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

September 10, 2014 — by Industry Contributions


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.


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


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


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:


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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:


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).


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!


USA 2014Video Coverage

Bart van den Berg: Building Games For the Mobile Web | Casual Connect Video

August 11, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton


“We’ve been doing premium and freemium for the last 15 years, and it’s still there. It’s not all free-to-play,” Bart van den Berg explained in a panel at Casual Connect USA 2014. “If you can’t manage in the free-to-play, the method is too tricky for your game concept, or you don’t think you have the long tail, definitely try freemium as well, because it’s still alive.”

Bart van den Berg, Co-founder and CEO, Blue Giraffe

Bart van den Berg started his career at a website agency, just around the time of the dot-com bubble. He remembers, “Back then, the sky was the limit. We would organize a weekly soccer game in the ballroom, and we might have broken a vase or two.” But he quickly realized the situation couldn’t last, and within two years, he was working at an online agency. This agency was just across the tracks from the parking lot, which couldn’t be reached in winter because cars would slide off the icy slope. They worked for many different customers, mainly retail, and the service was very customer oriented. Clients could call at any time, and what the customers wanted, they built. At this agency, van den Berg was responsible for accounts and programming. He says, “We didn’t make a lot of money, but everyone was happy.” In 2013, he made the switch to the games industry, where they are still putting the customer experience above everything else. Now he is the co-founder and CEO of Blue Giraffe, a casual games studio.

Kicking Off The Business

The Blue Giraffe team

The proudest moment he remembers in this journey was on April 2, 2013, when Blue Giraffe got the key to their first office, a small studio in the industrial area of Eindhoven. He describes, “It was a sunny day. We had four computers and four desks, one license of Photoshop and three of Visual Studio. We agreed that day never to move.” But within a year, they had moved to a larger office.

During Apple’s WWDC’14, the support for WebGL on all mobile devices supporting iOS8 was announced. Van den Berg believes this will be a game changer for both studios and publishers. Until then, he wasn’t sure how HTML5 would work for casual games. For many years, they have been building games in C++ and have certain expectations for animations, graphics, and performance. So, he says, “When WebGL was announced, I was jumping around the room. Literally.”

Blue Giraffe had already begun building games in HTML5. Now, with their new platform, they believe they will provide an outstanding new service to the casual games community.

Blue Giraffe had already begun building games in HTML5.

The Netflix Business Model

Van den Berg is waiting to see Netflix subscription models for casual games, something he would love to see happen. As well, he believes casual games are limited because they are bound to one platform. But within the next year, he hopes to see level progressions shared across all platforms, whether you are playing on desktop, laptop, Android smartphone, or Apple tablet.

Within the next year, he hopes to see level progressions shared across all platforms, whether you are playing on desktop, laptop, Android smartphone, or Apple tablet.

Van den Berg claims his favorite hobby is trying to build awesome games with his friends at Blue Giraffe. But when he is not behind a computer, smartphone, or tablet, he likes to go for a run. You will find him in the park on Sunday or with his family somewhere in the Alps in the summer because he believes no game can compete with fresh air.

But he also admits to being in love with his iPad, where you will find him playing stacks of different games at a time. Most of the games he plays are either free-to-play or freemium. Some of the games he is currently enjoying are Popcap’s Zuma HD, Bejeweled, and Castaway Paradise, an island adventure game on iPad.

He has a love-hate relationship with free-to-play.

He has a love-hate relationship with free-to-play. From a business point of view, he finds it interesting to see how behavior science and psychology can be used to motivate people to buy boosters and upgrades. But looking at the choices the casual games industry has made, he feels it would have been wiser to keep prices at a decent level, and premium would work just as well.

Van den Berg still appreciates consoles, particularly Dreamcast, which he considers far superior to Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft. He still plays Shenmue, Crazy Taxi, and Sonic. The most recent console he purchased was an Ouya, which he is using as an XMBC player, but he is not yet sure what he thinks of it.

At Casual Connect USA, van den Berg announced that Blue Giraffe is building a new platform to support studios in developing games on any device. will be launched in Fall 2014. The platform consists of a toolkit for developers building games in HTML5 and allows them to easily acquire, register players, as well as prototype, test and co-develop with players on all devices. is an online service and several companion apps that gives testers a way to quickly test, as well as giving studios a way to view metrics that matter.

Video Coverage

Josh Nilson: Building Communities and Connecting With Customers | Casual Connect Video

August 23, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton


“It’s easy to keep employees motivated when your growth and revenues are taking off like a rocket ship. What keeps people from leaving a company when times get tough is having a strong culture, people who care about the company and each other…” said Emily Greer of Kongregate in a panel that Josh Nilson took part in at Casual Connect San Francisco on the critically important topic of Community Building in F2P Games.


Eastside Games Banks on Communities

Josh Nilson
Josh Nilson

Josh Nilson, Co-Founder of East Side Games in Vancouver, emphasizes the importance of building stronger community in the games industry. He says that in the days of console studios, they never talked to each other, but East Side Games and some other studios in Vancouver wanted to change the situation and decided to work to build the strong community they envisioned. They began talking and sharing real information with other studios. Josh tells us, “We supported the grassroots Meetup groups, we mentor at local game design schools and help out other Indies as much as we can. We also started throwing our IndiePower small meetups to connect with other Indies worldwide. We still have lots of work to do, but it’s a great start.”

Josh describes himself as a coffee and beer nerd who never turns down a tasting. On weekends, he spends his time hanging out with his family and Jabba the Pug. As an avid hockey fan, he prefers listening to whatever music is playing at the hockey game.

Amazing Customer Service goes Beyond Answering Emails

The future games will be even more about providing great customer experiences.

At East Side Games, Josh is responsible for running the day-to-day operations, building the team, defending the culture, and making sure the games go out and stay up. He believes customer support is a big part of making it all happen. Before founding East Side Games, he worked at Relic in Production and IT, worked as PM at some startups and as Technical Support at a large ISP. But he feels that the most important things he learned came from the ten years he spent working in hotels before moving into games and IT. There, he learned about giving amazing customer service and treating guest right so they continue coming back to your brand for years.

The most important advice he gives about making a better product is “Don’t forget your customer. We obsess about great customer service for all our games, and so should you.” He points out that this was forgotten along the way with games, but with free-to-play, it is essential. Now games are built with customers, relying on their feedback.

Josh believes that, in the future, games will be even more about providing great customer experience. In some parts of the world, there is already 24/7 live phone support. He foresees that more companies will be pushing the boundaries to connect and build games with their fans. He also sees fans of games getting younger; his two-year-old wants to play Toca Boca games, asking for them by name. This is a market and demographic that will only continue to grow.


Excellence Takes Focus

Josh feels the biggest challenge he faces is rapid growth. The company grew four times in one year, from 14 people to 50. He tells us, “In the end, the growth was too fast. We had to put aside some of the games we were working on and refocus.” However, during this time, they were able to build their own analytics platform, game framework and CS tool; they learned they could build tech during these times, but, he says, “Games are a different beast.”

A Culture of Community Building, Internally and Externally

Something that gives Josh great satisfaction is the East Side Games culture. They work an intense day, but then go home to live their lives. He claims, “We love our community and obsess over it. Staff meetings are at a pub and everyone has a say. We only build games the team pitches at the Swill and Spill; then we do prototypes to ensure they are fun.” Family life is also supported, with people bringing in their babies for everyone to see after they take maternity leave.  He has found building this culture during a period of intense growth an amazing experience.