game in 2-3 markets. This is far cheaper compared to doing market research in those countries.
The country-specific tractions will be observable after a few days of launching the localized versions of store descriptions. More resources can then be allocated to the localization engineering for particular languages and the marketing efforts in particular countries. It would be very cost-effective for a small game studio without many resources to expand to the global market with the correct and fast signals.
Cast Your Net
Start Small. Think Big.
Localized app store descriptions fare much better on the local app store compare to non-translated descriptions. Use this to your advantage to cast your net globally, and only commit to translating the full game once you’ve register a spike in downloads in a particular version.
You can check out OneSky’s website to learn more about high-quality localization of app-store descriptions and game content.
Glenn Kiladis, the vice president of new market and media solutions and the mobile games evangelist for Fiksu, spoke about strategies to build a loyal following, challenges in the mobile marketing ecosystem, and the solutions Fiksu offers in the mobile space with Clark Buckner from TechnologyAdvice.com (they provide coverage content on employee and worker training strategies, customer loyalty engagement implementations, business intelligence trends and much more).
Listen to the full interview here:
Building to Two Million Monthly Active Users
Fiksu, a sponsor at the Casual Connect USA 2014 conference, is a mobile app user acquisition platform that delivers loyal users through utilizing different traffic sources, tracking ad performance, optimizing real-time ad buying, and generating cost-effective and organic leads. Along with his roles at Fiksu, Glenn Kiladis also helped build Fiksu subsidiary FreeMyApps, a rewards-based network that now has the capability to generate 100,000 new games or app installations within 72 hours. Users earn rewards for downloading and engaging with specific apps that advertisers on FreeMyApps want to promote. With a very active and global user base, FreeMyApps now has about two million monthly active users. In a relatively short period, FreeMyApps built a loyal following around a strong community, with over 948,000 Facebook fans, over 496,000 Twitter followers, and over 38,000 YouTube subscribers.
To build such a strong community base, FreeMyApps used the following strategies:
– Contests: When marketing an app or game, they’ll tweet the contest to their community and post about it on Facebook. Sometimes they’ll run contests around a specific game or app just in Facebook.
– Responsive mobile app: They made sure that FreeMyApps was a responsive mobile web app on iOS and chose the native route for Android.
– Destination Service: On iOS, they made sure to make it a destination service and own that specific traffic. – Social Sharing Referrals: They’re not a network of mobile app and game offers walled into other people’s apps, so they don’t rely on other organizations or developers to build their audience. Instead, they built their audience directly through allowing and rewarding end users who socially share the app via SMS, email, Facebook, or Twitter. Today, 40 percent of all new FreeMyApps’ users come through social sharing referrals.
What Was Learned
In seeing such strong audience growth, FreeMyApps saw the importance for a community to be built around the business. Subsequently, they hired a community manager to run their Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube channels, built a strong community on each platform, and worked to make the app as interactive as possible, even if an end user isn’t downloading games or apps.
Through this experience, Kiladis identified some challenges that companies need to be aware of in the mobile marketing ecosystem:
– The need for a user acquisition team:UA is constantly evolving challenge. New technologies and new players are continually popping up, and staying on top of the game requires dedicated staff – even if you use a UA partner like Fiksu.
– The need to know what tools, tech, or traffic sources, out of the thousands now available, are the best fit for your company: Every app has a personality – so there’s no one answer to “Which tracking software should we use?” or “Which traffic sources are the best?” Getting these answers requires research and testing for your specific app. In addition, they always find that a mix of traffic sources – 5 to 10 in active use, in most cases – yields the best overall user acquisition results, especially when you can continually optimize your bids and budgets across them as you monitor performance data. But choosing which 5 or 10 out of the hundreds of viable ad networks and other traffic sources is no easy task.
– The need for a solid attribution and analytics partner: Companies need to look for partners that utilize big data analysis, or at least have access to first- or third-party data, to help them acquire well-targeted users.
– The need to understand the value of incentivized vs. non-incentivized marketing: Incentivized marketing can potentially deliver less high-quality users.
