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.
A managing partner of Bitfold Online Games, Mike Turner knows his way around the design and development of mobile and social games. He also plays the role of analyst at times. He provides a guide to tools that can benefit mobile game developers in this two-part article series.
When your game comes within a month or two of launch, a tidal wave of operation-oriented questions starts to run through your team’s collective brain. Questions like:
“How are we going to acquire our users?”
“What analytics tools should we use?”
“How do we handle customer service?”
“Should we integrate ads?”
In this process of preparing for the operations phase, developers look to third party tools to help them automate various pieces of the player lifecycle.
However, the tool market is saturated, so it can be difficult to develop a proper framework to evaluate the large number of tools available for each lifecycle step. This article series aims to clarify what useful tools and services exist for each lifecycle step and provide a framework for evaluating their usefulness to your product.
When talking about game operations tools, it’s helpful to segment them by stage in the player’s lifecycle they address.
1. System Management Tools: Keep game servers and clients healthy
2. User Acquisition Tools: Get new users into your game
3. Behavioral Analytics: Understand users and their desires
4. Engagement and Retention Tools: Keep users engaged for longer
5. Monetization Tools: Boost the number of paid conversions & spend per user
In this first of two articles, we will be looking at two of the five segments of game operations tools: system management and user acquisition tools.
System Management Tools: Avoiding Damaging Downtime
An online game (mobile or web) is a persistent online service that must serve players 24/7. Keeping this service up and healthy presents very intense operational challenges, especially as the game’s user base grows. Back-end bugs and outages occur regularly, and each of these problems represents a hit to all of your KPIs.
In the best case, back-end errors only cause minor harm to your game’s KPIs. However, extended outages can often lead to thousands or millions of lost users and revenue. The longer a problem in the server exists, the greater damage it does to your game’s numbers.
The reason bugs and outages occur so frequently in many games is that they’re not properly monitoring their system’s performance and error logs, letting serious technical issues slip past their operations team. The underlying cause of a server issue usually can be found in the server’s logs, but the speed of the tools you’re using to investigate those depends on how your logs are managed. If developers have a log management service to monitor and centralize server logs, developers are able to quickly discover where the issue is and fix it before it hurts KPIs.
Once centralized, you are able to search for any log you want to view and visualize the contents of that log or display aggregate statistics in charts. This allows a game’s live operations team to spot issues and solve them fast, thus limiting any downtime. Considering the (generally) large amount of money spent to acquire traffic and money lost when downtime occurs, integrating a third party log aggregation tool is worth it.
User Acquisition Tools
User acquisition in games is challenging because developers need to acquire users who are likely to engage with their game, and it’s often wildly unclear WHERE to get those “quality” users. They also need to ensure the return from those users is higher than the amount spent acquiring them. This section provides a list of tools for organic and paid user acquisition, as well as strategies for using them at varying levels of marketing budgets.
Work Hard for Organic Traffic; It Rocks
Organic traffic is free, and organically-sourced players often engage and retain better than users purchased with ad campaigns, so you want to put effort into establishing your own organic traffic sources.
Social Media Tools
Social media is an obvious choice. You want to put a lot of content (video, picture, conversations) out there and engage people who would potentially play or promote your game. But managing every social network can become unwieldy. To help, there are several tools that allow you to aggregate your communication to one dashboard, analyze the performance of your conversation, and help you predict when to post content and what hashtags are most valuable. Some of these tools are below:
App Store Ranking Optimization
If you have a mobile game, a high ranking on the app store will provide your best source of organic traffic. Recently, a new class of app store optimization tools, such as SensorTower, has become available that help you optimize your presence by researching which keyword strategies are most effective at driving app store traffic for your game.
App Store Competitive Research
If you want to do serious research on the app store on how competitors are rising and falling in rankings across hundreds of different categories, App Annie is an excellent tool to check out.
Mobile ad tool providers have a lot of cool offerings for game developers beyond just mobile banner ads and incentivized installs. Today, there are some very rich game-specific mobile advertising offerings that can drive a lot of well-targeted users to your game.
These offerings include:
– Rewarded ads: Installs or ad impressions that reward the users for viewing them. These type of ads can reliably generate traffic, but the retention rate of the users acquired via these ads is typically poor. This is because players are motivated to interact with your game for rewards but not necessarily because they’re interested in your content.
– Direct deals: Making deals directly with other game developers or cross-promoting your games within other games you have made. Paired with the right partner, this can be a very cost-effective way to acquire users who will engage with your game.
– Ad mediation: Game-specific ad networks. When bidding on ads, you can select specific networks on which you’d like to advertise. Different ad networks have different audiences, some far more suited to game development than others. Being able to choose a network that caters to your target customers helps greatly in driving relevant traffic.
Today, there are some very rich game-specific mobile advertising offerings that can drive a lot of well-targeted users to your game.
– Native ads: Ads that are integrated natively into the UI of the mobile app or website you are visiting such that they appear as a seamless part of the user’s experience. These contrast to banner or rich media that are placed “on top” of a game or website’s UI.
