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

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.


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.

BusinessContributionsExclusive InterviewsIndustryOnlinePR & Marketing

Millennial Media’s Lewis Rothkopf on Better Games through Big Data

August 26, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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Lewis Rothkopf, the senior vice president of global monetization solutions at Millennial Media, moderated a panel discussion on Leveraging Data to Build Better Games and Enhance Monetization at Casual Connect USA 2014. While there, he spoke about that panel, Millennial’s ongoing projects, and the current and possible future trends at the intersection of big data and gaming with Clark Buckner from TechnologyAdvice.com (they provide coverage content on enterprise employee engagement, customer loyalty and rewards, and gamification trends and much more).


Millennial Media is an independent audience platform in the digital advertising space that connects brands and consumers by leveraging data through a mobile-first approach and cross-screen targeting solutions. Rothkopf oversees the company’s publisher and developer relationships. Consequently, he has a unique understanding of the opportunities and difficulties facing today’s gaming industry.

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Rothkopf moderating the panel on leveraging data at Casual Connect USA 2014.

Better Games through Data-driven Decisions

Part of his panel discussion at Casual Connect concerned itself with one of the gaming industry’s major challenges: developers and marketers need to tap into ways of leveraging data so they can make smarter, more efficient, data-driven decisions in order to reach the right consumers in the right place at the right time on the right device with the right mindset and within the right context.

Additionally, Rothkopf pointed out three other critical areas that need to be addressed:

Actionable Intelligence: Developers need to gather deeper and less obvious insights based upon in-app behaviors. Such insights are observed alongside third-party data based on offline behaviors so that developers can make faster, smarter decisions in regards to monetization and user acquisition.
– Hyperlocal Targeting: Developers are tying everything back to local, both to monetize and acquire users. Such hyperlocal targeting that reaches consumers in the right place, mindset, and time can be a challenge.
– Individual SKU-ing: Developers are realizing that creating hits is very much a numbers game. Consequently, they’re releasing a much greater volume of individual SKUs and iterating on them once they’ve taken a foothold instead of hoping to release one monolithic, tent-pole title. Many casual titles are also being released in the hopes that one or more of them will hit it big (see Flappy Bird).

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The Millennial Media booth at Casual Connect USA 2014

Acquiring Users and Monetizing

Rothkopf found that the Casual Connect audience wanted to know more about data conversion in terms of giving developers an edge in user acquisition and monetization—two areas that Rothkopf and his team at Millennial Media understand. He cited two specific areas that Millennial Media currently focuses on in order to help devs acquire users and work toward monetization: location and cross-device and cross-screen.

When focusing on location, Millennial Media marries location and context. In partnership with Esri, they’re re-launching Point: Audience Location Advertising, where their clients can target traditional location dimensions (country, date, etc.), time dimensions, and hyperlocal dimensions like household income, environment, propensity for shopping, etc. To deal with cross-device and cross-screen, Millennial Media also offers PATH, a mobile-first, cross-screen advertising suite that helps advertisers reach consumers anonymously. PATH provides access to tens of millions of cross-screen profiles in a seamless manner.

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During the panel at Casual Connect USA 2014, they discussed using big data to build better, smarter and more monetizable products.

Successful Gaming Marketing

Finally, Rothkopf stressed that success comes from having a fair exchange of value, achieving relevant advertising, seeking the right targeting, and leveraging both first- and third-party data to make smarter decisions to drive monetization and deliver a better gaming experience.

To hear more from Lewis Rothkopf on big data, gaming, and his insights from Casual Connect USA 2014, listen to the podcast interview below. For more information on Millennial Media, visit www.millenialmedia.com, or if you’re a developer seeking to acquire users or working toward monetization, visit www.mmedia.com.

