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ContributionsOnlinePR & Marketing

A Comprehensive Analysis of the Tools that Support Mobile Game Development (Part 2)

September 10, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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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.


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 second of two articles, we will be looking at the remaining three of the five segments of game operations tools: behavioral analytics, engagement and retention tools, and monetization tools. If you missed the first part of this series, you can catch up here.

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Behavioral Analytics

Behavioral analytics are critical. Everyone knows this. What everyone doesn’t know is what data they should be tracking, what tools they should be using to do so, and what to do with that data once they have it. This section will try to shed some light on what data is most important, how you should be thinking about using that data to manage your game into a financial success, and what tools will be the most effective in helping you do that.

Deeply Understand the Different User Cohorts

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Different users will respond very differently to the content and features of your games. They will also have different lifetimes and behaviors in the game. Successful developers work hard early on to determine how users should be cohorted based upon their usage patterns, demographic, and traffic source, and then they carefully manage each of these cohorts to maximize their experience and positive behaviors in your game (such as social engagement, lifetime, and spending).

Heartbeat vs. Actionable KPIs – Actionable KPIs are More Important

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Heartbeat KPIs are things such as DAU and ARPU that tell you about the general health of your game. They do not give you deep insights into behavior, however. You need to establish KPIs, specific to your game, which help you understand what your players retain and why, what features and content they engage with, and when your players monetize.

As you define what’s important, you often need to dig deeply into your data to find out what’s happening.

Experiment. A lot. Use A/B testing
Test fixes, content, and new features constantly, and test them against control groups. A lot of your guesses as to what will help improve user behavior will actually be wrong, but some will lead to significant improvements in your numbers. A/B testing will help you a lot in your experiments.

Do More than React. Model and Predict
Don’t just release and test. Predict. After a while, you will have enough data to establish trends and create mathematical models that predict user responses to specific content and changes.

Engage, Engage, Engage

What to look for in tools:

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Actively engage each specific cohort of users with content that they love and offers they would like. It increases their engagement and maximizes their spending.

A Comparison of Tools

The following is a list of analytics tools that are well suited to online game development. Each of their offerings are slightly different, so we recommend first determining the needs of your game and reaching out to them to get the details of their offerings.

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These tools are extremely helpful to your analysis. For most companies, it would take longer than is possible to create an in-house metrics solution that mimics their functionality. However, all games are unique, and none of these tools will measure EVERYTHING you need to measure.

When first launching your game and throughout its early lifetime, these tools will be more than sufficient. However, if your game becomes a huge success, you’ll want to supplement these tools with your own analysis tools that create custom metrics and analyses that these tools can’t. This will help you ensure you have the absolute best idea of what your players want and how to please them.

Finally, pair your behavioral analytics with good system metrics in order to avoid system downtime hurting your KPIs. DeltaDNA, one of the leading gaming analytics packages, cites technical issues as a top reason for users failing to engage with an app. This implies that although many game developers may be doing a good job understanding and serving users, they may not be managing their system problems as well as they could. And it’s hurting their revenue.

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To avoid technical issues damaging your game’s numbers, you want to ensure that in addition to having excellent behavioral analytics, your operations team is equipped with proper logging and server monitoring tools. This helps ensure your system remains as error free as possible.

Engagement and Retention Tools

User engagement can (roughly) be boiled down to the following components:

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Given that your game design is engaging, behavioral metrics packages are your primary tool for understanding your users and knowing how to engage them. There are, however, a few extra tools that act as supplements to your ability to engage users.

Optimized Player Segmentation and Targeting

Creating player segments and deciding what features and content suit them best is challenging. You can use simple observation of your metrics to determine this, but there are some statistical tools that can greatly improve your predictive ability. Honeylizer is one of the best tools for this and will help you determine how players should be segmented and what the best content is to serve to those segments.

Social Engagement – Integration with Established Social Networks

People like playing with their friends. In a game, if they have the option to play the game with friends, they will often do so. You can create this integration yourself with Facebook Graph’s and iOS Game Center, and if you have the resources, you should try this.

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However, the Game Center and Facebook Graph API are fairly complex and change all the time. This means your app’s social integration can break constantly. If you’d prefer to outsource the management of this, you can choose third-party packages that make integration and maintenance of social functionality easy.

Multiplayer Facilitation

Adding social networking and multiplayer elements to your game can often grow your engagement. A few tools provide libraries and services to you, which help you integrate with social networks fast and provide multiplayer functionality to your game.

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Both of these packages offer social network integration. For multiplayer functionality, Swarm focuses more on leaderboards and achievements, while Nextpeer focuses on facilitating peer-to-peer multiplayer functionality within your core gameplay.

Customer Experience Management and Help Desks

As your game grows to tens and hundreds of thousands of users, you will often become flooded with support issues that, if unmanaged, can damage your online and app store reviews. Having a system to manage support issues will help your users feel like they’re being taken care of and help you better understand what users are qualitatively thinking.

