Home   >   Features

10 key trends from Pocket Gamer Connects London 2015

Starting with a bang
10 key trends from Pocket Gamer Connects London 2015
Stay Informed
Get Industry News In Your Inbox…
Sign Up Today

Two days, and over 1,100 attendees from 45 countries, Pocket Gamer Connects London 2015 was our biggest conference to-date and a great way to start 2015.

With 161 speakers, 85 sessions and eight fast-fire PechaKucha 20x20s squeezed into seven tracks covering subjects from education and investment to indie survival, acquisition, rentention and monetisation, not to forget global publishing trends in China, Japan, Korea, India and southeast Asia, there was a lot of information flying through the air.

So let the team condense down their key findings for you.

And hopefully also see you in Bangalore, San Francisco or Helsinki later in 2015.

#1: Grey areas of free-to-play gaming

Grey areas of free-to-play gaming

One of the surprises of 2014 was the continuing labeling by some - including the writers of South Park - of free-to-play games as being in some moral respect "evil".

As Anna Marsh pointed out in her impassioned PechaKucha 20x20 talk, however, evil is a word with a meaning much stronger than spending a couple of dollars buying extra lives in Candy Crush Saga.

(Marsh's talk was about the mining of Coltan in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.)

In another context, lawyer Jas Purewal's pointed to ongoing issue of whether F2P gaming is "legally fair"; something that is likely to be an ongoing issue in 2015 thanks to new EU-wide regulations as well as FTC activity in the US.

Jas Purewal pointed out legal issues with F2P
Jas Purewal pointed out legal issues with F2P

More subtly, some speakers highlighted the need for developers to better educate gamers about the F2P value exchange, with Google's games biz dev ninja Koh Kim adamant that successful mobile game companies were moving to better understand the entire consumer product lifecycle or "the journey to point of purchase", as she put in during the Monetization Mavens panel talk.

#2: Max out your traffic and user sources

Max out your traffic and user sources

Despite its decline as pure gaming platform, Facebook still sits large in the mobile gaming ecosystem.

For one thing, it's reckoned around a third of total user acquisition spending goes through the platform, although this is likely to change as alternative channels from Twitter to TV grow during 2015.

Certainly Fiksu's Benjamin Hansz was keen to highlight the value of Twitter, arguing that it was "more mobile" and "more now" in terms of being a real-time communication channel than Facebook.

(Indeed, at one stage during the conference, #pgconnects peaked as the 8th most popular hashtag in the UK.)

"You can't just spend on Facebook. To grow at scale, you need more than one traffic source," Hansz added.

Fiksu's Benjamin Hansz - bullish on Twitter for UA
Fiksu's Benjamin Hansz - bullish on Twitter for UA

Yet Facebook's Canvas and Connect platforms do offer strong advantages for mobile game developers, with the company's EMEA games guy Bob Slinn pointing out that during a three month period, mobile games that were also available on Facebook saw their engagement rise 40 percent.

In contrast, standalone mobile games saw a decline of 8 percent.

And, the bottomline, is the impact on your bottomline.

The numbers of payers in the games surveyed was four times greater in the cross-platform cohort than in the just mobile group, and they were 3.3 times more valuable too.

#3: Tell me a story

Tell me a story

Often developers spend a lot of time and money on backstory and script that 99 percent of players will skip or fail to engage with.

However, as games like 80 Days demonstrate, plot and characters can also be the foundation for your gameplay.

Jon Ingold - one of the devs behind <em>80 Days</em>
Jon Ingold - one of the devs behind 80 Days

Certainly, god game guru Peter Molyneux criticised the lack of narrative in games for not connecting players.

Jonathan Evans, the creator of Kumo Lumo, also argued the case for story-driven mobile games, saying that narrative was key in the development process of Lumo Deliveries.

He argues more developers should design their games around emotion - something that requires plot and character.

#4: Everyone's a winner with video ads

Everyone's a winner with video ads

According to eMarketer - and cited by Vungle's Ville Heijari - the mobile video advertising market is predicted to be worth $1.5 billion in 2015, and perhaps as much as $6 billion in 2018.