USA 2014Video Coverage

Nick Yonge – A Little Luck and Timing | Casual Connect Video

August 22, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“As content creators, we shape our culture,” Nick Yonge declared in his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “Whether it’s through flash games, mobile casual games, social games, or stand-alone titles, we make games that become a part of the zeitgeist of our industry. Even in little casual games, we can reinforce ideas for better or for worse, so it’s very important to be aware of what we’re doing.”

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Nick Yonge, Founder and Director, krangGAMES

An independent game designer and developer, Nick Yonge is the founder and director of krangGAMES, an independent game development company based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. He created the company in 2010, shortly after graduating from the Vancouver Film School. Yonge has developed a number of successful games, including i saw her standing there, Nyan Cat FLY!, and PRIOR. He is responsible for every aspect of making the games: code, design, project management, and whatever else is necessary.

Yonge claims he started krangGAMES for a simple reason: he was unemployed. He had no previous experience in developing games, but clearly, that has not prevented him from doing exactly what he has chosen.

Currently, Yonge is working on Emerald, a zero-gravity platformer set in a derelict spacecraft, funded via a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Luck and Networking

He emphasizes that the biggest challenge for independent companies is marketing and discoverability. Although many indies have quality content and ideas, often they simply don’t have the connections or personal skill to properly market their games.

He mitigates this challenge “with hilarious amounts of luck mixed with a dash of being in the right place at the right time.” Going to networking events, such as GDC and Vancouver’s Full Indie meetup, are opportunities he believes have helped him immensely, but he admits that a lot of his success was the result of chance encounters or random emails. He says, “It helps to be proactive, but it’s still a bit of a Wild West situation for indies.”

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“It helps to be proactive, but it’s still a bit of a Wild West situation for indies.”

The big opportunity in the games industry today, as he sees it, is the exploration of new input devices. “Things like the Oculus Rift, Leap Motion, Kinect, and other devices are letting developers try weird new things that haven’t really been possible before,” he believes, citing Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes as a good example.

A Shift For The Indies

The games marketplace for indies is starting to shift, in his opinion. The next few years will be increasingly chaotic as more developers make more games, and the marketplace attempts to accommodate that rise in content. But, he emphasizes, “No matter what trends come around, like the blast of F2P games that have come about recently, or the rise and fall of Facebook games a few years back, there will always be a place for high-quality premium content.”

“The most fun about working in the games industry”, he insists, “is seeing what the other indies are working on! Everybody’s making fantastically weird and unique stuff. It’s fun to know you are a part of that.”

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“Everybody’s making fantastically weird and unique stuff. It’s fun to know you are a part of that.”

The most exciting moment of his career came with winning ArmorGames.com’s 2013 Puzzle Game of the Year award for making i saw her too, with lasers. He particularly enjoyed drinking rum and coke out of the silver chalice he won and reflecting that he had made the game because he was a month behind with his rent, so he revived an IP he was not really interested in reviving. He says, “Reality is weird that way.”

Yonge is an enthusiastic gamer himself; his favorite platform is his PC because it is so convenient and because of his “hilariously overstocked library of Steam games.” These days, he frequently plays Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne, and claiming, “If you haven’t played it, you absolutely must!” When it comes to consoles, he owns plenty: SNES, N64, Xbox 360, PC and Mac. He also has a few handhelds, such as Nintendo DS, a smartphone and a tablet. And why does he have so many? “I own them because games are fun.”

When he is not gaming, you will find him playing the guitar, singing, and drinking craft beer.

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Tiam Yang: The Advantage of New Platforms | Casual Connect Video

June 6, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“Nowadays, most developers, when you develop a game, there’s no reason to just make yourself or your games only available on a particular platform,” Tiam Yang said at Casual Connect Asia 2014. “Most people will be targeting cross-platform.”

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Social Life is one of the games produced by Tyler Projects

Tiam Yang, co-founder and CTO of Tyler Projects, enjoys spending his time reading, jogging, and, of course, gaming. He most enjoys MOBA style games such as League of Legends because they allow everyone in the office to play as a team. They are also convenient with each game session short and separate from other sessions. But he doesn’t own consoles such as Xbox One or PS4, claiming that today, there are already more than enough games on desktop and mobile.

