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5 unusual observations about the mobile gaming industry

5 unusual observations about the mobile gaming industry

Walking back to the hotel from the conference party at the Pony Bar, I ponder about the kids with the laptop that were gathered in the table next to me.

After a whole day of showing their freshly baked computer game to tons of expo visitors, they still have the persistence and energy to bring their game with them to the bar for playing instead of just drinking.

This kind of devotion to gaming reflects the nature of Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki and DevGAMM Hamburg, two conferences I've attended last week.

Both conferences are not too big, but very local and very personal. The nature of these conferences, and the people I've met have sparked a lot of thought in my head about the state of indie gaming. Here are the highlight observations I've collected

Gur Dotan is co-founder and VP Marketing at SOOMLA, an open source company with the mission to drive game developers’ success with technology and data.

An engineer-turned-entrepreneur, Gur digs into everything from blog posts, to growth hacks to developer communities.

Gur recently launched Gamegear, a directory of mobile gaming SDKs.


Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Indies are utterly miseducated about data and analytics

    Indies still seem to ignore the "burden" of implementing comprehensive analytics solutions to understand their players.

    In an industry that offers indies so many free tools to drive their decisions with data, it is truly shocking to discover their lack of understanding for the importance of analytics.

    I spoke with people who are so passionate about the game development phase that they completely neglect all post-launch marketing aspects. This showed true for mobile games and especially PC games.

    A question I asked a lot of indie studios, from one-man-shows to 30 people studios, is what tools they use for analytics and how they measure retention. Here are some of the answers I got:

    • Studio #1:
    • Me: "So how's your game's retention? How do you measure that?"
    • Studio: "I have no idea. I launched without analytics. I'll add that later."
    • Me (quietly in my head): "What-the-fu*k?"
    • Studio #2:
    • Me: "So which analytics platform are you using?"
    • Studio: "We built our own analytics system."
    • Me: "Wouldn't you prefer to use an established platform with analytics expertise that you don't possess?"
    • Studio: "It's good enough for now and we like to code everything ourselves" 
    • Studio #3:
    • Studio: "Yeah, sure we do A/B testing. We test which scene in the game to put the interstitials in."
    • Me: "OK, how do you do it?"
    • Studio: "Well... we release an update with the ad placed at the end of a level. We see how it does for two weeks, and then we release another update with the ad placed somewhere else."
    • Me (quitely in my bewildered head): "Seriously?? Haven't you heard of remote A/B testing platforms??

  • 2 The indie publishing paradox

    The indie publishing paradox is a classic Catch-22 situation. The principle is that when you are small, ramen-diet, pre-launch and pre-revenue, you won't get publishing deals even though that's when you need them the most.

    Once you go live and actually gain significant traction, you'll be able to foresee a profitable business.

    Ironically, this is exactly the timing when publishers fire up their courtship afterburners your way. Publishers will make you offers when you least need them and will ignore you when you need them the most.

    The Catch-22 is that you need the money to get to the point where you are publisher-ready, but you first need to be publisher-ready to get that money.

    Winners of the Very Big Indie Pitch at Helsinki 2015

    The smart indie studios are able to balance the delicate tipping point between initial launch with mediocre traction and top charts explosion with a scalable business model.

    Once your game has reduced ROI risk by showing significant popularity and a proven monetization model, you must decide. If you are business-savvy and believe in your ability to bring the game to the top charts forget about publishing deals.

    On the other hand, if you're holding a diamond that you don't know how to turn into a crown, this would be the optimal time to seek for a publisher who'd know how to scale your initial success.

    PG Connects Helsinki and DevGAMM hosted studios from both sides of the table. Only a handful of them found publishers.

  • 3 The rise of new, innovative monetization platforms

    Ask any mobile game developer how they monetize their game and they'll all say the same: in-app purchases and ads.

    These are the well known, industry standard techniques for creating in-game revenue, as also shown by App Annie's monetization report.

    Yet very little is discussed about other methods for monetizing users, which are emerging as powerful platforms with innovative models for driving indie game success.

