Games have long helped people on a personal level by providing entertainment, mental exercises, exposure to different ideas, and even new connections. But as social consciousness grows across the world, some are looking to the unique interaction games offer to build awareness, activism, and relationships on a variety of issues.
Among those who are attempting to use games for more altruistic ends are studios like Bandura Games, Moocho Brain Interactive and Neopix. While they hail from different parts of the world and have different goals, all three are seeking to use games to improve the world around them in significant ways.
The social casino gaming track at Casual Connect Europe brought together big-name leaders and independent innovators for a focused look on how the social casino industry can continue thriving.
Playtika SVP Elad Kushnir’s fireside chat with GamesBeat reporter Jeff Grubb set an introspective tone for the track. The two discussed multiple challenges that the social casino market faces and how they might be overcome — including overall growth, different platforms, foreign markets and the top-heavy nature of the sector.
Super Death Fortress is an iOS artillery shooter which was developed in the first half of 2015 and released in July of that year from Flat Earth Games. The Flat Earth co-founders and brothers Rohan and Leigh Harris share the story.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Today, 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!
“You would be surprised by how many big companies fail to communicate with players after acquiring them because they don’t want to be a ‘bother’,” Sharon Magen explained during his lecture at Casual Connect USA 2014. “In fact, app publishers are leaving huge amounts of revenue on the table by not trying to win back some of the 80 percent of users who go dormant within the first month after download.”
Sharon Magen is the chief revenue officer at Appoxee. He works across sales, marketing, and product to enhance their product offering and grow new business and revenues.
Appoxee is already pioneering what they believe will be the next important trend in the games industry and beyond; mobile marketing automation. By mobile marketing automation, he is referring to the use of software and other technologies to automatically send targeted, personal, and relevant messages to your user base. Magen believes, when done correctly, mobile marketing automation is very effective in increasing app engagement and retention and driving up revenues to games. He emphasizes, “As the world becomes increasingly mobile and app-centric, the need to automate mobile marketing processes and strategy will only intensify.”
In the coming months, Magen says Appoxee will unveil several new features to its platform that will help game publishers to continue to further target, personalize, and optimize their messages to users. This year, Appoxee has already introduced several engagement-boosting features, such as Best Time to Send, a proprietary algorithm that pinpoints the optimal time to deliver a message to a user based on his app usage patterns, and Personalized Messaging, which can boost push open rates by up to 3x.
“It has been a great year for Appoxee, and we’re excited to introduce some new features that will really help all our gaming clients really take their user engagement strategy to the next level,” Magen says.
A Personal Connection
Magen’s desire to be a part of the gaming industry stems from his personal love of gaming (from the original Nintendo GameBoy to the newest Playstation games). Magen also owns an Xbox One which was a gift from his wife’s father, who evidently didn’t want Magen spending time with his daughter, or so he believes.
With his firm love of games, Magen decided a few years ago to join with a good friend to do performance marketing in the games space. He has continued that mission with Appoxee, which has a strong roster of gaming clients, Social Point, Playtika and Playphone among them. A major reason he has continued in the industry is the fun people who are a part of it. He especially enjoys the science behind the monetization of games.
When Magen has time away from work he enjoys spending time with his children, traveling, and playing his guitar.
Elizabeth Priestman and Jon Walsh shared an action plan to help games have monetization during a session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “The number one lever we look to work with is really around retention,” Elizabeth said. “So if the players are not there, take a look first and foremost at the game loop.”
Elizabeth Priestman is executive vice president and partner at Fuse Powered, where she heads business development, strategic partnerships, and marketing efforts; anything industry facing is part of her role. She has had years of experience marketing top ten mobile games, as have most of the team at Fuse Powered. She finds this invaluable for the work she is doing now: designing products that enable publishers to really grow and monetize their games. She is able to work closely with Fuse Powered partners to develop strategies whether it is IAP or designing the most effective ad placements and programs.
Priestman became involved in the games industry when she founded a digital ad agency where they made branded games to drive consumer loyalty, trials, and sales. They measured every aspect of the game and its impact with consumers to ensure there was ROI. From there, the evolution to the mobile game industry was natural.
The best thing about her work, in her opinion, is the opportunity to interface with so many talented developers and publishers in an industry that is shaping so rapidly. She says, “The people make it a really great area to work in. The whole industry is so dynamic; we’re at the tip of the iceberg of mobile gaming, and it’s a fantastic place to be.”
Nuance & Strategy
Priestman notes that we are now seeing much more nuance and strategy in the way mobile developers and publishers are managing their audiences. With acquisition costs so high, it is essential to take extra care marketing and monetizing your audience. A lot of very sophisticated audience segmentation is now happening. We will need targeted offers and advanced merchandising marketing very specific in-app offerings to very specific segments, and closely targeting offerings to the users that really want them, whether that is a game, an app, or a brand ad. Fuse Powered’s products are designed specifically to meet these needs.
The Way Forward in the Industry
Their primary goal is to help mobile developers and publishers monetize one hundred percent of their player base with sophisticated IAP merchandizing and well-placed, relevant ads. Priestman emphasizes, “This is absolutely the way forward in the industry.”