– Rich media ads: Ads that have advanced functionality. These include videos, full-page interstitial ads, ads with interactive signup forms, ads with playable mini-games, and more.
– Targeting, segmentation, and attribution: Tools that allow you to attribute your conversions to specific sources and campaigns, segment your traffic into specific demographics and cohorts, and analyze the overall effectiveness of your campaign.
– Game-specific ad offerings: Tools tailored specifically to developers, including game-only ad networks, rewards for players reaching goals, in-game news feeds, and more.
Smaller developers with marketing budgets under $20,000 will benefit from more direct deals and game-developer specific offerings, such as those that Chartboost offers. Other paid options tend to be slightly more cost prohibitive than is realistic.
Larger developers or developers with big budgets can also make good use of direct deals and game-focused offerings. However, for larger budgets, well-designed rich media and native ads that run on game-oriented advertising networks can bring in quality players. Experimentation with various ads and ad networks will be needed to determine the best approach to advertising in these channels, so make good use of the analysis tools these packages provide.
Don’t Waste Your Marketing Spend!
Acquiring is usually expensive, and often when companies make big ad spends, they are wasted. Some of the main reasons for this include technical glitches, targeting the incorrect type of users, and misunderstanding the users and their motivations.
When users who come to a game via a paid ad experience a significant technical glitch, they will generally leave the game forever. Using logging tools like Loggly to keep better uptime of all components of your game can help save you thousands in marketing spend.
Often when developers purchase ad buys, they target audiences not well suited to their content. One strategy to ensure you’re targeting the correct audiences would be to use your ad’s analytics on a minimum number or users to establish the value of various traffic sources and buying strategies. Also, if you’re using a tool that has mediation capabilities, use it to select a network proven to have game-development friendly audiences. You could also use game-focused tools such as Chartboost, which have game-only networks, and direct deals with other game developers.
Often times, users perfectly suited to your app will land on your app, but they will fail to engage or convert to paying users as much as you want them too. If you do not know WHY this is, you are in BIG trouble. Developers need to take an aggressive strategy towards understanding users and delivering changes that make them happy.
To find out how to better understand users, and the remaining tools that support game development, check out part 2 of this article series.
App Annie has just released its second quarter market index report, the most complete and accurate analysis available of the global app market. The report shows the macro trends that are emerging in the app ecosystem across countries, stores, and categories. Sourced from App Annie’s platform, App Annie Intelligence, the data represents more than 150 countries across Google Play and the iOS App Store.
App Annie CEO Bertrand Schmitt says, “One of the most striking trends from this quarter’s report is the skyrocketing growth across Asia in both Google Play and iOS. Japan and China continue to thrive, but the growth in India – where only 10 percent of the population is smartphone-enabled – is hugely significant for publishers as they look for new markets to explore.”
Emerging markets are clearly becoming a tremendous significance to app publishers. Growth in India, Brazil, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, along with other Asian markets is the driving force behind the trends in the app ecosystem.
Japan is the leading country in combined Google Play and App Store revenue, with new games as the primary factor.
The iOS App Store leads the way in revenue generated during the quarter, with 80 percent more revenue than than Google Play. China and Japan continue to be the main drivers of revenue growth; Japan is the leading country in combined Google Play and App Store revenue, with new games as the primary factor. And iOS revenue is continuing a strong upward movement, increasing 20 percent over the first quarter of 2014, reaching a record high revenue of almost $10 billion. Taiwan, Kuwait and Turkey also contributed significantly to iOS App Store revenue; each of these countries showed growth of 30 percent, quarter-over-quarter.
Google Play is experiencing explosive growth, especially in the emerging markets, with 60 percent more downloads than the iOS App Store. This is an increase from the first quarter of 2014, when Google Play led in downloads by 45 percent, and only one year ago, Google Play downloads were just 10 percent higher than iOS App Store downloads.
India is experiencing substantial growth in Google Play downloads, up two positions to the number three spot this quarter. This growth is attributed mainly to large numbers of consumers switching to smartphones from feature phones, although smartphones still have only 10 percent market penetration. Smartphone penetration is expected to rise, as more low-cost smartphone options reach the market.
Smartphone penetration is expected to rise, as more low-cost smartphone options reach the market.
Brazil also showed considerable growth in Google Play downloads; their market share doubled over the previous quarter in the Sports category as a result of hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The country is also of interest to Apple; February saw the opening of their first store in Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil was not the only country with growth affected by the World Cup. The entire Sports category experienced 20 percent growth in the quarter, impacted by significant increases in downloads in Germany, Argentina, and the United States. And FIFA’s official app took off around the world.
Despite these advances in Asian and emerging markets, the United States remains the top ranked country in iOS downloads and revenue. It also has the top rank in Google Play downloads and second in Google Play revenue. Clearly established markets are still very important in the app ecosystem.
The biggest challenge to the industry is localization and distribution.
