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PLAYSTUDIOS' Mickey Sonnino talks diversified portfolio and the magic of loyalty programs

PLAYSTUDIOS’ new COO gave us an insight into their take on rewarded play and pushing beyond casino games
PLAYSTUDIOS' Mickey Sonnino talks diversified portfolio and the magic of loyalty programs
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While PLAYSTUDIOS games have historically been concentrated in the social casino category via hits such as myVEGAS Slots and myVEGAS Bingo, their recent acquisition of the mobile rights to Tetris and the purchase of casual game maker Brainium have significantly diversified the company’s mix of games.

We spoke to Mickey Sonnino, their new COO and a former Playtika veteran, to get her views on the mobile gaming industry and PLAYSTUDIOS' plans from the future.

PocketGamer.Biz: As the new COO what are your first priorities at PLAYSTUDIOS?

Mickey Sonnino: In the next month or two I’m planning to learn about the company as much as I can. To understand what are the gaps, to hone in where I can make an impact and what my priorities should be. I have the privilege, only one time, to actually come with a fresh view. So, I’m still objective with a fresh view and I think that’s important to leverage.

Tell us more about PLAYSTUDIOS

PLAYSTUDIOS is a gaming company that develops and operates free to play games, but it has a secret sauce that no other company has, which is one of the reasons I joined. PLAYSTUDIOS has a loyalty programme called playAWARDS. It’s a loyalty programme which allows players to build up loyalty points and redeem them for real-world rewards from the hospitality and entertainment, and leisure industries. PLAYSTUDIOS is the pioneer of rewarded play which is extremely appealing and gives it a huge competitive edge.”

They’ve been investing in many different areas, these are now coming to fruition. There’s a lot of unrealised potential which I’m hoping to help realise. More specifically, I want to bring to PLAYSTUDIOS my expertise and experience in game operations and game management. To bring methodologies that focus on best practices in LiveOps and in monetisation and branding, to build a centre of excellence in game operations.

And also to bring a global approach and cultivate cultural sensitivity. Communication is key, especially for global companies. I lived and worked in various places around the globe and I acquired a diverse background and sensitivity to different cultures, so this is also something I’m trying to bring to the table.

What attracted you to the role at PLAYSTUDIOS?

Putting the player as the centre of all that PLAYSTUDIOS do is already their agenda, so our perspectives will be aligned and there’s great synergy there. Some gaming companies don’t value brands as much and they’re more performance based, so PLAYSTUDIOS was attractive to me.

The number one priority for me was people. People at work are the people you spend most of your day with, these days. You create with, you think with, you have fun with, people are my focus. Everyone I met at PLAYSTUDIOS are extremely smart and inspiring but also very open to new ways of thinking and learning new approaches.

That type of flexibility of willing to be challenged and willing to think differently was appealing to me. It’s not always that companies are willing to bring in someone that wants to shake things up, but they understand that in order to stay in the race you have to reinvent and continually challenge yourself to think differently.

The second was the unique IP they have with this loyalty programme, the fact that they’re pioneering it. I was intrigued by this unique value proposition. Lastly for me, the personal challenge. I’m one of those people who loves to be challenged and leave my comfort zone, and although the COO role leverages my strengths it’s a role I haven’t done before, so I was up for the challenge.

How does your work compare to your previous experience at companies such as Playtika?

This role leverages my expertise and experience, but takes it to the next level. I’m able to bring all the game management ability and expertise to PLAYSTUDIOS, including best practices and methodologies across all games. Additionally, I’ll be able to combine my CPG experience with my game management experience to help contribute to the company.

My global experience contributed to the COO hat. It’s taking everything I did in Playtika, adding some more ingredients and packaging it for this role.

Tell us about PLAYSTUDIOS' transition from casino-style games to a more diverse catalogue

The demographics of our casino style players are nearly identical to the demographics of ALL players of mobile games in the US. However, the expansion to a more 'traditional' free-to-play mobile game catalogue allows us to firstly, to strategically expand and grow our game portfolio across more genres.

Then it allows us to expand and grow our loyalty program in order to reach more games and players, expanding it from a program to a platform. Finally, it helps us to address the challenging UA ecosystem by integrating our loyalty program to these games, increasing the retention and monetization of their existing players and indirectly reducing UA costs.

Tetris is a major brand, what does it bring to the table for PLAYSTUDIOS?

Tetris opens two doors for us both on the casual aspect and extending our portfolio. But also ad monetization which is new territory for us, which we’re learning but making great progress with.

Tell us more about the playAWARDS programme, is it effective?

Highly effective - which is the first question I asked after I joined too, and there is data that demonstrates the huge lift to player retention based on the playAWARDS engagement. So basically, those people who are engaged show greater retention than those who aren’t.

As I mentioned, we're positioned very uniquely and I can say with confidence that our approach drives better retention and gives us a greater advantage in UA.

What do you think is the strongest selling point of PLAYSTUDIOS’ catalogue?

The strongest selling point of the PLAYSTUDIOS' catalogue is the diversity of games styles, our model of rewarded play, our growing revenue diversification from in-app purchases to admon and our ability and determination to sell our playAWARDS platform to third party developers.

What do you think is the gaming industry’s biggest challenge today?

I think the biggest challenge for the gaming industry is to scale games these days. The ability to scale them and launch them is a huge challenge given the top of the funnel, the regulations, IDFA and the rising costs. So this is a huge challenge and actually one of the reasons I joined PLAYSTUDIOS is because what it does is really put retention in the spotlight - which is exactly where it belongs.