Your customer support system should include the following:
● A wiki or set of support pages with issue FAQs and support information
● A ticket system for customers to report issues
● A web portal to respond to customer tickets
● Optional customer support outsourcing to help you manage inquiries

Vendors that provide such systems include the following:

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For most games, an overwhelming amount of customer complaints are due to operational issues. If a large number of players are complaining about something, you can use logging tools to help you identify the problem and solve it immediately.

Monetization Tools

Games today are overwhelmingly free-to-play and monetized primarily via in-game purchases. However, ads can be a strong source of secondary income for a developer that implements them well.

Ad Publishing

Today, advertising providers offer a wide variety of options for apps and games. These include native ads, rewarded installs and actions, rewarded video, moment ads, rich media ads, and ad mediation and bidding. (More information on these options can be found in the first part of this article series).

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There is a lot of variety in the amount of return these ads can give you and what each advertiser pays. Before integrating ads, you should look carefully at the rates that companies pay for each type of advertising.

Maximize Payouts, Minimize Annoyed Users

You want to maximize your ad impressions clicks while minimizing the annoyance of your users.

Some good rules of thumb in this process are:
● Use native ads to imbed them directly into the UI of your game so that they are a fluid part of the game’s experience and don’t disturb the player.
● Place moment ads in areas where players can get ahead by interacting with the ads.
● Offer rewarded ads at points where extra in-game currency will benefit the user.
● If using ad tools that offer mediation, use the mediation and real-time bidding tools the ad provider offers to get the most contextual content to your users. This will maximize your user’s interaction with it and help to minimize their annoyance.

Matrix of ad publishing service each network provides
Matrix of ad publishing service each network provides

Implementing in-app purchases can be somewhat tedious. If this is tripping you up, you can use SOOMLA to help you speed this process up.

When Should You Use Third-Party Game Operation Tools?

Let’s quickly recap the strategies for choosing tools for maximizing your game’s performance at each step of the customer lifecycle.

1. System Management Tools
Online games are put under an incredible amount of stress and things fail – a lot. To keep your system at optimal uptime, you should have good logging tools to detect and solve system issues quickly.

2. User Acquisition Tools
31Today, there are a variety of advertising formats beyond mobile banner ads. If you don’t have a big advertising budget, work to get lots of organic traffic via social media, app store optimization, and direct deals with other developers through direct-deal platforms like those that Chartboost offers.

If you do have a decent marketing budget, work hard to design good native and rich media ads and place them using mediation tools with ad networks that have game-centric focuses. Continually fine-tune your campaigns until you find the best ads and the best networks.

3. Behavioral Analytics
Behavioral analytics are your primary tools for understanding who your users are, what they like, and how to serve them. In focusing on your users, you want to focus on actionable KPIs and insights instead of top-level ones like simple DAU and ARPDAU.

When searching for tools, you want to look for those that provide you the rigorous ability to segment users, define your own KPIs, track where your users came from, and data mine deep into your data for granular insights.

4. Engagement and Retention Tools
Retention and engagement is primarily a function of the developer’s ability to understand who users are and cater to their desires. However, there are tools out there that help you automate the process of classifying your users, tools that help you bring social functionality to the game, and tools that help you directly support customer issues with your games.

5. Monetization Tools

Microtransactions are the primary form of making money in a free-to-play game, but ads are a great secondary form of revenue.

Microtransactions are the primary form of making money in a free-to-play game, but ads are a great secondary form of revenue. The same options for advertising (listed above) are great for monetizing. The best way to optimize monetization via ads (ad publishing) is to make ads a seamless experience in your app and place them at points where interacting with ads is beneficial for your users. Make the same rigorous use of behavioral analytics you use elsewhere in your game to maximize your ad revenue!

Using a Decision Framework to Decide on Tool Usage

These tools are meant to automate key functions of game operations. However, they do require effort to integrate and they do cost money.

So when making the decision to use third-party tools, you want to ask a few questions:

● How crucial is the functionality the tool provides to your game? Does your game REALLY require it?
● What does your team say about it?
● How time consuming is it to integrate and maintain? Some are easier, some are more complex.
● Do the tools bring a greater revenue or cost savings than the cost of the tool?
● Do these easily work with your chosen game engine and technology platform?

Once you’ve run through this checklist with your team, you can make the decision!

 

ContributionsOnlinePR & Marketing

A Comprehensive Analysis of the Tools that Support Mobile Game Development (Part 1)

September 10, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

feature-1.jpg

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.

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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.

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These articles aim to clarify what useful tools and services exist for each lifecycle step and provide a framework for evaluating their usefulness to your product, looking at the five segments of game operations 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.

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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.

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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:

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App Store Ranking Optimization

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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.

12App 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.

Advertising Tools

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.
13Smaller 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.

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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.

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