– The need to keep up with a fast-moving industry: Game companies ought to have mobile acquisition teams, or seek partnerships with companies that can help them acquire and maintain users in the mobile gaming space.
Meanwhile, for companies that try to do it themselves, they need to:
– Choose the right attribution and analytics partner: Attribution allows a company or developer to tie media spending back to factual results so that they can know where users come from and through which channels they arrived. This helps to optimize future media spending so that a targeted audience yields high quality leads and customers.
– Assess whether they’re buying pure or arbitrage traffic: This is a big issue because a lot of companies represent ad inventory as their own, but their ad inventory has actually been bought from two or three other sources, and can consequently be two or three times removed from the source.
– Understand mobile ad technology that addresses media buying, attribution, optimization, etc.
To combat these issues, Fiksu created solutions such as multiple-source media buying, an auction-based approach, and an optimized platform. For more information on Fiksu’s solutions, products, platform, and resources, visit www.fiksu.com.
In anticipation of this year’s Casual Connect USA conference in San Francisco, Clark Buckner from TechnologyAdvice.com (they provide coverage on gamification, customer loyalty software, employee engagement platforms and much more) spoke with the content director for Casual Connect, Tennille Forsberg, to discuss some of the exciting things that are happening in the casual gaming industry and the conference.
As the content director of Casual Connect, Tennille began at Casual Connect in 2009, just three years after Casual Connect was founded. Tennille is responsible for finding some of the best speakers and content from around the world, and bringing those to the Casual Connect conferences each year. For this year’s Casual Connect USA conference, Tennille and team brought together over 300 speakers. These speakers will be focused on several different tracks within the conference, which include mobile games, free-to-play games, development, business of games, and casino games.
In order to stay on the front edge of the rapidly changing casual games market, the team at Casual Connect is placing a large emphasis on supporting independent game developers. While Tennille admits that they cannot be certain what the future holds for casual gaming, they feel confident that investing in creative, independent developers now will pay off in the longterm. As Tennille puts it, “It could be said, games are more important than TV now”. A bold statement no doubt, but one that seems to carry more weight with every step forward in the gaming scene.
And for Tennille, the conferences are all about bringing together the best minds in casual gaming, and cultivating an atmosphere of collaboration and networking. She sees this as a crucial step to take towards the future of the industry. With four major conferences around the world, and a slew of smaller, tandem events that follow each, Casual Connect is certainly engaged in the industry, and invested in its future.
Clark Buckner from TechnologyAdvice.com (they provide coverage on gamification, customer loyalty software, employee engagement platforms and much more) sat down with Jenny Diggles, the president of the new GIF gaming app, YIX. Founded in early 2014, YIX allows users to play with their friends in a manner similar to the popular card game, Apples to Apples (find out more about the game in the first article of this two part series here.) The simplicity of the game adds to its addictive quality. While playing your own personality through GIFs, users also need to keep in mind the judge, and play GIFs that they believe will win them the round. Learn more in the second part of this two article series. The full interview can be heard here:
Behind YIX is a team of six – three couples to be exact. While the team is eager about the game, they didn’t quite know where they each fit in when they began. As Jenny puts it, “Nobody on the team had specific experience building a game before, but we have had a lot of experience in mobile and development and marketing, and all these things that we did need.” While many would see this as a challenge, Jenny and team saw it as an opportunity to create a niche market that did not really exist before. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to invest in the mobile game market. Juniper Research estimated last year that mobile gamers will generate over $3 billion for the mobile game industry in 2016, from in-app purchases only. That doesn’t even factor prices paid for games.
The Small Wins Add Up
Even with the large revenue potential, one of the toughest hurdles to cross in mobile development is hosting. This was no different for the YIX team during the beginning phase of their development, as hosting was going to be a significant cost for their app. But they found a supporter in Microsoft. Connected through a mutual friend of Jenny’s, Microsoft offered them free hosting for the first year of their development. They also offered them devices for testing, and access to the XBox if the YIX team ever wants to port to the console.
