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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!

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Yaniv Nizan on Succeeding with a Startup | Casual Connect Video

May 20, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“What publishers really offer game developers today is, first of all, development tools that already have the know-how of how to make better games, how to make games more addictive, how to make them more successful,” Yaniv Nizan tells his audience during Casual Connect Asia 2014.

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Yaniv Nizan
Yaniv Nizan, Co-Founder and CEO, SOOMLA

Yaniv Nizan, co-founder and CEO of SOOMLA, is a man who loves a challenge, especially the challenge of creating something new. He describes himself as an adrenaline junkie, saying, “New ventures mean you have to succeed where others failed, you have to compete against much bigger companies in markets that are undergoing tremendous changes.”

He believes the trick to winning against these large competitors is using their size to your advantage. The opportunities for new ventures usually come when the market is so dynamic that large companies have difficulty adapting.

He offers these suggestions to companies starting up. First, read Lean Startup. Second, read the SOOMLA blog for resources about starting a company and about game design.

Simplify The Complex

Nizan admits that leading a company requires many skills, but there is one that he uses constantly: the ability to take things that are complex and simplifying them so they can be understood by everyone and communicated in mass. This skill is necessary in many areas, including marketing, blogging, fundraising, investor relations, product, public speaking, and more. But he emphasizes, “In order to do that, you have to know the space you are in very well and understand how people think.”

SOOMLA Team
The SOOMLA Team

Where It All Started

Nizan’s interest in games began with a 1983 game called Digger, which he played for hours. This game taught him a great deal about how computers work, since, at that time, it wasn’t simple to download an app; you had to do a lot of hacking to even be playing the game. He claims these games were the impetus for his career in the computer industry.

These days, he is a much more mobile gamer. Currently, he is hooked on a game called Box It, which involves blocking areas of the screen by moving a ball and trapping other balls. He has been playing this puzzle game exclusively for the past two months.

The creativity of the games industry, combining visual art, audio, interaction and programming at the highest level, is something he especially values. He also enjoys the extremely competitive nature of the industry that requires fast thinking at all times. And, he says, “Nothing beats playing games at work!”

Casual Connect’s Indie Prize is a demo of creativity and a great way to get exposure, although the ultimate way to get exposure is to license existing IP. “The best thing is to license existing IP from a book, a film, or a retry game. This has to be done on a revenue-sharing basis, as you don’t want to be paying out of pocket.” He also suggests applying for the Indie Prize or submitting the game to be featured on the SOOMLA blog.

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He also suggests applying for Casual Connect’s Indie Prize Showcase or submitting the game to be featured on the SOOMLA blog.

A History of Platforms

As Nizan considers the history of the games industry, he notes that it has always been driven by platforms. These have included PCs, consoles, handhelds, then PCs again, followed by online games, Facebook games, and now mobile games. He insists, “In every shift, huge companies collapsed and new giants came to replace them. So the main question we should be asking is: what is the next platform?”

“So the main question we should be asking is: what is the next platform?”

The most interesting trend Nizan sees coming in the industry is shared economy. It is already a part of other industries and is just beginning to be seen in the games industry. There are now ways self-published game developers can pull together resources, something that will happen more frequently in the future. He expects to see more open source and more shared resources for developers and by developers, especially in areas that were traditionally the domain of publishers.

Nizan hopes that more game developers will mature in their understanding of the business aspects of getting users, engaging them and retaining them. He believes this is about building two basic things into a game: a sense of progress in the form of achievements or levels, and wealth accumulation in a virtual economy. He says, “When these are balanced, they make users come back to the game naturally. They are not that hard to build, but most developers build them as an afterthought.”

 

Europe 2014Video Coverage

Yaniv Nizan: Don’t be Afraid to Win | Casual Connect Video

February 20, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“What is that X-factor that can explain why games become more addictive?” Yaniv Nizan asked his audience at Casual Connect Europe. “What I’ve realized is that there is one thing: time.”

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Yaniv Nizan
Yaniv Nizan, Co-founder and CEO, SOOMLA

Yaniv Nizan is Co-founder and CEO of SOOMLA, which he describes as a self-serve platform for creating dynamic in-app purchase stores for mobile games. As the first virtual economy platform, SOOMLA offers an open source framework which standardizes virtual economies in games, while the platform allows the creation and management of these economies. The company’s core technology focuses on financial algorithms, big data, and community-based frameworks.

SOOMLA Starts with a Conversation

It was a conversation with a developer that led to the founding of SOOMLA. This developer was quite successful, with five million downloads on his first game. He described the many emails he had been receiving from different SDK companies. At that point, Nizan realized the company’s success depended on making a product game developers would really love. They decided to start an open source framework, which has now become the leading framework for in-game economies and in-app purchases. He proudly announces that SOOMLA has recently passed 1,500 developer accounts.

Nizan tells us the size of the company requires him to have a generalist’s role. Fortunately, he has a background of diverse experiences filling different roles in a number of companies.

It was a conversation with a developer that led to the founding of SOOMLA.
It was a conversation with a developer that led to the founding of SOOMLA.

