Over the last 5 years, the barriers to entry for mobile development have become almost non-existent. This has given way to the rise of a new generation of talented developers who not only have the artistic and technical know-how but are able to execute at speed. The result? More choice, higher user expectations, and a market that is louder than ever across the board. We avoid using the term saturation because gaming like other entertainment mediums(Movies, TV, Music) can never truly be saturated, it can, however, be brutally competitive. This brings us to the main challenge for the majority of developers (at least those without gold plated marketing budgets) how does one rise above the noise and build a loyal profitable user base?
This may seem counterintuitive to most, but the quality of a game is not the primary determinate of its monetary success. Naturally, a game needs to be polished and technically sound, but the core driver behind monetization more so than character design, more so than the storyline, even more so than originality is your growth loop. If you lack the ability to attract, monetize, optimize, and scale failure is more or less guaranteed. App stores are awash with entertaining games by strong developers that never achieved sustainability or scale. Through evaluating hundreds of candidates for our Turnaround solution the negative pattern we identified was not understanding how to deploy an MVP, neglecting user feedback, and a weak marketing strategy.
If you are like most, budgets are limited, deadlines are looming and you need to execute. Games are no different from other products in the sense that the ability to build, measure, and learn is directly correlated with success down the line. Gauging how your audience interacts with the core concept of your game is the main goal, spend your time and resources refining the imperative mechanics and avoid speculation, the market is always the most transparent arbiter of viability. exmox firmly believes in testing a game in a live environment, ideally through an open beta that has an allocated user acquisition budget. The MVP not only becomes a key data source for game design and improvements but it will provide vital feedback for your growth loop in the form of understanding how acquired users early on are interacting with the brass tacks of your game.
Users want what users want, whether this is counter to your design roadmap or not it’s generally a good idea to cater to your audience. Too often games are self-serving, this is where passion projects are separated out from businesses. Development and updates must be pegged to user feedback, it is recommended to have a process in place to curate actionable audience insights. The most obvious approach is through reviews, but in-game feedback, questionnaires, and beta testing are all feedback nets. Whatever workflow is being deployed to handle game development allocating time to discern feedback patterns and what if anything will have the strongest impact will pay off in perpetuity.
People don’t install games they install the promise of entertainment. At the end of the day, marketing makes or breaks most games. The hard truth is that a lot of developers don’t have the internal know-how to run effective marketing, long gone are the days of turning on a few Facebook or google ads, and seeing results pour in. This may be “rich” coming from a company whose core business is marketing, but there is a reason we bill our clients based on performance not services rendered. System-initiated ads or user-initiated ads? How should KPIs be set? What is a good payout? Cost per install or cost per event? We referred earlier in this post to the growth loop, this is where things come full circle(no pun intended). The first step of a successful marketing strategy is identifying the user journey and tracking this through goals in your MMP. This will allow you to break your loop into 3 phases, discovery, engagement, and monetization. This type of campaign overview enables cohort testing and gaining a thorough understanding of what is driving profitable users. The contemporary approach to pricing is to have a set budget and bid for each source, this is the best way to run a bad marketing campaign. Let us explain, payouts and budgets need to be agile and dictated by performance, more specifically ROAS. It is imperative to price campaigns against the opportunity, strong sources with a high-quality audience should have a bid that reflects this. Strong marketing/UA teams understand that an install is the easy part, focusing on the habituation of users through leveraging in-game mechanics is at the root of having a loyal profitable player base. Data drives predictable results, quantify what success looks like at each phase of the loop for your game.
Mobile game development is an unforgiving business, if you are an opportunist or looking for a quick win, this isn’t it. It takes a multifaceted team, financial know-how, and persistence.