With hosting costs nullified for the time being, the team is able to focus their efforts on game improvement. Jenny explains the functionality that has shaped the game and its launch, including a “nudge” feature to encourage your friends to take their turn, a rematch button to quickly restart a finished game with the same people, and the opportunity to incorporate advertisements into the game. Part of the revenue model is the standard freemium model, with an in-app purchase option, but the other side is quite unique in its approach. The YIX team is looking at incorporating GIFs into the game that are paid for by advertisers. Companies have the opportunity to include an advertisement by way of a GIF, giving users the unique option of interacting with the ad without it getting in the way of the game. In fact, since it is displayed with the other GIF choices, the ad is actually paid more attention than a banner ad.
Focus on the User
Their main focus in creating YIX is the user, says Jenny. So many times, great apps fail because they focus too much on generating revenue, which ends up alienating the app users. “I didn’t want people to feel like they had to buy anything to enjoy the game, the game should just be fun on its own,” Jenny says. Instead, the sponsored content is delivered alongside the rest of the game, quite possibly delivering one of the first applications where users actively choose to engage with advertisements. By creating a model where users interact with their friends and interact with sponsored content, YIX has created a unique platform for success. Users will generate their own competition by competing with their friends, which in turn means they will be interacting with sponsored content more often. As YIX continues to grow and improve their model, users can expect that the person-centered focus of the team won’t be going anywhere.
YIX can be found on the Apple App Store, and more information about the game and the company can be found on the YIX website (which plays a different GIF in the background every time you go to the homepage – as if the company wasn’t cool enough).
Harish Thimmappa, vice president of mobile user acquisition of SupersonicAds, has worked on many acquisition and marketing campaigns throughout his career. Prior to joining SupersonicAds, Thimmappa was vice president of sales at Playnomics, a predictive marketing and targeting platform. He was also the director of app advertising sales for InMobi, where he led performance advertising sales. He shares ways to find success in campaigns in this article.
The mobile monetization market is growing faster than ever! New figures site the growth scaling to $70B by 2017. It’s a good, old-fashioned gold rush, and there’s a fortune to be made. To get the big bucks though, you’re going to need a sophisticated “sifter,” and you’ll need to sift through a lot of sand and rocks to find the gold. How, you may ask? The first step is user acquisition. User acquisition is the single most important step after creating a ‘good app’.
Discovery has forever been the bugbear of the mobile app ecosystem. In its current state, an app store’s ranking (top free, top paid and top grossing) has a phenomenal impact on whether you have a hit on your hands or a dud.
There are two prevailing processes of user acquisition at the moment: burst and sustained campaigns. You burst when you want to climb up the ranking charts and amass a bunch of users, then switch to sustained campaigns to focus on acquiring ROI positive campaigns. There are several means for the developer to do either, namely: incentivized advertising, banner/interstitial display advertising, video advertising, social media, and traditional means such as billboards, TV, and radio.
Both sustained and burst advertising processes are important to maximize profitable distribution of an app. What is more important is to choose the right strategy at the right life stage of the application. The genre of the app (casual game, core game, lifestyle app, etc.) determines the onset of the stages, and the timing of the launch (holiday season, launched in conjunction with a movie release, back to school period, etc.) will determine the intensity of user acquisition in each of these phases.
Broadly, an app (like most other products) goes through three stages: launch, sustain, and sunset.
A smartly executed burst campaign can deliver positive ROI directly by putting the app in front of a large number of audiences, or indirectly, by make the app easy to discover by getting to the top of the charts.
Launching an App: The most important phase of app distribution is when it is initially made available in the app store. Developers can leverage the novelty of the app, try to get featured by the app stores, and seed the audience to talk about it. They can also employ a burst campaign (a short term, massive push) to push the app into the top of the app store. A smartly executed burst campaign can deliver positive ROI directly by putting the app in front of a large number of audiences, or indirectly, by make the app easy to discover by getting to the top of the charts. Here is a good way to look at it:
Advertising ROI = Sum of LTV of users acquired – Cost of Ads bought + Sum of LTV of organic users derived from the campaign
For this phase, developers should focus on incentivized advertising to drive volume, and support it with display or video advertising. A typical marketing mix could be 70 percent incentivized advertising, 20 percent display, 10 percent video advertising.
