Mobile Mavens

2014: The year when studios 'stop trying to be the next Supercell'

2014: The year when studios 'stop trying to be the next Supercell'

It's only fitting that our first Mavens of 2014 focus on what's likely to happen in mobile in the year ahead.

We've already taken a crack at what we think will happen in 2014, but we wanted to take our experts to task on what themes they think will dominate over the course of the next 12 months.

Who will come unstuck? Who will soar? Will we all be buying wearables, and will microconsoles be given a second chance? Will iControllers make their mark, and will Apple finally bring iOS apps to Apple TV?

In short, what will happen in the world of mobile in 2014?

Andreas Vahsen, machineworks
Google Glass. It is so much more convenient, more fun and easier on your eyes to look at a good size virtual display than keep staring at your smallish smartphone screen. It"s awesome for games and awesome all around.

Oscar Clark, Applifier

Thinking about 2014 gives me mixed feelings.

I am nervous about the opportunity for new indie developers and the cost of acquisition and ever rising quality bar, but suspect we will see innovation in the way content is discovered.

Obviously I'd like to think we have already started that process with the work we have been doing with Everyplay and GameAds but I suspect video is just part of the change we will see throughout the year.

I don't honestly think we will see App Store or Google Play change dramatically, but I would like to see that happen and I think we are still a large number of years off before they lose their dominant position.

Games that find ways to show off their fun to players in the most interesting and innovative ways will still get discovered, but this is against the backdrop of a ranking chart that has hardly changed at the top over the last year.

I also get the feeling that the agenda will be less about premium versus freemium and more about Games-as-a-Service - at least that's what a lot of the conference events seem to be mentioning a lot on their websites.

I think the reason for this is as the cost of acquisition continues to rise, we will find that we have to make the most of our relationships with our customers. That depends on us keeping their attention, interest and trust as long as possible.

That's good if it takes us away from the negative side of bad paymium or 'fleecium' business models. Paying attention to the evolving needs of your players can really pay off and its got to be a lot cheaper then just spending money on getting new ones.

I'm a little more optimistic than some about the current investment funds at least for the first quarter of this year. There seems to be some who are interested in backing games still - if only as a last ripple after the Supercell buyout. However, I do get the feeling that it will get a little harder to raise funds after April.

Not convinced yet that we will see a return of publisher, but perhaps those organisations with strong marketing skills combines with long term customer and technical service experience will change that.

What happens with console is another quandary. I am pleased that the new generation have done well so far (perhaps with the exception of the WiiU) but I'm less convinced that this will continue. I think we have seen the wave of pent up demand fulfilled and not (yet at least) enough content to really justify the upgrade.

What will be interesting is whether there will be a second generation of microconsoles. If there is and the technology improvements match the mobile cycle, then we just might be looking at different Xmas headlines next year.

John Ozimek, Dimoso

Maybe it's down to the bleary-eyed first week back, but I don't have any especially strong views of what the year ahead will hold, beyond more of the same.

I agree with Oscar's concerns regarding discoverability and the fine balance between an enjoyable freemium game and an overaggressive 'fleecier' one. But so early in the year, I don't see anything that will change this, beyond plenty of failures that smart developers will be able to learn from.

At Dimoso we are still seeing too many small developers that aren't thinking about how to market their apps or the need to build a community of fans. As the app stores become more and more saturated, finding some way to build a relationship with your fans one by one becomes more important.

There are only so many games that are quirky enough or good enough to generate the kind of word of mouth that drives millions of installs; for the majority of developers success is going to be much smaller and much harder to achieve.

What I would love to see in 2014 is more developers coming to us with an open mind about what success is, rather than having misty-eyed aspirations to be the next Rovio/King/Supercell. And I'd also like them to have a realistic view of what it really costs to market an app.

And most of all, I would love to see an end to the obsession of measurable ROI-on-everything. Building a brand is something that is often intangible yet can be priceless to a product if successful, but there is just so much focus on spending every last penny on some kind of CPI advertising that the value of brand is being missed.

