Comment & Opinion

PlayPhone on spicing up game discovery with social juice and carrier billing

Scott Prather provides an alternative

PlayPhone on spicing up game discovery with social juice and carrier billing

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It also runs a regular marketing podcast, with publishing transcripts from the most interesting discussions.

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In this week's article, we speak with Scott Prather, Vice President of Business Development at PlayPhone to learn about how gaming networks can enable game developers to market their games outside of the app stores.

What is PlayPhone and what problems is it solving?

Scott Prather: PlayPhone came about when we looked at the market, which is extremely crowded. For a lot of the new developers it's nearly impossible to generate the marketing campaigns that a very large company can generate.

PlayPhone put together a concept that was social in its core, and it gives small developers the opportunity to have an equal playing field with some of these big guys.

So we put together a mobile game store for carriers.

Back in the old days, the dinosaur days of flip phones and Motorola Razrs, the carriers ruled. They had their own stores, all the billing went through their systems and we saw a real advantage to that. So we put together a social store. We partnered with some of the leading operators and mobile carriers in the world to put a store together just like it was back in the old days.

We give small developers the opportunity to have an equal playing field with the big guys.
Scott Prather

We partner with Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, a bunch of prepaid brands like Boost Mobile, and then across the globe SingTel's one of our key partners throughout Southeast Asia and Australia, as well as Telkomsel, Vivo, Claro and TIM Brasil.

We help carriers enable their customers to find the best games and then also game developers to have a chance to get the attention of those customers.

How would a mobile game developer get their game to PlayPhone?

It's easy. We have a developer portal that's set up on our website that's simple.

We have a fairly small SDK that enables the mobile social features that are built into the store itself that includes the carrier billing. The SDK itself is I think 80K. It's relatively small, fairly painless to enable. And that's all available today.

How many active daily users do you have?

Most of our stores have been live for under a year. We're holding off releasing metrics until we kind of have a more broad picture.

We're cautiously optimistic. The conversion rates that we're seeing using carrier billing are significantly higher than that credit card usage for purchasing that we've seen on Google Play.

There are 500 games on PlayPhone now which isn't much compared to the millions available at the app stores. How do users discover mobile games on PlayPhone?

We actually have over a thousand games now. By the time that the research pulled the 500 number we've actually grown pretty considerably.

PlayPhone's store running with a US carrier

What we focused on is less bulk content and more curated content. Frankly, without sounding crude but we tried to offer less "farts and flashlights" and more very quality content.

There are millions of apps in Google Store and in the App Store. Unfortunately a great deal of them are clones. They're not really going to be quality content that could be something that you or I could pick up and play and enjoy and recommend to our friends.

In PlayPhone, every single game that comes into the system, we go through them. We play. We make sure that the game is quality and the overall experience is great. We want any game that a player downloads to be a good game.

How are people looking for the games? Is it through top ranks, featuring?

There's a bunch of social features built throughout the store that helps people find content. We incorporate social networks so people can see what games their friends are playing. And friends can recommend games.

We also have a recommendation engine that's built into the system itself. It'll take into account the games that you've downloaded as well as the games that your friends have downloaded.

Of course we have the usual featured top games, top genres and trending games. If a game gets really hot and a lot of people are downloading it, then it will bubble up to the top of trending. There are lots of traditional ways that developers can get featured on top of the built-in social features.

What are some of the examples of the top trending games right now?

We've had a lot of success with some of the smaller guys. As we move around the globe what we've discovered is local content really, really is king.

If you move into Indonesia there's going to be Indonesian developers that make games that frankly you and I have never heard of. Local card games for example, do exceptionally well.

It seems like as we move around the globe, local games do very well in addition to the normal games like Shadow Blade, My Singing Monsters, Cut the Rope etc.

How does the social network element affect how users discover games?

The social piece was something that we built in from day one. From the start we show a standard set of the games that we feature. That gets rotated regularly.

But from there the recommendation engine really starts to take charge. You can see the games your friends are playing and get game recommendations from them. That's one of the advantages of having a game store versus a games and apps stores.

Games are fairly specific. If I like playing racing games, showing me a casual, one-click game - it's not going to do it for me. If you show me a bunch of racing games, more than likely I'm going to go and download those.

Can you tell if there's a split by platform?

Right now we're predominantly Android. The ability to have a little bit of openness that Android provides us is nice, so we take advantage of it. Of course everything that goes to Apple has to go through Apple.

User metrics on PlayPhone, are they different than the user metrics in the App Store and Google Play?

Without going into the specifics, we do see higher conversions. In the US it's not going to be as significant. But as you move around the globe, there are a lot of people that don't have credit cards. So being able to use that carrier billing is huge, it is such a big advantage. It's just a big one especially as you move to emerging countries and also prepaid users.

Being able to use carrier billing is huge, especially as you move to emerging countries and prepaid users.
Scott Prather

If you look at places like Indonesia, there's sub 2% credit card penetration. And even that number is skewed a little bit because the people that have them are going to have three or four of them.