At Tyler Projects, Yang manages the day-to-day operations and helps with technical challenges in the company.  He started with Tyler Projects immediately after graduation, and he says, “Most of our experience came the hard way and on the job.”

Success Within New Platforms

The popularity of their first Facebook game was a revelation, showing them that venturing into new platforms can pay off in a big way. Now they are constantly exploring new platforms, believing they offer outstanding opportunities, but they have discovered this is not an easy task. Building for a new platform requires a considerable investment of work and not every platform will succeed.

Distribution and marketing are increasingly difficult problems, according to Yang. The number of new devices and the number of platforms games are now played on means it is no longer wise to rely on just a few of them. He emphasizes the need to get into a new platform early, having seen the benefits with the inbuilt viral features when they launched that first Facebook game. They discovered there is less competition on a new platform and less marketing investment needed to attract attention to the game.

Battle Dawn is another game of Tyler Project's portfolio
Battle Stations is another game of Tyler Project’s portfolio

Free-to-Play Advantage

Yang sees a considerable advantage with the free-to-play model because it allows users to try out the game before investing in it. But he emphasizes, “There will always be good and bad examples in free-to-play. The most common and easiest way of monetization in free-to-play is simply Pay-to-Win. These games give free-to-play a bad name.”

For the next three to five years, Yang believes mobile will continue to lead the games industry. He sees this helping to spur the growth of certain smaller trends, including the growth of wearable tech games, and lifestyle- related games, such as sports.

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Shawn Bonham: Advantages of Consolidation | Casual Connect Video

June 6, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“We are moving into a period of increased consolidation right now in the gaming industry,” Shawn Bonham said at Casual Connect Asia 2014. “As we move into this phase, it’s really important to identify the key components of the business back to scale. Just like that perfect black jacket or black dress that you can wear clubbing or you can wear to a wedding, figure out what your core components of your tech stack are, what the core components of your business are, and then you can really scale them as you build out your business across multiple dev teams, or as you work as a single developer with multiple publishers.”

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Shawn Bonham, Senior Managing Director, APAC, Upsight

Shawn Bonham is the senior managing director, APAC at Upsight, a company that delivers actionable analytics and marketing to mobile games. Upsight resulted from the merger of Kontagent and PlayHaven last December and has now launched its freemium platform. They offer unlimited access to core acquisition, engagement, and revenue metrics, as well as tools for performing in-app marketing and targeted push-notification. They will also offer multiple upgrade paths to allow developers to choose the right features and capacity at the right time. The merger makes it possible for them to offer value through a mobile’s tech-stack, as all of the components for deep analytics, in-game marketing, and push are connected together in a unified system.

Bonham also announces that Upsight continues to improve its product localization and have added Japanese, Simplified Chinese, and Korean tool tips to its dashboard; more localized documentation will be coming soon.

At Upsight, Bonham manages operations and strategy for APAC and consults with mobile companies throughout the region on best practices in actionable data analytics. Previously, he held management positions at Havok and NVIDIA, working with publishers and developers to identify the business case for new technologies and to realize tangible ROI from their implementation. At Havok, he started the APAC team and helped to expand the adoption reusable console middleware in Japan in the PS2 era. At NVIDIA, he worked on many partnerships with mobile developers to create mid-core mobile games that reach the core gamer audience.

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Upsight provides analytics and marketing for many companies

Energized By Innovation

Most of his career has been in the APAC region, including China, Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Southeast Asia; he is always energized by the speed of innovation and business in this area. He says, “It’s not about figuring out the right answer tomorrow, it’s about figuring it out today!” He emphasizes that each country is vastly different in language, business culture, business models, and game preferences. It is valuable to understand each in order to find the best business fit for various technologies and to consult with partners as they expand to the West and to other APAC regions.