At App Annie, Junde manages the APAC business. His main responsibility is to bring in revenue, which in his case goes well beyond direct sales to include localized marketing, consulting, networking and building relationships. Junde tells us, “I’ve always been in start-up mode, so having a background that includes sales, product development and marketing has its advantages.”
The biggest challenge to the industry, Junde believes, is localization and distribution. He points out that there are excellent opportunities for companies with great games so long as they emphasize localization. He tells us that companies can reap enormous rewards of one to one and a half times their Western revenue. However, he maintains “Effective localization is much more than mere translation. There are specific themes and characters that Chinese, Japanese and Korean audiences appreciate. There are also specific hooks for in-app purchases and specific ways of handling local servers.”
China and Japan are growing rapidly on both iOS and Google Play whereas Korea and most parts of Southeast Asia are doing so only on Google Play.
Junde emphasizes the tremendous and constantly increasing opportunities in the Asia with huge mobile growth in downloads and revenue throughout the market. He notes that China and Japan are growing rapidly on both iOS and Google Play whereas Korea and most parts of Southeast Asia are doing so only on Google Play. Junde also notes that single tap app revenues in China, Japan and Korea are no longer less than in the US.
For those looking to enter the Asian market, it is most effective to do so with local offices and local experts. If short term plans do not allow this, he suggests using local partners and distributors to get a feel for the region, rather than diving in with big ad budgets. At App Annie, they take this challenge seriously. They have offices in Beijing, San Francisco, London and Tokyo, with a new office now opening in Seoul. They have local business and market experts, as well as relationships in every territory.
App Annie is an industry leader in app store analytics and market intelligence supporting iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Google Play. As Director of Business Development, Junde Yu manages business development and sales in Asia for App Annie.
What made you interested in entering the mobile apps industry?
I first became acquainted with mobile in 2008 when my company was contracted to build an online app store (www.mobilehotdog.com) for older-generation phones. I started playing with apps, and when the iPhone and its army of apps arrived, I saw it was time to fully enter the industry.
What past career experiences have helped you in your current position?
I was always involved in startups, which has helped me in my current role at App Annie. My first job in mobile was in business development for Scoreloop (a social gamecenter-like SDK). While at Scoreloop, I traveled widely in China, meeting and pitching the SDK to developers in all major Chinese cities. That experience quickly brought my knowledge and connections up to speed. Subsequently as an independent mobile consultant, I worked with several companies over the span of a year that educated me on the various other segments of the mobile industry. I even released my own game on the Android Market. Finally, my gig at Tapjoy got me deeply involved in the mobile advertising industry.
Can you tell us more about App Annie? What impact do you feel it has had on the mobile apps industry?
App Annie is the leading provider of app store analytics and market intelligence. We help publishers analyze the performance of their apps in every country and category of the app stores. This understanding powers their strategic, marketing, and content decisions to achieve the best ROI.
We’ve had a tremendous impact without spending much marketing budget to date. This is because there was a market need, and no other product available that matched the quality of our data and rich analytic capabilities. Today we have more than 50,000 users for our market analytics products, including 80 percent of the top 100 worldwide grossing publishers. Some of these companies have more than 100 staff using our products, so we’re pretty sure it has helped them make money 🙂
Why is it important for a business to gather intelligence regarding the market?
Market intelligence has always been provided by players in other industries – you have companies like Nielsen, comScore, GfK, etc.
Market intelligence helps answer questions such as: Which product should I invest in building? Which countries should I put my marketing budget in? What are my competitors doing? And so on.
An agency guy once told us that people buy market data because they simply cannot make a decision on gut.
What new trends have you seen emerging in the mobile apps market?
While iOS is still the dominant platform for app publishers in terms of revenue, we’re seeing the growth of Google Play downloads and revenue exceeding that of iOS in some sizeable markets such as Brazil, Russia and Japan. We recently published a detailed infographic on iOS vs. Google Play called Game of Phones: http://www.appannie.com/game-of-phones/#.T-iavPXhe7I
Which market has the highest potential? Why do you think that is?
The Japanese market, because the top apps there can make almost as much money as the top apps in the US. This result is mainly driven by the existence of many high spending (high ARPU) consumers, especially in some specific game categories. Today, the Japanese iOS market is still one dominated by mainly Japanese publishers, so it would be interesting to see the big Western publishers as well as indies enter the market with the help of the huge platforms like GREE and DeNA. When that happens, it will be exciting to see how high mobile app revenues in Japan can soar.
In which market are there growing opportunities for publishers?
Developing economies in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe represent a huge opportunity for publishers. Not many companies are localizing apps for these countries yet. But those who are have seen very positive and undisturbed revenue generation.
What predictions do you have for the current industry?
I see more companies targeting the developing economies globally instead of the biggest Western markets, and eventually getting acquired by some of the biggest publishers.
What new ideas can we look forward to from App Annie?
You can expect to see more free features for publishers to analyze their sales and marketing data across all the existing platforms we currently support as well as some new ones. In addition, be on the lookout for a lot of new infographics with original market insights drawn from the highest quality app store data in the industry.