The reason is that mobile video ads engage user better than other formats, hence advertisers are prepared to pay more and developers are prepared to offer more and better inventory.

Basically, it's win-win.

What's really behind this situation, however, is that these are incentivised video ads. Players watch them to get a small amount of in-game soft currency; something that also increases their in-game engagement, driving retention and eventual monetisation.

Basically, it's a golden cycle of win-win-win.

And on that basis, game developers who previously haven't got involved in in-game advertising should start experimenting.

As Thorbjorn Warin, head of monetisation EMEA at AdColony, (pictured) pointed out, you can integrate video ads into the intersection between gameplay and your meta-game.

His best practise examples include Rovio's Angry Birds Epic and Angry Bird Go!.

Incentivised video ads in <em>Angry Birds Go! - </em>watch video, get catapult
Incentivised video ads in Angry Birds Go! - watch video, get catapult

"The question of 2015 isn't whether you should in-game video monetise, but how to do it best?" Warin argued.

#5: Value brand values

Value brand values

Thanks to the success of games like Glu Mobile's Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, on the big trends of 2014 was the value of brands for mobile games.

Another big US publisher investing heavily in brands (like The Hunger Games and Marvel) is Kabam, with the company's head of corporate development & licensing Chris Petrovic talking about how brands work within an increasingly competitive user acquisition environment.

Petrovic stated that licensing a brand doesn't mean you can ignore traditional UA marketing, especially at launch.

Instead, he argued the combination of game marketing with a successful brand and/or product launch, provides an uplift that no amount of cash could match.

Chris Petrovic is Kabam's brand licensing man in Hollywood
Chris Petrovic is Kabam's brand licensing man in Hollywood

In addition, working with brands means publishers can address an audience that otherwise would be hard to attract to a specific game genre, as Kabam is demonstrating by its mass market The Hunger Games: Panem Rising, which is actually a midcore card-collection game.

Another trend is for game companies to licence brands that work integrate well with the games-as-a-service approach.

Again, a live celebrity like Kim Kardashian - who is constantly socially active - is an ideal match, but brands such as WWE - cf Warners' WWE Immortals game - also offer similar hooks.

#6: Imagine Tencent doesn't exist

Imagine Tencent doesn't exist

Perhaps more of an abstract journalistic thought process than direct business strategy, but during our panel talk on the China mobile games market, the issue of Tencent's market dominance arose time and again.

But, suggested one panellist, maybe a better away of looking at the market is to ignore Tencent all together.

Granted this would size down a $4 billion market to maybe a $2 billion market, but for most companies operating in China, that is actually their addressible market. No one - it seems - is going to be taking market share from Tencent in 2015.

The China panel that came up with the idea that Tencent didn't exist
The China panel that came up with the idea that Tencent didn't exist

And in a similar way, perhaps it makes sense to think about the opportunities in, say, the Korean market by stripping out the power and value of Kakao's share and seeing what's left.

In Japan, we could take out the revenue of Puzzle & Dragons and Monster Strike. Suddenly a $5 billion market is more like a $3.5 billion market.

While, in the west, remove Supercell, King and Machine Zone from the equation, and then - perhaps - a lot of things become clearer.

NB: This approach is also known as the exception that proves the rule, as in "Minecraft isn't a example of the success of the paid mobile game market. It's the exception that proves the rule that the success of paid games is capped.

#7: Curse of the MOBA

Curse of the MOBA

Despite the attempts of many skilled developers, and League of Legends and Dota 2 being massively popular and massively commercially successful on PC, the MOBA genre has failed to make a dent on mobile.

Indeed, on one panel at Pocket Gamer Connects London 2015, we started talking about the curse of MOBA, which - more widely could be seen as the curse of midcore games, in general.

The panel now known as the Curse of MOBA panel
The panel now known as the Curse of MOBA panel

In the case of MOBAs, there could be many reasons for this.

Perhaps like the FPS or beat-'em up genres, the level of control provided by a touchscreen is insufficiently accurate to attract over the core audience.

Perhaps, the subtle redesign in terms of the numbers of players onscreen or the time per section are just to diluting to the experience.

Whatever... the fact is neither Gameloft's Heroes of Order & Chaos, Hammer & Chisel's Fates Forever, Zynga's Solstice Arena, and most famously Super Evil Megacorp's Vainglory have chimed with the mobile audience.