Middleware Explosion

Bonham has seen mobile games become increasingly complex in their mechanics and budgets for development; operations have expanded accordingly. There has also been an explosion of middleware in the mobile space in the last few years to meet the needs of publishers and developers. As a result, developers must implement a vast array of SDKs and, on the operations side, view information on multiple independent dashboards to manage and optimize an F2P game’s performance. In response to these trends, he expects both developers and publishers will consolidate to mitigate development risk. And he expects to see consolidation in the middleware space to leverage multiple technologies through a single SKD. He believes platform will be a major theme in the next few years.

He claims, “The merger of Kontagent and PlayHaven is a great example of the consolidation trend. We’ve been able to really empower developer while simultaneously making their lives easier by putting the tools for deep analytics, in-app marketing, and push together in a single, unified dashboard and SDK.

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The Upsight Team

Wearable Technology

He also believes wearables will be an interesting disruption over the next few years, saying, “I look forward to seeing how game mechanics and business models will be tweaked for these new technologies. All of this is going to require a great deal of trial and error, for which concrete metrics and solid use of analytics to gauge progress will be key.”

When not involved with work, Bonham enjoys playing tennis and basketball with friends and working out, especially Olympic-style weightlifting. He appreciates the terrific live music and DJ scene in Tokyo, so he goes to shows whenever he has time. And he is a big gamer, making an effort to try out all the major releases on PC, console, and mobile.

Bonham used to be a huge console gamer and a fan of Japanese RPGs and action games. But these days, he rarely has time to finish epic games, so he now turns toward short-burst competitive PC and mobile titles, such as Clash of Clans, Hearthstone, DATA and many others. And, as a fan of American football, he occasionally plays the Madden series on consoles.

F2P Challenges

He sees F2P as a two-edged sword depending on the interaction between in-app purchases and game mechanics. A play-to-win mechanic can cause large problems in multiplayer games and in the single player genres. If a player feels manipulated into purchasing an item or power-up just to finish a level in a reasonable time or to collect an achievement, then it will leave a bad impression and negatively affect retention.

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Here is an example of how SEGA used Upsight

However, if the micro-transaction can be successfully decoupled from in-game success, then F2P makes it economically feasible for a developer to focus on perfecting game balance and adding iterative improvements and content to a title while maintaining an F2P revenue stream, without worrying about adding potentially unnecessary mechanics and features to justify another full-priced premium package purchase to the consumer. Bonham believes the key to succeeding with F2P is making users feel they don’t need an in-app purchase, but just really want it.

As a longtime console gamer, Bonham owns both PS4 and Xbox One. He plays more on the PS4 because he prefers the clean interface and finds Playstation Plus a fantastic value. He is curious to see how this generation of consoles will evolve. He believes we are beginning to see hybrid games combining some free-to-play business models and game mechanics inside traditional packaged console games, and is excited to see how this will develop.

 

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Glint Vs. The App Store : Getting Your Game Out There

April 24, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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After spending seven years at Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic, Ensomniac StudiosRyan Martin decided it was time to create something on his own, something he wanted to create. He tells us the tale of creating Glint, detailing the design, development and marketing of his first attempt at self-publishing a free-to-play mobile game.  


After working at Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic for so long, I found myself craving more control over what I was making. I decided it was time to set out and start my own studio where I could develop mobile content. Being a developer and designer, the current mobile landscape is an appealing canvas for content distribution. After eight months of part-time design and development, I launched my first game, Glint.

Step Aside, Quest

Glint was not actually my first mobile game, but it’s the first game I’ve published. Prior to 2013, I honestly didn’t play games on my phone. I didn’t understand the point – screens were small and processors were limited. The quality of games I saw was poor; most of them were 2D with cheap-looking graphics and generally uninteresting to me. At some point, I started noticing that it seemed like everyone was playing Temple Run. I decided to see what all the fuss was about and I downloaded it. It was free, after all.