The key is to remember that there is no such thing as a bad user, every user is valuable – at the right price.
Sustaining an App: After the first few weeks or month, you will likely enter a phase when the app has stabilized at a natural position in the app store, the LTV prediction models have increased in accuracy, the game balance is stable. Now you’ll want to maintain this stability and acquire ROI positive users. You now have to focus more on social channels for UA, display/video advertising, and complimented with required volume of Incentivized Advertising. Having invested in user profiling, and predicting the LTV, you should price UA to match value. The key is to remember that there is no such thing as a bad user, every user is valuable – at the right price. Typical Marketing mix could be 20% Incentivized advertising, 30% Display, 50% Video advertising.
Sunset Phase: Though varying greatly, every app enters a stage where profitable UA starts to become difficult, and development muscle moves on to the next app. You can now let the UA be driven by a specific set of rules and channels. Cash flow also becomes very important.
Developers should now focus exclusively on low volume, low price, positive ROI channels. A typical marketing mix here could be: 40 percent social, 40 percent display, 20 percent incentivized ads, 0 percent video.
Ultimately, the genre of the app, the life stage of the app, and the timing of the launch should determine the user acquisition strategies.
Damon Marshall, vice president of SupersonicAds, has been working in the game industry since 2005 and finds it to be an exciting industry. He has seen it constantly change time and time again. With all the changes, it can be hard to keep up with the best ways to monetize. He provides a guideline to navigating ad monetization in this article.
In the ever-changing landscape of ad monetization, it is no wonder that many app developers become confused and/or intimidated by the number of ad platforms, ad networks, ad products, and integration options in front of them when considering their ad monetization strategy. Whether you are heavily invested in monetizing your app with ads, or you prefer a “plug and play” solution, here are a few questions to ask yourself when devising your path forward:
Which Ad formats are Right for My App?
There are platforms in the marketplace that can support multiple ad units and allow you to seamlessly test them all.
Display, video, static, rewards-based, interstitial, pre-roll, post-roll, offerwall, achievement ads, native ads, rich media, and hundreds of other ad formats can get confusing. Which ones should you employ? For those that take ad monetization seriously, the answer is: test MANY! Different ads appeal to different audiences, and it is up to the developer to determine which ads are right for their app. One size DOES NOT fit all. There are platforms in the marketplace that can support multiple ad units and allow you to seamlessly test them all. Ad monetization is like any other product in your app, and you need to test different ad formats to ensure you are delivering the best-performing ads to your audience while maintaining an optimal user experience.
Which Ad Networks Will Serve Me Best?
Once you have figured out which ad formats are right for your users, it’s time to figure out who to partner with to fill your inventory. Some of the bigger mobile publishers have their own direct sales force (think EA, Disney, NYTimes), but many do not. If you have a decent amount of traffic, you most likely have been contacted by tens, if not hundreds, of ad networks wanting access to your audience. Which network is right for you? Do you want (or even know how to) negotiate direct relationships with these networks? For those developers that don’t want to bother with the networks directly, there are ad SDKs that incorporate multiple ad networks into a single SDK, providing developers with a “plug and play” solution. For developers that are more invested in ad monetization, direct relationships might be the way to go.
The fact is that with a decent-sized audience, the best path forward is to work with multiple ad networks. No one ad network can fill 100 percent of your inventory, and no single network will always have the highest paying ads. Finally, networks usually have a limited number of ad units available to you, so in order to get the right mix, work with multiple ad networks and let them compete for your eyeballs.
The fact is that with a decent-sized audience, the best path forward is to work with multiple ad networks.
What is the Best Way to Integrate These Ad Networks into my App?
SDK or API? There are pros and cons to each. Some ad products require an SDK, and those that do usually deliver premium ad units. Server-to-server solutions also exists, but many networks prefer not to be mediated in this fashion because they don’t have direct access to your audience, and the ad product may get modified from its original form. The point here is that you should understand the preferred method in which each ad network wishes to be integrated and pick those that match your preferred integration preferences.
Ok, I have picked my ad products, I have identified the ad networks I want to work with, and I know how I am going to integrate them. What now?
