A few things have been bothering me lately.
The ever rising cost of user acquisition - up to $1.81 at its peak, for instance. The share-price decline of Zynga allegedly heralding the end gaming on Facebook. Games luminaries publically announcing that marketing just doesn't work.
However, what hit me most recently was a review of a freemium game. I don't want to get into the game or the reviewer - who has every right to his opinion - but instead what it says about how we approach promotion.
This review bothered me because the reviewer had a principled objection against freemium games. At first I was angry about it, but increasingly I have realised that this is a symptom of our failure to engage with people who love games but don't understand freemium.
A broad spectrum
Freemium at its best is about creating an enchanting place for players to return to time and again, in the expectation that a percentage will love the game enough to invest in virtual goods that make the game even better.
At its worst it becomes a bad habit where we treat our friends as resources and pay to remove artificial barriers simply to make the game bearable.
The good news is that players who feel exploited vote with their wallets and spend elsewhere.
This model, unlike anything before, opens games out to more people who don't have to pay to enjoy the experience. But, if it's so great, why are there such strong voices railing against freemium? And does it matter?
I believe it does matter, and it means we have to review the way we think about marketing.
Making an impact
Marketing as a whole, has undergone dramatic change over the last decade with the deeply disruptive influence of mobile and internet platforms.
It's an amazing change because we no longer have to have TV-scale budgets to get noticed and we have more data about what makes a successful campaign than ever.
However, there are now so many marketing channels it's hard to know which ones are going to work for us and how to find an audience. Of course in mobile we have the same problems, but at least we have two primary channels Google Play and Apple's App Store.
Anyone can make an app (more or less) and get it onto the market, but it takes 35k-125k daily downloads to get in the top free charts. Given that we can't buy placement on these stores (a good thing) where can we get that level of audience?
The easiest way is to get featured of course, but this isn't something most studios can do.
NaturalMotion seems to be a master at this, and of course they have great personal relationships, but more importantly, they appeal to the KPIs of the platform's editors. Look at CSR Racing it's beautiful, instantly gratifying and perfectly formed (as well as perfectly monetised).
Whether or not you get featured, if you have the budgets, you can always use precision targeted advertising to increase your installs.
This is a great technique which gives a direct correlation between spend and return; pay on results. However, there is lots of competition for the advertising space and an ever diminishing return if there is no other marketing context.
The good news is that it doesn't necessarily take big budgets to create a marketing context. The first step is to engage with the player where they are.
We know that the market audience for games has expanded and many players don't read specialist magazines, but with a bit of research and experimentation we can find other places/magazines/events to build a conversation.
The specialist games press do still have a role for advocate players and if we don't have their confidence, how can we gain the confidence of the casual user? Of course, this is where I think a lot of developers have lost faith; even if the review is positive we can rarely show any direct correlation to an increase in sales.
I believe we need to act smarter in the way we engage with press. We have to pick the right media, create the right context, and then build both trust and anticipation for our games. These are achievable objectives that need different measurements of success.
All about trust
Trust is vital, and even if you don't have the skill of a PR guru, you can act through the app stores. User ratings systems are critical to what drives the ranking systems and we ignore user's feedback at our peril.
There are other mediums and mechanisms such as sponsorships, brand associations, etc but these generally require larger budgets than most mobile games.
However, marketing is not just about how we use the external channels, we also have to build things into the flow of our game which will give us the best opportunity to not only delight each user, but also maximise the opportunity for them to tell other people about it.
Knowing that ratings are important, let's remember to prompt them when they have achieved notable success. Use well-placed social features that create fun, meaningful interactions with other players to build up deeper engagements with the game.
If done well this can still create the viral effect significantly increasing the install base.
And don't forget that a lot of potential players will be playing other games.
If we build collaborative cross-promotion tools such as AppFlood carefully into our game these can also help us find new users and effectively turn your churning users back into new installs.
Whatever techniques you use, remember to focus on the delight of the customer experience. It doesn't help in the long run to use cheap tricks like bots to artificially gain higher ranking or pay for fake reviews in the end these get found out and you lose trust.
Instead let's make sure that we 'identify and satisfy consumer needs' the very definition of good marketing.
For more on PapayaMobile, you can visit the firm's website or follow Oscar on Twitter.