    While everyone is obsessed with video ads and in-game coins, a slew of lesser known startups are trying to bring new forms of retention and monetization to mobile gaming. The ones that specifically caught my eye in PG Connects Helsinki were:

    • Pollen VC
    • Pollen is like a smart investment bank for mobile games. Their service lets you "re-invest" your game's revenue in user-acquisition instead of picking up the check, thus fueling your success at critical times of high rankings and initial traction.
    • GiftGaming
    • A service that offers real world gifts and coupons in exchange for in-game virtual currency. Instead of installing another app or watching a video to get in-game coins, you can opt for receiving a gift from a brand advertiser. The user earns twice - once for opting for the gift and once for gaining more coins for doing so.
    • Gumbler
    • An E-sports platform for conducting daily contests and giving away prizes. This service will boost both your retention and monetization. You can set up a daily contest, spanning for a week straight. Players get a free try in the contest once everyday. If they strike out and want to take another go at reaching the daily high score (and prize) they have to pay in order to participate.

    Shameless plug - SOOMLA - my company, joins this trend. We are innovating on user retention by building a collaborative network.

    Our platform can show developers the in-app purchase history of new users walking into their game in real time.

    Developers can use this data to drive tailored action per each user: offer whales welcome bundles, target spenders with special push campaigns, and increase ad exposure to non-spenders.


  • 4 Kid CEOs in conferences

    It is very common to see a 22 -year-old walking around the conference with a badge titled CEO (or CTO, or chief anything else for that sake).

    By facilitating showcase halls of mobile games and studio-to-investor speed dating sessions, PG Connects Helsinki and DevGAMM are furtile soil for cultivating a breed of new kids on the block.

    Twenty-somethings who are still popping zits and working their way through college at best or high school at worst, are creating some of the best graphics, 3D art, sound effects and game mechanics the world has ever seen.

    A new breed of C-level execs

    And they're doing it in small, commando-style teams. Squads of engineer-artist-designer are quietly building games from a garage while assigning themselves the coveted titles of C*O.

    It's sometimes hard not to sneer when you encounter them, yet my entrepreneurial alter-ego appreciates them for believing in themselves as they embrace self proclaimed titles that show a real company.

    I've witnessed at first sight during these conferences how those title-bearing kids' mature facade, or lack thereof, can determine a successful or fatal meeting with a potential publisher.

  • 5 The northern hemisphere is infatuated with gaming

    Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Canada are just a few countries to name here.

    If you take the globe and draw a heat map of the geographies most pre-occupied in game development, you'd notice a lot of them in the northern hemisphere.

    I'm no expert in labor studies or anthropology, but I'd have to say off the top of my head that this trend of northern gaming countries can mostly be attributed to the cold weather.

    It's cold outside

    People spend less time outside, hence, they require more indoor entertainment, and what could be more entertaining than mobile/computer games right?

  • 6 Gamers love medieval beards

    As with the previous observation, I cannot provide empirical proof, but I couldn't ignore that fact that tons of gamers, developers, artists, and designers grow huge beards.

    The nordic Viking beard is especially popular. It seems that for some indies, different sub-cultures of heavy metal, tattoos, dungeons, costumes, and a general medieval zeitgeist are blending into the gaming scene.

    Bushy, bushy beards

    This manifests itself in both the games they are creating, but also in the clothes they wear and the beards they grow. I find it pretty cool :)

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Patric Ojala Director of Kanzi Ecosystem
I don't quite agree with page #1 about analytics.

I admit that there is a lot of Studio1s around and that's just sad. But Studio2's own analytics can be so much better than just ticking the analytics box by integrating some 3rd party such. In my previous employment we used our own analytics because no 3rd party such really delivered all that we wanted, and of course they can't. Your own analytics implementation can be adapted exactly to your game mechanics and the difference of that benefit is like day and night. - Well there was one quite decent 3rd party platform, but it was about 100x more expensive than the AWS bills of our own system, at least in open beta stage.
And if you have an online config file, which you definitely should have, there is no need for a 3rd party A/B testing platform. Just manage which config file to push to which players. And A/B testing is so much more than just fiddling with pricing and ads, which is the only thing many A/B testing platforms can manage.
Fraser Ross MacInnes Product/Design Director at Danke Games
You forgot all of the silly indoor hat wearing that goes on. Why is nobody talking about this trend? Every conference I go to, the porkpie hat to head ratio is easily 1:3. Compare that with something like the automobile industry or the even something like SaaS tech where the ratio is much more like 0:1 and it's clear that there is something gravely wrong with the people of the mobile games industry.

What's even more strange is that it also seems to engender a sort of ambient smugness on the part of the wearer. Seriously, what's up with that? Have we reached 'peak hat' in the mobile games industry yet? I truly hope so...