GREAT QUESTION! There are platforms that can help put it all together for you. They are referred to as “mediation platforms,” or in some cases “ad servers,” or more recently: Supply-Side-Platforms. The level of investment you make in your ad monetization strategy determines how you will use a mediation platform. Here, you want to understand how these mediation platforms optimize the campaigns you are getting from each ad network so that you can make the most amount of money once you go live with ads. Supersonic operates a mediation platform called Ultra, which has been chosen by publishers like EA, SocialPoint, Wooga, and 100s of others to help optimize their ad monetization amongst the many networks and ad products they work with.
Some mediation platforms are better than others….focus on the technology that powers the mediation layer. Does it optimize in real time? Is it too manual? Does the platform pull the best performing ads from each network, or merely waterfall from one network to the next? Do your homework and find the one that fits you best!
Rob Grossberg, Co-Founder and CEO of TreSensa, Inc, is no stranger to HTML5 games. Tresensa has many HTML5 games in their own portfolio. He shares his thoughts about how HTML5 could help indie developers.
The sad truth within the Apple App Store and Google Play is that it is no longer enough to build an awesome game. There are thousands of absolutely awesome games in the app stores today that nobody is playing. The app store dead pool is alive and kicking with quality content in search of an audience. Discovery in the app stores is so tough these days that the only viable way to get someone to play your game is to pay one of the many mobile marketing services to drive installs of your game. As a result, a prerequisite for app store success today is a massive marketing budget to buy users (the current cost is in the $3 to $5 per install range), drive your game into the charts, and then pray it sticks. A large marketing budget is not even a remote possibility for the vast majority of game studios looking to become the next Supercell or Rovio. The app store economy is broken and it is the indie studios that are getting squeezed out.
So what’s the secret sauce? HTML5.
It is no coincidence that as it has gotten tougher and tougher to succeed within the ecosystems of the app stores, companies (including mine!) would jump into the fray to bring game studios alternative means to reach people with gaming content on their mobile devices. So what’s the secret sauce? HTML5. Yes, that is the same HTML5 that took a beating a few years back, but has not gone away.
Over the past year, demand for HTML5 games, particularly HTML5 games that are mobile web optimized, has been rising. Online game portals such as Games.com, Yepi.com, Spil Games and Gamehouse.com have all shifted their focus to HTML5 and are actively seeking quality content for their sites and their millions of monthly users. The online Flash game ecosystem has woken up to the fact that mobile now needs to be core to their business, and the technology most portals are adopting to make the shift is HTML5.
In addition, many game stores like the Firefox Marketplace, Tizen, the Amazon Appstore and the Windows Phone Store are hungry for HTML5 games and often look to showcase and feature indie games. These stores may seem very small compared to Apple’s app store and Google Play, but good games can really stand out as “big fish” in these smaller ponds. Also, more and more media properties are starting to include HTML5 game content within their various mobile offerings. These are companies like Disney, Warner Bros., WWE, and HBO, that are already attracting large audiences on mobile and want to start supplying their users with the most engaging form of mobile content (games!) without pushing their users into the arms of Apple or Google. They are turning to HTML5 to do this.
A real benefit to these new areas for game distribution is that they are all based on a revenue share model, and thus do not require upfront marketing dollars to get your game in front of millions of consumers. In terms of monetization, the freemium model is the model of choice with advertising and in-game purchases driving revenue. And because the costs to produce and distribute these games is much lower than native games, studios have more leeway to extend creativity within the games themselves, as opposed to constantly pushing users to purchase points in order to attempt to recoup large upfront development and marketing costs.
Because the costs to produce and distribute these games is much lower than native games, studios have more leeway to extend creativity within the games themselves.
Has there been a hit HTML5 game that has crushed it and turned its developer into a mega-millionaire? No. Are opportunities emerging for indies to make several thousand dollars per game per month with quality HTML5 games? Yes.
So indie developers are left with this – forge ahead with a native game, try your best to navigate the challenges within the app stores, and hope you are the next big thing, or pioneer emerging areas for mobile games by adopting HTML5 and hope you can be an early player in the next big thing for mobile games.