I remember one night sitting on my couch at home, obsessed with this game. I made my first ever in-app-purchase and, for the first time, understood how it was possible to make money with games. It got me thinking about how easy a game like Temple Run is and how I could use my existing skill-set to create something similar – as an experiment. So Quest was born, as was my passion for mobile game development.

Temple Run
A look at Quest

Working at an industry-leading visual effects house like ILM forces you to push the limits of what you and your tools are capable of. I took this to heart when developing Quest – I wanted it to be beautiful and cinematic. I developed a pipeline and processing technique to pre-render and bake all of my graphics to keep the quality up and the mobile processing power down. I almost finished the game.

“Your First Game Will Fail”

As I came closer to finishing Quest, I started doing a lot of research about best practices for launching mobile games. What I learned was disheartening: my game would fail. Apparently, it’s pretty difficult to successfully launch a mobile game these days. With thousands of new titles hitting the App Store daily, the new kid on the block has almost no chance at success. So I decided to start working on another idea I had – a simpler gameplay mechanic that I perceived would be less time-intensive to make than a visually detailed game like Quest.

Glint was the game that would consume my post-Quest game development time. Initially, my goal was not to create the game that exists today, but instead, rapidly create a simple version to test the waters of the App Store. Of course, I should have known that my obsessive nature wouldn’t allow me to release a game that I didn’t feel was polished. So, Glint became my new Quest.

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Glint was the game that would consume my post-Quest game development time.

A Great First Playtest

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Each level in Glint is created based on a set of parameters and colors.

In the early days of development, I had people test the game mechanics frequently. It’s an exciting feeling watching someone play your game and become addicted to something that is so rough it’s barely playable. I installed a version of an early prototype on my roommate’s girlfriend’s iPhone since she really enjoyed the gameplay. A few weeks later, my roommate said “all she does now is play Glint, and when I try to talk to her while she’s playing, she clearly isn’t listening to anything I say.” That was an amazing compliment.

I continued to iterate on the gameplay and design for months. Each level in Glint is created based on a set of parameters and colors. I knew that I wanted to create a level editor that would allow me to quickly build and tweak each level. Something I picked up at ILM was the incredible advantage that quick iterative changes introduces. Building tools to support that concept assisted me, as a solo developer, in creating many aspects of the process. Still, though, it was important to build out each level and understand how the game felt.

Drunk Coding

If you’re reading this and you’ve been in a situation like me, you know that game development can be maddening. Many nights, I would drink while coding, trying to hit that elusive Balmer Peak. As I would test the game, I took frequent notes of things to tweak. One night, in particular, I was slightly intoxicated and super thrilled with one particular level, as recorded in my notes.

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I had a lot of fun on Level 22

Market Early and Often

Once I had a game that I was proud of, I started doing tons of research on how to market games on a… zero dollar budget. It turns out this isn’t a super easy thing to do. I came across Indie Game Girl (Emmy Jonassen), who had done a really inspiring talk at Konsoll titled How to Successfully Market Your Indie Game on a $0 Budget. This fundamentally changed the way I thought about marketing.

I immediately switched gears from developer into marketer, something I knew nothing about. I started putting a lot of effort into creating “irresistible marketing material”, which is something that Emmy and other marketing professionals speak about often.

I put together an elaborate press kit containing lots of content about the game.

Screens from the press kit
Screens from the press kit

I began reaching out to the press and asking, begging, if they would preview Glint and write about it. My initial efforts paid off with AppAdvice requesting to cover the launch exclusively. They published a great write-up two days before the launch and published a phenomenal review of the game on launch day.

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Pocketgamer also covered the game after release

After the release, the game was covered by PocketGamerTouchArcade & Apple’N’Apps – which was amazing. I decided to launch the game right before GDC so that we could promote it at the week-long conference. One of the nice things about getting press coverage is that you can use quotes to create better marketing materials.