I'm so frustrated by being asked what the immediate ROI of PR is, as if it's something that can be added into an analytics dashboard.

Perhaps in 2014 the mobile games industry will stop being focused so inwardly on downloads and installs, and learn more from those brands that are experts in building loyalty and awareness through creativity, passion, and a long-term vision.

John Griffin, Game Sparks
Further to what Oscar and a couple of others mentioned, I think one of the main themes for the year is going to be about Games-as-a-Service.

If 2013 was the year that this concept became well known within game development circles, 2014 is when many of them will have to adopt it. Most of the larger studios we talk to already have a plan around adopting this as their standard implementation or deployment model where as it is really the indies that need it most.

I hope, therefore, and expect that 2014 is the year that the indies get serious about Games-as-a-Service.

On a connected point, there is a lot of dissatisfaction from both the player and developer communities around free to play. Developers don’t like it because it is hard to do properly and players don’t like it because it has not been done well and they feel like they are being fleeced every time they play a game.

As an industry we have to get better at this - we need to make players feel like they are getting a bargain in not paying up front for a game and then not mind so much when we do try and get compensated for our hard work.

I have connected these two points because I don’t believe it is possible to be good at free to play without implementing a game as a service. Free to play is here to stay and in 2014 we need to see a lot improvement in how we go about it.

Adam Telfer, Wooga
2014 will be a very interesting year for mobile and free to play.

We'll continue to see growth in mobile but this will be coupled with rapidly rising user acquisition costs. This was been talked about last year, particularly around the Christmas rush before the holidays.

The cost of acquisition for games has hit critical levels where most games can no longer do profitable marketing using "traditional" digital marketing means. This is a product of increased competition and increased budgets. Game companies are willing to throw a lot more marketing dollars at mobile games than ever before.

For indies and smaller self-publishers this will eventually hit a wall. I don't think it's likely we'll see companies like NimbleBit rise again. The easy marketing of being free just is not there any more.

Small developers that decide to go free will have to be smart to find new ways to fight the CPI vs LTV battle. Getting a publisher is one way, or using the rabid indie fanbase to fund your project and spread the word (ex. Kickstarter and Reddit).

Otherwise, you'll be fighting toe to toe with big budgets and big developers, who have the ability to out iterate and out buy your user base.

2014 will also be interesting because I think we'll start seeing some really new styles of successful free to play games. 2013 saw Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans really dominating the top grossing. The charts have barely moved other than some success stories like Jelly Splash. I don't see this continuing through 2014. I don't think the mobile user base will let this continue.

Clones are no longer shooting up the chart as they once have, and for that I see that the smarter companies will start investing in more innovation.

I think 2014 we'll start seeing new genres emerge in the free to play space, ones that will shake up the top grossing chart. The companies that can merge solid, deep game design with the best practices of free to play will have a shot.

Other than user acquisition and innovation, I think that Android will continue to grow. We will see companies closing the gap between launching a game on iOS and launching on Android. The trends with Kakao, LINE and others in eastern markets will be very interesting to watch as they continue to grow.

Jared Steffes, Furywing

My predictions:

  • Young developers finally understand the cost of living. We will see more titles at $2.99 now than years prior.
  • There will be two three large crowd funded mobile related objects and one will really disappoint us all.
  • Real money gambling on mobile will become a big talking point at conferences by the fall.
  • My company Furywing will launch and hopefully give everyone something to talk about.
  • Ustwo's 'Chief Wonka' Mills will come out of hiding - he has already stuck his head out on Twitter.
  • There will also be four to five studio acquisitions with undisclosed values.
  • World of Tanks on mobile, maybe? A mobile game from Blizzard. More Minecraft clones.
  • PocketGamer.biz editor-at-large Jon Jordan gets everyone to paint their nails a different colour and shoot a mobile music video.

Jon Hare, Tower Studios
Free to play Games-as-a-Service is an expensive millstone around the necks of many developers.

