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Five essential - and new - skills that mobile game developers need to succeed

Five essential - and new - skills that mobile game developers need to succeed
James Kaye is co-founder of app marketing service appromoter as well as a director of PR & Marketing agency dimoso.

Thanks to Kevin Costner, many developers have a beautifully simple vision of how the world of games works - "If I build it, they will come".

While this is an extremely admirable (if naive) view to hold, back in the real world, it's just not how things work.

The reality is that the role of the developer is changing beyond all recognition. Whereas word-of-mouth alone might once have carried a game to glory, in the current market that is vanishingly unlikely.

Developers need to increase their skills way beyond game design and coding if they are going to not only attract, but also retain players That's where the real money and success is.

So let's take a look at those skills.

Skill 1 - Data Analyst

Launching a mobile title has become a numbers game.

The requirement to analyse the vast amounts of data that's being generated is essential, but the volume of insights that are generated by analytic tools is staggering, and can easily overwhelm you.

Take Flurry's free analytics tool. Used properly, it enables developers to set sophisticated triggers to track how their app is being used, such as events and even 'funnels' to follow a set of actions.

The tool also provides developers with a mountain of demographic and usage data. This is great, but developers first need to develop the ability to filter and interpret the data that is given to them in order to turn it into actionable insight.

Likewise, plugging into app store analytics such as distimo, App Annie or Appfigures which monitor your store sales as well as that of other apps, provides another set of data that needs to be sifted and assimilated.

And what if you, like many developers, plan a price drop on your app? While these can be beneficial, the net revenue and acquisition effect needs to be analysed properly if it is to be of longer term benefit.

To get an idea of just how much thought needs to go into analysing a price drop take a look at this excellent report by distimo from January 2013 on the impact of price drops; pretty complex reading for most people.

The role of the analyst is a complex one - to spot trends, understand them and then be able to offer insight to the rest of the team so that it can be acted upon. But that's what developers now need to be able to do.

Skill 2 - PR & Marketing Manager

If you have aspirations to self-publish then you need to think seriously about your app marketing.

A lot of time and effort is required to perfect every aspect of the app to get it ready for the stores such as a great video, enticing app store copy, an attention-grabbing press releases and a polished icon.

Then there's the increasing complexity of ASO (app store optimisation) services to identify the best keywords to use on iOS. These include Appcodes and Searchman, both of which are incredibly useful but require significant investment in time, money and patience to get the best out of them.

And all of this is before we even think about building up media lists of hundreds of contacts as well as reaching out to key media and the app store owners, which is all part and parcel of a successful launch. Of course, there are many guides and resources out there on app marketing: we've even created a Flipboard magazine full of our favourite links to services, blogs and articles to help developers do it themselves.

But marketing your app takes a lot of time and knowledge, and the truth is that few developers have budget set aside for marketing or PR.

That in itself is a problem, as it means that the business strategy behind the app may well be lacking. But what's more worrying is that despite the growing evidence on how effective marketing is required to drive discovery and acquisition we're not seeing a big shift in developer attitudes to address this.

Skill 3 - Advertising Guru

Perhaps the most complex challenge facing developers is how to effectively use mobile advertising.

Any developer who has looked at the myriad of networks (blind networks, incentivised, traded installs) as well as terminology such as CPI, CPA, CPM, ECPM, ARPU, ARPPU and DAU will likely be hugely intimidated by the choice and complexity of what's out there.

Anyone who undertakes mobile advertising needs to be extremely well versed in both the mechanisms behind different kinds of advertising as well as how to create impactful, effective adverts - or else have pockets deep enough to outsource the whole thing.

Through no fault of their own, the majority of self-publishing developers don't undertake enough of an analytical approach to mobile advertising based mostly on acquisition cost versus lifetime value. This results in a lacklustre campaign that burns through thousands of dollars with no clear results at the end.

You could use a planning and buying agency, but many of them have a minimum spend of $20,000, which prohibits many small and medium developers. There's no single solution and mobile advertising is a complex world to enter into and to be able to do it well requires a huge amount of skill, time and insight.

Skill 4 - Product Manager

Product managers are often the unsung hero of a good game as they help to define the feature set and future of a product through insight and market research, and help to benchmark the game against the competition as it evolves.

They will tend to drive internal processes in a company through solid insight that has been gathered through customer feedback, research and other data points; your approach to your app should be no different.

Bearing in mind the suite of tools available to you and the need to gather and then analyse the data, you'll need to be able to act on what you've gathered and turn it into a clear commercial (and artistic) decisions.

Skill 5 - Community Manager

The role of the community manager is part customer service and part PR; they're the face of the company, engaged with diehard and casual fans alike.

Community managers often need to be skilled at social media: not just its various nuances but also using the huge range of tools and analytics that are out there. Asides from the tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, community managers also need to form a more analytical view of their audience in terms of reach, influence, sentiment and other factors.

More and more companies are turning to services such as Meltwater Buzz, Sprout Social and SalesForce Marketing Cloud to gain deep insight into their ever-shifting social media audience.

You might also want to stay abreast of all the latest developments and social networks that are appearing, from Vine and Instagram Video through to Snapchat and more.

Bringing it all together

All of the above 'roles' are just a short illustration of the very different but very real challenges that face game developers wanting to create sustainable businesses. And that's without even looking at the coding, design and artwork side of game development.

The growth of the freemium model coupled with the necessity to capture and analyse data that comes from multiple tools may well conspire against the average small or medium developer who just wants to make a great game and get it out there.

This isn't intended to frighten anyone, but for any developer that's entering the market, you need to be acutely aware of the necessity that making great games is only part of what you need to do - albeit probably the most important one.

You need to develop the kinds of skills that have been outlined, or else have the budget to recruit the right expertise at the right time in order to take their game to market and make it a success.

Generous people who've shared their wisdom with Pocket Gamer

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Chris from
I agree with Phil regarding the great points made here. One saving grace for developers is that there are a lot of services being launched to address specific pain points in the app marketing process. My company CodeNgo focuses on self-publishing but there are many others and developers should investigate them as it's impossible to be an expert in everything.
Phil M
Lots of good points there, does make you wonder though if the reality is it's basically impossible for a lone developer to now successfully launch a mobile game of decent quality as there's so many roles to take on.
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