In the End

Glint launched on March 6th and is available on both iTunes and Google Play. In the first month of sales, Glint racked up about 10,000 downloads. Not nearly enough to hit critical mass, but a much better “first launch” than I expected. I hope that other developers and designers understand the importance of both marketing and polished design in an ever-more-crowded App Store.

Ryan would love to hear your thoughts and connect with you. You can shoot him an e-mail at ryan@ensomniac.com or connect with him on Facebook.

Europe 2014Video Coverage

Oliver Kern: Good and Effective Marketing | Casual Connect Video

March 3, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Oliver Kern offered a bit of advice to those listening at Casual Connect Europe: “If you’re not embarrassed by the first launch of your product, you have launched too late.”

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Oliver Kern (courtesy of Casual Connect)
Oliver Kern, Founder, Target Gamers

Oliver Kern, Founder of Target Gamers, reports that it is business as usual for his company in 2014, which means exciting challenges and new companies to help kick start their marketing. Kern has his own project, a platform called Tinyloot, that he is working on with a few game industry veterans and techies. With Tinyloot, they are attempting to solve one of the key challenges facing mobile developers who self-publish as they move to advertise their games; they take all the risk and are easy prey for hundreds of networks that do not care about the game and add nothing of value to the campaigns. Kern expects that in 2014, he will have more information about Tinyloot’s solution.

At Target Gamers, Kern works with a number of promising mobile game startup companies in Europe to help them kick-start their marketing activities. His goal is to make them successful and Target Gamers wants to as fast as possible. To do this, he carefully picks what companies he will work with, then puts together a good strategy and builds a lean, efficient marketing team. He does not believe in the publisher-developer model or in outsourcing marketing. He insists, “The proven model is to have marketing, product management, and development close together. That is even more important when your game is a service where both parties need to work hard to improve flow, engagement, virality, retention, and monetization.

Data Helping Marketing

Currently, Kern is staying abreast of the emerging information on how behavioral data can help with user targeting. He is now working with partners who are experimenting with tracking behavior and enriching user profiles with third party data. However, he emphasizes, “Much as I like useful data, like in-game behavior, there is much more to good marketing than uncreative user acquisition with spreadsheets and tables.”

The proudest moment of Kern’s career came when he was Head of Marketing at Jagex and they had just published their first third party game, War of Legends. Before launch, there were serious doubts about his business plan and its projected revenues and ROI. Those doubts quickly changed to “How can we grow faster?” and Kern says, “Yeah, that felt good!”

Ruzzle is one of the games Oliver has worked with
Ruzzle is one of the games Oliver has worked with

Mobile and Big Screen Gaming

Away from work, Kern spends as much time as possible with his wife and five-year-old son. He also loves reading and playing games. Currently, he is playing Samurai Siege on his iPhone; in spite of having just been raided two million Essence, he still loves the game. He enjoys trying out new things in Space Ape’s game, such as new tournament modes.

As Kern considers the game industry as a whole for the next few years, he believes that accessible big screen gaming will still have a large impact, even though Ouya and Gamestick failed to break through. He maintains, “Once the novelty of the current console generation wears off, it leaves room for innovation and disruption. Then, I expect a second wave. But it will need a large company like Apple, Samsung, or Amazon for this to really become main stream.”

Video Coverage

Oren Kaniel: Measure Twice, then Measure Again | Casual Connect Video

October 25, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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“If you overcome the challenges of mobile analytics, the next King.com could be here,” says Oren Kaniel to his audience at Casual Connect Kyiv 2013.

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OrenKaniel
Oren Kaniel, Co-founder and CEO of AppsFlyer

Oren Kaniel, Co-founder and CEO of AppsFlyer, tells us that the main driver behind the origin of his company was seeing advertisers invest heavily on ads without knowing what return they had on this investment. He insists, “All product companies should measure everything. If you can’t measure it, you are doing something wrong.” He also maintains, “What gets measured, gets managed.”

