2013: The year of mature monetisation, static App Store charts, and £2 supermarket chickens

Oscar Clark asks, will things get easier in 2014?

2013: The year of mature monetisation, static App Store charts, and £2 supermarket chickens

The crazy Christmas season is finally here and, as a result, it's time to consider just what 2013 has meant for the mobile games industry.

Looking back across the year, it's hard to look past the tremendous success the likes of King and Supercell have achieved during the last 12 months, but at the same time, a great many studios have also passed into history.

We live in interesting times. Which might, of course, explain why there are so many conferences on the radar now designed to discuss the issues of the day.

At last count, I attended just shy of 70 conferences across the course of 2013. But what has any of this taught me?

Merry is the word

Apart from the obvious that going to too many networking events will add at least a stone to your weight (too many beers), it's clear that as an industry we are evolving.

There is an increasingly mature attitude to the role of monetisation and marketing in conjunction with design; rather than seeing business criteria as a damaging to the purity of our games. However, that doesn't mean we don't still have painful growing pains.

This year saw an escalation of the hysteria about the morality of freemium. So much so we had intervention from the UK Office of Fair Trading which went far better than many of us had feared; although there remain areas of concern about their proposals, particularly clarity over roles and responsibilities of developers and platforms.

The problem I have about this debate is that on top of the legitimate concerns, there was an exaggerated knee-jerk reaction triggered by over-reported problems. I believe this did our industry a disservice and allowed an emotional reaction to a change of business model to get out of hand.

It's not helpful making comparisons to £2 supermarket chickens or prostitution to build up the public reputation of an industry that dominates the entertainment sector.

Not free-for-all

Don't get me wrong – we've all witnessed the success of some games that challenged the free-to-play concept and demonstrated success was still possible with a premium game in 2013.

Titles like Badland or The Room, which deliver a beautiful experience and command a higher price than the default $1, have managed to stand out.

At the same time, we have seen the difficulty many games have had when they failed to reach the critical mass needed for free-to-play revenues to work, as well as those where the model was simply bolted on without a care for the value for the players.

Badland flew the flag for the premium model in 2013

Despite this, games like League of Legends, World of Tanks and Real Racing 3 deliver great playing experiences as F2P.

Games like Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans and Subway Surfers have all also demonstrated that it is possible to sustain an audience by treating your game as a service. However, despite there being around 200 new games added each day, the App Store's top charts have essentially been static all year.

This represents a massive challenge for new content and for player discovery in general and is probably why we see developers changing their approach. It's not cost effective to try to buy your way into the top charts you have to be disruptive to make a difference.

There is of course still plenty of room below the top 100 games where developers can still make some money. Indeed, according to Flurry, we still see nearly 60 percent of revenues coming outside the top 100.

The price is wrong

The sheer volume of players for the top ranking games also shows how mobile games are now leading the engagement of a mass-market audience following the decline in the hype around Facebook social games last year.

That in turn is reflected in the sharp increase in price for games which have to 'buy' players.

Anecdotally, I've heard that the cost of acquisition of a paying customer has gone from around $1 to around $6 – a figure that makes the idea of a 69p game unsustainable. (Sadly I don't have any evidence for those numbers so please treat with appropriate disdain).

Interestingly at the same time it seems (again anecdotally) that the cost of acquisition for paying players in social games has fallen from $6 to $1.

Then there are the other platforms console games decline seems set to reverse with the arrival of the Xbox One and PS4; but are the initial sales volumes sustainable?

PS4 and Xbox One have got off to especially strong starts

Have they put a nail in the coffin for the microconsoles market (Ouya or Gamestick) or will these become more interesting with over the course of 2014?

Its a pretty bleak picture for many developers and next year seems likely to get even harder. It's going to take innovation as well as good marketing and game design to succeed in 2014.

Happy new year

Disruptive services such as video advertising or gameplay recording have grown rapidly over the last 12 months and have definitely helped some companies succeed when they might have failed.

I am, of course, biased, as these are services we offer at Everyplay. However, my point is that finding new ways to be effective are increasingly important, but then so is a brand-led approach which builds on an intrinsically gorgeous playing experience.

So we live in the best of times and the worst of times to be a game developer and its not going to get any easier in 2014.

What is certain is that we will see lots more new companies, lots of companies go bust and despite that we will see new talent succeeding even when they have never spent anything on advertising because they will disrupt the market with something extraordinary which just happens to get the interest of players.

Basically just like every other year.

An online and mobile expert since 1998, Oscar Clark is the evangelist for gameplay video sharing tool Everyplay from Applifier.


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