Priestman’s gaming has her currently enjoying MMX Racing by Hutch. She says, “It is awesome monster truck racing fun, and I’m pretty good!” Since she is always on the go, her favorite platforms are iOS and Android. And her proudest moment was completing 2048 before her five-year-old.
When not gaming, her favorite free time activities are snowboarding and wine tasting, although she insists she rarely does these together.
Barbara Chamberlin shared her views on user testing during Casual Connect USA 2014. “The personal epiphany I had was not to resent user testing every time I had to do it, but to find a way to make it easy,” she said.
Barbara Chamberlin is the director of the New Mexico State University Learning Games Lab. For almost 20 years, she has been developing games for learning. Because she has always hated user testing, she has focused her research on finding more efficient and enjoyable ways to get the kind of feedback from kids that will make learning games better.
As a parent of two children, Chamberlin naturally spends considerable time involved with their activities, such as 4H meetings and swimming practice. She also downloads many children’s apps and finds it exciting to review, play, and discuss them with her children. She brings to her work the advantage of constantly being reminded of how children learn and how things that are mundane to adults are exciting new discoveries for kids.
Learning and Experience
Chamberlin describes herself as insatiable, constantly wanting to learn more, see more, and experience more. In her work, the results of her research immediately spark new questions. When a new construct is implemented, she enjoys thinking of other ways it could be used, and hearing about something new carries with it the desire to learn more.
The best part of working in this industry for Chamberlin is the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of different things. She sees her work as education rather than gaming; everything they create is based on research and has education or behavior change as the end goal. She insists that, although the concepts their games teach may sound boring, the content is vital to a student’s success, so it is equally necessary to do a good job helping kids learn it. “When you really understand how essential this is, it is exciting to realize how much potential you have as a designer,” she claims. “That’s the best part. We’re changing lives here, in small, incremental, but incredibly important ways.”
The Power Of Interactivity
Twenty years ago, when she was creating interactive touch screen kiosks for public environment, she realized the power of interactivity for learning, and thought, “It should all be like this.” So she has spent her career at NMSU figuring out educational gaming and seeing it evolve and grow. Recently, she has seen an increase in great educational games and public acceptance of educational game play. She maintains, “Just as every game developer should be a game player, so should every learning games developer be a learning researcher. We can do so much more than make quiz games for learning; we can change behavior, alter mindsets, influence emotions and really empower inquiry. I’m excited to see the industry moving in those directions.”
The Monetization Challenge
The most serious challenge Chamberlin sees facing the games industry today is the monetization of casual games. While she realizes game development is a business, she also recognizes that we now know so much about human behavior that we can tweak every impulse and scientifically manipulate each person to spend, contribute, and buy. Unfortunately, it also makes the game less fun, and, she says, “It doesn’t do much for society either.” These games may distract the user and tickle the part of the brain that responds to incentives, but players’ lives are not made richer from the experience. She would much prefer to see people make money by crafting beautiful, engaging, and enriching experiences.
Chamberlin does not face the issue of monetization directly, since most of her work is grant-funded and does not have to show a profit, yet they — like many developers of educational games — are still looking for a viable model for disseminating, promoting and maintaining their apps, once developed.
In this competitive space, many educational developers still face the challenge of promoting and disseminating their games into classrooms and to learners. One of biggest questions in the educational gaming right now, according to Chamberlin, is the school-based dissemination of learning software. Everyone in the industry is trying to anticipate how teachers and parents find and buy apps, how schools decide what systems to use, and how children engage in the apps most specific to their needs. She says, “We are still trying to predict the best way to get effective learning tools the hands of the learner.”
Marcus Kim, the product director of Valuepotion, is constantly looking for new services and technologies to improve the platform, a quest which continues to expand his insights into the digital industry. During his time at Daum Communications, he worked on several projects, including their new services, Ad@m, the first mobile ad network, and Daum Display Network, the first ad network in Korea. He admits, “Developing new platforms is not easy, however I have great opportunities to utilize my passion for this type of project, including Valuepotion, at Daum.”
Listening To Developers
When Kim and his team started to develop this platform, their original focus was solely on game marketing. However, he realized that many developers are under pressure to integrate many SDKs into one game. So he expanded the concept of the platform from marketing to include analytics, allowing them to understand their app and marketing metrics and also utilize their marketing strategies based on the analytics. In this way, developers will be able to maximize revenue from their games.
After expanding the platform from marketing to analytics, the team developed a simple but fast integration process for game developers while still offering various marketing tools. They will continue to focus on game developers’ needs so they can utilize the platform to realize success with their games.
Built For Success
Creating the Valuepotion team at Daum Communications has brought Kim the greatest satisfaction in his career. The team includes experienced engineers and a platform strategic planner; while it is a small team, their ease of communication allows them to move quickly to launch their new product. Their goal is to launch the platform around the world by the end of this year.