Developing Transparency

Kaniel responded to the need he saw by developing a platform to allow advertisers to know exactly how their media investment is performing. Their holistic approach measures all media, including paid, organic, viral, and social sources, without compromising user experience or accuracy. The company focuses constantly on the investment aspect of digital advertising. In doing so, they are able to consider what the advertisers need even before they ask for it.

Finding his Passion

All product companies should measure everything. If you can’t measure it, you are doing something wrong. What gets measured gets managed.

Founding this company has been the highlight of Kaniel’s career. He had always intended to create his own startup company and looked constantly for something he could fall in love with. AppsFlyer turned out to be just the right fit, and he says he feels lucky to have found something he loves to do for a living.

He admits that starting a company has been a huge challenge, but insists that doing something he believes in and enjoys has helped him overcome all the problems involved in reaching success.

In his previous career experiences, Kaniel realized he used less than 10 percent of his potential. But in establishing AppsFlyer, he discovered he was good at things he had never before been aware of. Now he is committed to empowering his team to do the same. He truly enjoys seeing the team develop to new heights doing things they had never expected to do when they joined.

Sharing His Company’s Core Beliefs

Kaniel’s company works on a set of beliefs:

  • “~We encourage maximizing employees’ potential.
  • ~We are proud of our creation, and we deliver it with our own personal signature.
  • ~We are super smart, out-of-the box, fearless team players.
  • ~Making mistakes is human and a crucial part of learning.
  • ~Learning is endless.
  • ~We have our clients in mind in every decision we make.
  • ~Success is never accidental.
  • ~Work should be fun, challenging and satisfying.
  • ~“Just do it!” is a way of life.”

The Tip of the Iceberg

Kaniel believes the mobile advertising industry is just in its infancy. In the next few years, he sees mobile increasingly consuming advertising budgets worldwide. This will happen when ads stop being annoying and instead become a value-added service. He states that AppsFlyer is building the technology that enables this today. It is presently the leading platform for mobile campaign measurement and engagement analytics. Their future plans include building the technology to allow marketers to become totally immersed in mobile.

ContributionsPostmortem

XnO: Join X in his Mission to Rescue O! (iOS and Android)

September 2, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Digital Eclairs is an independent game development studio founded in 2012 with the main office in the heart of the Silicon Valley. They released their first game titled XnO in May 2013 on the Apple Store, Google Play and Amazon App Store. Aditi Shah, founder of Digital Eclairs, shares their story.

Taking the Plunge

Aditi
Aditi Shah

I am Aditi Shah, and I am thrilled to share with you our journey of XnO creation. In my previous life, I had worked on software like simulation for chip design and portfolio risk analytics. Very cool and nerdy, but wait …. some of my friends were in the game industry building games. Can you imagine playing games for work, day in and day out, everyday?!

We would talk for hours about gaming and where game industry was headed. The storytelling aspect of games always fascinated me. So back in Fall 2011, I decided to take the plunge and start building my own game. One of our close friends George Flores offered to help. He was on his sabbatical at the time to work on his Taekwondo (don’t mess with him, he is a black belt now). And thus began our journey.

The Start of Digital Eclairs

Ice Breakers
For the purposes of mock ups, we built a basic carnival-style game with obstacles. We called it “Ice Breakers”.

I am a software engineer, but I knew nothing about game architecture and/or engines, so I started watching Youtube tutorials (here’s a shoutout to TornadoTwins and BurgzergArcade). George, in that same period, started polishing his illustration and modelling skills. Just for the purposes of mock ups, we built a basic carnival-style game with obstacles. We called it “Ice Breakers”.

During the whiteboxing stage, we used basic components: boxes, cylindrical blocks as targets and a cylinder attached to a sphere shooting a ball to demonstrate and tweak the gameplay. We shared our creation with friends and family, and they all loved the gameplay, but (there’s always that ‘but’) unanimously hinted that graphics need some serious work. Fortunately, we already knew that. We had enough reasons to take the project forward and that brings us to the time when we formed Digital Eclairs to do things more formally.