To take on such an extended expense just to panda to the whims of a large user base all of whom paid nothing up front is risk on top of risk.

The biggest problem is that when you are actually playing a game you forget if you paid for it up front or not and just enjoy the experience. This is why people complain about free games asking them for money, because they forget they were free when they play them. They only care about if they are free or not when they actually buy them.

As an older gamer with a bit more cash in my pocket I would LOVE to pay an overall one off fee to take all of the shit away. The problem is, free to play gaming has become sophisticated, which means we are now designing around it and therefore the FTP bits are now embedded in the designs and mechanics. This makes them harder to revert to paid games.

I predict and hope for an elitist minority of gamers to raise their heads in 2014 and demand good quality paid games without any tricks, sooner a or later the fashion has got to come full circle so I am going for the seeds of elitist "my game is $4.99, pay it or fuck off" marketing by the end of this year and, as a result, the end of the 'include everybody' era of media.

Harry Holmwood, MAQL Europe
I think 2014 will be when we start to see 'real' niche gaming starting to happen in a bigger way.

By this, I mean games that target a small, specialist interest, rather than trying to appeal to everyone. We've lost that a little recently - it looks like most games currently fit into one of two categories.

They're either trying to appeal to the niche that is 'gamers that are interested in games' (which will make up the majority of people reading this site), or 'people who don't care much about games but play them as a distraction and some of them will spend money'.

DEVICE 6 (my mobile game of the year) falls into the first, and Candy Crush the second. Both games are astonishingly good and deserve their success.

With a glut of games, and game developers, we need to get better at working out who our audience is. Choosing between 'people on my Twitter feed' and 'everyone' isn't a good enough strategy.

When a game finds its audience perfectly, it can create a dedicated and loyal fanbase, without having to spend vast sums finding that audience through traditional means.

Probably the best example that springs to mind is Sports Interactive's Football Manager - it's more a game for people that are into football than people that are into videogames. I'm sure there are many others already, but I've just got off a 12 hour flight and my brain isn't working yet.

So, what I'd love to see, is the emergence of lots of interesting, niche games, that may not be for me, but will find their audience among people who might not normally consider themselves gamers.

And getting that niche audience to pay enough to make someone a living will hopefully be more realistic than an infinite number of match-three, world building or rogue-like titles all competing with each other for the same dollar.

John Ozimek, Dimoso
Harry, I'd like to think that you are right but, in order for a greater share of the market for more targeted or niche games, we return to the challenges of discovery that have pretty much remained unchanged since the Java days.

What is still a problem is the relationship between games, consumers, and marketing one to the other (and I don't mean the blunt instrument of install-driven advertising). Most of the developers I speak to cannot look at the idea of marketing beyond the app stores.

I don't know what can shift this perception problem, or whether it is unrealistic to think that developers can afford to think about a more concerted marketing strategy.

One of the attractions of freemium is that the acquisition is built into the game mechanism; for premium to claw back some mindshare (and personally I would love to see it do so) then marketing and brand building becomes more important.

A good start would be for more mainstream press to give some more love to apps and app reviews, so that there are more outlets for apps to be seen by consumers outside of the stores, and I'd also like to see more love from Apple and Google for services like AppZapp that can be a very powerful discovery tool.

Perhaps we'll see more independent app stores emerging, as has been the case in China - decentralising the role of app discovery and curation from the platform owners.

Jon Hare, Tower Studios
Guys I know this is off topic, but something has just dawned on me.

In the old days we used to sell games for real money up front but now many games are sold for free with no guaranteed income to the developer.

In the not so old days we used to sell Games-as-a-Service for money - monthly subscription on World of Warcraft - but now the work required to service games is again expected with no guaranteed income to the developer.

I would love to see a survey on free games published and marketed, users acquired and games service overhead and to see how much money collectively has been lost by developers and publishers in the past five years and offset that against income taken. Does anyone have any idea of the stats?

Something tells me it will be a heavily negative sum and we have to change the business model somehow to become less risky. Chasing an elusive pot of gold is not a sensible way to make a living.