CD Projekt Red's The Witcher: Battle Arena may prove them all wrong, but it seems doubtful.

The fact is that while in the west, attempts to purify the MOBA strain for mobile have failed, the #1 top grossing game in China currently is Dota Legend, which isn't a MOBA at all but uses Dota characters in a CCG.

As the saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat.

#8: The rise of extreme UA

The rise of extreme UA

The question of how much marketing money is required to 'properly launch' a F2P game is often reduced down to the level of 'How long is a piece of string?'

The game itself, not forgetting genre, type of campaign and country reach etc, can all significantly influence the size of spend required.

Nevertheless, when forced to give an answer to the question, Monetizer Maven Eric Seufert was happy to hang a headline number on the hook.

And that number was $250,000.

Given their ambition and funding, for some companies, this is a laughably small amount. Others, however, will be cowed by that amount of of zeros.

On one level this barrier to entry is encouraging companies to get creative about their UA strategy, something discussed by Seriously's CEO Andrew Stalbow when talking about how the company gave away $50,000 to charity; in the process getting some of the most popular YouTubers (yes, including PewDiePie) to promote their game Best Fiends.

Andrew Stalbow is in with the YouTubers
Andrew Stalbow is in with the YouTubers

The other side of the coin are the multi million TV campaigns being run by the likes of Supercell, King, Machine Zone and even less well known developers such as uCool.

Indeed, in some markets - notably Japan and South Korea - TV ads are already de rigueur.

But as Gamevil's David Mohr demonstrated - - with the company's video of K-pop band Orange Caramel singing about a power up in one of its games - that doesn't mean you don't also have to be creative.


#9: No, paid games really are dead

No, paid games really are dead

Given the success of games such as Monument Valley and 80 Days, not to mention series successes such as The Room, a certain school of commentators now suggest that paid mobile games are experiencing a rebirth on mobile, specifically iOS.

This is because Apple is widely seen to be over-promoting paid games, and paid games from indie developers, as a means of differentiating its platform for Google Play, which for historical (and current) piracy issues, is not a natural home for paid content.

Nicholas Lovell - bearish on the power of paid
Nicholas Lovell - bearish on the power of paid

The counter-punch to this argument is that the combined monetary value of the Apple App Store and Google Play in 2015 will be over $40 billion, of which less than 5 percent will be generated by paid games.

For example, for all its critical acclaim, Monument Valley has generated less than $10 million. Supercell's three F2P games generate more than double that in a week.

Both sides of this argument where on display at Pocket Gamer Connects London 2015, although the final word on the subject must go to game consultancy Nicholas Lovell, who when challenged that indie developers were also finding good traction for paid games on Steam, questioned why Steam wouldn't itself become a majority F2P platform in 2015.

Perhaps this will be the battleground of the wider paid vs F2P debate this year.

#10: To succeed you first have to fail

To succeed you first have to fail

Game design guru Peter Molyneux's fireside chat highlighted the importance of failure

He stated: "My job as a designer is to make mistakes - and I have, terrible, horrendous, I should be shot mistakes - that I learn from and apply to my next venture.

"We're in a volatile, fast-growing industry, and mistakes are a vital part of the development process."

In a Wednesday morning keynote, there was a similar line from Catharina Lavers Mallet, King's head of London studio.

"There's two main things we've done particularly well at King," she said.

"Number one - plan to fail a lot. We have failure built into the model so we're set up to fail fast and fail quickly and cheaply."

Even King's Catherina Lavers Mallet plans to fail a lot
Even King's Catherina Lavers Mallet plans to fail a lot

Companies should always be trying new things at low cost, she advised, adding...

"The second [thing we've done well] is an obsession with our culture. We've grown hugely in the last two years, and the reason the company feels the same as it did two years ago is because we have that same obsession, that same culture, and the same agility."

And rounding off our trio of successful failure (or succailures as someone once put it), was Masaru Ohnogi, the CEO of gumi Korea.

Its plan is to become the #1 gaming entertainment company in the world.

Its mantra; "First to try. First to fail. First to recover."