As the mobile business landscape changes every month, developers and publishers are constantly looking for creative ways to exploit the current market.
For the purpose of this post, i will be defining “success” as a mobile title that experience a positive profit margin throughout the course of development and live operations. The post discuss’ 3 pillars that are evident in every successful mobile title that have cemented in the top 50 of any app store worldwide. Let’s take a look at what these 3 pillars are:
1) GAME DESIGN
This is a no brainer, and for the purpose for the readers, good freemium game design can be broken down into 3 important design mechanics:
A) Battle System or core game play system:
Core gameplay will be the backbone of the game and if this game mechanic is not intuitive or innovative enough, your only option is to copy a similar battle system that is successful in the current market and hope that this battle system does not get out-dated once you hit the market.
This does not mean that a mediocre battle system will not equate to a unsuccessful title. The biggest concern with the “me too” strategy is that the amount of competition you will be facing when you hit the market. You won’t be the only studio releasing what the competition is doing.
B) Monetization Mechanic
The assumption is that you will be developing a freemium app, and how you monetize this will determine your bottom line. I can go into depth about the do’s and don’ts of designing your app to maximize your ROI, but ill save this for a separate post.
Based on your Core game play, the main objective of monetizing your app will revolve around creating demand in your game and managing the supply. How you effectively design your in-game economy will determine your monetization rate and effectively your LTV.
C) Social Feature
As mobile technology and connectivity improves, social gameplay will be the main focal point going forward in the next couple of years. Currently, most social mobile games creates asynchronous type gameplay. But in the next couple of years synchronous, multiplayer gameplay will be your standard feature that users will be expecting and how you engage users to play with others will dictate the success of our title. This concept is already happening in Asia and it’s almost imperative to have a GVE (Guild vs Environment) system in your game or publishers won’t even consider your title.
2) USER ACQUISITION
User acquisition is the topic of discussion all throughout Asia, especially Japan and Korea. The publishers with the strongest community are the Kings in the current market as developers struggle with the growing cost of CPI. 3 Popular methods developers attempt to solve this problem are as follows:\
A) IP Licensing Strategy
License a well known brand or intellectual property. Determine the IP strength by attempting to calculate the total number of download potential the IP can garner without much promotion. With that you calculate your effective CPI to figure out your base retention scenario and DNU (Daily New User). With these numbers you choose your game genre and what the potential Arppu and Monetization rate to figure out your potential gross revenue
B) Community Development
Easier said than done but this is what a lot of Asian studios are doing to bypass the IP concept as most of the major IPs are getting exhausted and the numbers are not making any sense anymore.
What developers in Japan have been doing the past couple of years is to a create a prototype team to create light games with cool game play concept and test its feasibility in the market. No IP just straight original gameplay, the designer think of that month, and test it out in the real market. If it works, this is an added bonus, but if it doesn’t the team goes hard at work with a new game and concept.
As these prototype teams release to market, games on a monthly basis, it gives the developers a good idea what types of system the users like and don’t like and takes these learnings and apply it to their triple A social mobile titles. When this title is created, they funnel all their users from their prototype games into their big title to minimize the CPI cost and potentially create a profitable development pipeline covering the cost of the prototype team and triple A dev overhead.
C) Aggressive ROI model
This is what is going on in the US market right now, which was happening in the Asia market 4 years ago. Publishers are crunching the numbers and figuring out how to effectively take an average game design and aggressively funnel users into the game at all cost to maximize their LTV. (The Mcdonalds Strategy: Take the average burger and sell it everywhere) This is essentially “Money Ball” happening in the mobile freemium market. The publishers manipulate the App store ranking to decrease their “Effective” CPI. The biggest problem with this strategy is that at one point the system is going to collapse on itself as these publisher drive the cost of CPI up for all the adnetworks, thus creating an unsustainable business model. The reason for the unsustainability is the fact that, these type of games are driven by sheer numbers. Not much innovation is present with this strategy and are mostly copies of other successful\ game features in an attempt to maximize LTV. The ROI business model is tailored specifically towards the whales and to take as much money as they can during operation.
3) GAME STABILITY
This one is something that doesn’t get addressed as much as it should but as mobile technology improves, the spec of these games gets bigger, pushing the boundaries of the mobile technology, making developing these beast a bigger challenge. These challenges if executed properly can result in a very good user experience, but executed poorly and many disgruntled users that can destroy the image of your game with the built in review system that Android and Apple have create. Too many bad reviews at launch is like digging your own grave, therefore release your game with great caution. As a user there is nothing worse than having your:
- Game Data getting erased
- Maintenance times getting over extended
- Games crashing
Back end infrastructure is usually the unsung hero behind an extremely successful game as the game had the ability to scale up into the Million CCU level without users experiencing any lag in performance. For those back end programmers that feel under appreciated. Rittle Throne tips their hat to them for all the smooth gameplay experience.
These 3 pillars are an essential part of developing a successful mobile freemium title. When choosing your strategy, it is very important that you understand the strengths and weakness of your studio and position your studio for success.