Oli Christie, Neon Play
How about there's another chart? You get Free charts. And Paid charts. And the 5p (or 10p) chart. So consumers have to pay a tiny amount to download a game/app, but at least the developer gets something.

Then if, for example, you get a million downloads of a 5p game, that equals, err, £50,000. And then you get the IAP on top of that.

So the consumer doesn't really suffer too badly (5p), but developers survive and more great content gets created. Problem solved?

Will Luton, TinyCo
Making a player make a value judgement upfront impacts uptake hugely - it's known as the Penny Gap.

Why would a player be insensitive to 10p but not 69p? Asking them "Is this game worth your money?" is the real barrier. Free removes that entirely.

For example, you have an lifetime value of £1 on 10 million players and the 10p price barrier turns away 25 prrcent of players (which is being generous, I think). Assuming IAP spending isn't impacted (which, in introducing an upfront payment I think it would be), you lose £2.5 million in IAP, but only gain £750,000 in upfront payment.

Whilst you can't guarantee revenue from a single player, you can from a big enough body of players. If you're building your server infrastructure in such a way that scales (assuming you have servers) then the risk is the same as it always has been: In creating the product.

Indeed the risk is now reduced because there are no inventory liabilities (discs in boxes). If nobody downloads your F2P game, you don't have useless stock and little to no server costs to pay.

Additionally F2P allows for the MVP model where you can test early and quickly, before making a decision to continue production on solid financial data.

Jon Hare, Tower Studios
A decent mobile game is going to cost you £100,000 plus to put together., plus marketing - there is your risk.

Lets say it is about 25 percent of the value of your house, so you have four shots before you are on the streets. Good luck!

The problem with people further down the chain of games is that they NEVER fully recognise the risk at the developers end.

The developer is already spending a year or more of his life putting this thing together, often with little time to hedge his bets and do something else as well. If, on top of that, he is also spending money on other people to facilitate development and marketing, then the risk is huge on a personal level.

Your model works assuming you stumble upon the £10,000,000 LTV, but there is no guarantee of that success. In fact statistically, there is probably a 90 eprcent chance of failure, which means the average person will lose their house, then another house, then a bit of another house before the odds are likely to come up in their favour.

In short, this would be a shit lifestyle and not conducive to happiness.

John Ozimek, Dimoso
Clearly the future of mobile games in 2014 will be continued arguments about Freemium vs Premium.


With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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Jared Epicpower
Looking back on conversations and events that happened last week, I realize I predicted 3 things correctly. We'll see if the rest are correct.
Dan Powell
I don't see premium making a comeback because free is so important to discovery in the app stores. I'd like to see more episodic monetization models in F2P games where customers get their first levels (or world or whatever) free and then pay for more content as they progress through the game. It's a risky proposition for developers, but it's so much more customer friendly than the pay-or-wait mechanics dominating F2P right now.
Robert Leach
On the Indie side, maybe we begin to see more examples of publishing by community (groups of self-publishers banding together) or Indie publishers, who are gatekeepers of niche content. Perhaps more wishful thinking on my side ;-).
Nigel Little
Interesting viewpoints as usual. My view is that it is down to the developer to chose the right business model for their game. No one is forcing developers to go down the Free to Play route and the paid model is still very successful for some.

It should also be noted that, as Jared says, there has been a steady increase in the number of games priced at $2.99 and beyond - a trend I see continuing.

Games publishing has always been a very hit-driven business and therefore very risky. Opportunities such as new platforms give rise to new companies that capitalise on those new platforms, Jon Hare is a clear example here, but that is only in the short-term and then markets mature and dominant firms emerge. Mobile is no different.

My advice to indies (depending on your definition of an indie) would be to keep producing innovative and unique experiences at a paid price point of $2.99 and above. F2P and GaaS is difficult to do well and takes a ton of money to develop, market and maintain.

Meanwhile, Distinctive will continue to produce both Paid and F2P games making the decision on a game by game basis.

Just my 2p worth!