Alexander Krug is the CEO of HTML5 developer Softgames.
In October 2018, more than 5.8 billion monthly average users have been reported for the nine most popular messenger apps.
With a smartphone in everyone’s pocket and constantly expanding mobile internet coverage, this massive base of active users will continue growing, and subsequently the number of potential players for messenger games.
After Facebook and WeChat opened their platforms to all developers in early 2018, with Line also launching Line Quick Game this summer, messenger games based on HTML5 consequently caught the interest of many developers on the lookout for the new golden pot.
And indeed, with all monetisation options recently made available on Facebook Instant Games, the forecasted hot opportunity has now manifested itself: messenger games are the next big thing. Now the major question is: How to build a successful business?
As one of only 15 exclusive launch partners of Facebook’s Instant Games, more than 65 million unique users have played Softgames’s casual and hyper-casual hit titles such as Cookie Crush, Solitaire Story, Candy Match or Bubble Shooter since November 2016.
Sustainably thriving on Instant Games, we expect to double our revenue for 2018 and are in the process of significantly increasing the staff of our in-house studio to expand our portfolio of high-quality games.
In order to achieve this fast, but also steady growth we mastered the main challenge every developer joining the dance will meet: How to monetise on Instant Games while upholding a strong player experience and retention on Instant Games.
We identified five key factors to achieving this.
Know your potential players
Messengers are primarily communication platforms. People use them every day in between other activities to stay in touch with their friends and family. Games are an ideal medium to enrich these social interactions with others, enhancing the overall messenger experience.
Messenger games have the power to unlock these new younger user groups if they are tailored precisely to their needs.
Being on Instant Games from the start we also noticed an interesting shift: While statistics for classic apps have identified women older than 35 as the average mobile gamer, messenger games strongly attract players between 18 to 34 years.
For example, our match-three title Cookie Crush quickly gained traction with female players in that age group, reaching one billion level starts in just seven months, whereas Nordeus reports that their soccer game Golden Boot is mainly played by 18 to 24 males.
In other words, messenger games have the power to unlock these new younger user groups if they are tailored precisely to their needs.
In order to be successful messenger games have to offer potential players a high-quality and immediate gaming experience while having a typical file size between five to 10MB.
Additionally, optimising for fast loading times (between three and a maximum of five seconds) is key. Users indeed want to play instantly when they start your game.
As they will access the game from various mobile devices, it is mandatory that it runs stable on mobile devices with different performance or with limited rendering-functions. It must also remain fully accessible even with a slow Internet connection.
Accessibility is also something to think about in terms of genre and gameplay. Browsing Instant Games, you may primarily find casual and hyper-casual games. Such titles can be interrupted and easily picked up again later.
Pairing the simplicity of oftentimes familiar gameplay mechanics that allow players to immediately understand and master the challenge with an inventive or cute theme helps to catch a player’s interest.
To increase our retention and user growth, leveraging group play and paired play were key factors.
We found that providing short and localised tutorials is another option to draw them in and keep them engaged.
Social is key
Messengers offer a unique chance for developers: We come upon a massive pre-built community of potential players who are active on a daily basis and already connected to each other.
But how will they find your game, especially now as more games become available? In our experience, optimising for social play has proven to be of the highest importance.
To increase our retention and user growth, leveraging group play and paired play were key factors. Additionally, our team kept an eye on player invites and subsequent invite acceptance.
To achieve sustainable organic growth, social interactions offered to players and the friends they invite must also be meaningful in the game’s context. In terms of discoverability, it will be interesting to see Facebook’s next steps and cleverly embrace the new features and opportunities to come.
Listen to your players, optimise…
Most importantly, messengers allow for a direct communication with your players. When new features are available or requested by users, you can easily experiment in order to quickly improve your game and evaluate how they perform by focused A/B testing.
Our team continuously experiments for example with first-time player experience, prizes and gifts, or narrative-driven events.
In addition to user feedback, we paid close attention to user behaviour and core metrics. Using the appropriate tools you can almost immediately see what effects your tweaks have and optimise accordingly.
Just to give one quick example what we achieved by doing so: Looking closely at onboarding funnels to identify significant drops in engagement and making rapid and spot-on enhancements, our team could double the crucial day one retention.
In short: Besides building the game itself around the social aspect it is vital to build and actively communicate with the community.
When players enjoy your game and feel appreciated, they’ll come back. Chatbots are another option to improve retention. By sending game relevant bot messages and also inactivity reminders, our weekly retention rate has improved by 250 per cent.
With in-game ads and the recently rolled out in-app purchases on Instant Games, monetisation has been facilitated enormously. There still seem to be reservations against ads, though. One of the biggest fears seems to be that rewarded ads might impair the user experience.
With in-game ads and the recently rolled out in-app purchases on Instant Games, monetisation has been facilitated enormously.
Our story tells something different: We monetise through rewarded ads and interstitial ads, plus optimising content in the in-game economy using IAPs. But instead of losing players we could increase our average session length by 300 per cent. Fill rates have improved since the beginning of the year, reaching 92 per cent on average.
We also noted that players who use the rewarded ad features in our games retain more than four times better. This indicates that once they start enjoying your game, players are very open to acquiring additional playtime or other rewards by watching an ad.
Messenger games are a massive chance for developers and it is exciting to see how Facebook and others are at the ready to further optimise their platforms and build more APIs for developers.
For us at Softgames, the combination of precisely tailoring our games to Instant Games’ possibilities, employing new features to the best advantage, listening to our players and offering them the optimal game experiences, while at the same time keeping an eye on core metrics, turned out to be the path to constant success.
SoftGames CEO Alexander Krug will be a speaker at Pocket Gamer Connects London 2019, which takes place on January 21st to 22nd.