As product director of Valuepotion, Kim is responsible to manage all matters relating to the platform. While developing the platforms Ad@m and DDM, he acquired a broad knowledge of global trends which show the mobile game market is one of the fastest growing markets in the industry. He recognized the need to increase Korean mobile game market growth.
Priority #1 – Monetization
The rapidly changing mobile market environment makes it difficult for Kim to predict what may happen in the industry in the next three to five years. However, he recognizes monetization as the top priority for measuring the success of a mobile game. For the next year or two, he expects to see developers working to increase their revenues in two ways: with in-app purchases and with advertising. The free-to-play business model, with its in-app purchases, continues to increase, but game developers may have trouble making money with free-to-play. Kim expects explosive growth of in-game ads matched to game content, and the interstitial ads will have sustained growth, “because game developers have to attract in-app purchases in an increasingly competition environment and that is not easy to do,” he says. “So it will be an important additional revenue model like advertising.”
The free-to-play business model, with its in-app purchases, continues to increase, but game developers may have trouble making money with free-to-play.
For the future, he plans to provide one of the leading platforms with the essential factors that will allow mobile game developers to achieve success by adopting new products based on market demand.
A Switch to Mobile
Kim’s work leaves him little free time, but he does enjoy playing with his two sons on the weekends. He also enjoys gaming; his favorite platform was PS2 and he loved playing Winning Eleven. But now he prefers mobile gaming since they offer a variety of genres, including arcade puzzle, which is one of his favorites. As well, mobile games are always accessible; whenever he has a moment he can play.
At Casual Connect Asia, Kim announced the launch of the closed beta program of their platform to the Asia market. Since February, they have been working with their Korean partners, who have been satisfied using the platform for analytics and marketing of their games. They will also roll out their new product, InPlay video ads, which feature a video of up to 15 seconds; after watching the video ad, players receive a reward toward an in-app purchase.
Scott Prather, VP of Business Development at PlayPhone, has been involved with mobile gaming for more than a decade. Before he came to PlayPhone, he helped two startups in the mobile gaming industry, OpenFeint (purchased by GREE in 2011) and I-Play (purchased by Oberon Media in 2011) grow and exit. He also spent a number of years with The Walt Disney Company and T-Mobile USA. Because his background has included work at both large and small game development studios, a wireless carrier, and a platform provider, he is able to evaluate opportunities from multiple angles. At PlayPhone, he heads up the marketing, strategic development and all business partnerships, strategically growing and partnering with leading developers, technology companies, and wireless operators across the globe.
PlayPhone’s social gaming platform powers numerous game stores for leading carriers that link to a global gaming community, with partners that include Verizon, Sprint, SingTel, Claro, and Vivo. Prather tells us there are more carrier partnerships in the works, including the launch of their latest carrier game store. He insists, “We’re very excited about the incredible momentum and engagement that we’re seeing. Our reach is quickly approaching a billion mobile customers, solidifying our position as the world’s third app store.”
The most exciting time Prather remembers in his career was the launch of PlayPhone’s first social game store on Verizon. He says, “Working directly with Verizon from conceptualization of the deal through product delivery and testing took a huge amount of time and effort, but it made the actual release that much more satisfying. Being able to walk into any one of their 2300 plus stores and see your product on display is a pretty good feeling.”
Next-Gen Mobile Gaming Experience
He points out that they are creating leading edge technology as they pioneer the next generation mobile gaming experience, and a successful market introduction and carrier launch road map has confirmed their vision and technology.
PlayPhone is always looking for ways to improve their gaming network. They constantly analyze how players use and play games on the platform and constantly seek new ways to enhance the gaming experience. He claims, “We listen to the community, both players and developers, and build the road map accordingly.”
Prather admits to being an avid, longtime gamer himself, and says one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job is getting to play the games as they come onto PlayPhone’s mobile gaming network. As with most of us, these days he is playing My Singing Monsters, Candy Crush Saga and Deer Hunter 2014. He says console games are amazing, but he prefers mobile, claiming nothing beats being able to play on-the-go.
He foresees the next few years bringing aggressive mobile expansion globally with increased smartphone penetration; faster and more powerful phones and tablets; increased mobile and internet usage; and increased percentage of time spent on phones and tablets as opposed to laptops. He also expects an explosion of mobile gaming growth globally including Asia, Africa and Latin America with China, India, Indonesia and Brazil leading the way.
The Importance of Engagement
Prather emphasizes the advantages of the free-to-play model because it lowers the barrier to entry and enables the widest audience to easily invite friends to play and share games, something he sees as a core ingredient for successful gaming. He notes, “Engagement goes up significantly when more friends are playing together.”
But he sees the most challenging element in free-to-play is getting the balance of monetization right, since monetization is critical to the success of every game. Engagement is essential to convert a user to a paying user, and monetization is optimized when the play vs purchase mechanic is balanced and the right offer is delivered at the right time. Free-to-play is most successful when monetization is integrated at the game design phase. He emphasizes, “Successful monetization balance is typically achieved only through much testing and iteration. It’s amazing how much psychology goes into gaming.”