Satisfaction and Snowboarding in Israel

When Nizan gets away from work, he clears his head by swimming on a daily basis and also enjoys hiking with his children. He states that his true addiction is snowboarding, although this is a challenging hobby to pursue in Israel. He appreciates both electronic music and alternative rock, depending on his mood.

It was in the first company he founded, EyeView, that he experienced the most satisfying time of his career. In order to open the market and prove to investors their product was valid, they needed to close big customers. He was able to close two of these customers in one month: Ebay and Yahoo, an accomplishment which had him shouting with excitement.  Although Ebay was ten times bigger, Yahoo was the first and most rewarding.

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He points to the mobile games market today as an example where the small developers have as much chance of making it to the top as the big companies do.

Underdogs – Fight Harder and Smarter

The first time Nizan dealt with a competitor that was better funded, as well as having a stronger brand and more traction, brought his most challenging opportunity. He created a strategy to focus on one segment of the market, win it over, and expand from that position. Now he insists, “Never be afraid of big companies. In most situations, there is a way for a highly-focused, extremely talented team to win.”

He points to the mobile games market today as an example where the small developers have as much chance of making it to the top as the big companies do.

Pursuing Constant Innovation

Nizan strongly emphasizes the need for constant innovation. For example, he advises Apple to return to promoting innovation rather than copying the operating system features of Android and the form factors from Samsung and other hardware providers. He stresses, “Apple’s brand stands for innovative products, but it will not stay that way if the company stops being what the brand stands for.”

In the next few years, Nizan expects the games industry to show higher creativity levels in games artwork, more emphasis on the quality of game controls and highly immersive experiences. But he also believes the amount of game-play innovation will decline.

BusinessContributionsDevelopmentOnline

Getting Users to the Store and Keeping Them There

May 2, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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This is a guest post by Yaniv Nizan who is the CEO and Co-Founder of SOOMLA – the platform for Creating In-App Purchase Stores for Mobile Games. Yaniv is also a writer with articles featured in publications such as: Gamasutra, Codenameone UX Motel and blog.soom.la and a speaker in different industry events. You can follow Yaniv at @y_nizan

One of the critical factors in successful games is that users spend a big chunk of their time inside the store. In this post, we will present a few strategies for getting users to the store and keeping them there.

The key elements of having users spend time in the store are:
-The store needs to be in the regular user flow
-Having day to day items
-The shopping experience needs to be interesting
-Having limits on continuous game play

By combining a few of these elements, you can improve the amount of time a user spends in the store and increase the revenue. Let’s drill down into each one of them:

Shopifying The User Flow

There are a few ways to make the users flow into the store more naturally as part of the game regular sequence. In any game that has levels, it’s possible to design a flow that brings the user to the store at the beginning or the end of every level. Another type of game that allows adding a store to the user flow easily enough is the ‘survival mode’ games, also known as the ‘endless runners’. In those games, you can introduce a store every time the user ends a running session. These types cover a large portion of the games out there, but even if your game doesn’t fit into these categories, you can tie the store appearance to any event that happens regularly enough, such as achievements.

Another tool that helps get users to the store more frequently is using the store to select an active virtual good among a few purchased goods. This is also known as equipping, where a user can equip her character with only one virtual good. Making the store the interface for equipping adds another scenario where the user enters the store.

Daily ‘No Brainer’ Goods

The trick here is to design a simple consumption loop that repeats itself in short intervals of 1-3 levels or sessions. Ok, but what does this mean? Here is an example of such a loop: the user enters a level. In the level, she collects just enough coins to buy a single use virtual good that is a ‘no brainer.’ She enters the level again with the good and now she collects enough coins to buy the same good again but also save a few coins. You can clearly see how this loop will get the user to spend her coins in the store on a daily basis and get used to shopping in your game.

Let’s dig in a bit further about what makes a virtual good a ‘no brainer’ item:
-It completes the game story (horse for a cowboy, surfboard for subway surfer, etc.)
-The user can collect enough coins to reach the item’s cost in a few minutes of game play
-The item enhances the gameplay experience
-It’s easier to collect coins with the item

Making Interesting Stores

Another key in getting the user to spend time in your In-App Purchase store is making them interesting. There are three parts to that: variety, mystery and freshness. The best example for variety is probably CSR Racing, which has a catalog of over 2 million items to buy. Mystery can be achieved by using silhouettes until an item is available for purchase. This way, the user knows that there are more interesting items down the line, but she has to check back to discover what they are. Another way to have a mysterious element in your store is by adding a surprise box. Finally, keeping your store fresh is a combination of unlocking items, adding new items and featuring seasonal or limited items.

Limiting Continuous Gameplay

This last trick is a bit more dangerous, as it can be perceived as unfair by users, so you have to apply it with caution and measure users’ reaction to different variations of it. The idea is to have resources in the game that are consumed quickly in regular gameplay and can only be replenished as time goes by or with a real money purchase. This can be fuel, energy points or actual time in resource management or strategy games. The user then has a choice to quit the game and do something else while her resource are replenished or she can stay in the game and glare at the screen. If you have implemented the rest of the advice, the store should be a fun and interesting experience, and the user is likely to go on a shopping spree to kill some time.

As mentioned before, implementing the last tip can be conceived negatively by the user, so make sure that this is balanced correctly. I will discuss a few ways to do that in future blog posts.

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