Monthly Archives: September 2013

GamaSutra survey finds discoverability to be #1 key issue facing app creators

Discoverability cited as #1 problem with app ecosystem

From this GamSutra article – In a free-form survey question, developers were asked to identify what they felt to be the biggest problem within the current app development market. Most answers connected to problems with discoverability—albeit from different ends of the spectrum. Developers frequently described app stores as “crowded” and “overpopulated with low-quality apps”; others also noted that users’ expectations for free apps made it hard to charge even $0.99 for their higher-quality app. 

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Make your game dynamic

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Knowing where your new players came from (which user acquisition source) and knowing something about them can be a powerful way to maximise that first session experience in order to maximise initial retention.

SWRVE is a platform that allows you to perform split testing (A/B testing) in social/mobile games and they provide regular webinars on all manner of subjects relating to games analytics. Here’s my summary of their advice in relation to adapting your game based on where the new players come from.

The main acquisition sources are likely to consist of ‘organic’ (social/viral), incentivised installs, promoted adverts/media and cross-promotions. Each of these tell you, generally speaking, that those cohorts of users have a propensity to respond more or less to different elements in game and in different ways.

Players that were acquired through genuine organic (FREE!) sources e.g. through discovery via the Facebook newsfeed or notifications or by a direct message from a friend are most likely drawn in by the social interaction aspect. In this case, SWRVE argue, you should ensure that any social elements in your game are exposed to these players very promptly. This might include opportunities to visit friends’ worlds, donate resources, gift in-game items etc or it might be to challenge them in, for example, a social quiz game. Make sure that these features are available and promoted in game early on to leverage this player behaviour preference.

Players that are acquired through incentivised means (e.g. when they receive free resources in one game in return for installing another game) are commonly thought of as ‘poor quality’ traffic and used most often as a means to get AppStore visibility in order to then acquire better users in a more organic fashion. SWRVE argue that you should still aim to maximise retention from these sources by, for example, ensuring that the core value of your game is exposed to these players with the maximum of haste; let them know why your game is fun immediately. Additionally as you know that these players respond to incentives; offer them rewards straight away (earlier than other players).

Players that are acquired through non-incentivised adverts/promotions in other games clearly have the propensity to chug out of one game in favour of another. To that end, showing them in-game ads to 3rd party games is not a great idea unless you like losing the players you just paid $5 CPIs to acquire.  Make sure that in-game ads and cross-promotions are switched off in the first few session to these players; give them a chance to get engages…or better still, to start paying. If after multiple sessions these players show no sign of converting to becoming a paid player then you can switch those promotions back on in order to monetise the traffic from them.

As a subset of the above group, where players have come to you via a video acquisition source then you can assume (again, generally) that they have a preference to video-based media….so use video in the game to keep them engaged. This might be for tutorial elements, scene-setters or for moments of delight when they level up or defeat an opponent.

As an addition to the above, where users have connected via the Facebook API and where you have added demographic information about them, then you can use this to further make your game personalised to individual players in order to improve your KPIs. Examples may be with in-game mentor character choices/genders, colour schemes or language style).

Naturally, SWRVE advise that you don’t just make sweeping generalisations when electing to adopt any of these strategies; make sure you test alternative strategies on statistically identical groups and prove which approaches deliver the optimum KPI improvements. Then ramp up across your entire user base.

You can see all of the previous SWRVE webinar recordings online at http://www.swrve.com/blog/category/webinars

The outlook for small/indie games developers….not so good?

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The CoronaLabs Blog featured a guest piece written by Paul Simons, developer of Plasma Pig (iOS and Android). The article is a honest and worrying illustration of how difficult it is for small/indie mobile games developers to get user traction for their games. Game discovery is an issue I am particularly passionate about and Evil27 Games is currently exploring ideas about how to tackle this exact problem (see www.everyonesplaying.com).

In the meantime, I wanted to post my thoughts on the subject to this blog. We are seeking to engage with social/mobile games developers and publishers to share and discuss our ideas. If you are interested in having a chat please drop us a line.

In response to “Guest piece: For the love of game development”, I posted the following response on the CoronaLabs blog

I think your experience is extremely common and not just for one-person developers; it is just as hard for small studios that spend $100k, $250k or more on a game.

I was Studio Manager at a mobile games developer in the UK last year and joined just as they released the first version of a side-scrolling RPG. Whilst I couldn’t claim that the game – at v1.0 – was earth-shatteringly good, it was nonetheless a pretty compelling game (cost us approx $250k) and was free (FreetoPlay at least). We spent in the order of $25k on incentivised installs in order to get AppStore chart visibility in the hope of getting that ‘organic uplift’ that we’re all conditioned to aim for. The reality was that the game hung around the top 50-75 for about a week then fell from view. I recall that we got 50k or so downloads from that but the install rate fell off dramatically once we were no longer in the charts.

My point is that the whole app/game ecosystem is now geared in favour of those with deep pockets and the companies that control access to the player audiences (offers, incentivised installs, in-game promotions, paid-for cross-promotion, paid reviews etc etc). We have ‘free’ distribution as small/indie devs but we do not have free access to players; far from it.

I see ‘services’ that claim to be able to deliver a top 10 chart position for $100k and I regularly hear of developers/publishers who are spending $100k on week one burst advertising. The larger publishers are reportedly spending between $1m-$5m on marketing some titles. This isn’t a level playing field and is rapidly pricing all but the big boys out of user acquisition (read; “commercial viability”). IMHO this is failing not just the smaller dev community but consumers. That’s a broken market in my view. The correlation between product visibility and product quality is, generally speaking, highly distorted and that is not good for the wider industry as a whole.

Its unrealistic to think that marketing isn’t important in a maturing competitive industry, but when success is so highly-dependent upon AppStore visibility (or, for example, Facebook App Centre visibility) and, in 99% of cases, this is only achieved through huge advertising/incentivised installs, then the outlook doesn’t look too rosy for small devs (and, by extension, tools makers like Corona ).

Apple have just started incorporating user reviews into their ranking algorithm but all that means is that companies (cough..Zynga) go and pay 250 people for a 5* rating and bingo they rank in the top 20.

Personally I think there needs to be a better way to connect GOOD games with players that might want them. I’m working on an early-stage concept for a discovery platform that can surface visibility to games that are engaging their audiences irrespective of the volume and velocity of installs or the current revenue levels.

I’d dearly love input from smaller/indie mobile games developers along the way. I’ve set up a launch site for devs and players alike to register their interest and am currently (separately) in the process of raising some seed funding to get an MVP of the platform together.

If the potential platform/service is of potential interest to you please do visit http://www.everyonesplaying.com and tell us your email address so we can let you know how things progress.

It’s no longer good enough to “just have a good game”….but it should be!

Kevin

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