For us it's such an enormous market that's been underserved because nobody could buy anything. It's a real advantage to be able to put your purchase right to your phone bill.

Through partnerships with carriers PlayPhone has reached an install base of 800 million users. It's already larger than iOS user base. Should Apple be concerned?

That number's well over that at this point. We're adding carriers and adding subscribers almost every week. It's a very busy time at PlayPhone.

But I do think there is room for more than one distribution channel beyond the Apple and the Google stores. What we've discovered is the more that these companies take charge and are the only player in town the more they can make large mistakes that hurts small developers.

And those mistakes, if you're an EA it's not as big a deal but if you're a three-person shop that is making this one game, and it's your livelihood and your life, having Apple only display the top 5 games that are spending on marketing, that really hurts. They're really not keeping up with the industry.

With PlayPhone, the cream rises to the top. If you have an indie game that is fantastic, it's just as likely to be featured as the latest EA game, or other game from one of these really enormous companies.

Do you have to deal with the conflict of interest with Apple and Google especially when the payments are done through carrier billing?

The payments for in-app purchases and premium games are all made through the app store from which they were downloaded from. So if the game is downloaded through Google we absolutely respect their rules and it uses Google billing. If the download occurs through a PlayPhone store then the billing can go through the carrier.

As we work with carriers, we're getting more and more PlayPhone game stores available through pre-loads. So if somebody goes into a Verizon store and they pick up a new HTC phone, the game store is already pre-loaded on it.

So it doesn't require users to look for a store and download it. Literally, if you're a brand-new customer it can be as small as three clicks to be downloading a game even if it's a premium game.

Are payments through carrier billing more easy to make compared to the App Store and Google Play?

Absolutely. With carrier billing it's as close to frictionless as possible. It's one click. The conversion rates are three to five times just because it's one click.

Carrier billing is as close to frictionless as possible. It's one click.
Scott Prather

Right now if somebody's in a game from the App Store or Google and say, "Hey, I want to buy some power-ups." They could buy, but the process in the App Store or the Google Store is complicated.

Users have to stop Candy Crush or whatever the game they're playing, go into the Google Store which is a dramatically different look and feel.

With our store a window simply pops up in-game, and says, "Are you okay with this purchase going through your carrier bill?" They hit "Okay." And they're back in the game. It's very quick and very frictionless.

Do you get a feeling that you've got players that are paying more frequently?

Oh yeah, absolutely. We've worked with a bunch of developers that compared the game that they put up in one of the PlayPhone stores versus Google Play.

What they're seeing is even at a higher price point they see people pay more often and continue to play.

I would imagine there are clones that are starting to do the same thing that you guys are doing?

Absolutely. Especially if you move into some of these emerging markets - China, Indonesia, India - you will see clones pop up. In fact, some of them have even kind of replicated the look and feel of PlayPhone stores.

We're very active in protecting our investment by offering the best user experience to our players.

How do carriers market PlayPhone to their users?

One of the things that we're working very closely with the carriers is marketing, one example being SingTel in Singapore. They do a fantastic job of marketing.

When we launched them they really went above and beyond. They had posters on the buses with their ads. They had launch parties. At the launch of the Samsung S5 they had a team there that was showing people how to open up the store and how to get everything to run.

One of the things that we use is a network-wide currency called Playcredits. And carriers are using that to help players come in and remain active. They're running promotions where you can get one game for free, for example.

We're actually able to extend that and say you're going to get a certain number of Playcredits that you can either use to buy a premium game or buy a power-up in a game. There's a lot of functionality that they are able to offer that's pretty cool as far as marketing goes.

Obviously, PlayPhone is suitable primarily for gaming apps, but what about other types of apps?

We made the decision very early on that we're going to be games-only. If you look at apps versus games, games are driving a lot of the revenue. Games are the ones driving a lot of the usage.

So far as making money for developers it's incredibly difficult to make money on the apps unless you really have your market already cut out for you.

How does your user engagement differ by country? In Asia it's more common for apps to be pre-installed in handsets. How does that affect PlayPhone?

We work pretty tightly with the carriers in each country because the user engagement is tied to what's popular in that region.

Casino is very popular in United States. If you move down to Brazil they're not going to be as popular but sports games do very, very well down there or racing games, or shooter games. Each kind of genre has its high point in different regions.

So we work really closely with our carrier partners in each region because they're going to know their audience best and adjust the offering accordingly. Having boots on the street is the best way to know your audience.

Tell us about the future plans?

We're extremely busy. It seems like every week we have an announcement. If I had to take a look into the future, I would say probably the next areas that you're going to see PlayPhone make announcements and reach out into are going to be places like India, Thailand, Australia, China, the Middle East, Europe, and the UK.

What we traditionally try to do as we move into a region, we try and lock down a hundred percent or as close to a hundred percent of those subscribers as we can. So we are going to each operator and enabling that service.

This is an abridged and edited interview from the AppInTop mobile app marketing podcast produced by AppInTop, an automated mobile app marketing platform.

Listen to this podcast episode or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes. regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.