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Why French startup Mana Cube is focusing on CRM not UA for its longterm success

Nicolas Godement-Berline on player satisfaction
Why French startup Mana Cube is focusing on CRM not UA for its longterm success

The formation of many game companies is fueled by the burning desire to bring a specific game idea to market.

In the world of free-to-play mobile gaming, however, that is no longer enough.

As Nicolas Godement-Berline, the co-founder and COO of new French developer Mana Cube points out, success can also be built on deep pockets and user acquisition prowess.

In the case of Mana Cube, it’s taking a more longterm and, Godement-Berline hopes, sustainable approach by combining its game designs with an operational focus on player satisfaction. You seem to have a very distinct view for Mana Cube. What is it and why do you think it's different to what other F2P mobile devs are trying to do?

Nicolas Godement-Berline: Our approach is to serve an amazing experience to our players, and to specialize in adventure games. We'll take it slow and steady rather than going for a quick burst.

When you think of the household names in gaming, they all have a form of longevity that can in many case be attributed to a competitive advantage they've accrued over time: Valve has Steam; EA built strong distribution muscle; and smaller but not less impressive outfits like Telltale Games have great story-telling and IP licensing capabilities of their own.

Mana Cube founders Philippe Desgranges (left) and Godement-Berline
Mana Cube founders Philippe Desgranges (left) and Godement-Berline

Currently the general sentiment in F2P is that you have to become very, very strong at user acquisition. You have to build teams and tools, to the point that some teams become better at running UA than at making great games.

Our feeling is that focusing instead on accruing customer goodwill through CRM will pay in the long run.

Both founders have extensive experience in the mobile space, so what do you think are the most importance expertise you bring to Mana Cube?

We've experienced how powerful live ops are at engaging players over time.

Our CEO Philippe is an incredibly talented game maker - both tech and game design. Great games have to be the starting point, anything mediocre won't cut it these days.

Beyond that, we've both experienced how powerful live ops are at engaging players over time.

Running live events, special offers, new content, gift coupons - and also knowing how such operations are received by the community by checking its pulse through a blend of CRM and analytics.

Why did you decide your debut release would be Dungeon Monsters - a dungeon-crawler - and why does the genre need reinvention?

We set out to imagine what a hit mobile RPG aimed specifically at western players might look like, and realized dungeon crawlers were an unexplored route on mobile, that type of direct combat gameplay combined with first-person exploration.

Early Dungeon Monsters prototypes struck a cool nostalgic chord with playtesters. Incidentally, the first game Philippe ever programmed (at age 14) was a dungeon crawler. It was called Light Lords.

What's interesting too is that Dungeon Monsters' retention and monetization metagame is built around a monster-collection mechanic.

So it's a game that appeals both to former players of such classic PC dungeon crawlers as Lands of Lore or Ultima Underworld, and what we call the "Pokemon generation", people maybe under 25 or 30 who grew up on the monster collection mechanics.

The game is currently in soft launch so what are you learning from this?

The initial metrics are pretty good with solid retention and ARPU.

So now it's about seeing if we can improve them even further, as well as testing our live ops pipeline, honing our update process, fighting hackers and so on.

As game developers, we could be doing so much more to delight our players.

We're also fine-tuning the onboarding and the game balance.

Treating players well is something you talk about so what do you specifically mean by this, and why do you think that developers aren't doing a good job?

As game developers, we could be doing so much more to delight our players. The Temkin Customer Service ratings feature only one game company, Activision at #125.

The top rated companies like Amazon, Starbucks or Ritz-Carlton have call-centers, birthday cards, loyalty programs, every single customer touchpoint of their business bleeds the drive to deliver a great experience.

Those are the kind of things we're thinking about, a few years down the road. We're starting by developing our own CRM tools to build value that can transfer from one title to another.