Choosing Game Ambassadors

Having already formalized the gameplay aspect – a physics-based 3D action game – the question now was: What sort of game do we want to build? What message do we want to convey? After long brainstorming sessions with everyone involved, a few traits on everybody’s mind were nonviolent, fun, challenging, and no cowclicker games. And most of all, we wanted our game to carry a strong community message. Obviously, we were missing an ambassador to carry that message. So we chose penguins as our game ambassadors because they are not just cute and cuddly, but also have strong personality.

In our course of researching about penguins, we realized how little people knew about the dangers and threats these lovely creatures face: oil spills in oceans, overfishing, and iceberg breaking among many others. Out of the 18 known species of penguin, nearly 13 are either endangered or threatened– that’s more than 70 percent. So we decided to use our game as a platform to raise awareness about penguins, their habitat, and threats and danger they face. That will be our message to the world.

X and O
Digital Eclairs adopted two Magellanic Penguins and named them X and O.

To set an example, we at Digital Eclairs adopted two Magellanic Penguins and named them X and O from XOXO Hugs and Kisses. They are five years old and live in Cabo Virgenes, Argentina. We chose to adopt these Magellanic Penguins, and not the famous Emperor Penguins that everyone relates to, because these penguins are majorly affected by oil pollution off the coast of Argentina, and we wanted to highlight our concerns for them. We decided to name our lead characters X and O and our game XnO.

Farewells and Welcomes

And, by August, 2012 here we were:

August 2012

Everyone felt our game was the best and so did we. We thought what if we did not have excellent art work, at least we still have excellent gameplay. This time, we showed it to people in the games industry. The jury was in and our reaction…OOPS! Things started heating up, but unfortunately, George’s sabbatical came to end. He had to take a full time position. Now what? I was left as a one-woman team and didn’t wish to abandon this ship. I just loved it too much.

Fortunately, a friend Emmy Toyonaga, offered to help. She had just quit her job and was taking a break for a while. Then came Creath Carter and Gia Luc. Emmy did character concepts, Gia did environment concepts, and Creath did modelling. Voila! In a matter of days, we had a full team. No wait…we didn’t have the ‘music guy’ yet. Craigslist came to help here. We found Tom Scollard from Canada.

XnOIt was already December 2012 when all the art assets got finalized. We had most of the core gameplay already done, but this time, we decided to focus primarily on building the character’s personalities and enhancing gameplay with a goal of making XnO as fully polished and just as good in quality as a major publication house release. This is when we brought Ishmael Hoover on board to help us with immediate art asset needs. He also helped us improve our user interface and create marketing/promotional art assets.

As time passed, we developed the story and how these penguins lived in the whimsical land of Vazooka. To emphasize the importance of characters and yet maintain their familiarity with the player, we introduced penguins from all walks of life: lawyers, sheriffs, sportsmen, and warriors, each with a distinguished personality. To build climax, we introduced a lady penguin which has to be rescued, and around whom the story revolves.

Set It Free

Finally, in April 2013, we had everything done and submitted the game to Apple. We set the release date to May 11, 2013.

We had excellent success on Facebook (35K+ Likes as of this writing) and naively presumed that this was enough to carry us forward and translate into tons of download and in-app purchases. Boy, were we wrong. This being our first project, we did not know what beast marketing was. We had done nothing: no promo codes to reviewers, no presence on blogs, our press release went out late, the gameplay video came in last minute, and that’s just a few of the things we did wrong. But we worked at it day and night after the game release. We now have good reviews and daily active downloads on Apple Stores from all around the world. We are not done yet though. We are still actively working on the game to add in-app purchases and shooting for a free-to- play gaming experience. We are positive that with your love and support we will be able to reach a broader audience.

We hope you enjoy playing XnO as much as we enjoyed making this lovely game. XnO is available on the Apple Store, Google Play and Amazon App Store.

To find out more what Digital Eclairs is up to, follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

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